|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
MONTFORT, LOUIS MARIE DE
I. Various Interpretations of Montforts Personality: 1. Devotional biographies: Montfort the extraordinary saint; 2. Historical-psychological biography: Montfort the spiritual man; 3. Realistic biography: Montfort the man of the streets. II. Biographical Journey of Montfort: 1. Family Milieu; 2. Secondary studies at Rennes; 3. The trip to Paris; 4. Among the Sulpicians; 5. At Nantes with Fr. Lévêque; 6. With the poor in Poitiers; 7. The search for Wisdom (1703-1704); 8. Missionary life from 1706 to 1710; 9. In the dioceses of Luçon and La Rochelle (1711-1716). III. The Incultration of Montforts Message Today: 1. God the Absolute: Goal of all Peoples 2. Abandoning oneself to divine logic, to Christ Wisdom; 3. Regard for the feminine point of view in Christianity; 4. A life orientated toward the coming of the reign of Christ into the world.
A presentation on Saint Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716) is essential to a handbook centered on his spirituality. Rather than duplicate what the other articles have said about Montfort, this article will seek to discover the thread that connects his spirituality to his unique personality.
Part I, will focus on the various interpretations of Montforts life by his different biographers. Part II, will then present our own biographical profile of Montfort. Part III, will attempt to discern Montforts major challenge to us today.
I. VARIOUS INTERPRETATIONS OF MONTFORTS PERSONALITY
With characteristic emphasis, one of his biographers, Pauvert, noted in 1875: "Historians have written more about this humble country missionary, who rarely preached in cathedrals, than about the great orators or kings of the past."1 This observation is even more true today. We now have more than a hundred biographies of Montfort.2
Rather than deal with each one, they will be grouped into biographical models, which interpret Montforts persona in different ways.
Certain of Montforts characteristics are present in all of the biographies, but they assume a greater or lesser importance in each. Underscored here will be the unique outlook of each biography. 1) how their authors responded to the question: "Who in the final analysis was this man Montfort?"; 2) how particular biographical types or models were born; 3) how they result not so much from a biographers individual point of view as from the ecclesial and cultural milieu within which each was written.
1. Devotional biographies: Montfort the extraordinary saint
The first four biographies of Montfort, by Grandet, Blain, Besnard, and Picot de Clorivières, were all written in the eighteenth century. They reflect the hagiographical method current thenthe devotional biography. Such an approach reflected little of the critical sensibility that had dominated most of the seventeenth century through the works of the Bollandists, the memorialists of Port-Royal, and Jean de Launoy ( 1674), the famous "saint hunter."
The first four biographies thus can be characterized as devotional biographies. They sought to edify, praise, eulogize, idealize.3 Grandet, in particular, focused on the events in Montforts life that would tend to edify a reader. But they did so by portraying Montforts specialness. They revealed him as "an unusual example of someone living a poor, humble, mortified, and crucified life." Beginning with the saints childhood, this is how Montforts life is depicted.4 Blain is more of a eulogist of Montfort than a biographer. Although he did not hide "what the world would see as surface defects in Montfort,"5 he exalted the virtues of his hero, as if everything came easily and naturally to him.6 Lacking a deep critical sense, such early biographies are filled with anachronism, incoherence, and over-generalization.7
Despite such limitations, Montforts early biographers provide us with very valuable material. They have preserved for us numerous eyewitness accounts and original documents, and they offer a solid historical foundation for reconstructing many of the truths of Montforts life.8 They also remind us of certain extraordinary or unusual traits in Montforts personality and behavior.
Beginning with his preface, Grandet highlights the prevalent conflicting opinions about the nature of Montfort as a person; and like the other devotional hagiographers of his time, Grandet centered on those aspects of Montforts saintly nature that were of an unusual, extraordinary, supranormal or superhuman character. He said of Montfort that "worldly men deemed him strange, good men unique." He emphasized those things which made Saint Louis Marie appear eccentric and remote rather than ordinary and accessible. Thus Grandet presented him as someone more to be venerated than imitated. He dwelt on such things as Montfort leaving his head uncovered both winter and summer, kneeling to pray when he entered a house, throwing himself at the feet of fellow travelers, allowing himself be disciplined by them, traveling on foot everywhere, and sleeping in stables rather than with his family when he was in the area where they lived. He depicted Montfort as someone constantly seeking opportunities for humiliation and for poverty, and as someone who did things that caused him to be thrown out of several dioceses.9
To justify such unusual behavior, Grandet invoked God, Who guided Montforts earthly journey. But thankfully a theological intuition made him avoid taking this attitude to the extreme and thus completely isolating Montfort. Happily, Grandet set Montfort within the living tradition of holiness, beginning in the OT, continuing in the NT, and fulfilled in the communion of saints. In the end, Grandet saw Montfort as reflecting Gods Wisdom in choosing certain saints "to fight the counterfeit wisdom of the world by being fools for Him and His Gospel." Thus Grandet portrayed Montfort like the saints of old, as someone so filled with the Spirit that he became elevated almost to "a new species of being." The following passage from Grandet highlights such a sapiential or Spirit-inspired interpretation of Montfort: "One must concede that Gods ways relative to His saints are very different from Gods ways relative to ordinary humans. . . . To the latter He measures His Spirit in weight and number, to the former He gives Spirit spontaneously, abundantly, immediately without concern for them being able to support such fullness so far above their natural ability. Therefore saints have been obliged to do extraordinary things to lessen the burden and offer solace to those who would find such things incomprehensible. The Holy Spirit, in the words of the prophets, would descend upon them so violently and powerfully that He would transport them far beyond themselves, making them appear to a normal human person like a new species of being."10
Blain took this approach to explain things when, after presenting the "singular and extraordinary ways" of Montfort several times,11 he apologized for the saints behavior by recourse to the Holy Spirit and Wisdom. He then seems to take an anthropological perspective. He no longer considers Wisdom within God but rather within Montfort, who is following in the footsteps of the Apostles: "I believe it can be said that he experienced the power and spontaneity of the new wine of the Holy Spirit like the Apostles, and like them he was thus made wise in the eyes of God but an insane fool in the eyes of the world. . . . This was the holy intoxication that is the summit of true Wisdom.12 In 1714, during his famous discussion with Blain, Montfort gave us a symbolic gesture that remains the hermeneutic key to understanding his life. Taking his New Testament from its case, he dramatically quoted those verses which revealed what it meant to be an apostle of Christ. His path was not to follow "the wisdom of the community" but, rather, "the wisdom of a Missionary Apostolic." It consisted in "creating new designs of things" for Gods glory.13
We find the same outlook in Besnard, who duplicated in his own way Grandets apologia for Montfort.14 As Montforts successor in leading parish missions, Besnard accentuated Montforts commitment "to teach the simple people and to evangelize the poor."15
2. Historical-psychological biography: Montfort the spiritual man
The nineteenth centurys "romanticized" conception of history influenced hagiography in two main ways. 1) Although a biography should relive the outer events of a saints past, it was more important to describe the interior drama of his soul.16 2) The nineteenth-century biographies of Montfort in no way betray this historiographic orientation. In fact, none of them is very concerned with reviving or reenacting for the reader Montforts historical setting or with sketching the actual dramatic events of his life story. The biography of Dalin (1839), for example, is content to "verify and correct, as needed, the different details of the history, . . . to put them in order and to clarify them."17 Two biographies were prepared for the Montforts beatification, one by Fonteneau and the other by Persiani. The latter is almost a translation of the former (1887). They limited themselves to recounting the events that took place and did not go into Montforts psychology.18 On the other hand, the work of Pauvert (1875) made some noticeable progress. The author not only published a collection of Montforts unpublished letters and established a chronology of the first years of his priesthood; he also proposed an interpretation of Montforts life, seen as natures immolation. Pauvert presented Montfort as the "hero of the Cross," a protest and witness that went to the heart of the atmosphere of sensuality pervading his century.19
The four volumes Quérard (1887) completed on the life of Montfort form the largest work devoted to the Breton missionary. The author found fault with his predecessors because they "did not dare present their hero in the true light of day, neither the height nor the breadth, neither the beauty nor the greatness of his missionary work." For Quérard, the "providential missionary work" of Montfort made him "an extraordinary ambassador of the Almighty," the "leader of a new school, . . . a prophet, precursor, and apostle of the great reign of Jesus and Mary on earth."20
It was not until the early twentieth century (1927) that A. Crosniers biography was published. Crosniers subtitle underscored how his style of hagiography was influenced by nineteenth-century romanticism: Blessed Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, a Great Sower of the Good News: The History of a Life, the History of a Soul. Though he clearly affirmed that Montfort "grew in virtue and in grace and entered more and more deeply into intimacy with Jesus and Mary," the author neither detailed Montforts outer life story nor recounted the saintly missionarys interior life. He preferred to stop "at the threshold of the mystery of divine friendships."21
In a similar nineteenth-century vein, just before Montforts canonization, there appeared the "saggio biografico" authored by De Luca (1943). The author took into account the literary and spiritual milieu of seventeenth-century France and attempted "an interpretation of his [Montforts] soul based on known events of his biography."22 In a discreet,23 synthetic way De Luca introduced his readers to Montforts spiritual life. He pointed out the "phases" and "laws" of his growth and development. He described Montforts "seasons of holiness" as he climbed the ladder of mystical ascent. "In fact, at Paris he must have had the first in a series of mysterious, dizzying high points that characterized his mystical life. . . . His voice and speech would betray him. They expressed that luminous resoluteness and firmness which are the privilege of someone continually living in close proximity to God. His everyday life betrayed this as well, but of its details we know practically nothing."24
A thesis of S. De Fiores (1974) explicitly studied the spiritual journey of Montfort, although it limited itself to the period up to his priesthood. The author highlights "the mystical and theological aspects of Montforts life as they evolved."25 He was careful first to set them in the context of "the French school of spirituality," within the precise milieu, often neglected, in which Montfort was formed and from which his spiritual experience emerged. Assiduous research into the archives, especially those of the Sulpicians and the Jesuits, allowed him to reconstruct the vital aspects of Louis Maries story: the mystique of liberating poverty, the saints ascetical follies, choice of the science of the saints, Slavery of Love of Jesus in Mary, etc. The end result was exemplified in the contrasting outlooks of Montfort the seminarian and his spiritual director, F. Leschassier, who came from "different spiritual streams and had contrasting temperaments."26 Louis Marie drew on the mystical and missionary currents of the authors he preferred, i.e., Olier, Surin, and Boudon, thus placing himself outside those principles of formation inspired by Tronson. Freeing himself from his Sulpician conditioning, Montfort passed through a contemplative and a cosmic type of spirituality into a spirituality where the apostolate became the most divine work (H 21:12). At Paris Montfort had already attained a high degree of union with Jesus Christ, a "unity of the spirituality of pure love, with a taste for God Alone and a detachment from worldly distractions."27 This was a provisional path, since through his conversations with Blain, he uncovered two fundamental aspects of his spirituality: "the first, its experiential and mystical naturethe unity of the spiritual life through the grace of the presence of Jesus and Mary. This allowed Montfort to realize an intimate contemplative union with God through action. The second is the principle of following Christ, Incarnate Wisdom, by imitating his way of life through his example and counsel."28
3. Realistic biography: Montfort the man of the streets
Of the different genres of biography that purport to describe the events of someones life, today "the realistic biography is much in favor. . . . The truths of the human side of the life, including the actual work of the saint, are thus given a primacy of value."29 Without forgetting the era or milieu in which the saint lived or his accomplishments, todays biographer gives his subject realistic flesh and bone. He makes the saint truly human.
