|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Charisms in the Church:
Over several decades we have observed in the Church a new interest in the manifestation of charisms, accompanied by renewed reflection on the doctrines concerning them. Charisms have always existed in the Church. Montfort is a unique witness to this in salvation history.
I. CHARISMS IN THE CHURCH
We are unable to understand or evaluate the charisms in Montforts apostolic life without the deep inner experience of the Church: a Church the Spirit is unceasingly sanctifying and reforming with many and varied gifts.
1. A new appreciation of charisms
One characteristic of Christians today is a renewed sense of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit as manifest in spiritual gifts or charisms.
a. Before the Council.
Prior to 1945-1950, little was said about charisms in the Western Church, except that they were exceptional graces accorded to privileged souls. Questions were raised by a number of apostolic movements about what was the effective and responsible role of the laity. As a result, the Church undertook a doctrinal study of the respective roles of clergy and laypeople. This was done both from the perspective of the institutional Church and its structures and from the perspective of the mystical Church and its spiritual gifts or charisms.
b. The Council.
Influenced by this atmosphere of study, the Second Vatican Council addressed the question of charisms. It did so not in a direct and systematic way but indirectly within various documents, always strongly centered on the Scriptures (LG 4, 7, 12, 30; AA 3, 30; AG 4, 23, 28; DV 7; PO 4, 9).
We can summarize the conciliar thought on charisms in this way. Beyond the graces that come through the Sacraments, the Spirit gives to the Church hierarchical gifts, which are given to priests for the exercise of their ministry, and charismatic gifts, given to the faithful for the common good. Such charisms are given for the building up of the Church. They are freely given by the Giver of all gifts and received according to the disposition of the receiver.
The faithful have the right and the duty to exercise these charisms as long as they do so in a spirit of order and unity. Charisms are intended for, and subject to, the greater gift of charity, which alone unites and builds the Church (cf. 1 Cor 13:1-13; Eph 4:14-16).
c. The charismatic renewal.
Since the council, the Church has undergone a prolonged period in which the Spirit has been strongly manifesting the power of renewal. It has made us more aware of charisms. From this larger phenomenon emerged a spiritual movement known as the charismatic renewal. It spread around the world. It is fundamentally a movement of prayer centered on Christ living in the Church, and it seeks to be attentive to the Spirit at work reforming and renewing the Church. The charismatic renewal from its inception was accompanied by a manifestation of numerous charisms. Some of the more obvious have been prophecy, interpretation, knowledge, healing, tears, speaking in tongues . . . The movement was greeted at first with surprise, reserve, and suspicion. But it was officially approved by the Church in 1975 after Paul VI detected certain signs of the Spirit within it. He declared it "an opportunity for the Church and for the world," as long as it remained faithful to certain basic spiritual principles.1
2. Charisms: fact and diversity
It is difficult to give in a few words an adequate definition of charisms. The Second Vatican Council wrestled with this difficult question in various documents. One such statement describes charisms as the Holy Spirit "allotting his gifts according as he wills (cf. 1 Cor 11:12) . . . also distributing special graces among the faithful of every rank. By these gifts he makes them fit and ready to undertake various tasks and offices for the renewal and building up of the Church, as it is written, the manifestation of the Spirit is given to everyone for profit (1 Cor 12:7)" (LG 12). One sees that the same difficulty of speaking to the phenomenon of charisms exists among modern theologians.
What we are faced with is more than a problem of words. It is an immense challenge to wrap supernatural reality in natural language. Meanings of words vary considerably in their usage both in definition and perception. Isnt defining charisms like trying to catch the wind, a breath, or a breeze? For the mysterious source of life in the words of the Creed is "the Spirit, the giver of life."
a. From grace to charisms.
But the difficulty of language must not stop us from speaking. Rather, it must challenge us to find ever more precise terminology for our times.
Etymologically, the word "charism" comes from the Greek charis, meaning grace, free gift. The word "grace" in current spiritual language gives expression to the primordial gift that allows Christians to participate in the divine lifein Christ. It is what makes a baptized person a child of God and a member of the Church.
Within this first or fundamental grace of the Christian life can be distinguished various graces or powers:
the gifts of faith, hope, and charity, termed the theological virtues. Habitual aids to personal sanctification within our earthly state, faith and hope serve the higher virtuecharity (Mt 22:27-40; 1 Cor 13:13). the "spiritual gifts" termed charisms, which are gifts given for the benefit of the common good, for the building of the Church. The Spirit distributes them to many different people. They are given to each and every one according to the needs of the community. This does not mean that one should not remain open or ask for these gifts according to ones need or perception.
Though we speak here of charisms, it is important to remember that all graces come from the same Spirit and all charismatic gifts serve the higher gift of charity - the supreme charism: love of self and love of others are united in charity.
b. Diversity and usefulness of charisms.
Charisms that serve the people of God are numerous. Isaiah (11:1-2), Saint Peter (1 Pet 4:10), and Saint Paul (Rom 12:6-8; 1 Cor 12:8-10) indicate a number of them. Neither is the list exhaustive or closed.
