JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

CROSS


Summary	
I.	Montfort and the Cross in the Spiritual Context of the 
	Seventeenth Century; 
II.	The Cross in the Life of Montfort: 
	1.	His trials; 
	2.	The crucifix, the calvaries; 
	3.	How Montfort bore his Cross. 
III.	The Wisdom Cross of Poitiers: 
	1.	The meaning of the Wisdom Cross; 
	2.	The symbols embedded in the Wisdom Cross; 
	3.	Inscription on the cross; 
		a.	Love of the Cross, 
		b.	Desire for Crosses, 
		c.	List of Crosses; 
	4.	How the Cross is to be carried; 
		a.	Humility, 
		b.	Submission, 
		c.	Patience, 
		d.	Obedience; 
IV.	The Letter to the Friends of the Cross: 
	1.	To whom it was addressed and its purpose; 
	2.	Contents. 
V.	The Teaching of Montfort: 
	1.	The Cross in the life of Christ; 
		a.	 The redeeming Incarnation, 
		b.	Christ longed for the Cross, 
		c.	Mystery of love and of Wisdom, 
		d.	Mystery of suffering and glory; 
	2.	The Cross in the life of Christians; 
		a.	Baptism and its obligations, 
		b.	The Cross and the perfect consecration to Mary, 
		c.	The Cross as a way to Wisdom, 
		d.	The Cross as a proof of love, 
		e.	Joy in carrying the Cross; 
	3.	Understanding Montfort’s teaching; 
		a.	Christian logic, 
		b.	Wisdom or folly? 
VI.	The Cross today: 
	1.	Paschal perspective; 
	2.	The language of the Cross; 
	3.	The Cross of the disciple; 
	4.	Relevance of the mysticism of the Cross today.

In the literal sense the word “cross” refers either to the ancient instrument of torture used to crucify those sentenced to death, a torture to which Jesus submitted himself, or to representations of the Cross such as crucifixes, calvaries, badges, decorations, etc. In the figurative sense, the word “Cross” refers to all that is entailed by the option for Christ in favor of the Gospel or in the service of the Gospel (Mt 5:11; Phil 1:29; 2 Thess 1:5; 2 Tim 1:8; 2:8 ff). The meaning has been widened to include the trials, obstacles, and difficulties met with in life and borne or accepted by Christian people in union with the sufferings of Christ to continue the mission of Jesus the Savior in the Church.

Very early on, the Cross of Christ was regarded as the greatest manifestation of God’s love (Rom 5:6 ff; 8:32 ff) and the effective instrument of the wisdom and power of God reconciling humans with God (1 Cor 1:18 ff; Col 1:19 ff). According to the long spiritual tradition of the Church, the Cross is the crucible in which God fashions the saints. In its many forms it normally accompanies the decision to follow Christ (Mk 8:34) and to give one’s life out of love, as he did.


I. MONTFORT AND THE CROSS IN THE SPIRITUAL CONTEXT OF THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

 

The spiritual features of a saint are the result, above all, of his faithfulness to the Gospel and of the work of the Holy Spirit. But any saint bears the marks of the centuries-old tradition of the Church and of the trends of the time and environment in which the saint lived. For example, Montfort was fond of comparing his deepest aspirations and life experience with those reported by well-established spiritual writers, while he remained himself as God was shaping him.

As far as the Cross is concerned, Montfort was greatly influenced by Henri Boudon’s Les saintes voies de la Croix, Joseph Surin’s Lettres spirituelles, Olier’s writings, and the Sulpician environment in which he received his training for eight years.

Without doubt it was Boudon, the renowned archdeacon of Evreux, himself indebted to Louis Chardon’s La Croix de Jésus, who exerted the most direct influence on the way Montfort approached the Cross. According to his fellow student Blain, his favorite book in his seminary days was Les saintes voies de la Croix. The book “inspired him with such a high esteem of, and a taste for, suffering and contempt that he kept talking of the happiness he derived from his crosses and of the merits of suffering.”1 According to Boudon, the Cross is such a precious gift for Christ and the Christian that it should be accepted with appreciation, love, and joy.

In order to unify the spiritual life, Surin stressed the total orientation of the soul towards God and its complete detachment from creatures, which involves voluntary exterior mortifications, besides the ordinary crosses met with in any Christian life. “In this respect, Montfort moves away from Boudon to follow Surin.”2

Montfort was influenced by Olier’s idea of the itinerant mission, which necessitates being radically poor and marked by persecution right from the start. In the formation given at St. Sulpice Seminary, the psychological trend introduced by Tronson was gaining ground at the expense of the mystical and apostolic orientation. The formation aimed indeed at bringing about an authentic spiritual life, though pervaded with an ideal of moderation, prudence, conformity in community living, and scrupulous observance of all the rules. Montfort never felt at ease within this rigid framework, which was like a mold into which he cast himself only out of obedience without inwardly adhering to it fully. The seminary was for him a place where he suffered in various ways from reproaches, mockery, humiliations, and contempt,3 which may be partly accounted for by his lack of social adjustment resulting from his temperament. His missionary drive was held in check for some time, but this only led him to deepen within himself the mystery of Jesus crucified.

Montfort would gradually become himself only after he left St. Sulpice Seminary. He would continue his own spiritual and apostolic journey, always stamped with the Cross, as the logical consequence of his decision to live out the demands of the Gospel to the letter.


II. THE CROSS IN THE LIFE OF MONTFORT

 

1. His trials

As a young priest, Montfort suffered from inactivity during his six- month stay in the community of St. Clement in Nantes. Then he had to feel his way around for five years before finding his way: he was rejected by Poitiers Hospital, then by the Salpêtrière Hospital in Paris; he was disowned by his former spiritual directors and abandoned by his long-time friends (L 15). In 1703 he lived alone in a dingy hovel under a staircase on Rue du Pot-de-Fer in Paris and felt “more impoverished, crucified and humiliated than ever” (L 16). Humanly speaking, it was a dreadful experience of rejection and humiliation for a 30-year-old man, but it was also a spiritual experience out of the ordinary for him, who kept praying longingly for the “boundless treasure” of Wisdom (L 15).

Montfort was confirmed in his ministry by Pope Clement XI in June 1706 with the title of “Missionary Apostolic,” and the rest of his life was attended by the Cross. His preaching upset people and made enemies of some of them. His detractors disparaged him in the eyes of ordinary people (who looked upon him as “good Father de Montfort”), calling him a “vagrant,” an “adventurer,” a “hypocrite,” a “demon-possessed man,” and “Antichrist.”4 Several attempts were made on his life. Although he always strove to obey the directives of the bishops, several of them either placed him under an interdict or refused him entry into their territories as a result of slanderous reports or because of his excessive zeal. On these occasions his suffering was the greater as some of the faithful were thus deprived of the benefit of the mission. And those who accompanied him had no choice but to share his Cross.

In 1713 he wrote to his sister Guyonne Jeanne, “If you only knew the half of the crosses and humiliations I have to bear, I don’t think you would be so eager to see me; for I never seem to go anywhere without bringing something of the Cross to my dearest friends without any fault of mine or theirs. Those who befriend me or support me suffer for doing so. . . . I have for ever to be on the alert, treading warily as though on thorns or sharp stones. I am like a ball in a game of tennis; no sooner am I hurled to one side than I am sent back to the other, and the players strike hard. This is the fate of the poor sinner that I am, and I have been like this without rest or respite all the thirteen years since leaving St. Sulpice” (L 26). This letter, like the following ones, was headed, “May Jesus and his Cross reign for ever.” Until then he had headed his letters, “May the perfect love of God reign in our hearts!”

The aim of his preaching was to renew baptismal life in the faithful. He did not count the cost of “fighting against the demons of hell or making war on the world and the worldly” (L 24), and he invited his nun sister and her community to pray that he may “obtain from Jesus the grace for me to carry the roughest and heaviest crosses as I would the light-as- straw ones and to resist with unyielding courage the powers of hell” (L 24).

He died prematurely, before completing his work as a founder, which was the greatest sacrifice for a man who for sixteen years had never ceased to pray with confidence to obtain a company of missionary priests.

