Aug 18 – St Jane Frances de Chantal, VHM, (1572-1641), Wife, Mother, Foundress of the Daughters of the Visitation

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Jane Frances was wife, mother, nun and founder of a religious community. Her mother died when Jane was 18 months old, and her father, head of parliament at Dijon, France, became the main influence on her education. He allowed his children to discuss any matter, even the most serious and adult topics of the day, including religious matters.  He made erudite discussion fun, and instilled in Jane a deep devotion.  A friend said of her, “Even stupid jokes were funny when she told them!”

Jane developed into a woman of beauty and refinement, lively and cheerful in temperament. At 21 she married Christophe, Baron de Chantal, by whom she had six children, three of whom died in infancy. The Baron also had enormous debts.  At her castle she restored the custom of daily Mass, and was seriously engaged in various charitable works.  Jane took charge of the estate; personally organizing and supervising every detail of the estate, a method which not only brought the finances under control but won her employees’ hearts as well.

Despite the early financial worries, she and her husband shared “one heart and one soul.” They were devoted to each other and to their children. When reproached for her extremely sober manner of dressing, her reply was: “The eyes which I must please are a hundred miles from here”, referring to Christophe when he was at court or with the army.

One way Jane shared her blessings was by giving bread and soup personally to the poor who came to her door. Often people who had just received food from her would pretend to leave, go around the house and get back in line for more. When asked why she let these people get away with this, Jane said, “What if God turned me away when I came back to him again and again with the same request?”

Christophe was killed in a hunting accident after seven years of marriage; he died in Jane’s arms when she was 28.  Jane sank into deep dejection for four months at her family home.  Before he died, her husband forgave the man who shot him, saying to the man, “Don’t commit the sin of hating yourself when you have done nothing wrong.”  Heartbroken, Jane, however, had to struggle with forgiveness for a long time. At first she tried just greeting him on the street. When she was able to do that, she invited him to her house. Finally she was able to forgive the man so completely that she even became godmother to his child. Jane’s father-in-law, however, threatened to disinherit her children if she did not return to his home. He was then 75, vain, fierce and extravagant. Jane Frances managed to remain cheerful in spite of him and his insolent housekeeper.

When she was 32, she met St. Francis de Sales (October 24), who became her spiritual director, softening some of the severities imposed by her former director. She wanted to become a nun but he persuaded her to defer this decision. She took a vow to remain unmarried and to obey her director.  St Francis said of Jane:  “In Madame de Chantal, I have found the perfect woman, whom Solomon had difficulty finding in Jerusalem”.

After three years Francis told her of his plan to found an institute of women which would be a haven for those whose health, age or other considerations barred them from entering the already established communities. There would be no cloister, and they would be free to undertake spiritual and corporal works of mercy. They were primarily intended to exemplify the virtues of Mary at the Visitation (hence their name, the Visitation nuns): humility and meekness.

The usual opposition to women in active ministry arose and Francis de Sales was obliged to make it a cloistered community following the Rule of St. Augustine. Francis wrote his famous Treatise on the Love of God for them. The congregation (three women, Jane and here two daughters) began when Jane Frances was 38 in 1610.

After she had secured the future for her still living minor children, she intended to fulfill her spiritual director’s intentions.  Her fourteen year old son, Celse-Bénigne, whom she put in the care of her father and brother, tried to block her way and her new mission, literally, by lying across the threshold through which she would need to pass.  Mme de Chantal stopped, overcome: “Can the tears of a child shake her resolution?” said a holy and learned priest, the tutor of Celse-Bénigne. “Oh! no”, replied the saint, “but after all I am a mother!” And she stepped over the child’s body.

She underwent great sufferings: Francis de Sales died; her son was killed; a plague ravaged France; her daughter-in-law and son-in-law died. 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.  When people criticized her, she said, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people myself; I’m on their side.”