Given for the common good, charisms must be lived out in a spirit of service (1 Pet 4:10-11). They are always received by an individual according to his or her qualities, limits, tendencies, or faults. Therefore they can be used well or poorly can be expressions of charity or be an obstacle to it. Saint Paul intervened on this matter in order to restore order to the community at Corinth (cf. 1 Cor 14). Charisms can also be refused or stifled. But the Spirit cannot be stopped, for He is the master craftsman of Gods plan for the world, from beginning to end (cf. Gen 1:1; Acts 22:17). He is the ultimate architect for the building of the Church, for the uniting of the members of the Body of Christ and their Head (cf. Eph 4:1-7; TD 20:34-36). The Holy Spirit bestows His gifts on unexpected people and places and in surprising ways. Thus does He unceasingly sanctify, purify, and renew the Church, moving her ever toward the accomplishment of the Body of Christ (cf. Eph 1:9-10; Col 1:18-20).
II. CHARISMS IN MONTFORTS LIFE
One day Louis Marie de Montfort entered the Church of Jesus Christ through the waters of Baptism and took his place in history.
The Holy Spirit chose to give rich, powerful gifts to this rough, unpolished man with a fiery, generous temperament, gifts that would better enable him to serve the Church. He was an apostle, one nourished by the spiritual movements and reformers of his day. He awakened in the Church a spiritual movement possessing a new missionary zeal, one shaped by the end times. And he became its chief spokesperson. He was given an apostolic charism. It was a fundamental charism in the order of salvation, a charism that cast a light on Marys maternity of Christ, the Incarnate Wisdom, and of the members of his Mystical Bodythe Church.2
1. The charisms of an apostolic missionary
An old schoolmate of Louis Maries at Rennes and later at Saint-Sulpice, Fr. Blain, tried to stay in touch with Montfort and his apostolic work. In 1703, aware of the criticisms that were then being leveled at Montfort, he wrote to Fr. Leschassier, asking for his opinion of Louis Marie and his ministry. He received this reply: "He is very humble, very poor, very mortified, very recollected. But I find it difficult to believe him to be led by the Holy Spirit."3 Blain stopped following Montfort and his work (but later was obliged to revise his opinion of him).
One cannot become a saint and an apostle without permitting the Holy Spirit to inspire and lead.
a. A man led by the Spirit.
Montfort did not speak directly to the subject of the charisms of the Holy Spirit. Formed, however, in Sulpician and Ignatian spirituality, his teachings throughout his writings reflect4 a deep understanding of the doctrine of the workings of the Holy Spirit in the Church. But what stands out is the power that the Holy Spirit had in his life. It is impossible to understand the man, the way he behaved, or his apostolic work without seeing everything in light of the action of the Holy Spirit in him. One has only to listen to those who knew him. Blain reflected the attitude of his schoolmates and friends in the seminary when he wrote: "I have to say that he reflected the strength and impetuosity of the new wine of the Holy Spirit from which apostles come. He is a madman, and a fool in the eyes of men, but a sage in the eyes of God. . . . His complete innocence is linked to his limitless penance, continuous prayer, and limitless mortification. He offers the Holy Spirit a pure heart ready for each and every undertaking."5
Recounting a meeting of Montfort and his brother, a sacristan for the Dominicans at Dinan, Fr. Blain says: "It was one of those meetings where men meet as they arehonestly and without shame. In him we see a man straight from heaven, one who allowed the impulses of the Holy Spirit to shape his actions; in short, a man who no longer lives except by Jesus Christ who works in him, a man fully mastered by the power of the Holy Spirit."6
Father Vincent, a Capuchin who occasionally helped in his missions, also gives witness to him: "In a word, listening to Fr. de Montfort, I thought I was listening to an angel. His face shone with the light of an ecstatic love. His words echoed what the Holy Spirit said to him in his heart. His voice, gestures, and presence reflected his union with God and the words that Jesus Christ placed on his lips."7
To understand the depths at which the Holy Spirit took possession of St. Louis Maries heart, we must read again and try to grasp what he wrote about how the Holy Spirit formed, in union with Mary, the apostles the Church required to meet the needs of the times (cf. PM 15-25).
b. The charism of apostolic wisdom.
To characterize the way the Holy Spirit acted in Montfort, one might describe it as "the gift of Wisdom." To be more precise, however, the caveat "apostolic" should be added to it. This gives one a sense of the originality and depth of his charism. Certainly the gift of Wisdom was primary. From it the other gifts flowed, and it served the higher gift of charity as well as the other theological virtues. It is referred to in Isaiah (11:2), in St. Paul (1 Cor 12:8), in the catechisms list of the Seven Gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is first attributed to Jesus (Lk 2:40, 52), and all other gifts come from it. St. Louis Marie defined it as "the communication that uncreated Wisdom makes of himself to mankind" (LEW 13). He wrote: "When eternal Wisdom communicates himself to a soul, he gives that soul all the gifts of the Holy Spirit and all the great virtues to an eminent degree" (LEW 99). Since true Wisdom is the first fruits of love, one could call it "the Wisdom of love." It is that unique path of life whereby others are loved as Jesus loves them: "Eternal Wisdom . . . invites men to come to him because he wants to teach them the way to happiness" (LEW 5).