Such a method is clearly apparent in the four works dedicated by L. Perouas to Grignion de Montfort (1966, 1973, 1989, 1990). The author separated himself from his predecessors by describing Montfort, his life, and his pastoral work using a historical-critical and psycho- sociological approach. It was truly a "reinterpretation" that modified the traditional image of the saint but was justified in its attempt to bring out Montforts human reality. "Every analysis of the pastoral work of a man must begin with the man himself and also with the milieu in which that man worked."30 In contrast to earlier biographies, which explained everything with reference to the supernatural, Perouas believed that "it was legitimate to abstract from the reality of grace without at the same time minimizing in any way the primacy of the action of the Spirit."31 Focusing on Montforts psychological reality, Perouas held that the Breton saints path was a "tormented journey" because he had difficulty dealing with a strained relationship with his father and because he had a violent temper. His long and arduous journey toward a balanced life came to a "certain maturation for Father de Montfort when he was in his forties."32 An analysis of factual events in Montforts history allows us to conclude that "through his increasing responsiveness to the Holy Spirit, he learned to accept himself despite the events that tormented his existence. . . . We can, today, by turning back the clock of history, admire how, in the depths of his soul, God wrote straight with crooked lines."33
A similar psychological interpretation can be seen in the other works of Perouas. Montfort is "like a tree growing out of rock," a man in whom there was "something abrupt, rough-skinned, savage, rocklike." His journey was marked with crises: a vocational crisis, culminating in his "great forsakeness" at rue Pot-de-Fer in Paris in 1702; a crisis in his apostolic ministry, especially in 1710, when the Calvary of Pontchâteau was destroyed; a personal crisis around 1713, when Montfort experienced "biologically and psychologically a turning point in his own existence"; and, finally, when he was "supremely laid bare" by the precarious state of his two foundations.34 Montfort, however, never became a victim of his difficulties. "At every crisis he instinctively found himself and returned to his work among the people."35
Generally more acceptable than Perouas Freudian psychological interpretation36 is his understanding of Montforts ministry in the context of the sociological and pastoral realities of his times. Therefore the "relative uniqueness" of Montforts missionary activity is more easily seen when contrasted with his content and method. Montforts preaching gave the "Virgin Mary her proper place next to Christ in the economy of salvation and in mans personal response"; his preaching insisted on the Christian virtues, on the Rosary, and on the exigencies of Baptism. Montfort "manifested to a high degree a universal missionary vision, a preferential love for the poorest of the poor, along with his own radical poverty and hope in God."37 Perouas remarks that none of Montforts works offer a complete or definitive synthesis of his spirituality. Rather, his concepts of God, of Jesus, Incarnate Wisdom, of Mary, and of the Church are modified and developed throughout his total faith journey.38
To write the life of a saint, a modern hagiographer must be a multifaceted person. A writer must critically examine every document deemed authentic and relevant. He must study and bring to life the saints cultural and spiritual milieu and truthfully portray both the various chronological events and the inner drama of the saints life. We should also add that today the intimate meaning of a saints life for those living today is of greater importance than a complete recounting of all known biographical details. Consequently, a biography must offer both the cultural and the spiritual aspects of a saints life.
S. De Fiores
II. BIOGRAPHICAL JOURNEY OF MONTFORT
January 31, 1673, to April 28, 1716: only forty-three years and three months of life on earth. When we look at all that the Father from Montfort did in so short a time and all that he has left us, there is reason to be stupefied. If we add that his priestly ministry covered not quite sixteen years from his ordination on June 5, 1700, such astonishment can only grow. His missionary activity took him into almost two hundred parishes. He found time to be concerned with the poor, with his foundations, with going on retreat. He traveled on foot for thousands and thousands of miles. How did he find time to write? For beyond the legacy of his personal example, we have his surprisingly large and important corpus of writings, which remain remarkably relevant to us today. Who was this man? What has he to say to us today? To discover answers, in this section we will follow Montfort through a brief retelling of his life journey. Along the way, we will point out several significant events that reveal how and what he lived. We will not attempt here to present in a synthetic and organic manner the key aspects of his spiritual patrimony. But it is important to add that without his writings, we would be missing certain salient aspects of his life.
1. Family milieu
Our saints family background is well known.39 His father, a not very successful lawyer, was not without ambition but was continually faced with financial worries. These problems the family came to know quite well. There were eighteen children, of whom seven or eight died very young. These difficulties happened to a man who was a difficult sort of character. Thus our saints family atmosphere was not as serene as one might have wished it to be.
The role of first-born fell to Louis Marie when the actual first-born child of the family died at the age of five months. During his childhood, he suffered from his fathers outbursts of anger, and probably more because of the tears of his meek, pious mother than because of himself.
His fathers ambitious attachment to worldly position had an effect on Louis Marie, for he took an exactly opposite stance as soon as possible.
We must not, however, make the situation look too dark. Jean-Baptiste Grignion was a staunch Christian and made sure that he transmitted his faith to his children, providing them with a solid human and religious education. Undoubtedly he was helped in this by his wife, Jeanne Robert, who had three brothers who were priests. Three of the Grignion sons became priests, and two of the daughters became nuns.
2. Secondary studies at Rennes
In 1685, Louis Marie entered the College of St. Thomas Becket run by the Jesuits at Rennes.40 He stood out as a serious student, but more so for his piety and devotion to the Blessed Virgin and his love for the poor. The young people of the school, though not living fast and loose, were still full of that turbulence of life so normal to those their age. Louis Marie appeared to them somewhat distant, to some even unsociable.
He had a close relationship, however, with certain of his instructors, such as Fathers Descartes and Gilbert, and he knew how to form solid friendships, which would remain for many years. Examples of this were Claude Poullart des Places, who in the future was to become the founder of the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris, and Jean-Baptiste Blain, whose recollections would later become so precious to the Montfort community.
3. The trip to Paris
Louis Marie heard the call to the priesthood. In the autumn of 1692, he left for Paris in order to do his "seminary" training there. His departure was marked by an event that reveals an essential aspect of Montforts spiritual personality. He refused to accept a horse offered to him "to make half the trip," which was over 300 kilometers (180 miles). His uncle Father Alain Robert and his brother Joseph accompanied him up to the outskirts of the city of Rennes, bidding him farewell at the Cesson bridge.
Once alone, there was nothing more urgent for the young man than to give to the first poor person he encountered all the things that he had been forced to accept for his stay in Paris. He gave to a beggar at the bridge his extra clothes and all his money, ten écus. He exchanged the new suit he was wearing for the poor mans rags.
How can this act of radical detachment be explained? Was it an adolescent reaction against an overbearing father with an excessive desire for material goods? This problem had at times poisoned the atmosphere of the Grignion household. Was it now conjoined to juvenile enthusiasm? Such a psychological explanation is insufficient, because this attitude of Louis Marie towards material goods was not of a fleeting nature. It was to be the permanent rule of his life.
