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Duke of Savoy to attend him on a visit to Louis XIII., at Avignon, and though his friends would have had him excuse himself on the ground of his ill-health, no such excuse was possible to one the watchword of whose life had been Obedience. He left Annecy on the 9th of November, never to return. His reception at Avignon was such as might have been given to an Apostle; but he was glad when his duties were discharged, and he was free to commence his homeward journey. He got no further, however, than Lyons, where he lodged in a small room in the gardener's house attached to the Visitation Convent. Here Madame de Chantal had a farewell interview with her friend and Director; while persons of all ranks and ages waited upon him to obtain the inestimable benefit of his advice. He still continued to preach and to celebrate Mass, though his physical sufferings were severe, and never were his sermons and his conversation more instinct with the ardour of love or more impressive in their calm sweet eloquence.
When he rose, on the Feast of S. John, he noticed that his sight was failing, and to his attendants he remarked that it was a sign of his departure, for which he blessed God, since the enfeebled body dragged down the soul. He dressed, made his confession, said Mass, communicated the Sisters, and heard the Superior's confession; but on returning from the church he was visibly worn, and so exhausted, that it was necessary to put him to bed. Some kind of seizure followed, but it did not affect his faculties. After receiving the Sacraments of Penitence and Extreme Unction, he fell into a great lethargy, from which the doctors were very anxious to rouse him. The Grand Vicaire of the Jesuits thereupon asked him :—" What think you, Monseigneur, of the Catholic Faith? Does your heart secretly incline towards Calvinism?" The question was a cruel one; but it roused the dying saint; and he exclaimed :— "God forbid! I have never tampered with heresy: it would have been too grave an act of unfaithfulness." And he made the sign of the Cross on his breast and forehead. The Grand Vicaire next asked him if he feared death, quoting the words:—" O mors, quam amara est memoria tua!" The Bishop replied :—" Yes, but only to the man whose happiness lies in his possessions" (homini pacem habenti in substantiis suis).
Francis lingered throughout the night. Next day the drowsiness returned; and the doctors struggled against it by applying blisters to the head and hot irons to the spine, torturing the gentle, unrepining, dying saint, who murmured amid all his pain, "Do what you will with the sick man." Many came to receive his last blessing and exchange a few farewell words; to all he spoke with his customary serenity and patience. The Pere Ferrier asked him if he remembered him. "Si oblitus fuero tui," faltered Francis, "oblivioni detur dextera mea" (Ps. cxxxvii. 5.) "You must say with S. Martin," continued the Father, "Domine, si adhuc populo tuo sum necessarius, non recuso laborem" (lord, if I am necessary yet to Thy people, I do not refuse any labour). "Necessary," exclaimed Francis; "no, no, I am an altogether useless servant." And thrice he murmured the words :—" Servus inutilis, inutilis, inutilis!" He was asked whether he was not sorry to leave his Order of the Visitation incomplete. With a glow of faith he answered :—" Qui ccepit opus, ipse perficiet" (He who began the work, He will finish it), and he added, emphatically, "perficiet, perficiet!"
Some one idly inquired of the dying Saint whether he feared the last struggle. "My eyes," he said, "are ever looking unto the Lord, for He shall pluck my feet out of the net." Said another—with strange inappropriateness :— "There was one traitor among the Apostles." "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He inclined unto me, and heard my calling. He brought me also out of the pit," was his only answer. To which he added, after a moment's pause :—" Qui ccepit, ipse perficiet." A silence followed. The light of life flickered more and more feebly. Pressing the hand of a friend who tenderly watched over him, he whispered :—" It is toward evening, and the day is far spent." These were his last words, except that he was heard now and again to breathe the beloved name of Jesus. That he was conscious of all that passed was shown by the movement of his eyes and lips as prayer after prayer was sent up on his behalf to the Throne of Grace. About -"ight o'clock in the evening, that greyness passed over the countenance which tells that the last moment approaches; and the priests and others in attendance, falling on their knees, raised the litanies of prayer and praise which the Church prescribes for the consolation and commendation of the dying. At the words, "Omnes sancti Innocentes, orate pro eo," Francis de Sales fell asleep in Jesus.