It is important to recognize that the gift of Wisdom gave rise within Montfort to a surprisingly dynamic apostolic quality. He prayed for it for himself and for his spiritual children (L 15, 16, 17; LEW 1; H 22:5; 103, 124, 125; PM 22; MR 60). Montfort called his women followers "Daughters of Wisdom." Though the word "Wisdom" was not used for the Missionaries of the Company of Mary, we know that part of LEW is the text of a very special retreat that he gave at the seminary of Poullart des Places in Paris. It was in this retreat that Montfort made clear his intention to establish a Congregation of missionaries. He wanted this spirit of apostolic Wisdom, which he lived so completely, to infuse the community. Apostolic Wisdom is at the root of the Montfort charism, because it is the gift of the Holy Spirit that most profoundly shaped Montfort himself (cf. L 20; MR 60-62).
How did the young priest Louis Marie come to receive this gift of the Spirit in such a unique and personal way? Why was he so imbued and inflamed by it that he initiated a new form of the apostolic life in the Church? To answer these questions, there is no more important source than Montforts LEW. It doesnt permit us to recapture his life or pass on his spirit. But in it he shares his personal experience, offering it to us to help us discover our own.
In love with God from childhood, Louis Marie, helped by meditation and study, was fascinated by Gods love for everyone and everything. Above all, this was most evident for Montfort by the way in which God entered history by becoming human with us, by saving us, by bringing happiness especially to the poorest of the poor, the lowest of the low, to the most forsaken, to the greatest sinners (LEW, chap. 2-3). This path of Gods Wisdom and mercy Montfort saw to be most strikingly revealed in the words and deeds of Jesus Christ. He saw in him a living image of the Incarnate Wisdom of God alive in the world through Mary (LEW, chap. 4- 6).
In contemplating this behavior of Gods Wisdom in Jesus Christ, Montfort knew man best. He understood Who God was for man and who man was for God: a beloved creature whom God sought out in spite of, or perhaps because of, his poverty, misery, and sin. Thus were born his passion for Jesus Christ, Wisdom Incarnate, for the salvation of mankind, and his passion for loving and saving others, above all the poorest and most sinful.
Thereafter, it became ever clearer to Montfort that lifes real Wisdom was opposed to all worldly wisdom. It was beyond all natural wisdom (LEW, chap. 7). It was sharing in the Wisdom of Jesus Christ. This meant that one was called to love others with him, to walk the paths of his Wisdom, to go to others and to prove to them how much God loves them, to make oneself lowly, simple, poor, to the point of accepting humiliation, abasement, suffering, and the Cross (cf. FC). Rarely has a disciple seen his Master, the Christ of Wisdom, with such depth.
Wisdom, thus understood by Montfort, was a participation in the Wisdom of love in Jesus, which necessarily manifested itself as apostolic Wisdom. It was humble and self-denying but also enterprising and courageous (LEW 100).
Nothing demonstrates this better than the saints reply to Fr. Blain on the occasion of their last meeting in Rouen in 1714: "He showed me his New Testament and wanted to know if I could restate what Jesus Christ practiced and taught and whether I could show a life more like his and that of the Apostles than a poor life, mortified, and rooted in abandonment to Providence; he said he had no other point of view but to follow that, and no other design but perseverance in it. . . . He added that there were different sorts of wisdom, as also different degrees: the wisdom of a missionary and apostolic man was distinctive. Missionaries and apostolic men had to promote the glory of God rather than their own and to carry out new schemes . . . always with some new undertaking, some holy enterprise or other to launch or defend."8
The gift of apostolic Wisdom is to receive Wisdom to the fullest degree. Montfort unceasingly asked for and obtained it, for it is the source of all gifts for every true apostle. Montfort gave witness to its light through his own personal experience (LEW, chap. 8).
Montforts words and deeds were a living testimony to this gift. Through it he touched the hearts of countless numbers of people.9
2. The charism of a founder
As the gift of Wisdom is the primordial source of all spiritual gifts, it is not surprising to find it accompanied by other gifts or charisms. Charisms are gratuitously given by the Holy Spirit, or given in response to the prayers and desires of those who open their hearts to receive them. We have spoken of how this charism of Wisdom in Montfort attained its full apostolic dimension. It made him share intensely in Christs love for men, especially the poorest and most alienated. The ardor of this love and the courageous power of this Wisdom soon awakened within him a new desire, one that could only result from the Holy Spirit alone. It was a Wisdom that attracted others to help him in his apostolic undertakings. It was a Wisdom that assured them a continuity of growth by reason of need.
a. "Given the needs of the Church".
When Montfort arrived at the community of Saint-Clément to engage in the work of parish missions, he quickly assessed his task in the light of his own limitations. He felt the need for this reflection more acutely because he saw that a number of priests in the community did not share his apostolic concern. A great suffering welled up within him, a desire already become prayer, which he shared with Fr. Leschassier, his spiritual director: "When I see the needs of the Church I cannot help pleading continually for a small and poor band of good priests to do this work [to teach catechism to the poor in country places] under the banner and protection of the Blessed Virgin" (L 5).
Thereafter, this desire flowed like a river within Montfort. It rose and fell in rhythm to the waves of inspiration, but throughout his missionary life it remained within him, a deep current constantly drawing him forward. He was nourished and strengthened by prayer and by his experience "of the needs of the Church," faced from within and without with the moral and spiritual infidelities of the world in which he lived (cf. H 38:116; 43:29; 47:9).
