St. Francis de Sales, widely regarded as one of the greatest spiritual advisers in the history of the Church, was known for his kind, gentle and patient manner; as well as for his writing. When he wasn’t able to reach people, literally, as he traveled through rough terrain in Europe; or when doors were slammed in his face as he worked to bring Calvinists back to Catholicism, it was his writing on the truth, beauty and goodness of Jesus that converted countless hearts.
Christopher Blum, academic dean and professor at the Augustine Institute in Greenwood Village, pored over four volumes from the thousands of letters written by the 16th-century bishop and selected 60 of the most striking pieces to translate—from French to English, many for the first time—into a new book of meditations: “Roses Among Thorns: Simple Advice for Renewing Your Spiritual Journey.”
“In the later part of his life, a large percentage of his letters were really private personal letters to a friend,” Blum said of the saint who lived from 1567 to 1622, including many letters to dear friend St. Jane de Chantal.
“It’s been well-known that the two of them exchanged very beautiful letters,” he said. While those letters have been published in the past “Roses Among Thorns” introduces a new perspective.
“They tend to get published as being letters between two saints,” Blum said. “What I wanted to do was put these selections together in a way that the reader would not feel he was looking over the shoulder of someone else’s conversation—but simply being addressed by the saint himself.”
To accomplish that feel, Blum removed personal references such as “my dear sister,” and mentions of specific events; but left the spiritual content of the passages intact.
“What’s in the book is Francis de Sales’ own private personal advice to his closest friends,” he said. “He’s so warm and approachable, to read him is to read as if you’re being addressed directly.”
The meditations provide “simple advice for renewing one’s spiritual life,” he continued.
“This book is for people who understand themselves to be making a spiritual journey and could use a little mini-retreat or pep talk,” he said, adding that during the translating and editing process, he personally profited from the messages.
“It just really struck me how helpful these passages are,” Blum said. “At a certain point in your Catholic life … you can really use something new. It’s great to have something new that’s actually old, and by a doctor of the Church.”
The doctrine in the book is not any different than “Introduction to the Devout Life,” the renowned 1608 work of St. Francis de Sales that remains popular today, but it’s packaged differently, he said.
Titles of the meditations include: Seasons of Life, Accepting God’s Will, Too Busy to Pray, The Imagination in Prayer, The Passage of Time, and Blum’s favorite, Jesus the Gardener, among many others. The personal letters are designed to help readers develop soul-nourishing habits and restore one’s confidence in Christ.
“If you find it difficult to live amid the clamor of the world with your eyes fixed on Christ alone,” he said, “let St. Francis de Sales teach you how to live as a true rose among thorns.”
This is Blum’s second translation of St. Francis de Sales with Sophia Institute Press, the first being “The Sign of Cross: The Fifteen Most Powerful Words in the English Language” released in 2013. Both are available at www.sophiainstitute.com and local Catholic bookstores.
Title: “Roses Among Thorns: Simple Advice for Renewing Your Spiritual Journey.” (111 pages, $11.95)
Author: St. Francis de Sales
Translator: Christopher O. Blum, Ph.D.
Forward by: Bishop James Conley, S.T.L.
Available: www.sophiainstitute.com and Catholic book stores