St Jane Frances de Chantal

Widow, Co-Foundress of the Order of the Visitation (entered heaven in 1641)

Dear Janine,

I can’t understand how you complain so bitterly about the dishonorable intentions of all those young men who invite you out and at the same time you dress and act in such a way as to inevitably stir up such intentions.  I hope this contradiction shows only that you are, in this sense at least, a product of your times, and not that you are vainly savoring your ability to attract members of the opposite sex. Remember, my dear niece, that what is considered “normal” behavior on campus is not always in harmony with what is worthy of a Christian, a daughter of the Eternal King.  I am not advocating that you go around dressed in a potato sack and staring at the ground all the time, but I am advocating that you take pains to express the dignity, elegance, and self-restraint proper of a “temple of the Holy Spirit” (which is what St Paul calls the Christian’s body) in the way you dress and carry yourself. You may want to take today’s saint as a model in this regard.

Jane de Chantal became a remarkably holy woman.  By the time she died, at the age of 69, she had founded 65 convents of the new order of nuns that she had begun together with St Francis de Sales, her spiritual director, and confessor.  She was entertained by Queens and princes, revered by saints and scholars, and loved by rich and poor alike. She was the daughter of a French nobleman and married the Baron of Chantal when she was 20 years old.  They had an ideal marriage. Deeply in love, they had six children together (three of whom died when very young), and ran an estate that was the envy of all their peers, not only in prosperity but especially in familial happiness.  This robust marital joy was no accident. Mr. and Mrs. Chantal knew how to guard their hearts against vain and destructive fancies. Once a friend commented on how modestly Jane dressed whenever her husband was away; her answer is full of Christian wisdom, “The eyes which I want to please are a hundred miles from here.”  She certainly wasn’t careless or naïve about her dress and bearing.

In any case, their joyful marriage lasted only nine years, and then the Baron was killed in a hunting accident, and Jane’s grief hurtled her into blind despair for months.  Only a poignant letter from her father succeeded in rousing her, by appealing to the obligation she had to her children. She couldn’t conceive of marrying again and began to increase her religious devotion, asking God to send her someone who could be her guide along the way to deeper intimacy with Christ.  Her prayers were answered, and she soon crossed paths with St Francis de Sales, who faithfully led her along the path of God’s will. He too understood the meaning of Christian modesty and restraint. One day, when he saw her dressed more provocatively than usual, he queried, “Madam, do you wish to marry again?”  “No, indeed my lord!” she replied. “Very well,” he said, smiling, “but then you should pull down your flag.” That, my beloved niece, is a very practical spiritual director; flaunting one’s sexual appeal is hardly worthy of a soul called to eternal glory.

I do hope you won’t take my comments amiss.  If God made you beautiful, he did so for a reason; I just want to make sure you don’t squander the gift.

Your loving uncle, Eddy

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