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St. Francis de Sales spiritual master of Mother Marie Eugenie

S eventTuesday, 30 May 2023

Read here the apostolic letter of Pope Francis: Totum Amoris Est


Francis de Sales (1567-1622) and Jeanne de Chantal (1572-1641), founders of the Congregation of the Visitation, so dear to Mother Marie Eugenie, are two of the spiritual masters most often mentioned by Mother Marie Eugenie. The first Constitutions drawn up for the Congregation were inspired, among others, by those of these two Saints, and thus, many elements of the understanding of religious life, and many of its practices and methods [C. 10.12.73], were taken over from the Visitation1. Doubtless, Mother Marie Eugenie must have read many of the works of these masters, some of which she quotes verbatim. Many of the features of Mother Marie Eugenie's spirituality can be explained by the teaching of St. Francis de Sales.

In the doctrine of this Saint, charity occupies a primordial place both for the concept of God and of Christian practice [C. 22.2.45; 53 (V); 22.7.83]. St. Francis de Sales considers Christian perfection, which he calls devotion [C. 53 (XI); 17.12.70], as the believer's response of love to the God who first loved him and to his neighbor. Asceticism is also understood from love, as an exercise against self-love, the great obstacle to true love [C. 53 (VI); 21.6.74; 19.3.76], and life in common as a source of mortification which makes one grow in love [C. 23.11.73]. Love is also the backbone of the virtues, which are acquired in abandonment to the mercy of God [C. 53 (II); Nice 70], with which human freedom cooperates. In the doctrine of St. Francis de Sales, the following virtues stand out: patience, kindness, gentleness, obedience, humility, poverty and chastity [C. 4.2.77]. Through these virtues love grows and simplicity is obtained [C. 10.12.76; 10.7.81].

The imitation of Jesus Christ is the means to attain perfection in love. Because God is reached through the humanity of Christ, meditation on His mysteries is therefore necessary, especially those of the passion-death, and the imitation of His life [C. 8.12.72; 19.11.76; 17.11.78; 30.3.79; 14.12.83]. The following of Jesus surpasses human strength, which is why docility to the Holy Spirit [C. 18.2.80], who shapes the interior of the believer, is necessary.

The doctrine of abandonment to God is perhaps the most characteristic of this author who calls it the quintessence of the spiritual life [C. 15.12.72; 22.12.72]. It is expressed in obedience even in small things [C. 9.8.74], and it is trust in His providence [C. 25.3.81]. By this abandonment and by the indifference to which it leads, the soul dies to itself by placing all its love in Jesus [C. 12.1.83]. Closely related to this trait, we must consider the prayer of the presence of God, which, like St. Francis de Sales, MME considers an essential attitude for life [C. Nice 70; 23.7.76; 9.3.79; 29.8.81].

Another characteristic of Salesian doctrine assumed by Mother Marie Eugenie is the sense of Church [C. 14.7.78]. We can also see an influence of her theology on the states of life, in particular when she insists that religious life is not the only state of perfection [C. 13.5.89], and that all Christians are called to holiness according to their own characteristics [C. 10.3.78].

Mercedes Méndez, ra


[1] Mother Marie Eugenie was sent by Father Combalot to the Visitation Monastery at the Côte Saint André from August 1838 to April 1839. Above all, the persons who had the greatest influence on her were M. M. Th. Marmonnier and M. Caroline Blanc, Sisters in that Community. [Or. I, 1, VI]. Many practical aspects of religious life follow the teachings of St. Jeanne de Chantal, especially those concerning religious virtues [C. 4.2.77; 8.2.84; 14.11.84; 25.1.91] and community life [L. VI, 1504-TF 90]. This is how she expresses it to Father Combalot in two letters: "For me, I profit of my last days to notes all the things we might need for ourselves. I note the way of saying the Office, of participating in the ceremonies, I have it explained to me, I read the works available in the house, I try, in the end, to make provision for the future Sisters.” [L. I, 84]." In addition, I think, after what I see, that we will do well to borrow from the Visitation all that will be possible for us" [L. I, 88].

[2] St. Francis de Sales affirms that in the spiritual life one must attain a constant prayer, a habitual turning to God, because true prayer is vital, it is a relationship of love; although he suggests methods, he knows that one cannot confine oneself to them. The beginner must strive to become aware of the divine presence, but as one advances on the spiritual path this presence and recollection impose themselves without personal effort; this prayer, which St. Francis de Sales calls "of simple presence", consists in being present to God, it is not meditating on His presence or feeling it, it is a "total abandonment to God", which arises after the stage of purification and is lived out in holy indifference. The mystical way is a path of progress in light and love, until one reaches union and abandonment. [C. 30.1.76; 27.5.81; 22.9.82]. Cf. FRANCIS DE SALES, Treatise on the Love of God, BAC, Madrid 1995, 335-357. Mother Marie-Eugenie devotes the chapter of November 14, 1884 to describing the "Prayer of Simple Abandonment to God".


Read here the apostolic letter of Pope Francis: Totum Amoris Est