Wednesday, 29 January 2014

My Friend and Namesake: St Jane Frances de Chantal

This post was originally written for Sarah’s wonderful series – Our Friends, The Saints – but, incredible woman that she was, Jane Frances was snapped up quickly as a favourite saint (look out for that post this Saturday!). Keep a look out for a guest post coming there soon...


        Ever since I can remember, my parents have loved to tell me the story of how they chose my name. There wasn’t a moment, they tell me, when they doubted the names God had given them both: Esther Jane Frances. Esther, after the beautiful Persian queen who stepped out in faith to defend her people. A story of bravery, strength and complete faith in God’s deliverance. A story that so many people know and take courage from. Yet Jane Frances has an equally inspiring story – one which fewer people know of…

        My middle names were chosen to honour my mother’s favourite childhood saint, who has since become one of my own favourites (not just out of bias!). The daughter of a wealthy Baron, Jane Frances was married at 20 and widowed with 4 young children by the age of 28. At a relatively young age she had already lost her two oldest children and several other members of her family as well. She could hardly have been blamed had she become angry with God or even turned away from Him. But instead she did something remarkable.

        She took a vow of chastity and dedicated her whole life to the Lord. With the help of St Francis de Sales she moved to Annecy and founded the Congregation of the Visitation – a religious order which accepted women whose unbridled desire to serve God had been rejected by other orders on the basis of age or ill-health. What’s more, they were among the first female orders to actively take the word of God out into the community in a time when female religious were generally expected to remain cloistered. She worked tirelessly to spread the message of the order – one of love, humility and charity – to the extent that by the time she died in 1641 the order had 86 houses.

        Jane Frances de Chantal was a woman of courage, who judged people only on the desire of their heart. And yet she did all of that quietly and unassumingly, with a generosity of spirit and humble attitude. She lived each day for the glory of God, aware that her good works were done not by her own strength alone. The enormity of her legacy demonstrates the fact that aggression and forcefulness are not necessary to get things done. She showed us that meekness does not equate to weakness.

"Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him. That is all the doing you have to worry about."
St Jane Frances de Chantal

        When I was a child we visited Annecy on a family holiday. We entered the Cathedral to look around and found that, out of sheer divine providence, mass was just beginning. I was too young to understand fully, but I can clearly remember the peace I felt there, in the place that my namesake had walked daily – celebrating mass and receiving the Eucharist where she, too, had done so. She had already begun to intercede for me to my Father in Heaven, with whom she is celebrating eternal life.
        Esther and Jane Frances. Two lives of courage, selflessness and determination – 2000 years apart. I pray that I may be able to emulate just a fraction of their strength in my own life. May their unending intercession instil in me – and in all of us - the confidence to hear and obey God’s call wherever it may lead. May we challenge the fear of failure in the name of Christ Jesus our Lord, and be an unshaken voice for the voiceless.

St Jane Frances de Chantal… Pray for us.

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