Inspired Common Sense
In the words of Saint Jane de Chantal "The Spirit of our little
congregation is one of gentleness, littleness, simplicity and poverty."
It was the intention of Saint Francis de Sales, then bishop of Geneva,
to give the Church "daughters of prayer and daughters of the Church."
While he esteemed the noble austerities which characterized other
religious orders of his time, his vision was different. His emphasis
was not on external austerities and physical penances, but rather on
interior renunciation, great simplicity, and a deep joy in the
common life. He is often credited with a whimsical explanation of
why the sisters need not wear hairshirts under their habits; for the
common life - lived well - would provide many similar day-to-day
inconveniences and irritations. As in all things, Saint Francis de
Sales' comprehension of human relationships is timeless and profound.
And it is this focus on relationships, which informed his own description
of how the sisters should live: in a spirit of "profound humility toward
God and of great gentleness toward the neighbor."
Perhaps one of the most distinctive aspects of Saint Francis de Sales' spirituality is his articulation of the "two wills" of God. The first will of God is His "signified" will; this refers to those things which we know are expected of us: the Ten Commandments, the virtues which are rooted in the Gospels, those things which are asked by our superior, etc. The second dimension of the will of God is His "permissive" will. As Saint Francis de Sales explains it, these are the circumstances in which we find ourselves, which God has allowed. The word "permissive" is used in translation because it refers to those things which God has permitted but not desired or willed. Ordinary examples of God's permissive will might include sitting in traffic, waiting on line in the grocery store, or the happy surprise of a neighbor delivering fresh bread. It is between those two wills of God that we are encouraged to live. Each day brings new surprises - all part of God's permissive will - and amid them, we strive to be mindful of His signified will, living gently with Him and with our neighbors.