Monday 30 January 2023

Blessed Sebastian Valfrè

Born in 1629 in a stable in Verdun, Sebastian Valfrè (1629–1710) blessed in faith and piety began his training for the priesthood at 12 years old. Wishing with greater ardour to devote all to God and the salvation of souls, he entered the Congregation of the Oratory of Turin on the Feast of Our Holy Father St Philip, 1651, one year after being ordained sub-deacon. He saw St Philip as the model of a perfect priest, following his teaching in humility, visiting the hospitals and going from house to house among the poor, imploring them with his persuasive sweetness to abandon sin and turn to the services of the Church.

Blessed Sebastian’s love for the Oratory and St Philip is most evident in his obedience. Members of the Congregation live in community, under obedience, but without vows. While charity and love bind the community together, obedience “is the chart by which to sail for the shores of perfection and the port of a blessed eternity.” “Exact observance” of the customs and traditions of the Oratory and thus priestly life was Blessed Sebastian’s focus. This may lead us to imagine Blessed Sebastian as an uncompromising figure, but his gentle approach to obedience and stress on the existence of loving correction show otherwise. Blessed Sebastian writes that obedience is a path to perfection and that “by this path God wishes to lead us to heaven” — his perceived strictness very often hides his care and sole purpose in life for the salvation of souls.

He himself was a model of obedience. The one longing of Blessed Sebastian was to visit Rome and kneel in prayer in front of our own St Philip, but he had never been able to leave Turin. With the eventual permission and encouragement of his superior to go, Blessed Sebastian bade farewell to the Fathers and many friends and set out for Rome. As soon as the boat was about to depart, his travel companion handed him a note from their superior with the following message: “As soon as you have read these few lines you will immediately return to the Congregation, thinking no more of the journey to Rome.” Blessed Sebastian left the boat saying calmly, “Let us return home. The journey to Rome is delightful, and is at an end.”

Obedience is the path to perfection provided that the thing being commanded be not repugnant to the divine law. As Blessed Sebastian taught, to be obedient is to encourage yourself to turn your eyes to Christ, who for His love for us and through His perfect obedience was stripped, blasphemed, scourged, and crucified to ensure our salvation.