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

Summary
I.	Montfort’s Experience: 
	1.	Home; 
	2.	Education; 
	3.	Family; 
	4.	Adult working life; 
	5.	Time to pray and reflect; 
II.	Montfort’s Doctrine: 
	1.	Contemplative response to Christ Wisdom; 
	2.	Experience and the Cross; 
	3.	Identity and character; 
III.	The Present Day: 
	1.	Revitalize Baptism, self, and evangelism; 
	2.	Meeting failure and change.

"Peace," as used in the Gospel, does not mean the absence of trouble, 
but what follows when God’s will is done (cf. GS 78). "Thy kingdom come, 
thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven" (Mt 6:10), is the key to 
peace. At one with God’s will there is peace in the individual, 
environment, and world. The crucial question is, therefore, "What shall 
I do Lord?" (Ac 22:10).

 

I. MONTFORT’S EXPERIENCE
1. Home
Montfort’s first experience of the tension between peace as a gift from 
God and the imperfections of everyday life came at home. His father’s 
social aspirations were not met by life nor shared by his son. This 
frustration only reinforced his father’s temper. It has been suggested 
that Montfort’s approach to life, and especially his literal 
identification with the poor, developed through "unconscious revenge" on 
his father’s values.1 Might it not have been, rather, a graced insight 
into the nature of the Gospel, discovered within the family and society 
in which he lived? Clearly, his father’s strivings brought little peace. 
Around him he saw the poor as permanent and hopeless failures in that 
school of life. Destitution and indigence "were two of the great 
festering sores" in seventeenth-century France, and some attempts to 
deal with them made the poor feel "harried and unwanted."2 Domestic and 
social life as Montfort experienced it offered little hope of peace. Did 
the Gospel offer a better way? 
2. Education
At school in Rennes, he and others were encouraged by Father Bellier to 
do as he did and to care for the poor and sick in the general hospital. 
Montfort never deviated from that course. Always the poor received from 
him practical, sympathetic help, a man "ready to share not only the 
Gospel of God, but also our own selves because you had become very dear 
to us." (1Th 2:8) A sensitive man would find a strand of peace there.
As a student for the priesthood, Montfort was "systematically 
humiliated" by some of his teachers.3 He could rationalize the ridicule 
of fellow students, perhaps, but what was he to make of it from 
respected teachers? It left its mark on him. "What shall I do Lord?" In 
that context, equilibrium could only be found in translating what was 
happening to him into what he knew to be the Gospel. He developed and 
lived radical dependence on Providence, making his own the Pauline 
tradition of "folly": "the foolishness of God is wiser than men." (1Co 
1:25) Thus he found peace in answer to friends like M. Blain, who "took 
the opportunity to point out to him the many things which people 
objected in his behavior and in his eccentricities; but then he would 
refute my arguments with such apt and sound answers that I wondered 
where he got them from."4 Perhaps a life of unflagging Gospel integrity 
found its own logic and peace.
3. Family
That same thread governed his relations with his family. "I have done 
all God asked me to do for them in a spirit of love . . . poorer than 
all of them . . . Let them think of me as dead . . . I place them . . . 
into the hands of him who created them" (L20). He adds, "no one knows 
the secrets I am talking about, or . . . very few" (L20). This did not 
come from some responsibility-free young bachelor alone in the big 
city.
4. Adult Working Life
At times, Montfort was at odds with some bishops, priests, authorities, 
and lay people. When he asked, "What shall I do Lord?" mission work 
abroad suggested itself. After advice and a meeting with Pope Clement 
XI, his commitment to work in France was confirmed. Always he followed 
what he took to be God’s will in the directives of the pope and bishops. 
His correspondence gives a paradigm illustration of his general approach 
and how he found peace.
Newly ordained, he went to Nantes with "a tremendous urge to make our 
Lord and his holy Mother loved" (L5), especially among the poor. Very 
disappointed, he analyses the situation with a young man’s judgment. He 
sees no future there. He indicates alternatives, but in writing to his 
director says, "but I put aside all these ideas . . . I await your 
advice on whether I should stay here, in spite of having no inclination 
to do so, or go elsewhere. In the peace of Christ and his holy Mother, I 
am completely at your command." (L5).
Invited to work in the poor house in Poitiers, he accepts after taking 
advice. Although it "is a house of discord where there is no peace 
whatever," he trusts that Christ and "good Mother Mary will turn it into 
a holy place, one that will become rich and peaceful." (L 10) Several 
times he asks, "am I doing the right thing?" For example, when he is 
unwilling to dine with the staff, he writes: "I explained to the bishop 
that even in the poor house I do not wish to be separated from my mother 
divine Providence and . . . happy to share the meals of the poor and . . 
. no fixed salary . . . Have I done the right thing?" (L10).
5. Time to Pray and Reflect
Welcomed initially, "as a man sent from God," (L 11) inevitably, after 
considerable achievement, the combination of "new broom" and a radical 
evangelical lifestyle aroused antagonism. "During this painful period I 
kept silent and lived in retirement putting my cause in the hands of God 
. . . in spite of opposite advice given me. To this end, I went for a 
week’s retreat to the Jesuits" (L 11). This is a recurring and important 
pattern in his grasp of peace. Active as one of Christ’s "bodyguard of 
hand-picked men who will protect your house, defend your glory and save 
the souls that are yours," (PM 30) he yet knew when to withdraw and make 
time for rest and contemplation, as well as writing. His hymns on "The 
Wisdom of Silence" (H 23) and "On Solitude" (H 157) give a glimpse of 
the peace he then found at one with God’s will and the natural world.