Montforts wish for a foundation seemed confirmed and encouraged by Pope Clement XI when Louis Marie met with him in 1706 (cf. MR 56). Little by little the project became clear. His deep call to respond to "the needs of the Church" was extended. It would be further extended to other works that experience revealed to him. But they always had the same apostolic outlook. Included were the care of the sick and poor in hospitals, the Christian education and formation of children ("charitable schools") (cf. various letters to Sr. Marie Louise; RW 1, 275-292, and W). What in a certain sense confirms the supernatural origin of his establishing these apostolic foundations was the prophetically inspired manner in which he chose his first disciples: Marie Louise Trichet, Mathurin, Fr. Mulot, and Fr.Vatel.10
As years went by, our holy missionary, perhaps feeling his powers declining, became more and more preoccupied with seeing his works take root. Each had experienced their own difficulties, obstacles, and disappointments. He was moved by an immense desire, which he knew came from beyond himself, and by a recognition that each work was in some way a door to salvation for others. In PM he allowed this desire to burst forth from his heart, which could resist no longer. It was an ardent prayer, a cry of suffering and faith. In it he called upon each of the three Divine Persons in turn and with unprecedented boldness challenged their fidelity to remember what he was asking for: "It is no personal favor that I ask, but something which concerns your glory alone, something you can and, I make bold to say, you must grant since not only are you true God. . . . Say but one word and it will be enough to send good workers to gather in your harvest, and missionaries worthy of the name to work in your Church" (PM, passim).
Clearly the desires aroused by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the young missionary at Nantes grew and deepened with his apostolic experience. The "needs of the Church" observed at that time when he was teaching "catechism to the poor in country places" grew to include other great needs to be met in the Church.
Nowhere better than in PM do we sense Montfort as both mystic and apostle. In it he reveals his burning desire to do everything possible to fulfill Gods will, expressed in the Heart of Jesus Christ - to save all men. Such was the Spirit of Gods grip on Louis Maries heart that it opened him to every aspect of the Churchs mission in the world, and until the end of time.11
b. "To renew the spirit of Christianity . . . to reform the Church".
In raising his heart to God in PM, undoubtedly a prayer that became Montforts constant cry, he sought to meet the Churchs need to replace several Congregations that had disappeared. But more than this, he wanted to realize something entirely new. He sought something more apostolic, something more adapted to the work of saving souls.
By temperament Montfort was wholly committed to the work at hand, totally enamored of perfection. Louis Marie never accepted, any more than his divine Model, the Christ-Wisdom, half measures or compromises with the false wisdom of the world. Nor did he ever cease to combat it with all his strength. He was all the more unwilling to compromise because he saw the Churchs need for further reform despite the accomplishments of the Council of Trent. His sufferings became a prayer: "Remember, Lord . . . Your divine commandments are broken, your Gospel is thrown aside . . . ungodliness reigns supreme, your sanctuary is desecrated and the abomination of desolation has even contaminated the holy place. . . . Will you let everything, then, go the same way? . . . Did you not give to some souls, dear to you, a vision of the future renewal of the Church?" (PM, passim).
Louis Marie, a most loving, obedient priest and son of the Church, gave himself body and soul, through his missions and retreats, to the task of renewal. When he visited Rome in 1706, his spirit of zeal was confirmed with Clement XIs seal of approval. Montfort received from him the title of "Missionary Apostolic" and was given the assignment to return to his country to "renew the spirit of Christianity among the faithful" (MR 56). The Holy Fathers directive was: "Work always with perfect submission to the bishops into whose dioceses you will be called." Montfort would have to suffer dearly to do this. He had to pay for his love of the Church and fidelity to his mission by accepting many misunderstandings and rebuffs from ecclesiastical circles. Yet his prayer for missionary apostles became all the more vehement, for he felt the Church could tolerate neither failure nor delays any longer. Thus, he prayed to the Holy Spirit, "Spirit of the Father and the Son," whose reign "is still unended and will come to a close with a deluge of fire, love and justice." He pleads: "Send this all-consuming Spirit upon the earth to create priests who burn with this same fire and whose ministry will renew the face of the earth and reform your Church" (PM 17).
Reform the Church . . . renew the earth! Nothing less could be Montforts apostolic goal. It might be considered pretentious and naive if one did not know that such ambitious desires came from the same Spirit who set ablaze the hearts of the Apostles in the Cenacle (Acts 2:3).
c. Apostles of fire . . . formed by Mary.
Clearly, Father de Montforts PM aims far and wide. Beyond the Congregations he wished to found, in order to save souls he wished to see come forth in the Church a totally new type of apostolic man. For every founder the sign of authenticity is the will to carry out and bring to fulfillment the work of salvation, which Christ realizes in the Church through the Holy Spirit, by adopting and imitating whenever possible the way the first Apostles lived and gave witness. This was certainly what Montfort wanted. He judged, however - and this was part and parcel of his special grace and charismthat there were certain characteristics of an apostolic missionary that could only be acquired through Mary. She was mother and teacher of Wisdom Incarnate to those who follow her (cf. Jn 19:25-27; TD 144, 179, 266). No one other than the "Mistress of Incarnate Wisdom" can show us how to die to self and become open to the gifts of the Spirit, her "divine Spouse," particularly to the gift of Wisdom with its full apostolic character: "Only through Mary then can we possess divine Wisdom" (LEW 209), and "once we possess Mary, we shall, through her intercession, easily and in a short time possess divine Wisdom" (see LEW 203-214, 222-227).
