Born in France in
1567, Francis was a patient man. He knew for thirteen years that he had a vocation to the priesthood before he mentioned it
to his family. When his father said that he wanted Francis to be a soldier and sent him to Paris to study, Francis said nothing.
Then when he went to Padua to get a doctorate in law, he still kept quiet, but he studied theology and practiced mental prayer
while getting into swordfights and going to parties. Even when his bishop told him if he wanted to be a priest that he thought
that he would have a miter waiting for him someday, Francis uttered not a word. Why did Francis wait so long? Throughout his
life he waited for God's will to be clear. He never wanted to push his wishes on God, to the point where most of us would
have been afraid that God would give up!
God finally made God's
will clear to Francis while he was riding. Francis fell from his horse three times. Every time he fell the sword came out
of the scabbard. Every time it came out the sword and scabbard came to rest on the ground in the shape of the cross. And then,
Francis, without knowing about it, was appointed provost of his diocese, second in rank to the bishop.
Perhaps he was wise
to wait, for he wasn't a natural pastor. His biggest concern on being ordained that he had to have his lovely curly gold hair
cut off. And his preaching left the listeners thinking he was making fun of him. Others reported to the bishop that this noble-turned-
priest was conceited and controlling.
Then Francis had a
bad idea -- at least that's what everyone else thought. This was during the time of the Protestant reformation and just over
the mountains from where Francis lived was Switzerland -- Calvinist territory. Francis decided that he should lead an expedition
to convert the 60,000 Calvinists back to Catholicism. But by the time he left his expedition consisted of himself and his
cousin. His father refused to give him any aid for t his crazy plan and the diocese was too poor to support him.
For three years, he
trudged through the countryside, had doors slammed in his face and rocks thrown at him. In the bitter winters, his feet froze
so badly they bled as he tramped through the snow. He slept in haylofts if he could, but once he slept in a tree to avoid
wolves. He tied himself to a branch to keep from falling out and was so frozen the next morning he had to be cut down. And
after three years, his cousin had left him alone and he had not made one convert.
Francis' unusual patience
kept him working. No one would listen to him, no one would even open their door. So Francis found a way to get under the door.
He wrote out his sermons, copied them by hand, and slipped them under the doors. This is the first record we have of religious
tracts being used to communicate with people.
The parents wouldn't
come to him out of fear. So Francis went to the children. When the parents saw how kind he was as he played with the children,
they began to talk to him.
By the time, Francis
left to go home he is said to have converted 40,000 people back to Catholicism.
In 1602 he was made
bishop of the diocese of Geneva, in Calvinist territory. He only set foot in the city of Geneva twice -- once when the Pope
sent him to try to convert Calvin's successor, Beza, and another when he traveled through it.
It was in 1604 that
Francis took one of the most important steps in his life, the step toward holiness and mystical union with God.
In Dijon that year
Francis saw a widow listening closely to his sermon -- a woman he had seen already in a dream. Jane de Chantal was a person
on her own, as Francis was, but it was only when they became friends that they began to become saints. Jane wanted him to
take over her spiritual direction, but, not surprisingly, Francis wanted to wait. "I had to know fully what God himself wanted.
I had to be sure that everything in this should be done as though his hand had done it." Jane was on a path to mystical union
with God and, in directing her, Francis was compelled to follow her and become a mystic himself.