Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of June 21, 1999
Francis de Sales inspires Collins
By GLEN ARGAN
Archbishop Thomas Collins is a big fan of St. Francis de Sales.
He has a large print of a painting of the 17th century bishop of Geneva in his private prayer room. He's read several biographies of the saint. And when he's driving to appointments, Collins often listens to a taped version of Francis' spiritual classic Introduction to the Devout Life.
So why does Edmonton's archbishop for the new millennium care so much about a man who served as a bishop 400 years ago in a land faraway?
"What struck me about Francis de Sales was the combination of clarity and charity which is found in his life and teaching," Collins told the WCR recently.
Francis had a disputatious personality by nature, "but by the grace of God, he became the most loving and charitable of people."
"They said if you wanted to defeat someone in argument, you'd send for someone else. But if you wanted to have someone convinced, you would send for Francis de Sales - because he was extremely charitable. His charity won people's minds and hearts."
Francis studied the faith constantly, said Collins. Although he had a busy schedule, he gave two hours a day to study and another hour to meditation.
He tried to see the heart of any problem and to address it clearly and fully, he said. "His clarity of teaching was a wonderful example for every Christian and every priest and every bishop."
Francis also saw the importance of the laity, said the archbishop. "He emphasized it in a way that was sort of a breakthrough.
"The Introduction to the Devout Life assumes every baptized Christian has a vocation to holiness" - an idea that came to fruition in Church teaching at the Second Vatican Council.
St. Francis also vigorously developed vocations to the priesthood and, through his close friendship with St. Jane de Chantal, founded an order of religious women.
Collins was first taken by Francis de Sales when he found a biography of the saint when he was a university student on retreat.
Since then, he has read several other biographies and made Francis one of his favourite saints - a group that includes Sts. Thomas More, Charles Borromeo, Teresa of Avila and (the uncanonized) Cardinal John Henry Newman.
"Those were people who faced great problems, but it never occurred to them to focus on the problems alone."
After he receives the pallium from Pope John Paul at a Mass in Rome on June 29, the feast of Sts. Peter and Paul, Collins will travel to Milan, to "say a prayer at the tomb of Charles Borromeo."
Collins said he looks forward to "saying a prayer at the tomb of Charles Borromeo."
St. Teresa, he said, was a great mystic who "had a horror of elitism."
"Whenever people would come to her wanting to be mystics, she would suggest they do the dishes." She urged people to live "a simple, clear life of ordinary discipleship in touch with the whole Church."
That's a lesson for us, says Collins. "Whenever we find elitism, we usually find Gnosticism (a heresy) and not the Church of Jesus Christ." In ancient times, Gnostics were "super-devoted Christians who got off on their own."
So while it is important for parishes to encourage religious activities, "we must always be rooted back into the parish and into the Catholic Church."
"A parish is a marvellous reality," he continues - "whoever happens to fall within its boundaries is part of it."
Newman, said Collins, was "a marvellous person with many frailties."
He was a master of communication who often had trouble communicating with members of his own religious society. He had many great friendships, but also drew people's hostility. He had a touchy disposition yet, when criticized, was always humble in response.
And like Francis de Sales, Newman's thinking was a precursor to Vatican II's teaching on the laity.
"If we ever start to get too focused on the challenges facing the Church, we need to read the lives of Newman and Francis de Sales," said Collins. They saw the challenges, but rather than be deterred by the obstacles, they focused their attention on achieving their goal.
So why does Edmonton's new archbishop care about holy men and women from other eras?
Because they're models for his own life. Because he wants to live the way they lived.
It's a high standard he has set for himself. But maybe by examining the lives of Collins' favourite saints, we may see something of the future direction of our own archdiocese. And maybe we too will find models for our own quest to draw closer to God.