 

2. The crucifix, the calvaries

As a student, Montfort “always wore a crucifix and an embossed image of the Blessed Virgin.”5 “The crucifix and the image of the Most Blessed Virgin were throughout his life . . . his only resource in all his undertakings.”6 Pope Clement XI had attached to Montfort’s ivory crucifix a plenary indulgence, to be gained by all who kissed it just before they died. During his last hours, he clutched it in his right hand and blessed those who visited him then.7 In 1707 at Montfort-la- Cane, instead of giving a sermon, he pulled out the crucifix he had brought back from Rome, gazed at it for a long time, and burst into tears; then he left the pulpit without a word and offered the crucifix for all to kiss. The whole congregation was moved and repentant. He had achieved his aim.8 He sometimes brandished his crucifix as a weapon of peace to part young people fighting a duel, or as a rallying symbol against licentiousness or obscenity. “Let those who love Jesus Christ join me in adoring him.”9 In August 1713, when the superior of the Holy Spirit community asked him for some token of friendship, he gave him “a small crucifix just a few inches long, saying, ‘Of all my possessions this is the most valuable, and I give it to you’; . . . the small crucifix was worn smooth with his many kisses.”10

During his missions he gave out to those attending them small cloth crosses.11 The climax of his missions, however, was the blessing of the calvary. Usually erected on a hill, the large cross reminded everyone of God’s commitment to save humanity, and the faithful of their obligation to carry their Cross in the steps of their Master. It was also his way of engraving on the hearts of other people, as it was on his own, devotion to and love for Jesus crucified12 while celebrating and perpetuating in an effective way the victory of Calvary.

In 1707, while in his native parish, he mobilized the local people for the erection not only of a cross but also of small oratories to be used as stations. The project failed.13 He took it up again in 1708-1710 at Pontchâteau. It was a huge undertaking in which several hundred voluntary workers took part, working each day for sixteen months. A huge cross over 15 meters, flanked by those of the two thieves, and with statues of Mary, John, and Mary Magdalene, was erected on a 30-meter- high hill and was visible from a distance of 30 kilometers. Three chapels were added, and pine and cypress trees representing the mysteries of the Rosary were also planted. The calvary was completed by the scheduled date but destroyed shortly afterwards on orders from the misinformed bishop of the area.14

At Sallertaine in 1712, he started a less ambitious project, which included, all the same, a vaulted chapel dedicated to St. Michael, a round room called “the sepulchre,” and statues of the characters in the Lord’s Passion; it also included three crosses, a boundary wall, an access staircase, a huge rosary round the statue of Christ, etc. The blessing ceremony took place: “Hearts were changed, Jesus was glorified, and his Cross exalted.”15 But at the instigation of his enemies, the governor decided a few weeks later that the calvary was to be torn down. In these three instances, the same pretext was put forward: the calvaries, with their caves, moats, and boundary walls, might be used as fortresses or shelters by English troops in the event of an invasion. On each occasion the glorious Cross was robbed of triumph and popular veneration and turned into a painful Cross to be planted in the heart of all to bear lasting fruit. The calvary of his last mission, given at Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre, was erected the day after his death, a few hours before his funeral.

 

3. How Montfort bore his Cross

His immediate reactions during the weeks following the tragedy at Pontchâteau give a snapshot picture of how he faced up to it. He had first obtained the bishop’s permission and all preparations had been made for the blessing ceremony to take place on September 13, 1710. At four o’clock in the afternoon he was informed of the King’s notification to the bishop of Nantes that the ceremony was to be called off. He walked to Nantes during the night to find out more from the bishop. The cancellation was upheld. As scheduled, he began a mission at Saint Molf, in the same diocese, the following Sunday. In the first week the bishop forbade him to preach or hear confessions throughout the diocese. He shed tears while reading the bishop’s letter. And yet the bearer of the message “saw that he was neither troubled nor bitter: on such occasions he merely suffered in silence.” He called on the bishop again “in the hope that he would change his mind.” Instead of this, the bishop told him that the Calvary of Pontchâteau was to be torn down. He then made a retreat in amazing serenity and breathed no word of the incident to anyone. To those who raised the subject, he said, “I am neither sorry nor sad; I am content.”16 Content in his apostolic suffering (L 26), Montfort invited those around him to thank God with him (L 24) and “recite the Te Deum.”17

J. Bulteau


III. THE WISDOM CROSS OF POITIERS

 

Several months after his ordination in 1700, Father Louis de Montfort agreed to be chaplain at the large poorhouse of the city of Poitiers, France. The disorder he encountered was far greater than he ever anticipated.

One of his principal means of reform was to organize a prayer group of about twenty pious women of the institution, all of them handicapped in one way or another. The young priest named the group Wisdom. These destitute women met in a small corner of the poorhouse, a blind woman their leader. In the Wisdom meeting room, Saint Louis de Montfort placed in a prominent position a large cross that he designed. On it he inscribed, in simple and forceful evangelical terms, the glory of suffering with Christ, the crucified Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom. The cross has become known as the Wisdom Cross, or the Cross of Poitiers.

At the invitation of Father de Montfort, a young girl from a well-known family of Poitiers joined the Wisdom group of handicapped paupers out of a desire to serve them. This teenager, Marie Louise Trichet, became the co-foundress of Montfort’s Daughters of Wisdom. She was beatified on May 16, 1993, by Pope John Paul II in Rome. The original Wisdom Cross, venerated by Mother Marie Louise and forming a source of her strength, is preserved at the generalate of the Daughters of Wisdom in Rome.

 

1. The meaning of the Wisdom Cross

The mystery of the Cross, so central to the spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort, is boldly expressed through the Wisdom Cross.

What is immediately striking is that Father de Montfort used a cross to symbolize Wisdom. What is Wisdom in the thought of the great saint? He tells us clearly in his masterful LEW: “Supernatural wisdom is divided into substantial or uncreated Wisdom and accidental or created wisdom. Accidental or created wisdom is the communication that uncreated Wisdom makes of itself to humankind. In other words, it is the gift of wisdom. Substantial wisdom or uncreated Wisdom is the Son of God, the second person of the most Blessed Trinity. In other words, it is Eternal Wisdom in eternity or Jesus Christ in time. It is precisely about this Eternal Wisdom that we are going to speak” (LEW 13).

Wisdom, then, in its fullest sense is Jesus Christ, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom of the Father. Yet Montfort depicts this Wisdom, Jesus the Lord, through the symbol of the Cross. He gives us his reason: “Jesus has fixed his abode in the cross so firmly that you will not find him anywhere in this world save in the cross. He has so truly incorporated and united himself with the cross that in all truth we can say: “Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom” (LEW 180).

The Wisdom Cross reminds us, therefore, that Jesus redeems us in and through the victorious Cross. He could have chosen another way. His will, however, is clear: he gives us eternal life by dying on the Cross. Jesus the Savior is inseparable from the Cross.

There is another reason why this work of Saint Louis de Montfort is called the Wisdom Cross. In the eyes of the world, the Cross and the message inscribed on it are sheer folly, yet they embody the deepest Wisdom accessible to humankind. Only the truly Gospel-wise can begin to grasp the truth manifested by the Wisdom Cross. It expresses the inspired teaching of Paul: “We preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ is the power of God and the Wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Cor 1:23-25).

 

2. The symbols embedded in the Wisdom Cross

The cross is embedded with five prominent symbols. At the very top, the IHS surmounted by a small cross: the familiar Greek abbreviation for the Holy Name of Jesus. At the head of the crossbeam, the entwined M and A, a symbol of Mary. Half way down the cross are the expressions “May Jesus prevail, May his Cross prevail (Vive Jesus, Vive sa Croix).” The words encircle a flaming Sacred Heart of Jesus, crowned with a cross as large as the Heart itself. At the bottom of the cross are two symbols: the crown of thorns, which encircle the three nails of the crucifixion, and a star, symbolizing Mary.

These images are essential interpretations of the text Father de Montfort inscribed on the cross. The central symbol and the most pronounced is the Sacred Heart of Jesus, the sign of Infinite Love Incarnate.

Saint Louis de Montfort’s intense love for the Sacred Heart of Jesus probably stems from his association with the Visitation Nuns. It was at their Paray-le-Monial monastery that Our Lord revealed his Sacred Heart to Saint Margaret Mary Alacoque. Saint Louis’ collection of hymns attests to his fervent devotion to the Heart of Christ, the great symbol of God’s infinite love for us: “The Heart of Christ loves us / without ceasing to love for even a moment / the Heart of Christ loves us as much as himself / with excess, infinitely” (H 40:12; cf. H 40-44).

It is the Sacred Heart that interprets Montfort’s writings on the mystery of the Cross. The Cross is the most powerful expression of the Heart of Christ for, it is on Calvary that the love of God for us is so manifest. The Cross is always to be seen, then, as the victorious love of the Heart of Christ for humankind.

Yet there is another side to Saint Louis’ love for the Sacred Heart. It also is a call to repentance, to reparation, to suffering with Christ. Patience in bearing our crosses is the manifestation of our love for God, “it is the proof which God requires to show our love for him” (LEW 176). The fact that the Sacred Heart of Jesus is the most prominent aspect of the Wisdom Cross means that for Montfort the Cross is the great mystery of love: love of our God for us, and of our love for God.

