One of my favorite saints of all time is St. Francis de Sales. I was introduced to him some years ago when I read his classic Introduction to the Devout Life. He was an amazing writer, and a deeply holy man. He got two doctorates – one in Canon (Catholic Church) Law and one in regular Law, and then chucked a promising political career to become a priest. His first assignment as a priest was to Geneva, Switzerland, a deeply Protestant area. This was not long after the Protestant Reformation, and feelings were high against Catholics and Catholicism in general, so this post was pretty much a suicide mission, and I don’t mean that metaphorically. He was nearly assassinated on more than one occasion, was ambushed as he tried to travel around the area, and endured all kinds of dangers. Still, he persevered, and succeeded in re-winning a foothold for Catholics in the area, partly through his use of the new invention, the printing press. He had flyers and brochures printed up explaining basic Catholic teachings, which he distributed far and wide. Later he became bishop of Geneva, though the area was still so inhospitable to Catholics that he was never able to actually live there. At one point, he proved his further BA-ness when, pressed for time, he dared to ride through the center of Geneva wearing his full bishop’s regalia, and didn’t get killed.
However, what made me love St. Francis was his writing. He was a very skilled spiritual director, with a deep insight into human nature, and a uniquely gentle style that is still deeply challenging. I like to say that he’s so good, he can smack you upside the head, and you don’t even notice until you realize that your ears are ringing. He was a prolific writer, and is one of the Doctors of the Church. He wrote several major works, while keeping up a major correspondence, starting a new religious order with St. Jane Frances de Chantal, and administering a diocese. But the thing that impresses me the most about the man is this: it is said that whenever someone came to his door, no matter what he was doing, he would stop immediately, even putting down his pen in the middle of writing a word, to help that person. It didn’t matter if it was the housekeeper asking what he wanted for lunch (in fact, I think the story came from his housekeeper), or a poor person asking for assistance, or the King of France. He stopped instantly to attend to their needs.
That just knocks my socks off. I mean, the guy was busy, and busy with important things. He wasn’t messing around on facebook, or trying to catch up on his blog feeds, he was writing stuff that would be spiritual classics four hundred years later. You would think that, given all this, he would have been totally justified in saying, “Hey, can you wait a second while I finish this thought?” But no. To him, the person in front of him was more important than whatever he was doing. So he stopped instantly, and took care of them.
I never thought I could be that kind of person. It can be hard for me to focus sometimes, so when someone comes and interrupts my concentration, I can get a little peeved. I want to be like, hey, cleaning guy, I don’t really care about all the details of the special dish you made for dinner on Saturday. I have payroll stuff I have to do here, and no, other coworker, I don’t want you to tell me all about your dilemma over whether you should let your 16 year old go to the youth group lock-in. I’m trying to enjoy my lunch, which is one of the few times I get for myself during the day, and I don’t really want to hear about the cute thing your cat did, much less answer your questions about exactly when your insurance benefits are going to kick in. And, you know, like that.
However, I think my job is helping me to change. You see, my job is all about interruptions. One time I was complaining about being busy, and a friend sent me some time management info that talked about how to manage the interruptions that can keep you from doing your job. It was absolutely no use to me because my job is the interruptions. That’s what I’m there for – to be available to answer questions, and care about people’s problems, and help them get the help they need. It’s what I do. The rest of my job is what I do in between the interruptions. I won’t pretend it’s always easy. Some days I feel like I spend half my time trying to remember whatever it was that I was doing before I got interrupted the last time, or the time before that. But it’s helping me become the kind of person who is willing to care about the people around me, even if just because I spend a good part of my day saying over and over again, “How can I help you?”
And then, the other day, I was interrupted while making labels for new files. When I finally got back to what I had been doing, I realized that I had put my pen down instantly, without finishing my word. Just like St. Francis de Sales.
There might be hope for me yet!