Advance Always says Francis de Sales

Advance Always says Francis de Sales

From my Alma Mater, Bishop Ireton HS, Alexandria, Va

The Feast of St Francis de Sales brings forth many fond memories of attending a high school taught by the Oblates of St Francis de Sales, Bishop Ireton in Alexandria, Virginia. The school motto is “Advance Always.” As a student I thought in terms of advancing from one year to the next — may I finish this year and advance on to the next grade. Oh Lord may I not be a freshman forever. And as a senior, may I please graduate and advance on to college. And so on up the ladder of achievement and success. I suppose I did not listen too closely to the good Oblates as they explained the full maxim of St Francis de Sales, which is “Advance Always in the Love of God and Man.” This morning I picked up a little pamphlet with the Letter of Pope Paul VI commemorating the 400th year since the birth of this great saint (b 1567). He quoted a great passage from the Treatise on the Love of God (find the text hereconcerning the nature of this love in which we must advance always. Here it is:

Charity, then, is a love of friendship, a friendship of dilection, a dilection of preference, but a preference incomparable, sovereign, and supernatural, which is as a sun in the whole soul to enlighten it with its rays, in all the spiritual faculties to perfect them, in all the powers to moderate them, but in the will as on its throne, there to reside and to make it cherish and love its God above all things. O how happy is the soul wherein this holy love is poured abroad, since all good things come together with her! (II.22)

The Holy Doctor had earlier cited that scripture passage so esteemed  by St Augustine and St , namely Rom 5.5. when he explained the supernatural origin of the love that is charity:

this love is not a love of simple excellence, but an incomparable love; for charity loves God by a certain esteem and preference of his goodness so high and elevated above all other esteems, that other loves either are not true loves in comparison of this, or if they be true loves, this love is infinitely more than love; and therefore, Theotimus, it is not a love which the force of nature either angelic or human can produce, but the Holy Ghost gives it and pours it abroad in our hearts. Rom 5.5 (Ibid)

 As I looked at the next page following the passage pointed out by Pope Paul VI, I found it again, the passage from which our beloved school motto derives. It the very theme of Book III — “On the progress and perfection of love.” And thus chapter 1 is entitled “That sacred love can be increased more and more in each of us.” He cites the Council of Trent (concluded about 50 years prior to his writing) that God’s friends go from “strength to strength” and are “renewed from day to day.”  That is, by good works they increase in the justice received by divine grace, and become more justified. (As much later, Johnny Cash himself will sing in the “Man comes around,” “He who is just, let him be justified still, and he who is holy, let him be sanctified more.” (Rev 22:11) ) St. Francis then states the principle: “to remain stationary for a long time is impossible. The man who makes no gain loses in such traffic as this. The man who does not climb upward goes down this ladder.” If we do not fight, we perish. And he quotes “the glorious St Bernard” to the effect “he must either go forward or else fall back.” Then St. Francis asks rhetorically — do you want to sit? But we are on the road, he answers. Roads are for walking. Nay, for running. “Run ardently and swiftly.” I also recall the words of Virgil to Dante in the Purgatorio — “here a man must fly with the swift wings of desire.”

As found on the prayer card pictured above, St Francis says that the measure of love is to love without measure. So how could one not advance? He continues in this chapter to say “true virtue has no limits; it goes ever forward. Above all others, holy charity, which is the virtue of virtues and has an infinitude object, would be capable of becoming infinite if it found a heart capable of infinity.” St Francis continues throughout this part of the Treatise to explain that our Lord actually makes it easy for for us to increase in love. The Holy Spirit is poured out from above, and the smallest thing can be pleasing in God’s eyes if done with love. Many of the natural virtues require great deeds or heroic striving in order to actually increase. Not so, divine charity. Heroic, yes, after its own fashion, after the fashion of the little ones, the meek ones, the peaceful ones, the merciful ones. For “Divine mercy renders all things useful to us; it puts all things to our advantage; it puts to our profit all our tasks, no matter how lowly and weak they may be.”  Moreover, “In commerce in virtues issuing from God’s mercy, and above all in charity, our every deed produces an increase.” Sacred love, the King of the virtues, “has nothing about it, either great or small, which is not lovable.”

So yes indeed “ADVANCE ALWAYS.”

Thank you, St Francis de Sales and Oblates of St Francis de Sales, for a lesson for life.

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