The symbols of Our Lady are also essential in order to understand the meaning of the Wisdom Cross. Mary is the mother of the crucified Savior. She is the model of suffering with her Son. It is Mary who gifts us with the Cross of Jesus, it is Mary who shares with us her bravery in bearing the triumphant Cross, it is Mary, the guiding star who leads us safely to Jesus-Wisdom, our goal.

 

3. Inscription on the cross

The inscriptions on the cross are all written in capital letters. Some of the terms are so squeezed into the width of the cross that a few letters of the word are written in smaller print immediately alongside or above the word itself. The top portion of the cross and the crossbeam are inscribed with slightly adapted words from Sacred Scripture. “Deny oneself, carry one’s cross to follow Jesus Christ” is found at the head of the vertical beam. The crossbeam carries in large letters “If you are ashamed of the Cross of Jesus Christ, he will be ashamed of you before his Father.” The words of the Holy Spirit form the foundation for Saint Louis’ personal thoughts inscribed on the Wisdom Cross.

Immediately under the crossbeam, Saint Louis de Montfort begins his brief commentary on the scriptural words he wrote at the top of the cross. His Wisdom Cross “sermon” is divided into two sections. First, a list of some of the crosses experienced by the followers of Christ and, more specifically, by the original Wisdom prayer group. Second, how the cross is to be carried. The sermon is prefaced by two phrases: “Love the cross, desire crosses.”

a. Love of the Cross.

The world would interpret this as masochistic; not so a Christian. Jesus Christ our Head dies for us upon the victorious Cross; those baptized into Christ are also immersed into the triumphant Cross. It is through the Cross that Jesus enters into his glory; it is only through the Cross that we share in his glory. Bearing the Cross is intrinsic to Christian life. Each Christian must become, in suffering, a sacrament of Jesus crucified. A love for the Cross, then, characterizes the follower of Christ. Not a sensual love, as the saint himself explains, but a love from the depths of the soul, springing from the desire to be totally conformed to our Head.

b. Desire for crosses.

The expression desire for crosses repeats the divinely inspired thought of Paul: “But far be it from me to glory except in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world” (Gal 6:14); “that I may know him [Christ Jesus] and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that if possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead” (Phil 3:10-11). Montfort, the man of the absolute, does not water down the radical demands of the Gospel. His desire for crosses is a forceful way of manifesting the yearning to be totally conformed to Christ Jesus in his dying so that the world may share in his rising.

c. List of crosses.

The list of crosses that follows was easily recognizable by the destitute, sickly women who formed the first Wisdom community: “contempt, pain, abuse, insults, disgrace, persecution, humiliations, calumnies, illness, injuries.” These crosses are also autobiographical. Saint Louis de Montfort’s first years of priesthood were a series of difficulties that well fit the list he enumerated on the Wisdom Cross. Some would consider Montfort’s list typical. However, he has not intended his naming of a variety of crosses to be universal. They fit him, they fit his Wisdom prayer group. The list is rather fluid, for the specific sharing in Christ’s redemptive Cross may vary from month to month, even day to day. And recognition of crosses never prevents us from crying out with Jesus, “Abba, Father, all things are possible to thee; remove this cup from me,” provided we continue with Jesus, “yet not what I will, but what thou wilt” (Mk 14:36).

 

4. How the Cross is to be carried

The symbol of the Sacred Heart of Jesus divides the two sections of Saint Louis’ preaching. The first words of the second part are, then, “Divine Love.” It is this unmerited and unconditional love of the Heart of Christ that prompts and strengthens Christians to carry their crosses. It is Divine Love that calls, further, from them the following four qualities that share in the victorious sufferings of Christ: “humility, submission, patience, obedience.”

Why these particular four characteristics of bearing the Cross? They typify the manner by which Jesus himself carried his Cross to Calvary. They must, therefore, characterize every disciple on the way of the Cross.

a. Humility.

The first quality needed to carry one’s Cross is humility. In his canticle on humility (H 8), Saint Louis de Montfort sings of the necessity of recognizing who one truly is in order to be totally open to God’s saving power. And the missionary speaks in strong terms of our sinfulness, of our nothingness. It is pride that would have a person think that he is “too good” to be asked to carry a Cross. It is pride that cries out, “Why me, Lord! I don’t deserve this suffering.”

For Montfort, the most serious effect of pride is that it blinds us to the privilege of taking up the Cross daily and following Jesus. It is only humility and her eldest sister, meekness (H 9), that enable us to be open to the Holy Spirit’s teaching on the Cross. Humility permits us to understand that “if you suffer much persecution for justice’s sake, if you are treated as the refuse of the world, be comforted, rejoice, be glad, and dance for joy because the cross you carry is a gift so precious as to arouse the envy of the saints in heaven, were they capable of envy” (LEW 179).

Humility is a chief characteristic of Jesus crucified, as Paul proclaims: “He humbled himself, becoming obedient unto death even death upon a cross” (Phil 2:8). Jesus, meek and humble of heart, is the model. With humility and meekness, we accept God’s mysterious plan.

b. Submission.

For Saint Louis de Montfort, submission is an expression of true humility. Jesus submits to the Father’s will from the first moment of his conception in the womb of Mary (cf. Heb 10:5-9; TD 248). As the personification of true humility, Jesus says, “I can do nothing on my own authority . . . I seek not my own will but the will of him who sent me” (Jn 5:30). He willingly is subject to Joseph and Mary, he lives for thirty years in submission to Our Lady, because this is God the Father’s plan for him. The Cross is the supreme example of his loving acceptance of the Father’s will.

Submission is not something negative for this saint. Rather, it is the active and loving emptying of ourselves into the Other in order to become our true selves. It is to be in total harmony with the ground of all being, the source of all love, the goal of all creation: God alone.

Submission is the opposite of revolt. We do not carry the Cross complainingly (cf. LEW 178), we do not rebel against God’s evident will. Rather, we pour ourselves into the mysterious will of God and become one with his plans for us, no matter how they may differ from our own. The true follower of Jesus is characterized by this loving oneness with Jesus and, in and through Jesus, a loving oneness with the Father. The submission of Jesus when called upon to carry his Cross, “Not my will but thine be done,” must qualify the manner with which all Christians bear the Cross.

c. Patience.

“Patience in bearing our cross” is the plea of Saint Louis de Montfort when praying the fourth sorrowful mystery of the Rosary. His hymn on patience is completely centered on bearing the Cross as Jesus did (H 11). The saint’s understanding of patience is, then, intimately entwined with the Cross. It has as its primary meaning the strength “to laugh in the midst of torments / to turn trials into charming pleasures / with- out any bitterness and without sadness / . . . invincible patience / the lesson of the dying Jesus” (H 11:1). “The patient man,” sings the missionary, “glorifies / the good Jesus with his cross / since he thus imitates his life / since he submits to his laws / since he fills by his suffering / what is lacking in his passion” (H 11:4). In words that would bring ridicule from the worldly, Montfort teaches, “Receive from the hands of God himself / your trials as great gifts / as marks that God loves you / as one of his dearest children” (H 11:28). For Saint Louis, all this is the mark of true patience.

Just as Jesus did not complain, just as Jesus did not turn back on the way of the Cross, so too the follower of crucified Wisdom. The victorious Cross is, then, to be carried with joy, even in the midst of our tears (cf. H 11:32)—the meaning Saint Louis de Montfort gives to the expression “patience in bearing our cross.”

d. Obedience.

As the culmination and summary of the preceding three virtues, Montfort’s Wisdom Cross devotes several lines to the necessity of the virtue of obedience in order to bear our crosses like faithful disciples.

Obedience is of the highest value in Montfort spirituality. Saint Louis de Montfort insists strongly upon it in his rules for his Congregations, the Company of Mary (Montfort Missionaries) and the Daughters of Wisdom. It is a primary characteristic of the “apostles of the latter times,” as described especially in PM. Loving obedience characterizes those who have made the perfect consecration to Jesus through Mary. So strongly does the saint stress obedience that he sings, “To make the vow of poverty / and even of chastity / to practice austerities / with an extreme rigor / to suffer furious torments / and even martyrdom / to obey is worth far more / it is what God desires” (H 10:3).

Again, this virtue holds such a prominent place in Montfort’s spirituality of the Cross, because Jesus himself is the model of obedience in his suffering and death: “He be-comes an infant / in the womb of his mother / in order to obey . . . / he obeys right up to his death / . . . if he dies on the cross it is by the strength of his obedience” (H 10:6, 8). The missionary echoes the thoughts of Paul’s great hymn in Phil 2:6-11.

