Jane de Chantal: A Barrier of Powerlessness
My resolve to be very faithful is balanced by my incapacity to attain it
Jane de Chantal1 and Francis de Sales, two of the most insightful spiritual directors of their time, shared a collaboration that profoundly shaped Christian spirituality. Several years ago, I read their letters and they instantly became a source of guidance. In this letter, Jane’s words find a reflection of my own inner conflict: the tension between my longing for Christian perfection (Divine love filling and freeing my whole being) and the keen sense of my own powerlessness to attain it. Not that I don't believe it will happen one day, but that it’s taking so long. I must learn to wait patiently for it. And worst of all, my patient waiting must include my stumbling participation and practice. This is both a gift and a burden, a kind of dual force that drives me toward my divine telos, while always reminding me of my own limitation. This is a humbling journey indeed – to become Christ, to become finally human. At the beginning of the letter, Jane mentions that she is about to join a monastic order, and her reference to the "Evangelical Life" highlights her commitment to living out the vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.
To Francis de Sales
Vive ✠ Jésus!
How soon may I hope for the happy day when I shall irrevocably offer myself to my God?
He has so filled me with the thought of being entirely His, and it has come home to me in such a wonderful and powerful manner, that, were my emotion to last as it now is, I could not live under its intensity.
Never have I had such a burning love and desire for the evangelical life and for the great perfection to which God calls me.
What I feel about it is quite impossible to put into words.
But, alas! my resolve to be very faithful to the greatness of the love of this divine Saviour is balanced by the feeling of my incapacity to correspond with it.
Oh, how painful to love is this barrier of powerlessness!
But why do I speak thus? By doing so I degrade, it seems to me, the gift of God which urges me to live in perfect poverty, in humble obedience, and in spotless purity.2
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Jane Frances de Chantal was a French Roman Catholic saint of the 16th century. She was born in Dijon, France, in 1572 to a wealthy family and was married to a nobleman. After her husband's death, she devoted her life to service in the Church, founding the Order of the Visitation of Holy Mary in 1610. A tireless advocate for the poor and the sick, Jane de Chantal was canonized by the Catholic Church in 1767 and is now known as the patron saint of mothers, widows, and those in difficult situations. Her spirit of kindness and service continues to inspire others to this day.
De Chantal, Jane. Selected Letters of St. Jane Frances de Chantal. Project Gutenberg. Accessed January 27, 2024. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/50592/50592-h/50592-h.htm.