His friend Blain testified: "This trip, being the first, was also a model for so many others to come, which his zeal for souls saw him multiply in the future. What I mean to say is that he had to be apostolic, poor, humbled, accepting of pain and fatigue, and abandoned to Divine Providence. It was this last virtue which I admired the most in him when he departed."41
Perhaps it was premature for Fr. Blain to call this his entrance into "the apostolate." The same might be said for abandonment to Providence, which was truly at the heart of Montforts actions. He possessed an absolute confidence in his heavenly Father. He was convinced that he would never be deceived by Him. As a consequence, he became effectively detached from seeking security in earthly or material goods, in human power or influence. His sense of "poverty" had a directly theological dimension. It was a simple expression of his faith.
This is not to say that Louis Marie rejected recourse to all natural or human means and supports. He knew how to solicit such things at certain times. For example, he came to the aid of the Daughters of Wisdom when they needed material assistance. But his faith was not in such things; it was in God Alone.
An almost immediate consequence of his radical detachment was his capacity to give without measure to those deprived of the necessary means of life. One can speak of both his material poverty and his spiritual poverty. Montforts attitude toward the poor had its root in the poverty of his own faith.
4. Among the Sulpicians
At Paris, Montfort placed himself under the guidance of the Sulpicians.42 In the beginning he was welcomed and guided with affection by Fr. de la Barmondière, and later by Fr. Bayün. But beginning in 1696, others, especially his spiritual director, Fr. Leschassier, found him hard to understand. Though he showed an obedient willingness to seek and follow their advice, they found his behavior strangely "out of tune."
At Saint Sulpice, little by little, the well-codified ascetical trend of Fr. Tronson had supplanted the more mystical orientation of Fr. Olier. For Fr. Leschassier, the ideal for a "good ecclesiastic" was to be found in surrendering himself to the balanced mold of the "common rule." It had no room for fantasy and even less for extravagance. This "rule" was not so much the written rule, which Louis Marie obeyed assiduously; rather, it was an image of the model seminarian.
Montfort was a generous, passionate seeker of God whose fervor and good will were obvious. But it was also obviously impossible for him to conform himself to an established framework. Should not certain excessive or extravagant acts also be considered a sign of uniqueness of character? Could such behavior be inspired by the Holy Spirit? But could not such a quasi-impossibility of freeing himself manifest an unconscious attachment to his "own judgment," which might not be very balanced?
The truth is more easily discovered in light of Montforts entire journey than here in its beginnings. The Holy Spirit was truly at work in him. Over time Louis Marie would rid himself of the roughness and imperfections in his character. He did not understand half measures that compromised with the spirit of the world. The inner Master continued working to mold him into a saint and apostle, even through the trials and difficulties that resulted from his being misunderstood by others.
Montfort throughout his life would remain more of an enigma "for the sages and wise men," than for the "poor and little ones," who spontaneously recognized him as a man of God, as someone they could trust. For a long time, even his friend Jean-Baptiste Blain would have reservations about him. Only after their Rouen meeting in 1714 did he drop his prejudices.
Montfort was never a troublemaker. He didnt do sensational things for shock value. His apparent anti-conformism resulted from something much deeper, something immensely more praiseworthy. It was rooted in the absoluteness of God and in the radicalness of the Gospel. He drew concrete conclusions without being preoccupied with how they might impact on himself. He would have willingly renounced any of his uncommon character traits, but not his uncommon commitment to do Christs will unfailingly.
Fr. Blain asked his friend "whether he ever hoped to find people willing to follow the type of life he led. In response, he showed me his New Testament and asked me if I could improve on what Jesus Christ had said and done. Could I show him a better life than that of his Apostles, one of poverty and mortification based on abandonment to Providence?"
Blain reproached him: "But where do you find in the Gospel valid examples of your odd or unusual ways of doing things. Why havent you given them up? . . . He replied that truthfully he had not intended his actions to be odd or unusual, that he had paid no attention to his actions in natural terms; yet if his actions caused humiliation, then they were not without purpose. As for the rest, he said if acts of charity, mortification, and other such uncommon practices of heroic virtue were considered odd or unusual, then in that sense he would be happy to be considered odd or unusual. If being uncommon was a defect, then it was one shared with every saint."43
For Montfort, Saint Sulpice was more than a time of trial, testing, and conflicting spiritual lifestyles. It prepared him for the misunderstandings and rejections that he would later experience. Even though he opted for the "science of the saints" rather than that of the worldly wise, he did receive a solid theological formation; he was thus able to bring together, notably on the Marian plane, important documentation that would later make it possible for him to translate and to communicate his spiritual experience into several major works.
Discovering the devotion "of holy slavery," he enthusiastically made it his own, giving it new dimensions. He realized, deepened, and was shaped in his Christ-centeredness by a profound grasp of the mystery of the Incarnation. This allowed him to integrate organically his exceptional Marian piety, to bring it to the very heart of his Christian life, and to discover its ultimate implications. It set in place the essential foundations of his spiritual life.
Already composing hymns and sermons, he had begun to anticipate his future apostolate.
5. At Nantes with Fr. Lévêque
After his priestly ordination, June 5, 1700, his desire to depart for the missions of Canada was not fulfilled. He went to Fr. Lévêque in Nantes, hoping to be trained for a ministry in parish missions. But his hope was unrealized, and the young priest, so on fire with apostolic zeal, had to cool his heels. He found himself inactive, in a community where he was ill at ease. Though he handled the situation with maturity and sensitivity, he managed to communicate the strain this left him under, as well as his desire for the active apostolate, something that would never leave him.
Writing with total candor of heart to Fr. Leschassier, who remained his spiritual director, he said: " With conditions as they are, I find myself, as time goes on, torn by two apparently contradictory feelings. On the one hand I feel a secret attraction for a hidden life in which I can efface myself in combat, my natural tendency to show off. On the other hand, I feel a tremendous urge to make our Lord and his holy Mother loved, to go in a humble and simple way to teach catechism to the poor in country places and to arouse in sinners a devotion to Our Blessed Lady. This was the work done by a good priest who died a holy death here recently. He used to go about from parish to parish teaching the people catechism and relying only on what Providence provided for him. I know very well, my dear Father, that I am not worthy to do such honorable work, but 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 under the banner and protection of the Blessed Virgin" (L 5).
This is a remarkable text. Already it contains Montforts basic life orientation. It shows how he was being led to understand and live out his mission during this early period. It reveals as well his vision of a foundation and of how he planned to make it a reality. It was natural that he would experience a tension between the desire for the hidden life of solitude, on the one hand, and for the active apostolate, on the other. What Montfort said was not unusual, and in fact he found ways to live both a contemplative and an active life.
6. With the poor in Poitiers
For the first time in his life, he spent five months in forced inactivity. But though Providence closed one door, it opened another. Madame de Montespan, who was a benefactor of his sister Sylvia and had helped her to enter the Abbey of Fontevrault, invited Louis Marie to come and assist at the ceremony where his sister received her religious habit. During his stay at the monastery, the young priest met with Madame de Montespan a number of times. She was interested in his future and recommended that he visit the bishop of Poitiers and speak to him about his projects. Montfort agreed, but upon his arrival in Poitiers, he found that the bishop was away. How would he find what to do? He wrote to Fr. Leschassier: "I thought of going to the hospital at Poitiers, and being of material help to the poor, even if I couldnt serve them spiritually. I went into their little church to pray and the four hours I spent there waiting for the evening mealtime seemed all too short. However it seemed so long to some of the poor, who saw me kneeling there dressed in clothes very much like their own, that they went off to tell the others and they all agreed to take up a collection for me. Some gave more, some less; the poorer ones a denier, the richer ones a sou. All this went on without my knowing anything about it. Eventually I left the church to ask the time of supper and at the same time to ask permission to serve the poor at table. But I misconceived the situation for I discovered they did not eat together and I was surprised to find out that they wanted to make me an offering and had told the doorkeeper not to let me go away. I blessed God that I had been taken for a poor man wearing the glorious livery of the poor and thanked my brothers and sisters for their kindness.
Since then, they have become so attached to me that they are going about saying openly that I am to be their priest, that is their director, for there has not been a regular director in the poorhouse for a considerable time, so abandoned has it become" (L 6).
This event is quite revealing. How can one explain the feelings of sympathy, the attraction, that the poorhouse residents felt for this unknown priest? Quite simply! Montfort himself gives the reason: "Some of the poor . . . saw me kneeling." But what was so unusual about seeing a priest praying in church? In this case, it was this unknown persons attitude, the length of time he spent in prayer, so absorbed in contemplation that no one dared disturb him. And then there was the fact that they saw him "dressed in clothes very much like their own."
These two reasons seem to explain the behavior of the poor. They took up a collection among themselves to help him out. Instinctively they sensed that this priest, so close to God and to them, understood them deeply. In spite of their social differences, he was "one of them," to the degree that after the initial contact, they wanted him for themselves. "They are going about saying openly that I am to be their priest." And one of them wrote to Bishop Girard, asking that he be assigned to them.
This was not the only time that he helped people materially. He had been doing this his whole life. Montfort attracted "the poor" to himself because he loved them. This love for the poor is one of the keys to his spiritual physiognomy.