The result of Jesus’ obedience is our very salvation: “We have been rejected / by the disobedience [of Adam and Eve] / but Jesus has saved us all / by his obedience” (H 10:5). It is, then, by obedience that one shares in the victory of the Cross (H 10:1, 16, 17).

In a summary statement, Saint Louis de Montfort declares that obedience is “to obey the Lord / both in what we believe and in what we do / to submit both spirit and heart [to the Lord] / in order all the better to chant victory” (H 10:1). His inscription on the Wisdom Cross details five qualities of obedience: “complete, prompt, joyful, blind, persevering.” Complete, total obedience typifies the disciple who daily carries the Cross after Jesus. Montfort’s insistence on total obedience surprises no one who is the least acquainted with his life and writings. He cannot tolerate halfway discipleship. Tepidity comes under his strong condemnation. If God has given Himself so completely to us, must we not give ourselves totally to God? This is especially true in bearing our Cross. Our union with the mysterious love of Christ must know no limits. As the Lord reveals his will unfolding each moment, our response—even when the moment is one of anguish—is marked by total obedience, a complete, loving surrender to Love Itself.

Obedience is to be prompt. In his hymn on obedience, where he goes into more detail on its qualities, Saint Louis numbers as the third quality “Obey very promptly / without requesting that one wait / then you will be doubly obeying / the one who commands” (H 10:29). Montfort begs God to send recruits to his Company of Mary who are always ready to obey promptly wheresoever the Spirit of the Lord calls them (PM 10). We do not put off a response to God’s call to unite ourselves to his Cross. We do not delay in lovingly joining our heart to the pierced Heart of Christ. Wheresoever, whatsoever—our answer is the reply of Samuel: “I am ready!” (cf PM 10)

Immediately after listing “prompt” as a quality of obedience, Saint Louis de Montfort adds—in his hymn on obedience, in RM, and on the Wisdom Cross— “joyful.” The saint is not talking about “goosebump joy.” It is the deep peace that no one, nothing can take away from us because we live in such union with Christ crucified. It is this peaceful joy that radiates from the Christian who is so completely one with the Lord, especially when experiencing incredible crosses. It was, so his biographers unanimously tell us, a characteristic of Montfort himself. In his bitterest moments, in his loss of everything he held dear, in the midst of his tears, there beamed a mysterious peace. He knew and shared with friends that he was at times treated unjustly; at times he sought a change of heart in those in authority who treated him so. Yet he obeyed, and obeyed joyfully. For such was his Master’s attitude in bearing the Cross.

After detailing the importance of obedience in RM, he concludes, “[The members of the Company of Mary] are permitted to state openly and straightforwardly the reasons they may have for omitting or for not undertaking what is commanded.” Montfort implies that in this dialogue the reasons given by the member of the community may convince the superior to retract what had been decided. But “if their reasons have not prevailed, [they] must obey blindly and promptly” (RM 27; cf. H 10:32). “Blindly means to obey even if we cannot agree with the decision” (RM 19; cf. H 10:31), provided, of course, that what is ordered is not contrary to the Gospel and does not “run counter to their most important rules and vows” (RM 22). The decision of the community, reached through prayer and openness to each other, is to be accepted as the will of God.

The final characteristic of obedience engraved on the Wisdom Cross is “persevering.” The saint described “inconstant” devotees as “those whose devotion . . . is practiced in fits and starts. Sometimes they are fervent and sometimes they are lukewarm. Sometimes they appear ready to do anything to please Our Lady, and then shortly afterwards they have completely changed” (TD 101). Such persons are described as “fickle,” “changeable as the moon.” On the other hand, the “constant” or “persevering” person is one who is “not changeable, fretful, scrupulous or timid” (TD 09).

P. Gaffney


III. THE LETTER TO THE FRIENDS OF THE CROSS

 

1. To whom it was addressed and its purpose

Eight years after Montfort’s death, Grandet wrote, “On the strength of the saying of Jesus Christ that requires his disciples to renounce themselves and carry their Cross and follow him . . . Montfort tried to inspire everyone with the love of the Cross. To inspire this devotion . . . he set up associations . . . including the word ‘Cross’ in their names; for their benefit, he wrote rules and prescribed practices that were all approved by the bishops. One of them is still in existence today in La Rochelle.”18 Besnard mentions one such association, founded in 1708 in the parish of St. Similien in Nantes.19 The purpose of these associations was the same as that of all those set up by Montfort: to continue the work of conversion carried out during the mission and to secure its good results.

To the “Friends of the Cross” Montfort wrote a “circular letter” that “contains the gospel maxims necessary for salvation.”20 The original of this letter, which Montfort probably wrote while in Rennes (in 1714?) has not survived. The version published in 1839 by Father Dalin, superior general of the Company of Mary, appears in GA.

The framework of the letter is a commentary on Mt 16:24. Many biblical quotations are scattered throughout the text: no fewer than 75 quotations from, or references to, the OT, and over 150 to the NT. Montfort also quotes the Church Fathers and a number of saints. In several passages he keeps closely to Boudon’s booklet Les saintes voies de la Croix (1671) (Cf. FC 18, 25, 26, 27, 35, 37).

 

2. Contents

The letter begins (FC 1-12) with an encouragement and a justification: the devils, the avaricious, the pleasure-seekers unite and make up the camp of the world; the Friends of the Cross also must unite to make up the camp of Jesus Christ. To be a Friend of the Cross is to choose the Wisdom of God; “It is the genuine title of a Christian” (FC 3). This is followed by the principles underlying the association (FC 13-40) and fourteen practical rules on how to carry one’s Cross (FC 41-62).

“Christian holiness consists in this: (1) Resolving to become a saint: ‘If anyone wants to be a follower of mine’; (2) Self-denial: ‘Let him renounce himself’; (3) Suffering: ‘Let him take up his cross’; (4) Acting: ‘Let him follow me’” (FC 13). Montfort gives his own word-by- word explanation of this saying of Jesus.21

It is necessary for all to carry their Cross. No one can be or become a friend of Jesus without drinking from his cup. Crosses are the Father’s sign that he looks on us as his dearly loved friends. As disciples of a crucified God, we have to learn to practice this all-important science (FC 26) in the footsteps of Jesus Christ. As members of his Body, Christians have to share his lot. It is fitting that as living temples of the Holy Spirit, they should be cut and chiseled before they are set into the edifice. Their only alternative is either to carry their Cross joyfully and patiently with the saints or to grumble and complain like the reprobate (FC 23-33).

When carried as it should be, the Cross becomes a “yoke that is easy.” It is a source of progress and enlightenment; it is the fuel that feeds the love of God as wood fuels the fire; it gives strength and an unutterable joy that all the saints have experienced (FC 34). “The greatest gift of God.” If we appreciated it, we would have Masses offered, make novenas, and undertake pilgrimages to obtain it. Is it not the source of glory even here on earth and then in heaven, since it turns humans into saints (FC 35-40)?

Suffering for suffering’s sake is pointless. What does count is to walk in the footsteps of Christ and carry our Cross as he did his. Montfort sums this up in fourteen practical rules (FC 42-62):

1. Do not deliberately bring crosses upon yourself, since life brings its crop of them each day.

2. Consult the good of your neighbor, avoiding all that the weak may take scandal at, and under the guidance of a wise person, ignore the criticism of the worldly-wise.

3. Admire in humility the attitude and conduct of the saints whom the Holy Spirit prompted to seek crosses.

4. Pray without ceasing for the Wisdom of the Cross coupled with the practice of it. Pray to understand from your own experience how it is possible to desire, seek, and find joy in the Cross.

5. Without being upset, accept the humiliation brought about by your blunders and faults in your own eyes and in God’s presence.

6. God permits that you should be humiliated, tempted, and fall into sin to keep you from boasting and to purify you.

7. Avoid the traps of pride, self-conceit, and self-love.

8. Take advantage of little sufferings, even more than of great ones. The main thing is that you suffer for the love of God and turn everything to profit.

9. Love the Cross, not with emotional love but with rational and, even more, with spiritual love—the love of the summit of the soul—which will lead you to love and appreciate suffering in faith.

10. Suffer all sorts of crosses without exception or discrimination: be ready to lose everything and to be stripped of everything.

11. With practice, four things will stimulate you to suffer in the right spirit: live under the eye of God, who looks with pleasure on those who carry the Cross cheerfully; consider the hand of God, who simultaneously permits affliction and upholds you with strength and gentleness; turn your thoughts and eyes to Jesus Christ, as he is the answer to all difficulties; look up to eternal glory in heaven and down to eternal punishment in hell.

