January 24 is the feast day of St. Francis de Sales, the patron saint of media. Below, John Paul Meenan, Assistant Professor of Theology at Our Lady Seat of Wisdom College, explains the significance of this well-known saint.
Why is St. Francis de Sales known as the patron saint of the media?
St. Francis de Sales was appointed Bishop of Geneva in 1602, then the centre of Calvinism. Over the two decades of his ministry, he utilized with great effectiveness the new media of his time, the printing press, sending out untold numbers of persuasive pamphlets, books and tracts, along with his sermons. This, along with the sheer sanctity of the man, a fruit of lifelong prayer and discipline, helped convert tens of thousands of people to the fullness of Catholic truth.
How did his use of media at the time – pamphlets and books – help to effect cultural change?
St. Francis was brought up in a well-to-do noble household, and given the best education available, to which he responded with a generous and zealous soul and mind. This made him a very effective thinker and writer. His father intended him to become a magistrate, inherit his fortune and marry well, but Francis, after a spiritual struggle, consecrated his life Christ through Our Lady, determined to become a priest and save souls. Ordained in 1593, he turned many away from error by his eloquent words and arguments, which were not condemnatory, as was oft the custom at the time, but by the charity, good sense and moderation of his words – not least his Introduction to the Devout Life and Treatise on the Love of God, still immensely readable, applicable and popular to this day.
In today's world, how can Catholics use media to have a positive impact on modern culture?
The Church, especially in the Second Vatican Council, has encouraged Catholics to utilize the media to evangelize, not just with more formal and big-budget projects, such as books and films, but, especially in this connected age where everyone has access to 'media,' by all that we read, watch, write or post. At the very least, Catholics should have vigilance over what they consume, avoiding anything base or evil, itself a form of witness. But we are also called to produce works – regardless of how apparently insignificant, every article, essay, email, text and photo – that will in some way lead others to truth, goodness and beauty. Adopt the fine manners of St. Francis, who saw in each person a soul to be 'saved,' to be led gently to the fullness of truth which Christ offers. To paraphrase the good bishop: 'We attract more souls with a spoonful of honey than with a barrelful of vinegar.' With St. Francis and all the myriad of saints, we may well be surprised at what good we may accomplish.
St. Francis died on December 28, 1622, was canonized by Pope Alexander VII in 1665, and was declared a doctor of the Church by Pope Pius IX in 1877. He continues to be one of the most exemplary models for priests and bishops – as well as an excellent guide for the laity – to this day. Saint Francis, ora pro nobis (pray for us)!
The Pope's Message for the World Day of Social Communications 2019, released on the feast of St. Francis de Sales, is "We are members one of another" (Ephesians 4:25) From social network communities to the human community. To read the full text of the Pope's address, visit http://bit.ly/SocialCommunicationsMessage.