Wednesday, December 12, 2012

St. Jane Frances de Chantal

Today is the fest day of St. Jane Frances de Chantal, wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. St. Francis de Sales played an important role in her life after her husband died, leading her to found the Visitation nuns. 

St. Jane was born in 1572 to a very noble family, with her father being the head of Parliament at Dijon, France. However, when she was 18 months old, her mother suddenly passed away, leaving her father to be the main influence on her education. At the age of 21, she married Baron de Chantal, with whom she had 6 children, including 3 who died during infancy. At the castle, she restored the custom of daily mass, and taught her children the importance of virtue and piety, while engaging in many other charitable works. It is said that she made a vow that she would never refuse anyone who asked for alms in the name of Christ.

After 7 years of marriage, in 1601, Jane's husband was shot and died while on a hunting expedition. Amazingly, she forgave the man who shot her husband, and even acted as a sponsor for one of his children. However, even with all of her composure, she sank into a deep depression for about 4 months. She ran into additional problems, because her 75 year old father-in-law threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. 

When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales, who became her spiritual director. She explained to him that she wanted to become a nun, but he told her to delay her decision. However, after 3 years, Francis explained to her that he wanted to establish a place where women, whose health, age, or other considerations barred them from joining an already established community. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness. The congregation began with three women when Jane was 45. She encouraged the local authorities to make great efforts for the victims of the plague and she put all her convent’s resources at the disposal of the sick. 

Much like St. Jane Frances de Chantal, we must prevent our zeal from becoming fanaticism. Furthermore, the love that we have must not degenerate into sentimentalism. We must be strong in faith, but, at the same time, patient, forgiving, tender, conciliatory. For example, a Christian must be firm like a father, but mild like a mother, just like St. Jane. St. Jane went through a great deal of suffering throughout her life, and even questioned her faith at times, but in the end she truly gave her life to God.


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