St Sulpicius Severus

(disciple of St Martin of Tours) (entered heaven this day around 410)

Dear Steve,

I seem to have caught the flu or something.  In any case, I have a fever, and feel quite exhausted, and therefore I have little patience for the unworthy vacillations filling your last note.  I will respond to them without frills.

If only you could hear yourself.  You are looking at your vocational discernment as if you were choosing an appetizer at a restaurant: “I don’t know if that’s actually what will fit my needs… But if later I change my mind, I’ll be stuck… How can I decide where to go?…”  My dear nephew, life is not a menu; it’s an adventure.  And you either go it alone, or you go it at Christ’s side.  And if you travel at Christ’s side, you have to trust him.  Why that’s so hard for an intelligent young man like yourself completely baffles me.  Who is more trustworthy, yourself or Jesus?  Who is wiser, who is more powerful, who loves more?  Will Jesus lead you astray?  Will he cheat you of your heart’s desire?  Does he desire, could he possible be planning your utter frustration and unhappiness?  HAVEN’T YOU LEARNED ANYTHING BY READING THESE CONFOUNDED EMAILS?!?

Would that you had the common sense of today’s saint.  He was born in southwestern France, of an illustrious and wealthy family.  Consequently, he had the chance to receive the solid education of an aristocrat, especially deep in the literary and rhetorical arts (which would serve him well later on, when he wrote his brilliant “Ecclesiastical History” and “Life of St Martin”, both of which have had a long-standing influence in the Church).  He made his career at the bar (they say no one was a more eloquent or effective lawyer), and married a woman of consular rank, beautiful, cultured, and kind.  Their marriage was a happy one, until she died.  With the joy of his life amputated so abruptly, Severus was thrown back on himself, forced to reflect more on the meaning of life.  If the purest and greatest delights of earthly life were so fleeting, so fragile, what was the point of it all?… Comforted and encouraged by his mother-in-law, the young aristocrat made his first advances in the Christian faith.  Soon, the Holy Spirit began to open up new horizons, and he discerned clearly that God was inviting him to take the narrow road of the cross.

Unlike his friend St Paulinus, who abandoned his worldly career at the same time, Severus decided to keep ownership of his large properties, selling only enough to free him from all debts.  After that, he retired to a small cottage near a tiny village, and dedicated himself to prayer, sacrifice, and Christian charity.  He put the income from his estates entirely at the service of the Church and the poor, using his intelligence and experience to manage the property as prosperously as possible.

Throughout these years he maintained a beautiful and edifying written correspondence with other saints and family members, befriended St Martin of Tours, and investigated into Christian theology and history.  We know few details, but he clearly became popular for his virtue and wisdom, and developed a reputation for holiness.  It seems that soon after the death of St Martin, Severus took up his old friend’s monastic cell, and then moved to another monastery in Marsailles, where he finished out his holy days.

I ask you, do you think he had any regrets about having given up his career, status, and wealth to dedicate himself entirely to Christ’s Kingdom?  And do you think he has any regrets now, except perhaps that he didn’t start heeding Christ’s call sooner?  They say that wise people learn from experience.  I say that fools learn from experience, and wise people learn from the experience of others.  Would that you, who are so intelligent, may also be wise.

Your feverish uncle,


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