12. Never willingly complain against a person or thing that may afflict you.

13. Always receive the Cross with gratitude.

14. Under the guidance of a prudent director, take up some crosses of your own accord.


V. THE TEACHING OF MONTFORT

 

In the light of the OT and the NT, Montfort interpreted in his own way God’s eternal plan of love, life, and salvation for humanity. To realize this plan, God chose to become flesh to redeem the world. This choice is a mystery to humanity. Those who agree to walk along the road chosen by God find a meaning to life. Following Christ, they progress in Wisdom and love.

 

1. The Cross in the life of Christ

a. The redemptive Incarnation.

The Incarnation is “the first mystery of Jesus Christ; it is a summary of all his mysteries” (TD 248); it makes all the other mysteries possible.22 It was as Incarnate Word that Christ was able to be born, to teach, to suffer, to die, and to rise from the dead.

When he examines the mystery of the Cross Montfort looks at Christ suffering for our sake in his saving condition of Incarnate Word. Although Montfort describes it as “the greatest mystery of Eternal Wisdom” (LEW 167; cf. FC 26, H 19:1), his conviction and enthusiasm take nothing away from what he has stated about the Word becoming flesh. The mysteries of the Cross and the Incarnation can be regarded in turn as the great mystery, as successive stages in one global mystery, that of Christ saving humanity.

When choosing to become flesh, Christ chose a suffering condition, placing himself in a state of suffering, which is a direct consequence of joining the Word and “sinful flesh” in his very being.

b. Christ longed for the Cross.

God chose the Cross to save humanity. Consequently, during his life on earth, Jesus’ only desire and aspiration were to carry out the will of the Father: “Incarnate Wisdom loved the cross from his infancy” (LEW 169). “Throughout his life he eagerly sought after the cross” (LEW 170). Jesus’ life was a longing for the Cross; “his whole life . . . became one continuous cross” (LEW 170).

This Montfort teaching was influenced by seventeenth-century spiritual writers like Chardon, author of La Croix de Jésus, published in 1647. The theme of the longing for the Cross and of Jesus’ continuous sufferings occurs in St. Robert Bellarmine († 1621) and St. Francis de Sales († 1622), both Doctors of the Church.23 The Oratorians,24 who influenced Montfort at St. Sulpice, as well as Olier25 express a similar view. Boudon also lays emphasis on the condition of unceasing suffering in which the Word lived as a result of his Incarnation. “His whole life was spent in sorrow, because either he actually felt the pain caused by external thorns or his mind was afflicted by the vivid image he formed of them.”26

When he describes the sufferings of Christ (LEW ch. 13), Montfort highlights their cause, their meaning: joyful love for humanity. It was for mankind’s sake that Christ walked up to the Cross, embraced it (LEW 170), was joined to it (LEW 171), identified himself with it (LEW 172). After choosing it when he was “in the bosom of his Father” (LEW 170), he renewed his choice when he was “in Mary’s womb” (LEW 170); “all his pursuits, all his desires were directed towards the cross” (LEW 170; cf. H 19).

c. Mystery of love and Wisdom.

The mystery of the Cross is primarily a mystery of love, because it was generated by love. The Father loves Himself with a love of complaisance in His incarnate and crucified Word: “This is my Son, the Beloved” (Mt 3:17). The incarnate and crucified Son loves his Father with the same love with which the Father loves him eternally (cf. Jn 14:31). The Father cannot love his Son without loving him in his condition as a man of sorrows; the Son, in this same condition, welcomes the loving will of his Father. That is how the Holy Spirit, who is the reciprocal love of the Father and the Son, can be given to humanity.

For it is to humanity that God wants to show and give His love. “In his infinite love he became our security and our Mediator with his Father” (TD 85, 87). And he chose “the cross and sufferings” in order to “give humanity proof of greater love” (LEW 164).

Eternal Wisdom, Jesus Christ, could have won the hearts of men and women “by his attractiveness, his delights, his magnificence and his riches”; “untouched by poverty, dishonor, humiliations and weaknesses,” he could easily have triumphed over evil (LEW 168). He chose not to do so. “Instead of the joy that was set before him, he endured the cross” (Heb 12:2). As God chose the Cross, it has ceased to be foolishness, shame, or a stumbling-block; rather, it has become Supreme Wisdom, condemning short-sighted human wisdom, the earthly wisdom of which St. James speaks, love for the things of this world (LEW 80); the wisdom of the flesh, the love of pleasure (LEW 81); and diabolical wisdom, the love and esteem of honors (LEW 82). Here we have a summary of Montfort’s argument. And God does not change. Eternal Wisdom united himself indissolubly with the Cross in an eternal covenant. No other way can therefore lead to him: “Never the cross without Jesus, or Jesus without the cross” (LEW 172). “True wisdom . . . has fixed his abode in the cross so firmly that you will not find him anywhere in this world save in the Cross. He has so truly incorporated himself and united himself with the Cross that in all truth we can say: Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom” (LEW 180).

d. Mystery of suffering and glory.

The indissoluble union of Jesus Christ Wisdom and the Cross is consummated at Calvary, when they surrender to each other in a supreme embrace as “upon a couch of honor and triumph” (LEW 170-171). Christ gave and surrendered himself to the Cross. It had, so to speak, every right over him: it was necessary that he should suffer these things to enter into his glory (cf. Lk 24:26). His being stripped of everything, his physical and mental sufferings, the presence of his mother at the foot of the Cross, his being forsaken by his Father, all these are so many torments for the man of sorrows par excellence (cf. LEW 155-162). Montfort’s mention of the Resurrection itself is almost limited to statements explaining the first glorious mystery of the Rosary (MR 4, 13, 27 ). This should cause no surprise, since the Resurrection itself, in Montfort’s time, was not given a distinct or thorough study even in the manuals of theology. Yet the saint does treat of the Easter Resurrection mystery but only together with the Cross. For Saint Louis Marie, Easter does not come “after” Good Friday; glory does not come “after” the Crucifixion. Rather, Good Friday is Easter, the Cross is glory, the ignominious death on Calvary is victory. Like the writers of his day, Montfort celebrates “the triumph of Eternal Wisdom in and by the Cross” (LEW ch. 14).

Father de Montfort would definitely be disturbed by those who separate the Cross and glory. He would find incomprehensible those who distort the truth that we are an “Easter people” to mean that the Cross is now to be left aside. For Louis de Montfort, victory is only the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ. This triumph of the Cross is epitomized in Hymn 19, which praises the victories of the Cross over the devil, the world, and the flesh and over its visible and invisible enemies on earth and in heaven; the third section deals at length with its glory and merit. Montfort looks on the Cross as a victory trophy worthy of adoration (LEW 172). Wisdom “will go before him, borne upon the most brilliant cloud that has ever been seen. And with this Cross and by it, he will judge the world” (LEW 172).

In the meantime, the Cross is a rallying sign for the soldiers of Christ to run from victory to victory (LEW 173), for “Christ crucified . . . is the power of God and the wisdom of God” (1 Cor 1:23-24). Its triumph is not merely eschatological; it manifests itself in this world through inner joy, peace and Christ-like gentleness.

 

2. The Cross in the life of Christians

a. Baptism and its obligations.

“All of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death. Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life” (Rom 6:3-4).

When plunged into the baptismal water, symbol of the Spirit, sinners are buried in the death of Christ; they come out of it as new creatures (Col 2:12; 2 Cor 5:17). Logically invited to live as “a new creation” (Eph 2:15), Christians have to fight sin all their lives. The conflict between the “old nature” and the “new nature,” “the flesh and the spirit” entails renunciation and suffering. So, Baptism, which “extends the paschal mystery to all believers,”27 brings the Cross in its wake. “Always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:10).

Montfort was familiar with St. Paul’s teaching on Baptism. He lays particular emphasis, however, on the grace of adoption as God’s children granted to the baptized. By becoming man the Word united himself with our nature and, as it were, goes on uniting himself with each Christian, who is really incorporated into his Mystical Body. The stress shifts towards the mystery of the Incarnation: “God the Son wishes to form himself, and, in a manner of speaking, become incarnate every day in his members” (TD 31). The consequence stated here ties in with the one drawn by St. Paul. We are not our own but belong to Christ (1 Cor 6:19), “entirely his as his members” (TD 68), and, for this reason, sharing in his Cross in a special way. The baptized who refuse the Cross are Jesus’ treacherous persecutors (FC 27), unless they are dead members no longer sharing in the life of God’s children in Christ. In the last analysis, “Christians are nailed to the Cross with Christ as a result of their Baptism.”28 The baptismal promises express the resolve to follow him in his sufferings: “I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ to carry my cross after him.” The baptized share in the mystical espousal of Incarnate Wisdom and the Cross. As they are made Jesus’ spouses in Baptism (H 27:11), the closer their union with Christ, the deeper the Cross sinks into their hearts.

b. The Cross and the perfect consecration to Mary.

