Fidelity— in monastic circles more often called perseverance — is one of those unspectacular qualities without which the world would be a much unhappier place. Doing the same things day after day, putting up with difficulty and sometimes even danger, is rarely heroic in the way we usually define heroism, but I think it has a grandeur and a beauty all its own. To persevere, to go on being faithful, is to assert that ultimately our lives have meaning; that what we do or don’t do matters; that we are moral beings. Sometimes, when we feel knee-high to a grasshopper, it is good to remember that.
I like the fact that the feast of St Francis de Sales occurs during the Octave of Prayer for Christian Unity. He has so much to teach us about how to ‘do’ Christian Unity. It matters that Francis was graciously received by Theodore Beza, the great Protestant scholar and theologian. It also matters that, as Bishop of Geneva, Francis was remarkable for his gentleness and courtesy, yet there was never any doubt about what he believed or taught. He was clear about his Catholicism, and because he was clear, he was able to transcend the polemics of his time. He was more interested in winning souls for God than in scoring points off his opponents.
Sometimes I think we all get a little weary with the quest for Unity. We know it isn’t optional, but we don’t quite see what we ought to do or be to attain it. As a Catholic, my primary focus is on reconciliation with the Orthodox, but living as I do in England, practically speaking, I am more concerned with the Anglican and Protestant traditions of my fellow citizens. That is why I find St Francis de Sales such an encouragement. If you look at his life or read his writings, you can see that his way of working for the Unity of the Church was simply to be faithful to his own vocation and allow God to do with him as he chose. That strikes a chord because the holiness of Benedictines consists largely in a lifetime of small fidelities. God can write straight with crooked sticks; he can also use our littleness to do something great.