Quite naturally we hear Montfort asking for such missionaries who would be offspring of the Holy Spirit and of Mary: "Holy Spirit, be ever mindful that it is you who, with Mary as your faithful spouse, are to bring forth and fashion the children of God. . . . All the saints who have ever existed or will exist until the end of time will be the outcome of your love working through Mary" (PM 15).
Confident of the power of the Holy Spirit united with Mary, Montfort already saw a generation of new apostles arising. He realized how much the Church needed them as she moved to the end times, and that by means of "the interior and perfect practice of the devotion [to Mary] which I shall later unfold . . . they . . . will consecrate themselves entirely to her service as subjects and slaves of love" (TD 55).
Describing what "these servants, slaves and children of Mary" would be like, he wrote: "They will be ministers of the Lord who, like a flaming fire, will enkindle everywhere the fires of divine love. . . . They will bring to the poor and lowly everywhere the sweet fragrance of Jesus. . . . Wherever they preach, they will leave behind them nothing but the gold of love, which is the fulfillment of the whole law. Lastly, we know they will be true disciples of Jesus Christ, imitating his poverty, his humility, his contempt of the world and his love. They will point out the narrow way to God in pure truth according to the holy Gospel, and not according to the maxims of the world" (TD 55-59).
Was Louis Marie de Montfort a charismatic apostle of the Church? Yes, certainly, but in his own unique way. Through Mary he was wholly inspired by and steeped in the love and Wisdom of her son Jesus Christ, whose heart sought the salvation of each and everyone. Seized by the Spirit, formed by Mary always docile to the Spirit, Louis Marie found himself to be Gods instrument for beginning a new spiritual movement in the Church. It was a new, multifaceted, but always profoundly apostolic movement designed to bring about the renewal and reform of the Church.
3. Exceptional charisms
Montfort can only be understood as someone possessed and led by the Spirit of Jesus Christ, the source of all holiness and apostolic spirit in the Church. To psychologize about certain eccentricities in his behavior would be to forget that the Holy Spirit took Montfort as He takes us - where we are and as we are. The God Who created us is the same God Who calls us to serve with our uniquely created temperaments and characters. The same generous God Who created us as humans is therefore the same God Who respects our own personal efforts and the rhythms of our human development. Saints, even though they seek to answer the radical demands of the Gospel, have their unique personality traits, like all of us. We have noted that in St. Louis Marie the power of the Holy Spirit was uniquely manifest in the form of a double charism. He was simultaneously an apostolic missionary and a founder of apostolic institutes. It is this which gives him his unique ecclesial personality. In truth, the two charisms were one within him. They arose from the same source, nourished each other, and were both equally sustained by the charism of his priesthood.
It must be added that his charism was so rich that we can single out within it several charisms rarely found in the same person (cf. Eph 4:11-13). Both priest and missionary, Montfort was also an evangelizer, pastor, and doctor. In addition, he had the unusual gift of "touching hearts" and leading them to conversion. While we have recalled and highlighted those charisms which enabled Louis Marie to stand out in history as the innovator of a new form of spirituality, we should not neglect or minimize the other charisms that were part of his missionary life. Such uniquely special charisms we see today in the charismatic renewal groups. In their own way, these gifts testify to the hold the Spirit had over Montfort and confirm his other fundamental gifts mentioned above. We know that they contributed to establishing his reputation as a man of God ("he is a saint . . . good Father de Montfort"), and gave credence to his apostolic activity and mission as founder.
Let us cite a few of these "secondary" charisms without going in-to detailed descriptions, which are to be found in most of the biographies of Montfort. Moreover, since such gifts are interrelated, an attempt to strictly classify them would appear arbitrary.
a. The charism of prophecy.
The charism of prophecy is the most important gift after that of Wisdom. It seems to stem from it, especially in an apostle. In the Bible a prophet is Gods spokesman. He is inspired by the Holy Spirit to proclaim Gods Word to men (cf 1 Pet 21). The Spirit does not speak. That is the role of Jesus Christ, the Word of the Father made flesh (Jn 15:15; Lk 24:19).
The Spirit helps the prophet to understand and transmit Christs Word to groups or individuals. The Spirit of God enables the prophet to instruct, exhort, admonish, or encourage them in any given situation (Jn 14:26; 15:13).
Without doubt, Montforts gifts were very apparent in his preaching. Fr. Barrin, vicar general of Nantes, wrote, "His preaching was full of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and he converted countless heretics and sinners" (from the first epitaph on Montforts tomb).
Probably a certain number of significant events should be attributed to this gift of prophecy in Montfort. Once Montfort appeared at the door of the Dinan missionaries carrying a homeless man on his back and crying: "Open the door to Jesus Christ." Another time Louis Marie simply presented a crucifix to those attending one of his parish missions with the words "Are you not sorry for having offended him?" During a disastrous flood in Nantes, he inspired courage among the boatmen with the exhortation "Put your trust in God and you will not perish." It is important to recall how he intervened prophetically in the vocation of the first members of his Congregations.