The poor of Poitiers would almost immediately get their wish. When Montfort returned to Nantes, Fr. Lévêque gave him first one and then several other missions to preach in the countryside. He did this with surprising success for someone who was just beginning his ministry.
But on August 25, 1701, a letter came from Bishop Girard asking him to fulfill the wishes of the residents of the poorhouse in Poitiers. Montfort accepted, but on September 16 he wrote to Fr. Leschassier: "The only thing that would make me want to go to the poorhouse at all would be the hope of being able to extend my work later into the town and the countryside and so be able to help more people" (L 9). Mission work was his only goal.
At the poorhouse, his devotion and sense of organization worked marvels and in time also aroused the hostility of certain malcontents. He was forced to leave Poitiers in the spring of 1703. But during his first stay, he had met Marie Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet. They both would forever remain faithful to him and would become, a dozen years later, the first two Daughters of Wisdom.
He was not, however, finished with the poorhouse at Poitiers, for "his" poor wanted him. Here is the beginning of the letter dated March 9, 1704, that they sent to Fr. Leschassier: "We, four hundred poor, petition you very humbly, for the great love and glory of God, to return to us our venerable pastor, him who loves the poor so much, Fr. Grignion." Could one think of a more beautiful compliment?
Once again, however, after a very encouraging beginning, new difficulties arose, and he became disconcerted. His final farewell to the poorhouse at Poitiers occurred in 1705.
7. The search for Wisdom (1703-1704)
From the spring of 1703 to March 1704, Montfort lived in Paris. He first headed toward the immense poorhouse of la Salpêtrière, where 5,000 impoverished people lived. For five months he devoted himself to their care. He was very effective, but this incited the ire of those who opposed such fruitful change, and they attacked him. At the end of just five months, they asked him to leave. But where was he to go? He found lodgings on rue Pot-de-Fer, near the Jesuit novitiate. Fr. Blain testifies that it was a "tiny nook, under a staircase, where the sun practically never shone. All I saw there was a clay pot and a miserable bed, good only for beggars and wretches."44 Such extreme poverty did not disturb Montfort, because we know that he remained full of joy while he stayed there.
But another terrible trial awaited: Fr. Leschassiers public rejection of him. Montfort had always considered him his spiritual director. But Fr. Leschassier no longer wanted to assume the cumbersome responsibility of someone who was such an open source of embarrassment to him. From his point of view, Montfort would never settle down and would always find some way to be asked to leave. Montfort had become fair game for the public rumor mills. They ridiculed him about his manners and the way he dressed. Fr. Leschassier didnt want to compromise his reputation and that of the Seminary of St. Sulpice. His role as Montforts spiritual director had become too burdensome. Since Montfort refused to understand Fr. Leschassiers letters of resignation, his director chose to confront him publicly on the issue, in front of all of the seminarians gathered at the vacation house in Issy. Fr. Blain, who was present, described it: "He was mortified when, the day he arrived at Issy, this wise superior, who was there with the community during vacation, received him with an icy stare and shamefully sent him away, with a dry and scornful air, without wishing to talk to him or to listen to him."45 This time the break with Saint Sulpice was complete. Montfort suddenly found himself alone. Humanly speaking, his life journey seemed to have come to a dead end. But Saint Louis Marie even more intensely lived his motto "God Alone" in the several months of forced solitude and inactivity that followed.
Montforts spiritual path was centered on a passionate search for Wisdom. Wisdom, for him, was Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made incarnate for our salvation. It was also to live for him, and with him to enter into the depths of Gods design of love for the world. This design was expressed in the folly of the Cross, because the Wisdom of God was contrary to the wisdom of the world.
Beginning at Poitiers, Montfort proclaimed this in a spectacular way. He lived it in the way he cared for the organization of services to the poor. He sought to give to the administrators a spiritual foundation for their work. He began grouping the women administrators of the poorhouse into a religious Congregation. To this end, he composed a rule and proposed it to them. But he met with their refusal. Then, "like the servant who allowed the beggars and the cripples into the bridal chamber, he selected from among the residents of the poorhouse a dozen young girls. He took them from among the most disenfranchised: the lame, the tubercular, the blind. In a way, they will become the first Daughters of Wisdom, . . . they will try out the Rule whose spirit its founder infused into them through the [spiritual] exercises that they would practice. At the head of this unusual community, Montfort placed a blind woman!"46 This was a veritable challenge to the wisdom of the world. It was not by chance that Montfort gave the name Wisdom to the place where this little group met. And it was not by accident that he placed on the wall a cross covered with emblems and words. It was a kind of summary "of the spirituality that he wished to give to his Daughters."47 For him as for St. Paul, "Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 180). One must, therefore, enter by way of the Cross in order to acquire Wisdom. Montfort began by living himself what he asked others to live. He wrote this more than likely at the end of April or the beginning of May 1703 to Marie Louise Trichet: "Keep on praying, even increase your prayers for me; ask for extreme poverty, the weightiest cross, abjection and humiliations. I accept them all if only you will beg God to remain with me and not leave me for a moment because I am so weak. What wealth, what glory, what happiness would be mine if from all this I obtained divine Wisdom, which I long for day and night!
"I will never cease asking for this boundless treasure and I firmly believe that I shall obtain it even were angels, men and demons to deny it to me. I believe strongly in the efficacy of your prayers, in the loving kindness of our God, in the protection of the Blessed Virgin, our good Mother; I believe too that the needs of the poor are too urgent and the promises of God too explicit for me to be making a mistake in seeking Wisdom. For even if the possession of divine Wisdom were impossible, according to the ordinary workings of divine grace, which is not the case, it would become possible because of the insistence with which we ask for it. Is it not an unchangeable truth that everything is possible to him who believes?
"Another thing that makes me say that I shall possess Wisdom is the fact that I have encountered and still encounter so much persecution night and day" (L 15).
What we wish to underline from this dramatic text is Montforts passionate desire to acquire and to possess Wisdom, which is Jesus Christ, and also the fact that in order to obtain it, Montfort was joyously ready to forget the price by traveling the way of the Cross. Finally, he possessed the unshakable assurance that he would obtain what he coveted so deeply. What is the source of such assurance? This question demands careful reflection. It was the efficacy of the prayers of both Marie Louise and himself, the goodness of God, the protection of the Virgin, the need of the poor. At the time he wrote this letter, Montfort was at the poorhouse of la Salpêtrière; it is very significant that he depended on the "needs" of those to whom he was sent as the foundation for his confidence in obtaining Wisdom. He had a right to what was needed for him to accomplish the mission given to him by the Lord. Montfort naturally integrated his pastoral ministry and his spiritual life, because both finally depended not upon himself but on the Lord, from Whom he received all and to Whom he owed all. The ultimate foundation of his confidence was "the word and the promise" of God, to which he responded with the total force of his faith.
Montfort decided to raise the price, so to speak, in his letter of October 24, 1703, also addressed to Marie Louise Trichet. He had been thrown out of la Salpêtrière and found himself alone in a small room on rue Pot-de-Fer in Paris. He wrote: "I feel that you are still asking God that by crosses, humiliations and poverty I may acquire divine Wisdom. Be brave, my dear daughter, be brave. I am grateful to you; I feel the effects of your prayers for I am infinitely more impoverished, crucified and humiliated than ever. Both men and demons in this great city of Paris are waging against me a war that I find sweet and welcome. Let them slander me, scoff at me, destroy my good name, put me into prison, these are precious gifts, tasty morsels, great and wonderful things. They form the accoutrements and retinue of divine Wisdom which he brings into the lives of those in whom he dwells. When shall I possess this lovable and mysterious Wisdom? When will Wisdom come to live in me? When shall I be sufficiently equipped to serve as a place of rest for Wisdom in a world where he is rejected and without a home. . . . So pray, entreat God, plead for me to obtain divine Wisdom. You will attain it completely for me; for this I am quite convinced" (L 16).
The tie between the prayers of Marie Louise Trichet and the trials that beset Montfort was clearly established. He was living with many crosses, a sign that he would finally receive what he wanted. Let us note some important truths. Suffering tested Montfort by letting him see his dear Wisdom, Jesus Christ, "thrown down and despised" there in the city of Paris. This was necessary if he was to offer Wisdom a heart able to receive her and respond to her will for men. That is what Montfort was thinking of. Such was the depth and character of his love for Christ.
His spiritual work during this period, 1701-1704, was accompanied by a profound doctrinal breakthrough on this theme of Wisdom. Invited in 1703 to give several conferences at the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, founded by his friend Poullart des Places, he presented a commentary on the Book of Wisdom. It appears that it was also during these years, 1703-1704, that he wrote LEW, the book that presents the most complete synthesis of Montfort spirituality. This period, marked by poverty and many other trials, thus came to be seen as a very rich and very fruitful period.
Before he left Paris, Montfort was asked once again to bring order and peace to the hermits of Mont-Valérien. To everyones satisfaction, he was able to accomplish this work in several months. This showed that there were at least some people who recognized his worth, who had confidence in him.
