Hope in the New Year
There is “no better place to find God, and to help others to find him, than in the hearts of the women and men” of our time.
The assertion — sometimes hard to believe, in today’s social media-saturated age — about opening our eyes to God in the lives of those around us is an insight of St. Francis de Sales, who died 400 years ago on Dec. 28. De Sales wrote the book on seeking to live a holy and even contemplative (speaking of things that seem impossible these days) life — Introduction to the Devout Life — which remains today as helpful and necessary as when he wrote it in the 17th century.
The Journey to Union With God
The “devout” or contemplative life can seem so exotic. I put a book together just before COVID hit called A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living, precisely to try to demystify mysticism a tad. Not everyone is Catholic, but the Catechism of the Catholic Church can be a little useful on this front, explaining that mysticism is about every person’s journey to union with God — which is the point of our lives. Intriguing, at the very least? Insightful about questions of meaning and happiness and what comes next, too?
In a recent letter about de Sales, Pope Francis wrote: “We are struck by how Francis recognized the importance of concern for the human dimension. At the school of the incarnation, he had learned to interpret history and to approach life with confidence and trust.”
‘God is God of the Human Heart’
Pope Francis recently also asked the world to pray for the Pope Emeritus, Benedict, whose health was rapidly declining. (Benedict passed away Saturday.) When Benedict resigned as pope, he showed us not only what humility looks like, but humility in prayer. Who gives up the papacy? Well, Benedict did, because he believed that was what God was asking of him. It bewildered and angered people, but Benedict was at peace. I thought it was an incredible example to those of us schooled in the faux importance of achievements — even as a core part of our very identities.
“At the very thought of God, one immediately feels a certain delightful emotion of the heart, which testifies that God is God of the human heart,” de Sales wrote in his Treatise on the Love of God. Pope Francis elaborates: “An experience of God is intrinsic to the human heart. Far from a mental construct, it is a recognition, filled with awe and gratitude, of God’s self-manifestation. In the heart and through the heart, there comes about a subtle, intense and unifying process in which we come to know God and, at the same time, ourselves, our own origins and depths, and our fulfilment in the call to love.”
It’s All About Love
I can’t do justice to de Sales or Pope Francis’ reflections on him here, but suffice it to say, it’s all about love. And most of the negative impressions people have of organized religion is of believers not showing their love, and often showing hate. De Sales makes it clear: “(T)hose who think they are rising to God, yet fail to love their neighbor, are deceiving both themselves and others.”
In this new year, if you are a Christian: Show the world the love for which we are made. It has a power (Thanks be to God!) beyond any tweet or other opinion.
Kathryn Jean Lopez is senior fellow at the National Review Institute, editor-at-large of National Review magazine and author of the new book A Year With the Mystics: Visionary Wisdom for Daily Living. She is also chair of Cardinal Dolan’s pro-life commission in New York, and is on the board of the University of Mary She can be contacted at [email protected]