"On a Mission: Lessons from St. Francis de Sales," by Patrick Madrid. Servant Books (http://catalog.franciscanmedia.org; 888-322-6657), 2013. 138 pages. $15.99.
Do you know someone who once was Catholic but left the church or just stopped going? Have you ever encountered someone who is an angry anti-Catholic or is convinced you are not going to go to heaven because you are Catholic? Do you wonder what the apostolic mission given to you at baptism really means? Then this is a must-read.
Patrick Madrid is a famous Catholic apologist who masterfully weaves together all of the above concerns while focusing on the accomplishments of St. Francis de Sales. I must admit I didn’t know much about this saint but found by the end of the book that I had grown an appreciation for what he and I have in common — living in a strongly anti-Catholic society and in need of an approach and tools for reaching out to and defending against attacks from others.
The book is divided into eight chapters. Chapter 1 gets you on board in seeing what an apostle on a mission looks like. Madrid tells us that St. Francis was on a search-and-rescue mission. His task was to try to reconvert tens of thousands of Calvinists in a region of France.
The author tells us that "the vast majority has been conditioned to regard the church as the ‘whore of Babylon,’ a counterfeit form of Christianity that preaches a false Gospel." Does that sound familiar to you? What we can learn from him is patience and persistence.
St. Francis de Sales realized the only way to achieve his goal was to have a strong prayer life. This enabled him to endure hardships while remaining a man of joy. Madrid tells us that even when the saint felt exasperated or angry with the negative reactions many people gave him, he was kind and helpful to everyone he met."
The books points out, "even though you will probably never be called by God to brave physical hardship or danger in sharing the Father with others, the Lord is calling you to live as an apostle, to be ready, willing and able to help him help those around you." Are you up for the challenge?
Chapter 2 contains a very powerful allegory using the story of the Titanic that helps you to see the urgency with which we need to spread the message of Christ.
Madrid identifies the attributes necessary to have the heart of an apostle: charity, availability and perseverance. He tells us, "one thing you can know for sure is that the day-to-day, seemingly mundane circumstances you find yourself in are not accidental." He tells us that we too are on the Titanic and we must do everything in our power to help others be saved.
Chapter 3 is very sobering, telling us that "we must be willing to speak out the truth even when you know you might get laughed at, or shouted down, or abandoned, or turned upon, or betrayed."
He demonstrates how the following virtues are essential traits of an apostle: a spirit of willingness; fortitude to endure difficulties; the virtues of prudence and persistence. He also lists the attributes of authenticity and supernatural charity that every dedicated apostle must possess if he or she is going to make a difference in the cause for truth.
Madrid ends Chapter 3 by quoting St. Francis de Sales, saying, "the greatest fault we commit is the lack of confidence in God. This is the reason we fail to receive the help we deserve and ask for."
The rest of the book presents stories that serve to motivate and inspire. This is a short book (only 128 pages, not counting the notes), yet it packs a powerful punch.
Chapter 4 includes the story of St. John Vianney and St. Paul. Chapter 5 features a real-life story that leaves us with the wisdom, "not to assume that what seemed obvious was necessarily true." Chapter 6’s most important part was on the tyranny of relativism. He leaves you with a message of hope saying, "your yes to Christ is the key that will unlock not only the door of your own future, within the loving providence of God, but very possibly the door through which the Lord wishes many others to pass toward their fulfillment in this life and in the eternal life to come."
Chapter 7 gives you practical advice, including keeping your voice as calm and emotionless as possible when speaking to an anti-Catholic. When they threw out a wild comment, respond with a question of your own such as "What do you mean by that?" or "How did you come to that conclusion?" He also tells you when it’s time to quit: "sometimes all you can do is just leave it where it is, not push and commend someone to God. As an apostle for Christ, the key is to do what you can, make an honest effort, be patient and kind, and leave the heavy lifting up to God."
It is also extremely important that we know enough of the basics of our faith to explain them. Chapter 8 provides specific resources you can use in that regard.
You will find help, guidance and inspiration in this book as you make your way to heaven.
Stuart is a teacher at Seton-LaSalle High School and a member of St. Elizabeth of Hungary Parish in Pleasant Hills.