Thursday, March 29, 2018

Book Review: Sermons for Lent by Francis de Sales

The Sermons of St. Francis de Sales for Lent Given in 1622 by Francis de Sales

This series of twelve sermons was preached by Saint Francis de Sales to the Visitation nuns in 1622. He gives them pastoral care and spiritual guidance that is both specific to them and of interest and value to Christians of every vocation, in any time.

Part of the value is his rhetorical skills. He typically focuses on one big topic, like faith or fasting, and narrows down to specific topics, often sets of three subtopics. He is well versed in Scriptures, in the classics, and the church fathers, drawing examples from each as suits his need. His language is clear and direct; his arguments are easy to follow. He is a fine writer.

The greatest value is his spiritual insights and advice. For example, he expands the idea of fasting beyond food to disciplining all the appetites including the senses' appetites and the intellect's appetite. He considers the pitfall of fasting to impress others or to (ironically enough) feed one's own ego. In another sermon he describes the proper way to be ill when he discusses the story of Jesus curing Peter's mother-in-law. Francis digs into the details of the story, pulling out great insights. She doesn't complain about her illness (which must be pretty bad if she is bedridden) and doesn't ask for a cure even though Jesus is in the house. She humbly accepts the burden and gratefully serves her guests when Jesus restores her to health.

The sermons cover a wide range of topics, from faith to fasting to charity to divine providence. His words give practical advice on how to listen to the Word of God and how to fear death in the proper way. The final sermon is from Good Friday and looks at Jesus on the cross. The faithful need to keep their eyes on the cross just as the Israelites kept their eyes on the brass serpent in Exodus in order to be saved from spiritual death. Francis goes through the seven last words of Jesus on the cross, providing thoughtful insights on each.

Each sermon is easy to read and takes less than twenty minutes, though they certainly give meditative insights that last much longer. This book may enter my regular Lenten reading. It is valuable in or out of the Lenten season.

Highly recommended.

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