Today we continue our regular series called “Learning from the Saints.” Our guide is expert Bert Ghezzi, a dear friend of mine and the author of numerous books including Voices of the Saints, Saints at Heart, and Discover Christ: Developing a Personal Relationship with Jesus.
Today, Bert profiles St. Jane Frances de Chantal, who is the patron of of forgotten people, in-law problems, and the loss of parents.
Any Christian who has ever been of two minds should take St. Jane Frances de Chantal as a model. If we are being candid, perhaps thus all of us should regard her as our patron. Jane de Chantal served God generously her entire life. All the while, however, a worm of doubt gnawed at her soul. In her sunset years she told a friend,
“I’ve had these temptations for forty-one years now—do you think I’m going to give up after all this time? Absolutely not. I’ll never stop hoping in God, though he kill me, though he grind me into the dust of eternity.
“Most often, there is a confused sort of strife in my soul. Between feelings of being plunged into impenetrable darkness that I am powerless to do anything about, I have a kind of spiritual nausea that tempts me to give up trying. When these trials are at their most severe, they hardly let up at all, and they cause me unimaginable torment, so that I would almost be willing to do anything to be relieved of this torture. On the one hand, I am caught between the excruciating pain, and on the other hand, my love for our holy Faith that is so deep I would die rather than deny the least article of it.
“If I can keep from offending God in spite of all this, then I am content with whatever it may please him to allow me to suffer, even if I must suffer for the rest of my life. I want only to do it knowing that he wants me to, and that in suffering I am being faithful to him.”
Spiritually, St. Jane de Chantal seems lifelong to have endured a dark night of the soul. Medically, physicians today might say she appears to have been clinically depressed. Whatever her condition, however, nothing stopped this most competent woman from sailing through her days.
Jane Frances Frémyot doted on her husband, Baron Christopher de Chantal, whom she married in 1592. She bore him seven children, four of whom survived. Jane’s long sadness began in 1601 when the baron died in a hunting accident. To better serve Christ as a widow, the saint took a private vow of celibacy.
Three years later Jane met St. Francis de Sales. She identified him as the bishop pictured in a vision as her future spiritual director. The saints became friends, and Francis took responsibility to guide Jane’s life. She thought of becoming a Carmelite nun, but Francis suggested that she collaborate with him in founding a new religious community for women. In 1610, after ensuring care for her children, she founded the Congregation of the Visitation and became Mother de Chantal.
St. Francis designed the community women who could not endure the rigors of other religious orders. When Mother de Chantal was criticized for accepting so many ill candidates, she replied, “What do you want me to do? I like sick people, myself.” The order spread rapidly. When St. Jane de Chantal died in 1641, there were 87 Visitation monasteries.
“O Lord Jesus, I surrender to you all my will. Let me be your lute. Touch any string you please. Always and forever let me make music in perfect harmony with your own. Yes, Lord, with no ifs, ands or buts, let your will be done in this family, for the father, for the children, for everything that concerns us, and especially let your will be done in me.”
— Prayer of St. Jane de Chantal