Still a devoted mother, she was constantly concerned about the materialistic ways of one of her daughters. Her daughter finally asked her for spiritual direction as did many others, including an ambassador and her brother, an archbishop. Her advice always reflected her very gentle and loving approach to spirituality:

“Should you fall even fifty times a day, never on any account should that surprise or worry you. Instead, ever so gently set your heart back in the right direction and practice the opposite virtue, all the time speaking words of love and trust to our Lord after you have committed a thousand faults, as much as if you had committed only one. Once we have humbled ourselves for the faults God allows us to become aware of in ourselves, we must forget them and go forward.”

During a part of her religious life, she had to undergo great trials of the spirit:  interior anguish, darkness and spiritual dryness. She died while on a visitation of convents of the community.

It may strike some as unusual that a saint should be subject to spiritual dryness, darkness, interior anguish. We tend to think that such things are the usual condition of “ordinary” sinful people. Some of our lack of spiritual liveliness may indeed be our fault. But the life of faith is still one that is lived in trust, and sometimes the darkness is so great that trust is pressed to its limit.

We have been told the secret of happiness is finding: finding yourself, finding love, finding the right job. Jane believed the secret of happiness was in “losing,” that we should “throw ourselves into God as a little drop of water into the sea, and lose ourselves indeed in the Ocean of the divine goodness.” She advised a man who wrote to her about all the afflictions he suffered “to lose all these things in God. These words produced such an effect in the soul, that he wrote me that he was wholly astonished, and ravished with joy.”  There is no past, no future, no here or there. There is only the infinite ocean of God.

St. Jane de Chantal

St. Vincent de Paul (September 27) said of Jane Frances: “She was full of faith, yet all her life had been tormented by thoughts against it. While apparently enjoying the peace and easiness of mind of souls who have reached a high state of virtue, she suffered such interior trials that she often told me her mind was so filled with all sorts of temptations and abominations that she had to strive not to look within herself…But for all that suffering her face never lost its serenity, nor did she once relax in the fidelity God asked of her. And so I regard her as one of the holiest souls I have ever met on this earth”.

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“Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to Him. That is all the doing you have to worry about.” – Saint Jane Frances de Chantal

One day Saint Jane spoke the following eloquent words, which listeners took down exactly as spoken: “My dear daughters, many of our holy fathers in the faith, men who were pillars of the Church, did not die martyrs. Why do you think this was? Each one present offered an answer; then their mother continued. “Well, I myself think it was because there is another martyrdom: the martyrdom of love. Here God keeps His servants and handmaids in this present life to that they may labor for Him, and He makes of them both martyrs and confessors. I know,” she added, “that the Daughters of the Visitation are meant to be martyrs of this kind and that,by the favor of God, some of them, more fortunate than others in that their desire has been granted, will actually suffer such a martyrdom.” One sister asked what form this martyrdom took. The saint answered: “Yield yourself fully to God, and you will find out! Divine love takes its sword to the hidden recesses of our inmost soul and divides us from ourselves. I know one person whom love cut off from all that was dearest to her, just as completely and effectively as if a tyrant’s blade had severed spirit from body.” We realized that she was speaking of herself. When another sister asked how long the martyrdom would continue, the saint replied: “From the moment when we commit ourselves unreservedly to God, until our last breath. I am speaking, of course, of great-souled individuals who keep nothing back for themselves, but instead are faithful in love. Our Lord does not intend this martyrdom for those who are weak in love and perseverance. Such people He lets continue on their mediocre way, so that they will not be lost to Him; He never does violence to our free will.” Finally, the saint was asked whether this martyrdom of love could be put on the same level as martyrdom of the body. She answered: “We should not worry about equality. I do think, however, that the martyrdom of love cannot be relegated to a second place, for ‘love is as strong as death.’ For the martyrs of love suffer infinitely more in remaining in this life so as to serve God, than if they died a thousand times over in testimony to their faith and love and fidelity.” – from the memoirs of the secretary of Saint Jane Frances de Chantal.  Love is more than a feeling.  Love is more powerful than sin and death.