8. Missionary life from 1706 to 1710
Even though he had been asked to leave the poorhouse there, Montfort returned to Poitiers and began the missionary apostolate to which he was called. In the densely populated suburb of Montbernage, he experienced the full flowering of his dream. There he preached an immensely successful parish mission. His mission left behind an oratory dedicated to Mary Queen of All Hearts, which the people restored. He was then welcomed by a number of other parishes of the city. His success as a missionary could no longer be denied. Had his path clearly opened? Was he now to realize his full apostolate? But something happened that set his ministry back. He preached a mission in a parish directed by the Congregation of Notre Dame du Calvaire. He touched the peoples hearts so deeply that those who made his mission brought their licentious books and pictures to the church for them to be burned. And this was done. But without Montforts knowledge, while he was preaching in the church, some people, gathered outside at the pile of indecent literature, crowned a grotesque mannequin figure, reputedly representing the devil. Several backbiters immediately informed the vicar general of the diocese, Fr. de Villeroi, about what was happening. He was someone who didnt have many good things to say about Saint Louis Marie. He came running, entered the church, and interrupted the preacher. Montfort could do nothing about the situation. Fr. de Villeroi proceeded to insult him publicly. As was his manner, Montfort humbly accepted what he said. But this did not bring an end to the matter. Bishop de la Poype, who was absent when this happened, was told upon his return about this incident in a way that incriminated Montfort. In deference to his influential vicar general, the bishop threw Louis Marie out of his diocese.
Montfort thus considered it his duty to leave. But he did not go alone. For from that moment on, he had a constant companion, one who remained faithful to the end. They met in the church of the Penitents. After a brief conversation, Montfort saw that the young man, whom he had never met before, wanted to consecrate himself to the Lord. Montfort simply said to him, "Follow me." Mathurin Rangeard, soon to be called Brother Mathurin, obeyed.
Montfort didnt know where to go or what to do. Once again his ministry seemed blocked. Since he was apparently unable to work in France, it occurred to him that he might be called to leave for the foreign missions. He had considered this possibility from the beginning of his priesthood, and it returned again. But who was going to tell him if this was what the Lord wanted him to do?
A sort of foolish project then presented itself. "In order to discern the will of God on such an important question, he was drawn to consult the oracle and first superior of all Christians, the head of the Church and all within it. Montfort became persuaded that if he was to make Gods orders his own, he should throw himself at the feet of Pope Clement XI to offer himself to him and to go wherever he pleased to send him."48 He went to Rome, and his mission was revealed to him by the Holy Father himself in the following words: "Father, you have a big enough field of endeavor to exercise your zeal in France. Dont go elsewhere. Always work in perfect submission to the bishops into whose dioceses you will be called. In this way God will give His blessing to your work."49 And Clement XI conferred on his visitor the title Missionary Apostolic.
His future laid out in such a manner, Montfort returned to France as he had come to Rome, on foot. He passed by Ligugé to pick up Brother Mathurin, who was patiently waiting for him there. Then, with him he headed for Brittany, the country of his birth. After several side trips, he arrived at Dinan and joined a group of priests who were giving missions in that city. A renowned episode, heavy with significance, occurred there, one that has remained strong in the memory of each of his chroniclers since then.
One evening Montfort, while on a trip, came across a "poor man, leprous and covered with ulcers. He did not wait for the man to implore him; he spoke to him first, took him on his shoulders, and carried him up to the door of the missionaries house, which was closed because of the late hour. He knocked, crying out several times: "Open the door to Jesus Christ, open the door to Jesus Christ."50 We mention this because it was such a simple and deep expression of Saint Louis Maries vision of faith. He did not love the poor simply "out of love for Jesus Christ" but also because they revealed Christ himself and his love. His love reached out to the poor in themselves and for themselves, as they were. They were for him, mystically but really, Jesus himself. Indeed, Jesus did not say, "That which you do to the least of those who are mine, do it for the love of me." He said, "You do it to me." Here we discover one aspect of the secret of "him who loves the poor so much."
After the mission at Dinan, Montfort, always in the company of Mathurin, headed for St. Brieuc in order to join up with the group of missionaries led by Dom Leuduger. Inheritor of the work of Fr. Maunoir, disciple and follower of Father Huby, Dom Leuduger continued the great tradition of the "Breton mission." His reputation and influence were both strong. About twenty priests worked with him on a permanent basis, and occasionally, as needed, others joined him. The collaboration between the experienced missionary and Montfort was fruitful from more than one point of view. But it did not last too long. In August of the same year, 1707, during the mission at Moncontour, the mission team broke up.
The pretext used to send Montfort away seems quite weak. It was over a collection of Mass stipends taken up for the souls in purgatory. The group had made it a point of honor never to ask for money. It is hard to believe, knowing how disinterested Montfort was in material things, that he would transgress the spirit of poverty. Whatever actually happened, he was asked to leave. It is quite possible that some members of the group found it difficult to accommodate themselves to Montfort, to his ways and to his success with the people.
Undoubtedly, however, there was a deeper reason: a difference in the way they conceived of mission. It was a difference more of spirit than practice. When he was on his own, free to organize the missionary activities as he wished, Montfort did so "in an apostolic way." This meant, according to Fr. Blain, "in a great spirit of simplicity, poverty, penance, and abandonment to Divine Providence."51
In this spirit, which was opposed to that of Fr. Leuduger, he objected to the "funded missions"those whose costs were covered by the generosity of benefactors in high places: bishops, lords of the manor, the King himself. He carried over into his missionary practice a sense of his own personal poverty. It entailed a complete abandonment to Divine Providence.
Once again, Louis Marie found himself without an apostolic ministry. He profited from the situation by making a retreat. With Brothers Mathurin and John, he occupied the hermitage of Saint-Lazare in the town of Montfort, his birthplace, fixing up and decorating a chapel there. It became a center of attraction for people from the surrounding countryside. Now that Montfort no longer traveled about, people came to him. This included certain priests from the area, who invited him to preach in their parishes.
Everything appeared to be working out for the better until the spring of 1708. The bishop of Saint-Malo passed through the village of Montfort. He had very little regard for the hermit of Saint-Lazare, whatever his motives might have been. His Jansenist tendencies might have played a part in this outlook. He ordered Saint Louis Marie not to preach any more, except in parish churches, of which the chapel of Saint-Lazare was not one. Understanding that his presence in the diocese was no longer wanted, the Missionary Apostolic decided to leave.
The diocese of Nantes welcomed him. Up to the end of 1710, Montfort went about the diocese giving missions. Besides "the Brothers who accompanied him," he was joined, at least for a time, by priest collaboratorsFr. des Bastières and Fr. Olivier. Fr. Barrin, Bishop de Beauveaus vicar general, was on his side.
Under these circumstances, Montfort could begin to give his full attention to structuring his personal method of mission. Borrowing the normal ways of doing things at the time, he added to them his personal touch. His spiritual orientation included: living "on Providence," "dependent on the people"; attending in a particular way to the poor; Marys place in prayer, notably the practice of the Rosary; the Wisdom of the Cross; and, above all, renewing the vows and promises of Baptism.
Among the means employed to renew the Christian education of the people were the hymns; Montfort composed his own. There were also the great processions; he became a master in the art of organizing and staging them. In order for a mission to have a continuing effect, he made sure that he organized groups of laypeople, often as confraternities, beginning with those centered on the Rosary.
He knew how to insert his conviction into his sermons. With him, teaching took on the power of witness. To Fr. Hindré, rector of Bréal, near Montfort, who was astonished at the success of his preaching, he said in confidence: "Dear friend, I have traveled more than 2,000 leagues on pilgrimage asking of God the grace to touch souls; He has answered me."52
The grandiose project of the Calvary of Pontchâteau in 1710 demonstrated the exceptional hold that Montfort had on the crowds. It expressed in action the major themes of his life and of his preaching. But it also caused his expulsion from the diocese of Nantes.
9. In the dioceses of Luçon and La Rochelle (1711-1716)
This marked the last stage of his life. Unreservedly supported by Bishop de Lescure of Luçon and especially by Bishop de Champflour of La Rochelle, Montfort had at last found the terrain where his zeal could be employed in complete freedom. Saint Louis Marie, from personal conviction, wanted so much to work "with perfect submission to the Bishops" because he had a profound sense of the Church and also because it was the wish of Pope Clement XI. He was now able to do it with peace of mind.
It is also true that he had matured. He did not give up any of his evangelical radicalism, nor did he submit to the spirit of the world, which was always a horror for him. His efforts to master the natural violence of his character were not in vain. He became more mellow and, in a sense, wiser. He adapted himself more easily to the human and religious milieu of his apostolate. No longer do we see the spectacular reactions that, though coming from his desire to be faithful to the Gospel, appeared extravagant in the eyes of many.
Since we cannot follow Montfort on all of his fruitful journeys, some of the salient events of this period should be noted here. There are more than a few. Undoubtedly, it was around 1713 that he wrote the little book that is best known today, TD, which after its rediscovery and publication in 1842 made its author known throughout the entire world.
Under Bishop de Champflour, he became occupied with the education of children. Toward that end, he worked to renew an already existing institution that no longer responded to the needs of those for whom it was destined; this was the "charitable" or free school. A school for boys was organized. For the girls schools, he called on Marie Louise Trichet and Catherine Brunet from Poitiers, who, for the last ten years, had been awaiting the realization of his promise to found with them the Daughters of Wisdom. The time had come.