Sometimes a "prophet," is enlightened by the Holy Spirit concerning Gods actions in history, and is led to foretell the future. Biographers have listed some twenty-five predictions in Father de Montforts life. For instance, during his first voyage as a young priest on the boat taking him from Orleans to Nantes, he told three young men who were behaving scandalously that they would soon meet their death. It happened just as he said it would. At Poitiers he told Mme. dArmagnac, who was close to death, that she would recover. She lived for twelve more years. At Montfort, his birthplace, where he had been prevented from building a calvary on a knoll, he proclaimed that the site would one day become a place of prayer. In 1850 the parish church was built on that spot. At Pontchâteau, after being ordered not to bless a calvary but to demolish it, he prophesied that one day it would be rebuilt and that people would see wonders worked there.
One must add to this the predictions he made to his friend Blain in 1714 and the famous prophecy concerning the fate of TD (TD 114).
b. The charism of discernment.
Every Christian must use the gift of discernment to avoid the snares of the evil one (cf. Mt 7:16).
Certain people have this gift to a high degree, always to serve the good of the community, which seems to prove that it comes from the Holy Spirit (cf. Cor 12:10). "Never try to suppress the Spirit," says St. Paul. "Think before you do anything - hold on to what is good and avoid every kind of evil" (1 Thess 5:19-22). This charism was present throughout Montforts life and accompanied his fundamental charism. One sees it in the way he analyzed and sorted out the different ecclesiastical wisdoms of the day. One sees it also in his apostolic conduct, how he conceptualized his missions and the way he carried them out. This can be clearly seen in his remarks to Blain at their last meeting in Rouen. We know also that he was spiritual director of a number of outstanding people: M. and Mme. de la Garaye at Dinan; M. de Magnane and M. dOrville at Rennes; Mme. de Mailly and Mlle. Bénigne Pagé at La Rochelle. One of the most significant instances of his gift of discernment was his meeting at Saumur with Jeanne Delanoue, the foundress of the Sisters of Providence, who has since been canonized. This holy woman asked Montfort for advice on what penances God was asking of her. Father de Montfort prayed and, next day, having celebrated Mass, gave this reply, "Yes, it is the Spirit of God which animates you and prompts you to this penitential life. Henceforth, then, be without fear and follow your inspirations."
c. The charism of healing.
Jesus healed the sick and the infirm and bestowed this power as a sign of his divine mission. Sending his disciples to proclaim the Good News, he gave them the same power (cf. Mt 10:19; Lk 10:9). The gift of healing, if not the most frequent, is at least the most striking and perhaps the most often mentioned gift in the lives of the saints. Saint Louis Marie de Montfort was abundantly blessed with such healing powers. Biographers attribute to him nearly thirty cures. It is not claimed that these were all miraculous cures, in the technical sense of the word. But they span his missionary life. Some examples: At Fontevrault in 1701, he cured a blind man with a simple touch of his hand. During the mission at Vertou in 1708, Brother Pierre fell dangerously ill and was unable to move. "Do you have faith?" asked Father de Montfort. "Alas, Father, I wish I had more than I have." "Will you obey me?" "With all my heart." The holy missionary laid his hand on his head and said: "I order you to rise in an hour and come to wait on us at table." One hour later Brother Pierre was on his feet, cured.
During his stay in Paris in 1713, Montfort was visited by a mother whose child was riddled with ringworm. "Do you believe," he asked, "that Jesus Christs ministers have, in the name of their Master, the power to cure people suffering from different illnesses by laying hands on them?" "Yes," said the mother, "I am convinced that if you ask God for my sons cure, God will grant it." Montfort placed his hand on the child and prayed, "May the Lord heal you, and reward you for your mothers faith." Immediately the ringworm disappeared, and the child was cured. Faith, prayer, and the laying on of handsthese are the marks of Montforts healings. All are in the tradition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit as understood and experienced in the Church.
d. Other charisms.
Without trying to list all of Montforts gifts of the Spirit, it is nevertheless good to mention some further examples.
He could read hearts. There are several instances of this. For example, at Landremont a woman hid three sins in confession. Montfort gave her a handkerchief stained in three places. She could not wash out the stains until she had confessed the sins.
He could multiply loaves of bread. During the mission of La Chèze in 1707, "he multiplied loaves to feed the poor, who were his favorite companions." This is known from the testimony of the parish. At Pontchâteau during the construction of the calvary, slices of bread and bowls of soup were miraculously multiplied on the table of the widow Jeanne Guigan, a neighbor who out of the goodness of her heart fed Fr. de Montfort and many of his workers, who had come from great distances. The same miracle occurred in 1712 at Saint Christophe-du- Ligneron.
e. Other supernatural phenomena.