As the perfect consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary is “the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism” (TD 126), those who make it agree to carry their Cross “every day of their lives.” As the consecration consists in “giving oneself, consecrating oneself and sacrificing oneself willingly out of love,” “sacrificing the right to dispose of oneself” (SM 29), it entails of necessity some inner wrenches.

In addition, fasting and mortification of body and mind are among the practices recommended to honor Mary, whose universal mortification it is fitting to imitate (TD 108). The perfect disciples of Jesus in Mary long to carry out the Father’s will, as did Christ, whom they have resolved to imitate “without seeing, without tasting and without faltering,” though they may be troubled by “doubts, by darkness of the mind, by weariness and boredom of the heart, by sadness and anguish of soul” (LEW 187). In various ways they “taste the bitterness of the chalice from which we must drink to become proven friends of God” (SM 22). Furthermore, those who have discovered Mary through a genuine devotion are more than anyone else assailed by crosses and sufferings “because Mary, as Mother of the living, gives to all her children splinters of the tree of life, which is the Cross of Jesus” (SM 22). She also grants to “her greatest favorites” the “best graces and favors from heaven” (TD 154). “While meting out crosses to them she gives the grace to bear them with patience and even with joy. In this way, the crosses she sends to those who trust themselves to her are rather like sweetmeats, i.e., ‘sweetened’ crosses rather than ‘bitter ones’” (SM 22). These hard- sounding but realistic words were inspired by Montfort’s own spiritual experience and can be trusted.

c. The Cross as a way to Wisdom.

The Cross is “not so much a subject for contemplation and sentimental outpourings as a mystery to be deepened and put into practice.”29 It is not enough just to proclaim that Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom. One must be a real disciple of the Master: “It is only Jesus, through his all-powerful grace, who can teach you this mystery and give you the ability to appreciate it” (FC 26). “The one among you who knows best how to carry his cross, even though in other things he does not know A from B, is the most learned of all” (FC 26). But “the number of fools and unhappy people is infinite, says Wisdom, because infinite is the number of those who do not know the value of the cross and carry it reluctantly” (LEW 179).

So we should “pray for the wisdom of the cross, that knowledge of the truth which we experience within ourselves. . . ask for it continually and fervently, without wavering or fear of not obtaining it., and it will be yours. Then you will clearly understand from your own experience how it is possible to desire, seek and find joy in the cross” (FC 45).

To know the mystery of the Cross, one must be humble, of little account, mortified, spiritually minded. This knowledge is a grace so “special” that it is granted only to “those who make themselves worthy [of it] by their great fidelity and their great labors” (LEW 174). As for appreciation of this “great gift,” which is “greater than the gift of faith,” God “bestows this only on his best friends and only after they have prayed for it, longed for it, pleaded for it” (LEW 175). “It is the portion and reward of those who desire or already possess Eternal Wisdom” (LEW 103); it is the sign, the emblem, and the weapon of all those chosen by Wisdom (LEW 173). It makes fruitful the preaching of missionaries: “I have never had more conversions than after the most painful and unjust prohibitions” (L 26).

d. The Cross as a proof of love.

In a letter to Mother St. Joseph, a Sister of the Blessed Sacrament, Montfort encouraged her with these words: “You are having to bear a large weighty cross. But what a great happiness for you! Have confidence if God continues to make you suffer. . . . The cross is a sure sign that he loves you. I can assure you of this, that the greatest proof that we are loved by God is when we are despised by the world and burdened with crosses” (L 13).

For sinners the Cross is a “loving punishment,” a “light and temporary punishment accompanied by consolation and merit and followed by rewards both here and in eternity” (FC 21). If God ceases to send us crosses, we have reason to fear that he may look on us “as an outsider” or “as an illegitimate child” with no claim to “a share in the inheritance” (FC 25).

Montfort draws attention to the tact and thoughtfulness of God when he sends us crosses, as they are “in proportion to our strength” (LEW 103). Each of us receives “his own cross and not that of another, which I, in my wisdom, have designed for him in every detail of number, measure and weight . . . which, out of love for him, I have carved from a piece of the one I bore to Calvary” (FC 18).

In return for this, the Christians who welcome the Cross and take it up find in it an opportunity to show their love for God because the Cross detaches us from creatures and attaches us to Jesus Christ. It fuels our love for him and challenges us to welcome in a childlike way the loving will of the Father (LEW 176).

e. Joy in carrying the Cross.

Bérulle has written, “The grace peculiar to the Incarnation is a grace of renunciation and suffering.” He adds, “The characteristic feature of the spirit and love of Jesus is that he crucifies the souls dearest to him.”30 As Christ has accepted his condition as a man of sorrows, which was inescapable after his Incarnation, so through Baptism Christians agree to walk along the way of the Cross. They must be prepared to wage war on Satan and the world insofar as they take seriously, and resolve to live out, their baptismal commitment by consecrating themselves to Mary (TD 50, 54; PM 18). Their renunciation of the world will earn them contempt, humiliations, slander, and abandonment (FC 18). They must also “detach their heart from material things, and possess them as though not possessing them . . . without complaining or worrying when they are lost. This is something very difficult to accomplish” (LEW 197). In addition to this, Christ makes Christians share his own Cross in a variety of ways through sufferings, illnesses, spiritual trials, dryness, misunderstanding on the part of relatives and friends, hidden sufferings that no one else can ease (Cf. FC 18).

They have to “deny themselves,” that is, renounce their selfishness, strip themselves of the “old nature,” crush and melt it down (TD 221) by dying to themselves every day (TD 81) and courageously practicing “total and continuous mortification” (LEW 196). They must “mortify the body, not only by enduring patiently their bodily ailments, the inconveniences of the weather and the difficulties arising from other people’s actions, but also by deliberately undertaking some penances and mortifications such as fasts, vigils and other austerities” (LEW 201).To deny oneself means first of all to renounce self-love, to avoid, with equal care, boasting about the crosses one has to bear (FC 48) and lamenting one’s temptations or faults (FC 46).

When carried in the right way, the Cross brings joy to the soul. Words seem to fail Montfort when he describes the joy that he knew so well. “Imagine the greatest joy that can be experienced on earth,” he writes, “the joy of a poor man who suddenly comes into a fortune, or of a peasant who is raised to the throne, or of a trader who becomes a millionaire, or of a military leader over the victories he has won, or of prisoners released from their chains”—all these joys pale by comparison. “The happiness of the one who bears his sufferings in the right way contains and even surpasses all of them” (FC 34). The Cross means “Paradise on earth” for the simple reason that “through it we are united with God alone who is the center of our life and our end.”31

And who can describe the heavenly glory that Christians win when, after death, their short-lived suffering is turned into “a weight of everlasting glory” (LEW 176)? “Who can understand the glory gained in heaven by a year, and sometimes a whole lifetime, of crosses and suffering” (FC 39)? “You are indeed blessed when the world opposes you” (MLW 9).

 

3. Understanding Montfort’s teaching

a. Christian logic.

At first sight, Montfort’s way of acting and his teaching concerning the Cross appear to some to lack common sense. He regularly wore a hair shirt and whipped himself with the discipline, deprived himself of sleep and kept vigil beside the dead.32 He feared that the mission at Vertou was going badly since everyone was praising it, and exclaimed, “No cross what a cross!” A few months before his death, he wished the Daughters of Wisdom “a year full of struggles, victories, crosses, poverty and contempt” (L 32). Without denying that Montfort thought little of unredeemed human nature, we have to look elsewhere to discover his underlying motivation for these actions and words.

His only references were “God alone,” Jesus Christ eternal and crucified Wisdom, and the Gospel. Through a spiritual insight and by grace, he came to realize that to save humanity, God Himself chose the way of suffering and death on the Cross. As a baptized person and a missionary, he owed it to himself to walk the same way. Walking in the steps of Christ involves choosing a way of life in opposition to that of the world. Fighting worldly wisdom brings sufferings, which are a source of life and guarantee fruitfulness. To follow Jesus Christ, one must also ruthlessly renounce oneself and sin. Montfort invites the “friends” of Jesus Christ to understand how necessary that renunciation is and to practice it uncompromisingly. And then, because he has experienced its sweetness when he was most abandoned, he can promise that they, too, will experience spiritual joy, the joy of the Beatitudes, which is a fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is only a short step from experiencing the joy generated by the Cross to wishing that others may share it, and Montfort took this step blithely. He was convinced that the victory of the Cross can only be assured at the end of the way of the Cross.

b. Wisdom or folly?

