There is perhaps only one thing that people of all nations, all political parties, all beliefs, and all races can agree upon: the world is in turmoil. The planet may have already suffered irreversible damage. The situation in Syria is perhaps the worst humanitarian crisis of all time. The United States is so politically polarized that family members cannot speak civilly with each other. Children go to bed hungry, and people pass the homeless on the street with no more than a cursory glance.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to anything that we’re seeing, hearing, and experiencing. And since as Catholics we believe in a loving Father, it’s natural that we cry out, "Where is God?"
Even though it feels like we live in the most difficult and chaotic of times, the fact is that other eras and places have had their share of disaster as well. Read the Hebrew Bible and it won’t take you long to see God’s chosen ones under great pressure: war, famine, slavery. And book after book echoes the same cry: "Where is God?"
It’s helpful to see how others have handled the crises and chaos of the world around them, people who have walked through disasters and pain and emerged from it all with wisdom, answering the question "Where is God?" by assuring us that even in times of tribulation, God is very much with us.
One such person was Francis de Sales, who lived in a time of tremendous upheaval in the Church and in the world: the splitting apart of Western Christianity with the Protestant Reformation. He, too, must have asked where God was, to allow his Church to be so damaged. And yet Francis moved through his time with wisdom and grace, becoming a theologian, a diplomat, a spiritual director, and a bishop.
The Church in Francis’ time was in fact sadly in need of reformation. Many were teaching that true holiness could only be attained by those in religious life and the clergy. Francis clearly had his work cut out for him!
He refused to accept this misunderstanding of the role of the laity and instead focused a great deal of his work on affirming the sanctity of the laity. His words echo down the centuries to us, offering hope in our own uncertainty and tribulations. The chaos of Francis’ time is different from the chaos inherent in our time, and yet the same loving Father is there with us just as he was with Francis.
Pauline Books & Media has collected some of Francis’ most meaningful advice to us as a part of the Classic Wisdom Collection, in a small volume called Courage in Chaos. And in fact the title says it all: we will never live in a perfect world here on earth, but God is with us and we can take our strength and courage from him.
Francis’ concern—that everyone in the Church, clergy and laity alike, find God accessible—is echoed in the day-to-day usefulness of his advice. These aren’t words that require a degree in theology to understand; they are words that speak to everyone, no matter who they are or what they do.
These words are, before all else, immensely practical:
Accept the duties which are entrusted to you quietly, and try to fulfill them methodically, one after another. If you attempt to do everything at once, or with confusion, you will only burden yourself with your own exertions, and by entangling your mind, you will probably be overwhelmed and accomplish nothing.
Isn’t that something that we can all put into practice today? What good advice for not becoming overwhelmed by our daily responsibilities! Take them one at a time, don’t get caught up in the moment that comes after this one, do what you can. This could easily be from a 21st-century self-help book!
This earthly life is but the road to a blessed life. On the way let us not fall out with each other. Let us go on in the company of our brethren gently, peacefully, and kindly. I mean it when I say: if possible, never give way to anger, and under no pretext let anger and passion enter your heart.
Here Francis is reminding us all to keep our lives in perspective. Emotions are fleeting; our salvation is forever. Instead of getting mired in passing feelings, remember that we’re all in this together, and let’s move forward together toward the Kingdom of God.
Courage in Chaos is a small volume filled with great wisdom. And Lent is a perfect time to read the words of Francis de Sales and find small ways that you, too, can overcome despair and live a life of holiness.
by Jeannette de Beauvoir
Courage in Chaos by St. Francis de Sales is available as a book in print, an e-book, or an audio book.