While they may not count as spiritual gifts, it is difficult not to cite in Montforts life a number of exceptional happenings of supernatural origin. He himself made nothing of them: "The wise man," he said, "does not ask to see extraordinary things as seen by the saints" (LEW 187; cf. SR 143). After noting that he had on several occasions suffered attacks by the devil (for example, at Poitiers in 1703, and on his deathbed at Saint-Laurent), we should recall above all that he was favored with several apparitions of the Blessed Virgin, nine according to witnesses. Once, at Pontchâteau, when he was coming to dine at the house of Jeanne Guigan, she saw him walking toward her in the company of a "beautiful lady dressed in white." The lady did not enter the house with him. Jeanne expressed her surprise to Louis Marie. "You saw her?" "Yes, I saw her clearly." "You are very blessed. I hope you will always be worthy to see the Blessed Virgin." At Landremont a woman on her way to church saw him walking down a garden path with a lady ablaze in light. At La Garnache in 1713, an altar boy surprised him in conversation with "a beautiful lady all in white who was standing in the air." At Roussay in 1714, two men testified to having seen next to M. de Montfort "a lady in white." Similar occurrences took place at Taugon-la-Ronde, at Fonteney- le-Comte in 1715, and at St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre during his last mission, in 1716, where he was surprised in the sacristy with "a lady in white." Fr. de Montfort explained, "My friend, I was conversing with Mary, my good Mother."12
III. FROM MONTFORT TO THE CHURCH OF TODAY AND OF TOMORROW
To conclude this survey of the many charisms Montfort received, we return to our starting point, that is, to the purpose of this study, which was to examine the work of the Holy Spirit in the life of Saint Louis Marie. It was to reflect on the way the Holy Spirit worked in the life of someone the Church has recognized as a saint, as one of her greatest sons, as one of her apostles, whose influence has never ceased to spread throughout space and time. We have mentionedand the council has borne witness to the factthat the term "charism" cannot be reduced to mean only extraordinary spiritual gifts. No matter how varied and visible such gifts were in the life of Louis Marie, no matter how important one might consider them to be, at the heart of Montforts charism, and at the heart of the charism of the communities he founded, is something deeper. It is the gift of Wisdom, a participation in the Wisdom of Christ. It is this gift which makes Montfort the unique apostolic missionary and founder that he is. It is a charism derived from Christs Wisdom in seeking others through love. Beneficiaries of this gift through grace, the Montfort family is called today to share its charism with others. The followers of Saint Louis Marie must always and everywhere strive to deepen the faith that motivates them to serve the "needs of the Church" in todays world. They must feel strongly impelled by the power of the Holy Spirit. For since the council, they have been called to change the face of the earthto renew the Church and to bring the world family into a better age. Surely they must feel stirred by the powerful breath of the Spirit, Who since the council would seem to want to change the face of the earth, renew the Church, and carry humanity to a new age. Montforts attentiveness to the presence of the Spirit in the salvific work of Jesus Christ, his willingness to surrender to the Spirit, and his generosity in letting himself be led in the way of Wisdomthe way of lovecompels us to walk in his footsteps. Here three points merit some consideration.
1. The Church of Christ is also the Church of the Spirit
Since the Church images the Holy Trinity, to which she belongs (Ecclesia de Trinitate), she does not depend on us. For she is joined simultaneously and inseparably to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. In particular, she belongs to Christ by the grace of the divine life received from the Father and communicated to his members. She also belongs to the Spirit by means of the love poured out into the hearts of the baptized and by the gifts that accompany that love so as to bind the faithful together in love and build the Church. In her the reality of grace and the reality of love are mutually interdependent, as they are within Christ himself. It follows that the Church of Jesus Christ can only grow in itself and in humanity in rhythm with the workings of the Holy Spirit and in welcoming submission to His movement within us. The Sacraments themselves are the actions of Christ accomplished by the power of the Holy Spirit.
This role of the Spirit has been ignored too long in the Churches of the West. This has resulted in the work of salvation suffering a certain diminishment. In the long line of exceptional men of God who down the centuries have surrendered themselves wholly to the Spirit, Montfort stands out as a person of unusual stature. With St. Paul he says to us, "My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom but in demonstration of the Spirit and Power" (1 Cor 2:4). In the light of the council, it is urgent for us to rediscover, along with a renewed conviction, the presence and role of the Spirit in the building up of the Church. We are called to stake all our power in His power. It is also urgent for us to be alive to the presence and role of the Holy Spirit and His gifts, often quite simple, in the lives of those who have been baptized. It is no longer the time to worry about who is charismatic and who is not. The whole Church has been charismatic since its birth at Pentecost, and all Christians are charismatic by the fact of their own personal rebirth in the Spirit (cf. LG 9).
Everyone has received a share in the gifts (cf. 1 Cor 7:7) in order to contribute to the growth and renewal of the Church. This means that without overlooking the gift of discernmentone should recognize in all ranks of the baptizedlay, religious, and ordained ministersthe gifts of the Spirit.
This means also that catechetical and pastoral teaching should help all the baptized to become more aware of this. It should prepare them by prayer to serve our ecclesial community with true fidelity.
The Holy Spirit comes to us during every age in the history of salvation freely, in his own unique way, and as the needs dictate. It seems in our time that He wishes to manifest Himself with new power, as He did in Vatican II and in the different spiritual renewals that have emerged since then. These collectively constitute what can be termed the charismatic renewal.
In his encyclical letter "Dominum et vivificantem" on the Holy Spirit (1986), John Paul II wrote in the same vein: "Guided by the Spirit of truth and testifying with Him, the Council has strongly reaffirmed the presence of the Holy Spirit, the Paraclete. In a certain sense, it has made Him present anew in our difficult times. We understand better now in the light of that revelation how supremely important it is that all initiatives reinforce what Vatican II tried to accomplish." And he states: "The spirit of God, by a special and admirable Providence, is guiding hearts and renewing the face of the earth."
Living the Montfort charism today essentially means to go where the Spirit of history leads us, as Montfort did.
2. Witnesses to love in the way of Jesus Christ
To live the Montfort charism in our day is to show a deep love, modeled on the life of Christ, for our brothers and sisters, with a preference for the poor of all types, and in a certain sense joining them to save them. This way of loving others shown by Christ, the Wisdom of God, became in Montfort apostolic Wisdom, the fruit of a unique gift of the Spirit of Jesus.