One project remained that Montfort held close to his heart: the "little and poor company of good priests" to preach missions "under the banner and the protection of Mary," which he had already spoken about to Fr. Leschassier in 1700. This project had also ripened. Montfort thought of it again but now with all the richness of his experience, on a spiritual level as well as on a practical level. Thus he blessed us with his writing of RM and the extraordinary text of PM. The manuscript of RM seems to date from the spring of 1713. At that time, Montfort had with him on a permanent basis only a few lay companions, the senior of whom were Mathurin and John, who did not wish to take vows. He had not succeeded in recruiting permanent priest collaborators until then. But the faith and hope that had animated his search for Wisdom ten years before had lost no impetus. With the same vehemence and the same confidence, he cries out to God even today in PM for apostles who share his heart.
He combined action with prayer. Claude Poullart des Places had promised to send him missionaries formed in the Seminary of the Holy Spirit. His friend was dead, but his work endured. In August 1713, Montfort arrived in Paris to share with Poullart des Places successors his compact with their founder. He was warmly received, and his effort was not in vain. Several of the first Fathers of the Company of Mary were recruited from the Seminary of the Holy Spirit, although this would occur only after Montforts death.
n June 1714 Montfort left for Rouen to pay a visit to his friend Fr. Blain. Did he have a secret hope of convincing the canon of Rouen to join him in preaching missions? Certain excerpts from their meeting make this hypothesis quite plausible. Besides, it was quite in accord with Montforts concerns at the time.
When he died on April 28, 1716, at the close of the mission at St. Laurent-sur-Sèvre, there were two priests with him: Fr. Vatel, whom he recruited at La Rochelle in February 1715, when he stopped him from embarking for Canada, and Fr. René Mulot, whom Montfort had recruited in October of the same year, when Father René had asked him to preach a mission for his brother, the pastor of Saint-Pompain. Humanly speaking, neither of the two seemed to possess the qualities required to continue Montforts work. At the moment of his death, they were without any binding ties to the missionarys small team. And yet they would take up the torch. Montforts prayer had been heard.
The spirituality that animated this great saint is treated throughout this Handbook, but especially in the articles God, Wisdom, Holy Spirit, Cross, Mary, and Montfort Spirituality.
III. THE INCULTURATION OF MONTFORTS MESSAGE TODAY
According to the criteria of modern hagiography, we must frankly ask this question: what can the life of a saint from centuries ago mean for men and women who live in a culture and place so different from his own?
This question is more than apropos of Montfort since he has at last broken out of the restraining limits of western France. The beatification (1888) and the canonization (1947) have made the holy missionary a worldwide figure and placed him outside provincial borders. The extraordinary distribution of especially TD and SM in numerous languages has contributed much to making him known almost everywhere. Further-more, the presence of the Montfort family throughout the world has made Saint Louis Marie a citizen of all continents; he is surely at home in the non-Western world.
Lastly, to speak about Montfort and forget the necessity of an appropriate inculturation would be equivalent to a literal repetition, of a fundamentalist nature. It would contradict the healthy creativity that the Spirit brings to the different ages of the Church.53
Pouring Montfort into the mold of our times is a very delicate operation. Father de Montfort could be manipulated and reduced to particular cultural descriptions. One could focus on certain aspects of the saint, as he relates to certain values or aspirations in vogue today in various cultures. Montfort would then become a kind of litmus paper, changing his colors to fit the cultural conviction of each and everyone. With this sort of manipulation, Montfort would lose his uniqueness. He would in a sense be created by the whims and options of others. But it should be remembered that Montfort cannot be enclosed within a limited framework. He can often serve as an antidote to evils inherent in diverse cultures.
Members of each culture should interpret Montfort according to their own symbolic and ecclesial world and make him part of their own milieu. But first, at the base of every systematic reflection, one should stay in touch with the living experience of Montfort and assimilate his inner evangelical dynamism. This kind of work is made easier by the fact that Montfort, even though he belongs to his own time, presents a uniqueness that, in a certain sense, places him above and beyond his own century and distinguishes him from various contemporaries.
This inquiry, although made primarily from a Western perspective, is conscious of the fact that the Montfort family, as with the Church at large, presently finds itself in a vast range of cultures, which are continually evolving. Fundamental values emerge, however, that constitute the common patrimony of the industrialized world: a keen sense of personal and social liberty, grown more so since the crumbling of totalitarian systems; a desire for a high standard of living, of quality of life; justice on a worldwide scale to eliminate the vast ranks of poverty and marginalization; harmony between the sexes; etc. But with these common aspirations, there cohabits fears about the future of the world: the apocalyptic man has been born, divided between certitude and fear.
This contemporary man who encounters Montfort clearly perceives that he is not able to get around certain of his a priori challenges.
1. God the Absolute: Goal of all Peoples
The most profound and essential message of Montfort seems to be that expressed by G. de Luca: "The first impression that I had in reading one of his biographies for the first time was the following (which was his design and his motto): God Alone . . . . He did not inhabit the world, he did not reside in himself; his home was God. Every time he went out among men, he seemed to burn like a raging fire from some secret and profound source. He carried the anger and the splendor of such an eruption in the night. He entered into solitude to be with God. He went out among men in order to give God."54
In truth, this sense of a transcendent and condescending God dominates the experience of Montfort. His life is a hymn to the presence of God (H 24). He speaks of God as the totally Other, (totaliter aliter): "The Most High, the Incomprehensible, the Inaccessible, He who Is" (TD 117), before Whom we are nothing. And yet the God of Montfort is incarnate in Jesus, close to each creature, "infinitely condescending and proportioned to his weakness" (SM 20).
The instruction given to the Daughters of Wisdom "Do all your works in the presence of God and for God alone" (RW 138) Montfort had realized in his own life. He disappeared in order that all the glory would return to God: "What is it I ask of you? Nothing for myself, all for your glory" (PM 6).This theocentric view he borrowed from one of his preferred authors, the archdeacon Boudon, who had written two works entitled God Alone. This motto must not be interpreted in a philosophical or metaphysical sense. God Alone exists, whereas creatures are nothing. "When Montfort speaks of renouncing oneself, . . . the oneself that he wishes us to detach ourselves from is not exactly our personality but, rather, the base of egotism within us. That comes also from the fact that we do not always put ourselves in the same perspective as his, a truly mystical perspective."55 Such a view indicates the primacy of the merciful action of God, Who does not destroy either the human person or his or her collaboration. It only excludes a redemption brought about by his or her own initiative independent of the plan of God: "It is you alone who will make this assembly; if man puts his hand to it first, nothing will come about" (PM 26).
The mystical perspective is the fundamental interpretative key to the historical experience of Montfort, which can be defined as a life in rhythm with God. This explains why prayer occupies the day of this holy missionary, why it animates his retreats and inflames the contemplative dimension of his life. His holiness consists in "letting God do it," not in a quietist sense but in the sense of being totally disposed to His action, putting all his energy into serving the God of salvation. Montforts intense missionary activity as well as the constancy of his charitable service to the poor are evidence of the fact that he recognized the primacy of God. He saw that this does not bring about mans demise but, on the contrary, leads to a radical commitment to the divine projectto bringing life in its abundance.
For a man or woman of today, taken up with secular activism or imprisoned in the convoluted materialistic and individualistic values of our age, Montfort is both a challenge and an alternative. He is a witness to an encounter with God in the concreteness of ones life and of history. He is a mediator, in Christ, between historicity and divinity. From this viewpoint, the unique quality of Montfort is his call for us to turn away from an existence that is morally trite because it is not rooted in God. Rather, he calls us to live from supernatural grace which infuses nature with a vitality and life, to realize its full "human" character.56 In this way, we overcome the conflict between a saint as an "exceptional individual" and the call of everyone to sanctity. We thus discover in Montforts spirituality a vocational path suitable for every Christian. Truly, we are all called to have God at the center of our heart, to have Him as the master of our lives, to have Him as our single source of meaning, to recognize his sovereignty. Montfort took God seriously. And he drew from this recognition its consequences. Thus he lived in Gods presence from moment to moment, dialoguing and collaborating from moment to moment along his life path.
2. Abandoning oneself to divine logic, to Christ Wisdom
To make a place for God in ones own life is to receive His logic, which is entirely transcendent, disconcerting, and paradoxical. Inspired by Isa 55:8, Montfort cries out: "Oh! that the thoughts and the ways of Eternal Wisdom are far from and different from those of humans, even the wisest!" (LEW 167). Further, the holy missionary accepted the ways of God without debating them. He had arrived. He had come to Wisdom by totally giving himself to Wisdom (LEW 59, 132). He understood that true Wisdom is "a savory science, sapida scientia, or the taste of God and of his truth" (LEW 13). Therefore we can legitimately say that for Louis Marie, Wisdom "is the eye of the heart open to the logic of God. It is, in reality, the knowledge of Christ, the participation in the light of the One who is substantial and uncreated Wisdom."57
As very few others have, Montfort perceived in a living way the difference, the opposition between the Wisdom of God and that of men. This appears concretized in the model of wisdom of his time and ours, which is anthropocentric rather than theocentric. Distancing himself from it, he describes it well in LEW 76-79.58 Montfort sees "respectable man" as the personification of "humanistic man"one closed to divine revelation and thus "anti-Gospel man": "A worldly sage is a man who, being led only by the light of his senses and human reason, only seeks to cover himself with the appearance of being Christian and respectable, without caring too much about pleasing God" (LEW 76).
