The Order of the Visitation of St. Mary: the spirit of St. Francis de Sales today

In the framework of the Jubilee Year on the occasion of the IV Centenary of the death of St. Francis de Sales that we have lived in 2022, it is good to take a look at one of the most important works of his life, the one in which he placed his most ardent hopes: the foundation of the Order of the Visitation.

Community of the Monastery of the Visitation in Seville-January 24, 2023-Reading time: 5 minutes
St. Francis de Sales

Photo: Saint Francis de Sales. Francisco Bayeu ©Museo del Prado

Whoever wants to know more about St. Francis de SalesTo go deeper into his thought, to guess his feelings and to possess in its integrity the revelation of his soul and his heart, you will be able to see it reflected in his "little Congregation".

The Visitation was, in the last 15 years of her life, her work par excellence, the fruit of her deep meditations and paternal care.

God's Providence willed that the meeting of two great saints, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jeanne-Françoise Fremiot de Chantal, would bear fruit in his Church with a new charism, a new religious Order destined to honor the two most beloved virtues of the Sacred Heart of the Incarnate Word: gentleness and humility.

It is difficult to synthesize in a few lines the spirituality of St. Francis de SalesIt is a spirituality that he transmitted to his daughters of the Visitation, and from which many other religious congregations in the Church, and countless lay people, have been enriched throughout history.

It could be said that the lives of the saints never end: yes, their bodies die; their souls live in Heaven interceding for those of us who are on pilgrimage on earth; but their works remain, and their spirit continues to live on in the Church today.

For this reason, the Visitation Order, which today has more than 150 monasteries spread throughout the world, continues to spread the charism received as a gift of the Holy Spirit for the whole Church and transmitted by the founders.

The origins of the Visitation order

But how was the Visitation born? The holy Founder affirmed without hesitation: "Our little Congregation is the work of the Heart of Jesus and Mary; the Savior, in dying, gave birth to us through the opening of his Sacred Heart".

The charism proper to the Order was born of the Heart of Jesus. The two founding saints drank from it and the Order continues to drink from it today. visitandinas all over the world. In fact, this devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, willed and desired by the Founders, was providentially prepared by the will of the Lord.

A few decades after the death of the founders, in Paray-le-monial, a humble daughter of St. Francis de Sales received the Revelations of the Sacred Heart of Jesus himself, charging him to make them known and spread them throughout the Church.

The Lord chose St. Margaret Mary Alacoque as a particular confidant of this mystery of his heart, and in her, he gave the whole Order of the Visitation a particular mission, to bring the Sacred Heart to all men.

In the same way, the saint wanted the new congregation he founded to bear the title "The Visitation of St. Mary", out of a very special devotion and love for the Mother of God, because he found in this Mystery "a thousand particular details that gave him a special light on the spirit he wished to establish in his Institute".

The holy Doctor of the Love of God, in the course of his pastoral life and especially of his immense work as a director of souls, had met along the way many people who wanted to consecrate themselves entirely to God in the religious life, but who were unable to do so due to lack of health.

In fact, the religious orders that existed at the time required a strong physical constitution capable of enduring great fasting and external penance as prescribed by the rules.

The saint's admirable intuition made him understand how the Church needed a new path of sanctification that would open the door to people in poor physical health, the elderly, or those who simply did not feel attracted to the practice of great external austerities.

However, these exterior austerities should be replaced by interior renunciation and great simplicity and joy in the common life.

The axis and foundation of the spiritual edifice desired by St. Francis de Sales for the Visitation could not be other than the Pure Love of God.

In May 1610, just a few days before the beginning of the Foundation, he himself wrote to the holy foundress: "Oh, my daughter, how I long for the day when, dead to ourselves, we will live only for God, and our life will be hidden with Jesus Christ in God! Oh, when will it be no longer we who live, but Jesus Christ in us?

These few lines summarize the wishes of the two saints when the date set for the Foundation arrived: June 6, 1610, the Solemnity of the Most Holy Trinity.

Some time later the Saint was asked why he was founding a new Order if there were already so many in the Church, he answered: "It is to give to God daughters of prayer and souls so interior that they may be found worthy to serve His Divine Majesty and to adore Him in spirit and truth. Leaving it to the great Orders already established in the Church to honor Our Lord by means of excellent exercises and brilliant virtues, I want my daughters to have no other pretension than to glorify Him by their humble life".  

For her part, St. Joan Frances explained to her daughters years later: "There is a martyrdom, that of Love, by which God, sustaining the lives of his servants and handmaids, so that they may work for his glory, makes them both martyrs and confessors. I know that this is the martyrdom to which the Daughters of the Visitation are destined, and which God will give to those who have the good fortune to desire it... Give God your consent, and you will experience it. It consists in the fact that the Love of God pierces, like a sword, the most intimate and secret parts of our soul, and separates us from ourselves".

And St. Francis de Sales spoke thus to the first Visitandines: "Why do you think, my daughters, that God has put you in the world ... if not to be for his Divine Majesty, hosts of holocaust and victims to be consumed daily in his Divine Love?

Thus, having the Love of God as its foundation, the "particular spirit of the Visitation is none other than a spirit of profound humility towards God and of great gentleness towards one's neighbor". A short anecdote from the life of the saint makes this clear.

A few days before his death, while he was in the parlor with his daughters, he was presented with a piece of paper asking him to write down those things he considered most important so that he could keep them in a special place. The holy Founder took up his pen and slowly wrote down a single word: humility.

Together with this humility and gentleness, another virtue proper to the spirit of the Visitor is simplicity of heart. The Saint said: "Simplicity is nothing but an act of pure and simple charity, which has only one goal: to acquire the love of God. And our soul is simple when that is the only thing we aim at in what we do or desire".

St. Francis de Sales fled from all that was complicated and complicated, from all that was superfluous and overloaded; the simplicity of the Gospel was his habitual way of life. A simplicity of heart that emanated from a profound detachment from all that was not God and service to his brothers.

That is why, especially at the end of his life, he constantly had on his lips these words that have become famous for their simplicity, but also for the depth they contain: Nothing to ask, nothing to refuse. "Receive what they give you, and do not ask for what they do not want to give you. In this practice you will find Peace for your souls. Yes, dear Sisters, keep your heart in this holy indifference to receive what they give you and not to desire what they will not give you. In a word: do not desire anything; place yourselves and place, fully and perfectly, all your worries in the hands of Divine Providence".

We wanted to make a small outline of this rich Visitation spirituality that St. Francis de Sales left as a legacy not only to his daughters, but to all Christians who want to follow his teachings and live this spirit accessible to any person regardless of their personal vocation.

More than 400 years ago a new branch sprouted on the tree of the Church, a branch that continues to bear fruit.

As a religious Order of contemplative life, these fruits remain for the most part hidden from the eyes of men.

A life hidden in the silence of a cloister may seem sterile according to human criteria, but the supernatural vision makes us guess in that silent surrender the wisdom of grace that spreads through prayer to every corner of the Church and the world.

This is the hidden testimony of every Sister of the Visitation, of those who were contemporaries of the holy founders and also of those who in the 21st century wish to follow their spirit faithfully.

The authorCommunity of the Monastery of the Visitation in Seville

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