“Fidelity toward God consists in being perfectly resigned to His holy will, in enduring everything that His goodness allows in our lives, and in carrying out all our duties, especially that of prayer, with love and for love. In prayer we must converse very familiarly with our Lord, concerning our little needs, telling Him what they are, and remaining submissive to anything He may wish to do with us.  We should go to prayer with deep humility and an awareness of our nothingness. We must invoke the help of the Holy Spirit and that of our good angel, and then remain still in God‘s presence, full of faith that He is more in us than we are in ourselves. There is no danger if our prayer is without words or reflection because the good success of prayer depends neither on words nor on study. It depends upon the simple raising of our minds to God, and the more simple and stripped of feeling it is, the surer it is. We must never dwell on our sins during prayer. Regarding our offenses, a simple humbling of our soul before God, without a thought of this offense or that, is enough…such thoughts act as distractions. – Saint Jeanne de Chantal, from Wings to the Lord.

An Act of Abandonment:
-by Saint Jane Frances De Chantal

O sovereign goodness of the sovereign Providence of my God!
I abandon myself forever to Thy arms.
Whether gentle or severe,
lead me henceforth whither Thou wilt;
I will not regard the way through which Thou wilt have me pass,
but keep my eyes fixed upon Thee,
my God, who guidest me.
My soul finds no rest without the arms
and the bosom of this heavenly Providence,
my true Mother, my strength and my rampart.

Therefore I resolve with Thy Divine assistance,
O my Saviour,
to follow Thy desires and Thy ordinances,
without regarding or examining why Thou dost this rather than that;
but I will blindly follow Thee
according to Thy Divine will,
without seeking my own inclinations.

Hence I am determined to leave all to Thee,
taking no part therein save by keeping myself in peace in Thy arms,
desiring nothing except as Thou incitest me to desire,
to will, to wish.

I offer Thee this desire, O my God,
beseeching Thee to bless it;
I undertake all it includes,
relying on Thy goodness,
liberality, and mercy,
with entire confidence in Thee,
distrust of myself,
and knowledge of my infinite misery and infirmity.
Amen!

Lord, you chose Saint Jane Frances to serve You
in marriage, family and in religious life.
By her prayers, help us to be faithful
in our vocation,
and always to be the light of the world.

We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ,
your Son, who lives and reigns with You
and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Novena Prayer to St Jane Frances de Chantal

0 glorious saint, blessed Jane Frances,
by fervent prayer, attention to the Divine Presence,
and purity of intention,
you attained on earth an intimate union with God.

Be now our advocate, our mother,
our guide in the path of virtue and perfection.

Plead our cause near Jesus, Mary and Joseph,
to whom you were so tenderly devoted,
and whose holy virtues you so closely imitated.

Obtain for us, O amiable and compassionate Saint,
the virtues you deem most necessary for us;
an ardent love of Jesus in the most holy Sacrament,
a tender and filial confidence in His Blessed Mother,
and like you, a constant remembrance
of His sacred Passion and death.

Obtain also, we pray,
that our particular intention in this novena
may be granted.

V.Pray for us, O holy St. Jane Frances,
R. That we may be made worthy
of the promises of Christ.

Let us pray:

0 almighty and merciful God,
who granted to blessed St. Jane Frances,
so inflamed with love of You,
a wonderful degree of fortitude
through all the paths of life,
and through her, were pleased to adorn Your church
with a new religious Order,
grant by her merits and prayers that we,
who sensible of our weakness
confide in Your strength,
may overcome all adversity with the help
of Your heavenly grace,
through Christ Our Lord. Amen.

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“The best method of prayer is not to have one.” – St. Jane Frances de Chantal. I concur, whole heartedly. Those unfamiliar w/God benefit most from methods/specific directions. Those more familiar are just in the constant presence. There is no “tele”, Greek for ‘at a distance’, in their communication with God. He is immediate, always present. Or, as in adoration, “I look at Him. He looks at me.” Or, when they set up young Dominican student brothers to give direction on prayer to more senior, male or female, religious, and the senior religious simply say, “I sit on the bench outside in nature, and listen. He speaks to my heart.” Whom is really giving direction to whom? Exactly. The heart is always the correct organ to use when listening to God. I have always found what God has to say is infinitely more interesting than anything I might add. So, I shut up. And, listen.

Love,
Matthew

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