 

II. MONTFORT’S DOCTRINE
1. Contemplative Response to Christ Wisdom
He begs God "to look upon the strokes of my pen as so many steps to find 
you," (LEW 2) which again is the Gospel way to peace. God gave Himself 
in Christ, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, through the foolishness of 
Incarnation, Cross, and Resurrection (cf. 1Co 1:21–25), and "how gentle, 
attractive and approachable is Eternal Wisdom who . . . invites [us] to 
come to him because he wants to teach [us] with a smile" (LEW 5:117–
132). Yet this gift is transcendentally beyond us ("all should be silent 
. . . every mind should realize its inadequacy and adore" [LEW 15]) so 
that, "if we receive this great gift where are we to lodge him?" (LEW 
209). To prepare for and foster such a presence, "the great way, the 
wonderful secret . . . (is to) bring Mary into our abode by consecrating 
ourselves unreservedly to her as servants and slaves" (LEW 211). In 
turn, she "who never allows herself to be surpassed in generosity will 
give herself to us in a real but indefinable manner; . . . In her, 
eternal wisdom will come and settle as on a throne of splendor" (LEW 
211). Mystics such as Montfort know that God does not ask our help: He 
asks for us. Our Lady’s guiding presence will encourage a response "that 
is total, continuous, courageous and prudent" (LEW 196). So guided, 
"Incarnate Wisdom . . . will grant his rest and ineffable peace" (LEW 
196).
2. Experience and the Cross
From the heart of that insight, Montfort found peace. He developed this 
in SM and TD: "experience will teach you . . . and fill you with 
delight" (SM 53). Writing (and living) from within the Pauline tradition 
of folly, he is explicit that "you must expect to be shaped, cut and 
chiseled under the hammer of the Cross . . . So let him do what he 
pleases; he loves you, he knows what he is doing" (FC 28). The Wisdom 
Cross of Poitiers and the Pilgrimage Rules to Our Lady of Saumur make 
that point. Montfort, no more than the Gospel, bypassed the Cross on the 
way to peace.
3. Identity and Character
Montfort is emphatic that in first pursuing Wisdom, it is "a mistake to 
make charity towards your neighbor your chief end, for if in time you 
were not engaged in serving your neighbor, you would become troubled, 
sad, and discouraged. If . . . your primary purpose is your own 
sanctification . . . by the accomplishment of the will of God . . . then 
you will remain at peace" (RW 4). Equally, fear of the future, "is to 
make you lose your peace of soul . . . or time" (RW 5). The 
contemplative insight, therefore, is primary. If all else is an 
expression of that, there is peace. In Christ, what one does is an 
expression of who one is. Writing for a congregation of missionary 
priests and brothers that did not then exist, Montfort says, "it is not 
enough simply to be unafraid, God wants you to hope for great things 
from Him and to be filled with joy by reason of this hope" (LCM 5). Such 
insight would produce "men who are free, but still in bondage to your 
love and your will; men after your own heart . . . free as the clouds . 
. . moving . . . according to . . . the Spirit . . . Mary’s children . . 
. (who) will look kindly on their fellowmen, fearlessly on your enemies, 
impartially on themselves, and when they look on you, . . . will be 
carried away in contemplation" (PM 8-11, 21). Such people are at one 
with themselves, their environment, and their God. They know and 
communicate peace, as Montfort does in much of his writing.