It was the Feast of Holy Innocents, 1622, and the Bishop was only 55 years of age.
According to his own request, his remains were removed to Annecy, and interred in the Church of the Visitation. In the year 1665 he was solemnly canonised by Pope Alexander VII.
The lesson taught by the exalted character and holy life of this saintly priest and bishop seems to me best embodied in his own words. Speaking of the saints, martyrs, and confessors, whose memories are the precious inheritance of the Church, he says :—" What may we not achieve with such patterns before our eyes? They were but what we are; they wrought for the same Almighty Father; they sought after the same graces: why may we not do as much in our own conditions of life, and according to our several vocations, on behalf of our most eager resolutions and holy profession of faith?" May not we, who belong to a different communion, strive at least to imitate the humility, the tender charity, the gentle moderation, the unquestioning obedience, and the deep, true, simple faith of Francis de Sales?
"Dear soul, be strong;
Flowers of never-fading graces,
For worthy souls whose wise embraces
Since the foregoing pages were written we have read a pamphlet by Mr. Willis Nevins, entitled "The Persecution of Protestants by S. Francis de Sales," which seeks to prove him guilty, in his mission in the Chablais, of acts of extreme cruelty. Mr. Willis Nevins certainly shows that the Duke of Savoy banished a large number of his subjects who refused to embrace Romanism, but he does not seem to us to connect Francis de Sales directly with this unjust exhibition of arbitrary power. At the summons of the Duke of Savoy he undoubtedly visited him in Turin, and consulted with him on the measures necessary for the extirpation of Protestantism; the measures he recommended would now-a-days shock our idea of religious tolerance; but they were scarcely severer than those which obtained in Ireland down to the epoch of Catholic Emancipation; and they were really of a moderate and even gentle character for that age of religious bigotry. And it is only fair to remember that S. Francis, when he undertook his evangelistic labours in the Chablais, was a young man of twenty-eight. In his later life he steadfastly denounced the employment of force in "spiritual warfare."
It has also been objected to him that he practised some deception upon his father in adopting the sacerdotal profession when he was intended for a secular career. We do not see that S. Francis can rightly be censured for shrinking from a life for which he did not feel himself fitted; but as a matter of fact he was guilty of neither deceit nor fraud. He pursued the studies that M. de Boisy had marked out, and actually took his degree in civil and canonical law; and when at length he felt compelled to realize his earliest hope and ambition, he spoke frankly and earnestly to his father. The Provostship of Geneva was not obtained through his own solicitation, but, unknown to him, through the intervention of friends, who thought it would reconcile the father to his son's ordination. The Rev. L. W. Bacon, another assailant of the Bishop of Geneva, charges him with duplicity towards the young lady, Mademoiselle de Vigy, whom his father wished him to marry. He says that though he had taken a vow of celibacy, Francis visited her as a suitor and a lover. It is difficult to see how such a charge can be maintained, when we know that his father chided him for his coldness and reserve with the young lady! On the whole, we see no reason to modify the estimate we have ventured to form of the sweetness and purity of S. Francis's character. We will not pretend that he was perfect, or that in his earlier years he never committed a mistake; but he seems to us to have realized, as nearly as mortal man may do, that ideal of a Devout Life which he has set forth in his own inimitable pages.
S. VINCENT DE PAUL:
THE RELIGIOUS PHILANTHROPIST.
"It is true that S. Vincent de Paul rose to great distinction, and played a very prominent part in his generation, and has left an honoured name behind. Nevertheless, they were not what are accounted extraordinary or brilliant gifts which brought him to such honour. His life is the triumph of unworldliness, humility, a constant recollection of the presence of God, and a single eye to His glory."—R. F. Wilson.