Louis Maries horizon of reality is altogether different. It is the divine logic revealed in Christ Wisdom. In him he learned the value of the two realities that the world refuses to appreciate: the Cross and the poor. According to a sublime and incomprehensible plan, Wisdom chose the Cross to save the world (LEW 168). Wisdom became flesh, incorporated himself in the world in such a way, united himself with the Cross in such a way that we can truly say with Montfort that "Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 180). It follows from this that the Cross "is also the witness that God asks of us to show him that we love him" (LEW 176), in such a way that we cannot call ourselves Christians without being "friends of the Cross" (FC 3). Montfort went so far as to pronounce, at Vertou in 1709, this paradoxical phrase: "No Cross, what a Cross!" meaning that the Cross is inevitable for one who wishes to follow Jesus (Mt 16:24). From our impoverished human experience of reason, the Cross remains incomprehensible (LEW 178, 179), but for the person who accepts it, it is the source of superhuman Wisdom: "It enlightens the mind and gives to it more intelligence than all the books in the world" (LEW 176). Truly, the Cross introduces us to a new knowledge of God unknown to the world of antiquity: Revelation under the guise of weakness, defeat, absurdity and folly. The Cross reveals a kenosis of God, which does not simply bring us down but, rather, raises us to the divine logic of solidarity and subsidiarity. The Cross breaks apart our myopic view of justice, which values moneyas a substitute for Wisdom, as a substitute for the logic of love, which demands self- sacrifice and forgiveness. It is the value of this logic that will stop the spiral of violence and buy back a sense of the other by a merciful love.
By introducing us to Divine Wisdom, Montforts role here is one of initiator; it is, however, important to understand and follow this Wisdom as it flows from his teaching.
Wisdom is not identified uniquely with the Cross but also with the poor. Basing himself on the word of Jesus, who identifies himself with man in need (Mt 25:40, 45; cf. H 18:8), Montfort defines the poor man as "the lieutenant of Jesus Christ" and, even more, as "Jesus Christ himself" (H 17:14). Montfort offers us an eloquent sign of this vision of faith in the episode at Dinan (1706), when he hoisted upon his shoulders the ulcerous poor man whom he met on his trip and knocked at the door of the missionary house, crying out: "Open to Jesus Christ!"59 He had not elaborated a theology on the nature of the presence of Christ in the poor, but through gestures like this one, he demanded it. In any case, our neighbor remains the sacrament of our union with Christ. Our poor neighbor is our forgotten neighbor, the Christ who has been rejected down through the centuries.
Faced with the failure of modern post-Enlightenment ideologists and ideologies and their discoveries, we cannot fail to notice the overwhelming need for us to rediscover Divine Wisdom. It is incarnate Wisdom who will teach us an art of living that will help us avoid our past failures. Vatican Council II affirms this: "Our times, more so than past centuries, have need of that Wisdom, in order that all these new discoveries may become more humane. In fact, the future of the world is in peril unless wiser men rise up" (GS 15).
3. Regard for the feminine point of view in Christianity
Montfort wasand no one contests this pointone of the saints who received the charism to give a very high value to the person and to the role of Mary in the spiritual life. It is evident that his vision is not limited to the figure of Mary but is broadened to embrace the whole panorama of salvation history.
The mother of Jesus, in fact, is a maternal presence and an ideal model in the life of Montfort,60 who, in a significant gesture, set forth as one of his last wishes that his heart be buried "under the step of the altar of the Blessed Virgin" (W).
Mary, as every one of his works shows, is the structure of his thought. She is fundamental to Wisdoms plan: in Wisdoms journey to mankind and in mankinds journey to Wisdom (LEW 105-108, 203-222). In the design of God, Mary is the maternal Mediatrix of grace, in such a way that without her one cannot attain holiness (SM 6-22). Her role is essential in the mystery of the Incarnation. Her action in the world is necessary to the mystery of the Church. Devotion to her becomes an indispensable condition for the preparation of the reign of Jesus Christ (TD 1-13). The passing of the reign of sin into the reign of Jesus Christ cannot come about without a full out-pouring of the Spirit. Therefore, Mary must have a role in the end times, since she cooperates with the Paraclete in bringing about the great salvific work of history (SM 58-59; TD 49-59; PM 15). In the "Covenant Contract" with God that Montfort called for in his missions, Mary was the foundation of faith in Christ and in his Cross (CG 1). To separate Montfort from Mary, would be to deprive his teaching of its essential component.
This attention given to Mary is part of his general tendency to value the presence of woman within the Church and to draw attention to the feminine aspects of Christianity. He, in fact, underlines two feminine attributes of God: Providence and Wisdom. He calls Providence "the Mother of Love" (H 28:19) and Wisdom "the spouse" with whom we can contract a true spiritual marriage (LEW 54; L 20).
Devotion to the Blessed Virgin becomes for him a means to uncover the tenderness of God (H 52:11), his maternal visage. As Fr. Zundel already observed before John Paul I: "God is more Mother than all mothers. God is infinitely Mother: as much as He is infinitely Father. And perhaps precisely there is the most profound significance of devotion to the Virgin in the Church of her Son: . . . to manifest in her, as in a living sacrament, the maternal tenderness of God."61
The Marian devotion Montfort proposes to us undoubtedly carries with it many different aspects: theological, Christological, Trinitarian, ecclesiological, anthropological, eschatological, etc. It is the task of his disciples to explicate these essential dimensions, following the directives of Vatican Council II and of MC. Marian spirituality especially must not be separated from the promotion of woman in civil and Church law. That Mary is a woman is not a petty fact. It is a dimension that characterizes her whole being. It explains the maternal mission which she has been given. A person who has recourse to Montfort and discovers the saints profound devotion to the Mother of Jesus can not possibly ignore the invitation to welcome her within his or her own spiritual life, by a total gift of self. We must go to God through a thorough examination of certain aspects of our way of loving that can only be expressed in feminine and maternal terms. Then, in the name of the "blessed among women" (Lk 1:42), we will learn to treat women as persons called to assume their own unique roles and responsibilities in society and in the Church.
4. A life oriented toward the coming of the reign of Christ into the world
Whatever different interpretations one might have of Montforts life, he will always remain a missionary. That is a too evident fact, given his actions, for anyone to ignore. In fact, we might even define Montfort as the personification of the Churchs missionary calling.
There are two hermeneutical keys to understanding Montforts missionary vocation: a. his sense of the past, his recovery of the apostolic life of Jesus and of the Apostles; and b. his sense of the future, his vision of preparing for the reign of God. Montfort must be seen against the horizon of the end times.
Montfort suffers from that agony of true missionaries, the urgency of proclaiming the Gospel of salvation. Montforts urgency is best expressed in his elaborate strategy for the Company of Mary and for every person who accepts his Companys call to consecrate himself or herself to Christ through Mary.
The last years of Montforts life coincided with a renewed interest in those foundations which he had already envisioned in the early years of his priesthood. Around 1713 he drew up RM. In 1715, he composed RW. As he sensed his energies failing, Montfort never retreated into himself but, rather, looked ahead to the future. He foresaw the coming of the reign of Jesus on earth. He saw this reign in both the divine promise and the expectation of the faithful. He saw that to realize this reign would be the fulfillment of a new Pentecost. He saw it as a deluge of the fire of love, as an interior coming, as a continuation in time of salvation history, as the ultimate renewal of the sanctity of the Church, one that would transform the world through the preaching of the Gospel to all the nations. This transformation he saw to be the work of the entire Trinity, especially through the Holy Spirit, with the collaboration with Mary, in preparing the apostles of the end times and sending them forth into the world to establish there the reign of Jesus Christ.
Montfort considered himself to be a missionary of the end times, which he believed to have already begun (TD 50). Montforts missions were addressed to all people. They were not confined to people of any specific social dimension. In fact, if we closely examine the text of CG, we see that it does not go beyond a personal commitment to live faithfully the promises of Baptism. TD was intended to extend Montforts mission of preaching into writing (TD 110) and designed to prepare people for the reign of Christ in the world. By implication, it demonstrates his call to conversion and reform, which he points to clearly in PM 17.
The means or privileged instrument to attain this end is the gift of oneself to Mary. It is the school of filial life toward the Father. It is fidelity to Christ and openness to the Holy Spirit. From Montforts point of view, devotion to Mary is in no way confined to practices of devotion or to an individualized interior life. It is essentially apostolic and oriented toward the future. Mary brings us into an intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit in the final phase of the Church. She brings us into the reign of Christ. The Marian devotion proposed by Montfort is missionary in character. It is a Mariology that is Spirit-filled and Christologicala rarity today.
The living witness of Montfort gives us a uniquely personal vision of the Church as Gods people. Montforts message is one of personal relationship, of love. His message was not the mission that people came to hear. Rather, his mission was the people themselves who attended the missions. They were the mission. Persons were the reason for and measure of mission: human persons in relation to the Persons of God through Mary, persons serving Gods reign in the world. For this seventeenth- century Breton missionary, mission was the heart of the Church. It was her essential form, her raison detre in the world.