Some of Montfort’s statements or compressed turns of phrase, especially when he speaks of the Cross, may lead to false interpretations of his teaching. For example, in LEW ch. 14 he says, “Wisdom takes his delight in it; he cherishes it more than all that is great and resplendent in heaven and on earth” (LEW 168); “Throughout his life he eagerly sought after the cross” (LEW 170); the Cross is “a delightful morsel of paradise” (LEW 177); “Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom” (LEW 180). If these bald expressions are taken literally or removed from their context, they may lead us to believe that God is perverse and delights in human suffering. The language becomes clearer if we look on the Cross as the manifestation of the love of God for humankind and of his friendship with it. (cf. LEW ch. 6) “The bond of friendship between Eternal Wisdom and humankind is so close as to be beyond our understanding.” It is “out of excess of love” that “he delivered himself up to death to save human-kind” (LEW 64), “to draw closer to humankind,” “to give them a more convincing proof of his love” (LEW 70; cf. LEW 71, 72). In another context, Montfort quotes Rom 5:8-9: “Jesus Christ proved how well he loved us because though we were sinners—and consequently his enemies—he died for us” (LEW 156). “Such an excess of love is shown to us in this mystery” of his suffering (LEW 155). God has compassion on humankind in their misery after the Fall. If there is any “excess” it is to be found on God’s side first.

This does not, however, solve the mystery of the Cross or suffering. It becomes even deeper after God has chosen to suffer. For suffering is an evil that confronts humanity, and philosophers and religions have vainly tried to find an explanation for it, even though none exists; when faced with it, the only attitude worthy of a human being is to revolt against it in order to identify it, and to struggle to reduce or eradicate it; in this way, freedom will still give a meaning to life.

Evil and suffering are not willed by God, since he created humanity for happiness. But when confronted with evil, God chose to cast his lot with suffering humanity. This ultimate sharing made a separation that enabled humankind to “hope against hope” (Rom 4:18). On the Cross, God, in His apparent powerlessness, became credible by making Himself humankind’s Good Samaritan and taking all suffering upon Himself (Is 53:4; cf. Is 53:3, 10). From then on nothing was able to separate humankind from the love of God manifested in Jesus crucified.

“Never the cross without Jesus or Jesus without the cross” (LEW 172) expresses this solidarity beautifully. Because in Jesus Christ God has thrown in His lot with all men and women who suffer and carry the Cross, He makes them able to face up to suffering, humanizes their lives even in the depths of distress, and therefore keeps the future open till the end of their existence on earth.

God did not spare His own Son but gave him up for us all (cf. Rom 8:32, 39; Jn 3:16) to reconcile the world to Himself (cf. 2 Cor 5:18-19): “It is [therefore] through Christ, and in Christ, that light is thrown on the riddle of suffering and death which, apart from his Gospel, overwhelms us” (GS 22). Jesus Christ proposes to his followers a new art of living, which is Wisdom in the eyes of God.

In his language and his way of acting, is not Montfort like those men who were “fools for God’s sake”33 and whose hearts were set on Jesus crucified, “fools for the sake of Christ” (1 Cor 4:10)? Like Ignatius Loyola and Francis of Assisi, John of the Cross and Teresa of Lisieux and many more, he made an unequivocal choice: to suffer and be despised for Christ’s sake, to esteem nothing but the Cross, to ask for it earnestly (cf. LEW 177), to carry it from day to day. He was indeed an eccentric by worldly standards, but above all he was Christ-centered as a result of his continual self-denial: “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “The saints understand the Cross. Following the example of God made man, they welcome their daily Cross as their most valuable possession. They love it throughout their life. . . . The Cross is the indispensable instrument with which the divine breaks into the human.”34

 

VI. THE CROSS TODAY

 

1. Paschal perspective

The theology of the Cross of Christ and the place it holds in Christian living developed gradually through the apostolic period, during the first five centuries of the Christian era, in the Middle Ages, and in the post-Tridentine period. Devotion to the Passion of Christ, in religious orders and among lay people, has correspondingly taken various forms throughout the history of the Church. Its influence on the life of the Church was particularly noticeable during the late Middle Ages and after the Council of Trent; these periods were marked by such types of devotion as the stations of the Cross, the sorrowful mysteries of the Rosary, and popular preaching, which continued till the mid-twentieth century.35 In the second part of the twentieth century, Christian spirituality, especially in the West, has tended to stress, instead, the Resurrection. But although the Easter alleluia is the triumphant cry hailing the victory of life over the death and suffering that took place on Good Friday, suffering and death are nonetheless present and necessary in the actual order of redemption. Death and resurrection are mutually inclusive, like the two aspects of the same mystery: the paschal mystery. To present one without the other, to emphasize one at the expense of the other, is very harmful to theology and spirituality alike.

Through Baptism Christians are reborn spiritually; they become children of God by being incorporated into Christ and his paschal mystery (LG 7; SC 6; AA 3; AG 14, 24, etc.). It follows that they are to walk the path that the Son walked during his earthly life, the path of the Cross, which leads “to the glory of the Resurrection.” No other course is open to them: without prejudice to the perspective of the new creation (Gal 6:15; LG 7), St. Paul’s teaching (1 Cor 3:18-19; Gal 2:19; 6:11-14) is neither outdated nor obsolete.

Vatican II draws attention to the place held by the Cross in the paschal mystery; it speaks of the Church as flowing from the open side of Christ (LG 3; SL 5), as having the duty to proclaim the Cross of Christ as the sign of God’s universal love and the source of all grace (NA 4), as the people of God following the narrow way of the Cross to follow Christ (LG 41; GS 38); it speaks of Mary united with her Son unto the Cross (LG 58), of missionaries not being ashamed of the scandal of the Cross (AG 24) but carrying out their apostolic work, which makes them resemble the suffering Christ (AA 16), of religious inspired by their love for the Cross (PC 25), etc.

The mystery of the Cross and Resurrection of Christ is a mystery of love (GS 52) and of liberation (GS 52; DH 11); it offers grace and life to the Church and humankind (SL 61); it brings every human activity to perfection (GS 38). It remains, however, an unfathomable mystery, because it is a mystery of excess: “the excess of divine love calls for an excess of foolish love in return.”36

 

2. The language of the Cross

The image of the Cross of Christ in its traditional forms can still be seen everywhere. In some countries it can be seen at crossroads. The crucifix always occupies pride of place in churches and during sacramental celebrations. But those used to seeing it do not linger on the sight. Making the sign of the Cross has lost much of its evocative power. The Good Friday liturgy, though preceded by Lent, does not have a lasting impact on the life of the faithful. With the weakening of faith and the growth of religious indifference, the message of the Cross has lost some of its strength among the people of God.

On the other hand, concern for the poor, struggling against social inequalities, denouncing injustice, and solidarity with the oppressed and deprived in the Third and Fourth Worlds arouse growing interest. Is not devotion to the Cross being superseded by a commitment to helping suffering humankind, with whom Christ identified himself? “I was hungry, naked, in prison, a stranger, etc.” (Mt 25:44-45). In preaching resignation, it is important that injustice not be simultaneously supported. The impact attached to the language of the Cross depends on who speaks it and who hears it. It is necessary to encourage the mysticism of the Cross as well as struggle against evil.37 Insofar as the Church, through her teaching and the witness given by the faithful, deliberately sides with the poor—see the messages of Pope John Paul II during his apostolic journeys, the many men and women religious killed for defending the rights of the oppressed—she restores strength to the message of the Cross for herself and the world. The kind of devotion to the Cross that turns Christians in on themselves can only be deficient or false. On the other hand, the contemplation of Christ crucified, which opens us to human distress and leads us to commit ourselves politically or socially to witnessing to the presence of Christ, Savior and Liberator, amid the suffering, restores its essential meaning to the Cross of Christ.

For in itself the Cross is an unbearable burden. How many Christians confronted with trials or sufferings lay the blame at God’s door: how can he be the “Father Almighty” and allow so many sorrows and atrocities to take place? When the Cross is too heavy, only the presence of a loving person—often silent but compassionate (in the literal sense of the word)—can help those who suffer to cope with their existence, purify their ideas of God, detach themselves from the inessential and cling to the essential, become hopeful again, and persevere in faith. The believers’ cry uttered from the depth of their intolerable suffering echoes Christ’s cry on the Cross and becomes a cry of love and an offering for the salvation of humankind.

 

3. The Cross of the disciple

Together with the Word of God, which explains its meaning, the paschal mystery is the light of the baptized on their journey through life. To accept ourselves as God’s gift, with all one’s strengths and weaknesses, and to live in dependence on our Creator in obedience and faith is no easy task. The struggle between the ever-present “old nature” and the “new nature” is never-ending; vigilance and asceticism are indispensable to foster the latter and curb the former. Unless one has a special vocation, to be discerned with the help of the Church, there is no need to seek extraordinary crosses. But humility, personal discipline in organizing one’s time, and restriction in the possession and use of material goods are always necessary. Daily prayer, which is both effort and gift, and the reception of the Sacraments are permanent requirements. The trials we experience in our personal, family, and social life are unavoidable at every stage in life and challenge us to make choices and to steer the course of our life so that we may follow Christ more closely. A feeling of getting old, weak, dependent, and more or less neglected by those who are well and active is frequently the ultimate purification that a Christian is called upon to accept in love.