Since Montforts time, the world has changed, social structures have evolved, new problems have arisen in various spheres. The destitute have been left to their own devices in every country, rich or poor, and on every continent in the world. Whether they are materially, intellectually, or, above all, morally and spiritually poor, whether they are in city or suburb, whether in schools, hospitals, or businesses, they are loved by God and sought by Christ. They need to be loved, helped, taught, and, perhaps without realizing it, evangelized, because they have a right to hear the Good News. They look to apostles like Montfort, for they burn with a passionate love for Jesus Christ and are drawn to their brothers and sisters by the same apostolic charism. The Church has more and more need for such apostles in order to bring Christs work in our evolving world to its fulfillment. Needed are men and women young and old, liberated from self and false wisdoms of the day, free to go where the Spirit leads in order to do Gods loving will (PM 7:1).
Inspired no doubt by his charism, St Louis Marie foresaw, prayed for, and announced this new apostolic lineage that the Holy Spirit would raise up: "They will be ministers of the Lord, who, like a flaming fire, will enkindle everywhere the fires of divine love" (TD 56).
3. Mary, spouse of the Holy Spirit, in the formation of apostles
There seems to be two essential aspects of the Montfort charism. The first is to live always in total submission to the Church of Jesus Christ and to let oneself be led by the Spirit, Who is its sole animator. The second is to become within the Church, by the power of the Holy Spirit, a true disciple and apostle of Incarnate Wisdom. But there is also a third aspect that characterizes this charism. It is to acknowledge Marys mission as the Mother of Christ and of all Christians. She is also the faithful collaborator and spouse of the Holy Spirit in forming Christ and Christians, particularly apostolic Christians like Montfortcompletely surrendered to the Holy Spirit. For it is in her maternal and teaching role that she helps us to overcome selfishness and to welcome the gift of God in Jesus Christ and his Spirit (cf. TD 118). "The more he [the Holy Spirit] finds Mary, his dear and inseparable Spouse, in a soul, the more powerful and effective he becomes in producing Jesus Christ in that soul and that soul in Jesus Christ" (TD 2; cf. also 25-26). Here again Montforts words indicate why this does not come about in the soul: "One reason why so few souls come to the fullness of the age of Jesus is that Mary, who is still as much as ever his Mother and the fruitful Spouse of the Holy Spirit, is not formed well enough in their hearts. . . . If we desire to have the Holy Spirit working in us, we must possess his faithful and inseparable Spouse Mary, the divinely favored one, whom, as I have said elsewhere, he can make fruitful" (TD 164).
It is for us, then, to open our hearts to Mary and to the Holy Spirit by living and sharing Montforts charism, now become our own in all its richness. By our fidelity we will hasten "that happy day . . . when . . . the Holy Spirit, finding his dear Spouse present again in souls, will come down into them with great power; he will fill them with his gifts, especially wisdom by which they will produce wonders of grace" (TD 217).
Notes: (1) Paul VI, homily of May 19, 1975, in LOsservatore Romano, May 21, 1975. See also A. Barruffo, Charismatique, in Dictionnaire de la vie spirituelle, Paris 1987, 118-119. (2) "If Christ is the original charismatic, Mary is the charismatic par excellence because she received the fullness of the Spirit, because she listened constantly to his voice, never saddened him, and actively participated in the birth of the Church at Pentecost." (3) Blain, 118. (4) See Tables analytiques, in OC, for many references to the Holy Spirit. (5) Blain, 33. (6) Ibid., 143. (7) Ibid., 164. (8) Ibid., 185-190. (9) See, for example, the evidence given by Father Martinet, SJ, ibid., 164-165: "Wanting to see for himself, he went one day with another priest to hear a sermon by Father de Montfort. Although on his guard, he was obliged, together with all the others present, including clerics, to pay tearful tribute to the preacher." (10) See in particular on this subject L. Le Crom, Un apôtre marial: Saint L. M. Grignion de Montfort, Pontchâteau 1946, chaps. 20- 21. (11) Speaking of Montforts "sense of his role within the Church," Benedetta Papàsogli wrote in Montfort, a Prophet for Our Times, Edizone Montfortane, Rome 1991, 401-402: "He knows himself to be called to renew the Church, to quicken its holiness. For this, an overwhelming epidemic of grace will be required: a wiping out of individualism and a new springtime of the Spirit. . . . The whole life story of Father de Montfort has been a prophetic sign of a reality destined to become ever more alive as it slowly and patiently comes to fruition in Gods plan. From the humblest of beginnings, the charism will grow to giant proportions of creative power. From the tiny seed will come grace-filled fruitfulness for an apostolic brotherhood that will endure." On the meaning of the expression "the latter times" in Montfort (cf. "the apostles of the latter times"), see S. de Fiores, Saint-Esprit et Marie dans les derniers temps selon Grignion de Montfort, in EtMar 43 (1986), 131-171. (12) Such phenomena are merely visible manifestations of a closeness and an intimacy with her of whom he said that he bore her within, "etched with strokes of glory" (H 77:15). He himself testified that the Blessed Virgin "was so present to his mind and so engraved on his heart that he was unable to stir or to act, except in her, through her, and for her" (Grandet 312).
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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