S. De Fiores
Notes: (1) Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Life of the Venerable Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort), Oudin, Paris 1875, xx. The author mentions the biographies already published of Grandet, Picot de Clorivière, and Dalin, and also the manuscripts of Blain and Besnard (p. xx-xxiv). (2) Cf. Bibliography of Saint Louis- Marie de Montfort, in Echo des Missions 223 (1954), 3-12; Special Monographs on Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, ibid., 227 (1954), n.p. The number of biographies of Montfort, some short, others more developed, up to 1954 is seventy-nine. Since that date, at least thirty-four others have been published. (3) Cf. P. Pourrat, Biographies spirituelles (Spiritual Biographies), in DSAM 1 (1932), 1715. (4) Grandet, iii, 2- 4. (5) Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie, xxiii. (6) Blain, passim. We find in Blain "oratorical procedures that are those of a preacher more than of a historian." E. Lett, Les premiers biographes de Saint J.- B. de la Salle (The First Biographies of Saint J.B. de la Salle), Ligel, Paris 1954, 339. (7) Reproaches aimed at Grandet by later biographers: e.g. Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie, xx; P. Eijckeler, Le testament de Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (The Testament of Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort), Van Aelst, Maestricht 1953, 202-204; L. Perouas, Grignion de Montfort, les pauvres et les missions, Cerf, Paris 1966, 137, 141 (on the confraternities and the schools). (8) Bremond considers Grandet "the very honest and interesting memorializer of Angers." H. Bremond, Histoire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqua nos jours (History of Religious Devotion in France at the End of the Wars of Religion Until Today), Bloud et Gay, Paris 1920, 4:225. Besnard, on his part, protests that he wants to write a historical work: "I looked up all the material necessary so that nothing in his life would be omitted that appeared to me to be interesting; and I used the remembrances that were the most sure, so that I would only say the truth." Besnard I, 5. (9) Grandet, vii-x. (10) Grandet, xiv, xv. (11) Blain, 72, 90, 185-187.(12) Blain, 32-33; cf. also 90-91. (13) Blain, 185-190. (14) Besnard I, 5-13. (15) Besnard I, 13. (16) P. Pourrat, Biographies spirituelles, 1716. (17) Dalin, Vie du vénérable serviteur de Dieu Louis-Marie Grignon de Montfort missionnaire apostolique (Life of the Venerable Servant of God, Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort Missionary Apostolic), Le Clerc, Paris 1839, 6. (18) Fonteneau, Vie du Bienheureux L.-M. Grignon de Montfort (Life of Blessed L.M. Grignion de Montfort), Oudin, Paris 1887; G. Persiani, Vita del beato L. Maria Grignion di Montfort, Befani, Rome 1887. Fonteneau points out the heroic virtues of Saint Louis Marie without knowing which he should give first place to: "In Montfort every virtue shows itself with the same brightness, with the same perfection, so that it is difficult to say which one should hold first place" (p. 490). (19) "The most outstanding characteristic is to have completely immolated nature. Living according to a supernatural principle, or, as the promotor of his cause said, only seeing through the eyes of faith, he possessed neither the ideas nor the impressions of other men. This was the cause of his strong and saintly originality. The immolation of nature, the exclusive worship of a supernatural principle such was the double spectacle that rendered his life so edifying to pious souls, so easily understood by those who have the least notion of the Christian ideal." Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie, xi. (20) J.-M. Quérard, Vie du bienheureux Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Life of Blessed Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort), H. Caillière-Librairie de St-Paul- Lanoè et Métayer, Rennes-Paris-Nantes 1887, 1:iv, vi, xxxiv. This authors same perspective already appeared in his La mission providentielle du vénérable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort dans lenseignement et la propagation de la parfaite dévotion à la sainte Vierge comme préparation au grand Règne de Jésus et de Marie dans le monde (The providential mission of venerable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort on the teaching and propagation of perfect devotion to the Blessed Virgin as preparation for the great Reign of Jesus and Mary in the world), Haton-Fougeray-Lanoè et Métayer, Paris-Rennes-Nantes 1884. For a short appreciation of Quérard, cf. A. Laveille, Blessed L.-M. Grignion de Montfort, J. Poussielgue, Paris 1907, 550. (21) Manuscript in the General Archives of the Company of Mary, Rome, II, 80. -(22) G. De Luca, Luigi Maria Grignion da Montfort. Saggio biografico, Postulazione generale monfortana, Rome 1943, xii; 2d ed. (including the other works of De Luca on Montfort), Edizioni di storia e letteratura, Rome 1985. (23) "To study the [divine] element is not as easy as studying the natural element: only someone, in fact, who is close to God sees God, and we poor sinners are also at a distance from God, being immersed in pure nature. Furthermore, the divine life in man is a secret of God, and for someone who has given himself to God, a jealously kept secret in the fullness of humility." Ibid., 288. (24) Ibid., 107. Cf. 129, 287. (25) S. De Fiores, Itinerario spirituale di s. Luigi Maria di Montfort (1673-1716) nel periodo fino al sacerdozio (The spiritual journey of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort up to the time of his priesthood), [5 giugno 1700], in Marian Library Studies 6, University of Dayton, Dayton, Ohio 1974, 5. (26) Ibid., 234. (27) Ibid., 183. (28) Ibid., 275. (29) P. Pourrat, Biographies spirituelles (Spiritual Biographies), 1717. (30) L. Perouas, Grignion de Montfort, les pauvres et les missions (The poor and the missions), Cerf, Paris 1966, 7. (31) Ibid., 35. (32) Ibid., 29. (33) Ibid., 171-172. (34) Perouas (35) Ibid., 105. In his later works, L. Perouas, Grignion de Montfort et la Vendée, Cerf, Paris 1989, 30, 31, 33, went one better yet, describing the young Montfort as "an extreme case," "a problem child." Because of a supposed deficiency in his initial formation, Montfort would even be "a youth carrying a heavy handicap," of which he was not conscious but which conditioned him throughout his spiritual and missionary journey (Grignion de Montfort ou laventurier de 1évangile [Grignion de Montfort or the Gospel adventurer], Les Editions ouvrières, Paris 1990, 28). (36) The psychoanalytic method of interpretation seems today to be a "reductionist measure" because it "reduces" the sources of psychic life to infantile conflicts. "All such explanations deny the obscure labyrinth of solid facts. It tends to be a substitute for reality - a mixture of intentions, necessities, and accidents - a few selected life scenarios, which become a simplistic mold for the logic of someones behavior and words. . . . Reports, relationships, and new facts can easily contradict this theory." D. Madelénat, Biographie, in Encyclopaedia universalis, suppl. 1, Le savoir, Paris 1984, 194. (37) L. Perouas, Grignion de Montfort, les pauvres et les missions, 170. (38) Cf. La doctrine et lexpérience de Grignion de Montfort, in Ce que croyait, 113-198; De lidôle [sic] & licône, in Grignion de Montfort ou laventurier, 59-80. (39) Cf. J. Hervé, Notes sur la famille du bienheureux Grignion de Montfort (Notes on the Family of Blessed Grignion de Montfort), G. Vatar, Rennes 1927; M. Sibold, Le sang des Grignion, vol. 1, International Montfortian Center, Rome 1987; S. De Fiores, Itinerario, 19-33. (40) Cf. G. Durtelle de Saint-Sauveur, Le collège de Rennes depuis la fondation jusquau départ des jésuites 1536- 1762, in Société archéologique du département de Iile-et-Vilaine 46 (1918), 1-241; S. De Fiores, Itinerario, 19-81. (41) Blain, 23-24. (42) For the entire period, cf. the analysis of S. De Fiores, Itinerario, 82- 264. (43) Blain, 332-334. (44) Blain, 220-221. (45) Blain, 115. (46) J.- F. Dervaux, Folie ou Sagesse? Marie-Louise Trichet et les premières Filles de Saint L.M. de Montfort (Folly or Wisdom? Marie-Louise Trichet and the First Daughters of Wisdom of Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort), Ed. Alsatia, Paris 1950, 70. (47) Ibid., 72. (48) Blain, 328. (49) Grandet, 100. (50) Besnard I, 114. (51) Blain, 281. (52) Besnard I, 151. (53) "Models are not only paths; they often become obstacles. If one determins types of holiness, one is inclined to attach oneself in an exaggerated manner to a form from the past and impede one from new applications of the Gospel." C. Duquoc, editorial, Modelli di santità, in Con 15 (1979), 9, 21. (54) G. De Luca, Luigi Maria, 300-302. (55) Perouas (56) Cf. L. Zanzi, Storicità e santità, questioni metodologiche, in La scuola cattolica, 119 (1991), 135-182, esp. 143-156. (57) Papàsogli (58) Cf. B. Papàsogli, Montfort moralista: 1. "Ihonnête homme" sotto processo, in La lettera e lo spirito. Temi e figure del Seicento francese, Editrice libreria goliardica, Pisa 1986, 219- 236. (59) Cf. Besnard I, 114. (60) Cf. [J. Frissen], La place de la Vierge dans la vie personnelle de Montfort, la pensée du Fondateur, lhistoire de la Compagnie (The place of the Virgin in the personal life of Montfort, the thought of the founder, the history of the Company), duplicated, Chapitre général, Rome 1964, 44. (61) M. Zundel, Poème de la sainte liturgie, Desclée de Brouwer (The Poetry of the Holy Liturgy), 223.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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