It is no small Cross to accept all others as they are, as mutual love between Christians means to be ready to lay down one’s life for each other; Christians should, however, accept the Cross Christ offers to the members of a Church whose “law is a new commandment, that we love one another as Christ has loved us” (cf. Jn 13:34; LG 9).

All who wish to conform their life to the Gospel have to accept wholeheartedly even its harshest maxims (Mk 14:33; Jn 12:27; Lk 6:21). No real disciple is exempt from living the “now” of suffering and trial and experiencing the depths of abandonment. All of Christ’s followers have to take Christ’s words very seriously, “If any want to become my followers” (Lk 9:23) and “Follow me!” (Jn 21:19,22), and resist the temptation to take an easier way. Mary, the first disciple, had her soul pierced by a sword (Lk 2:35). Jesus allowed her to experience sorrow to the end, unto the foot of the Cross, where she watched her loved one die.

All who take the Gospel seriously go against the tide of the world and lay themselves open to mockery, abandonment even on the part of those near and dear to them (Lk 12:51-53), to misunderstanding, and persecution. Reflecting God’s life in one’s own existence usually involves the Cross.38 But the baptized know that they do not have to fight single-handed. They advance “as followers of Christ,” behind him and therefore with him, along the way already opened by the power of the Father: the way of the Cross and death leading to life. Christ’s followers devote all their energy to eternal life, which is “already here”; they sustain and help it to grow with the Word of God and the Eucharist; they fortify it daily by their persistent efforts to accept their crosses and offer them in union with that of their Master. “When you suffer, hide your sorrow in that of Christ. Celebrate your Mass. If people watch you in bafflement, do not be troubled. Jesus, Mary, and the saints understand you. That is sufficient.”39

 

4. Relevance of the mysticism of the Cross today

All the members of the Church are called to holiness (1 Thess 4:3; cf. Eph 1:4), whatever their walk of life and their functions. Under the guidance of the Spirit and in obedience to the Father, they follow Christ, poor, humble and Cross-bearing, that they may deserve to be partakers of his glory (cf. LG 39, 41). The larger the place held by Christ in their heart and in their life, the more clearly their holiness is visible. Examples of holiness abound in the history of the Church. Montfort is one of them. He experienced and desired the Cross. He appreciated its sweetness and praised its fruitfulness. The special charism of some founders has been to highlight one particular aspect of the Passion of Christ. Through their followers, they continue to remind other Christians of the reality of the suffering of Christ, which saved the world.

Some founders of well-known Church movements or Congregations speak in similar terms. “If I am the spouse of Jesus crucified, he has to embrace me. If I am one with Jesus, I too must suffer in order to share his suffering.”40 “I have one Spouse on earth, Jesus who was abandoned. I have no other God but him. In him is the whole of Paradise with the Trinity, and the whole of earth with humanity. Whatever is his is mine, and I do not want anything else. His is universal suffering. I will travel the world in search of him every moment of my life. Let me have all that is not joy, peace, beauty, serenity . . . whatever is not Paradise, because I find Paradise in the Heart of my Spouse. . . . Being united with my all-powerful Spouse, I will dry the tears of those who are suffering.”41

J. Bulteau


Notes: (1) Blain, 34. (2) Stefano De Fiores, La sapienza della croce nell’itinerario spirituale di san Luigi di Montfort, in Atti del congresso internazionale sulla Sapienza della Croce (Wisdom of the Cross in the Spiritual Itinerary of Saint Louis de Montfort in Acts of the International Congress of the Wisdom of the Cross) (Roma 1975), LDC, Leumann 1976, 2:360-371. In the first section of this article we will keep close to what this writer says. (3) Blain, 58, 73. (4) Besnard I, 225. (5) Besnard I, 42. (6) Besnard I, 43. (7) cf. Besnard I, 102, Besnard II, 160. (8) Besnard I, 146-147. (9) Besnard II, 55-56. (10) Besnard I, 323. (11) Grandet, 402. (12) Besnard I, 147. (13) Besnard I, 147-148. (14) Besnard, I, 185-187. (15) Besnard I, 254. (16) Besnard I, 188-193. (17) Besnard II, 195. (18) Grandet, 401-402. (19) Besnard II, 22. (20) Grandet, 402. (21) cf. B. M. Ahern, Croix, in Dictionnaire de la vie spirituelle (Cross in the Dictionary of the Spiritual Life), Cerf, Paris 1983, 236. It is probable that Jesus’ saying on the necessity of carrying the Cross (Mk 8:34; Mt 10:38; 16:24; Lk 9:23; 14:27) does not refer to Jesus’ Cross on Calvary but to the “yoke” mentioned by Jesus (Mt 11:29), or to all the sacrifices required of all who want to follow Christ, unless the saying refers merely to the Jewish custom of marking or anointing a person with a cross (+ or x, in the shape of the ancient letter tau). The saying might therefore have meant originally: “None of those who do not make the sign + (i.e., do not repent and dedicate themselves to God) can be my disciple.” (22) Here Montfort uses the word “mystery” in the sense given to it in the seventeenth century: after St. Thomas, Bérulle refers here to the events in the life of Christ and Mary by which Jesus fulfills his mission as Savior and carries out God’s plan or mystery in the Pauline sense (Eph 3:3) (23) Bellarmin, In gemitu colombae (In the sign of the Dove) III, 3, 153. (24) Oeuvres complètes du Cardinal de Bérulle (Complete Works of Cardinal de Bérulle) 1644, reprint Montsoult 1960, 754. (25) Letter 178, in Lettres spirituelles de Mr. Olier, (Spiritual Letters of Fr. Olier), Paris 1672, 436. (26) Boudon, Les Saintes voies de la Croix (The Holy Ways of the Cross), Paris 1769, 47. First approbation was dated April 12 and August 11, 1671. Comparison can be made between book IV, ch. 7 and FC 18, between book I, ch. 6 and FC 25, and between book IV, ch. 6 and FC 60. (27) F.X. Durrwell, La résurrection de Jésus Mystère de salut, Le Puy 1954, 369; F.X. Durrwell, The Resurrection, A Biblical Study, trans. Rosemary Sheed (New York; Sheed and Ward, 1960) (28) St. Thomas, Contra Gentiles IV, 71. Olier, Lettres spirituelles, writes, “The Cross of Jesus is the character and the seal of his covenant with the soul” (37), and “I would not be able to express the great desire I had that my whole life be spent on the Cross and, as St. Cyril of Jerusalem said, that I might be covered with crosses from head to foot, as required by baptism” (186). (29) J.A. Bizet, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort et l’Ecole dominicaine du XIVème siècle, in Supplément de la vie spirituelle 9 (St. Louis de Montfort and the Dominican School of the XIV Century in Supplement of the Spiritual Life 9) (1949), 60-67. (30) Bérulle, op. cit. 755 and 599. (31) Boudon, Oeuvres complètes, 66. (32) Blain, 24. (33) S. Breton, Le Verbe et la Croix (The Word and the Cross) Desclée, Paris 1981, 52-75. (34) C. Lubich, Méditations, Nouvelle Cité, Paris 1977, 101. The entry in her diary for September 20, 1964, reads, “Saint Louis Marie de Montfort has made me understand the central value of the Cross,” Diario 1964-1965, Città Nuova, Rome 1967, 150. Chiara Lubich, Meditations (New York; New City Press, 1974) (35) B.M. Ahern, Croix, 232-235. (36) S. Breton, Le Verbe et la Croix, 62. (37) J. Moltmann, Le Dieu crucifié, Cerf-Mame, Paris 1974, 62-64. J. Moltmann, The Crucified God, The Cross of Christ as the Foundation and Criticism of Christian Theology, trans. R.A. Wilson and J. Bowden (New York; Harper and Row, 1974) (38) cf. M. Gourgues, Le Crucifié (The Crucified One), Bellarmin- Desclée, Montreal-Paris 1989, 164. According to M. Gourgues, this is the primary sense of the word “Cross” in the Gospel and the word refers to “the trials, separations, renunciations or wrenches involved when opting for faith or following Jesus Christ, receiving or spreading the Gospel.” (39) C. Lubich, Méditations, 105. (40) Mother Teresa, Par la parole et l’exemple (By Word and Example), Nouvelle Cité, Paris 1990, 124. (41) C. Lubich, Méditations, 95.

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Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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