 

III. The Present Day
1. Revitalize Baptism, Self, and Evangelism
"The kingdom of God is . . . righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy 
Spirit" (Rm 14:17) is an acceptable description of life in God as a 
present reality. To achieve this means work, "to renew the spirit of 
Christianity among the faithful. Therefore . . . see to it, as the Pope 
has commanded, (that) baptismal vows are renewed with the greatest 
solemnity" (RM 56; LPM 2–5). To revitalize Baptism and its implications 
is mainstream renewal, an essential pre-condition for evangelical peace 
(PM 5–6). Montfort further advocates genuine personal renewal in the 
evangelist or teacher, with the possibility of radical Gospel living 
(RM2). The apostle "Paul, slave of Christ Jesus . . ." (Rm 1:1) takes 
his identity from his Lord, as does Montfort, "slave of Jesus in Mary" 
(L passim). This is root and branch renewal. To enjoy peace at that 
level of being is to glimpse what they saw in faith.
All his life he tried to dismantle the institutional and economic 
violence of an unjust society by personally identifying with the poor 
and organizing practical care. The catalyst for change and so peace has 
to be the authentic Gospel; therefore to follow or preach other than the 
Christ of the Gospel may lead to illusion and oppression, the antithesis 
of peace. Thus Montfort advocates authentic preaching. He had high 
regard for its value, cost, and difficulty (RM 60–65).
Communicating the Gospel is inevitably culturally conditioned. In a 
contemporary culture where words are cheap, communication often easy and 
superficial, and secular media dominant, "study and pray unceasingly . . 
. (to) obtain . . . the gift of wisdom . . . for knowing and relishing 
the truth and getting others to relish it" (RM 60) is positive advice 
for possessing and sharing peace.
2. Meeting Failure and Change
Montfort knew failure and personal hurt "like a ball in a game of tennis 
. . . and the players strike me hard." (L26) Individual temperament is 
part of this, of course, but inescapably, much of it is because, "we 
impart a secret and hidden wisdom of God . . . None of the rulers of 
this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified 
the Lord of Glory" (1 Co 2:5–16). If that is one assessment of 
contemporary society, peace clearly has to be paid for (PM 27–30), and 
the price is not cheap. Authentic Gospel living may mean that, "we love 
the cross we are carrying by the light of pure faith" (FC 53). Unease 
and loss of identity and meaning can be the fearful results of change in 
society and church. No longer are we sure of who we are or what we are 
doing. If we are disoriented whenever circumstances change, we shall 
never know peace, because our peace is then dependent on a variable 
outside ourselves. For Montfort, changing and crucifying circumstances 
were often a chance to retrench and ask advice. Living in an unjust 
society and an unhealthy Church, he was helped to keep his balance by 
making his own and developing the Bérullian and Jesuit contemplative 
traditions he found in Paris and Brittany. He worked hard (L 21) and 
exhausted himself trying to make a better society and Church, but 
fulfillment, identity, and, ultimately, peace were not in what he did. 
The contemplative insight was the reality on which he stood, in the 
overriding conviction that "Jesus is always and everywhere the fruit and 
Son of Mary, and Mary is everywhere the genuine tree that bears that 
Fruit of life, the true mother who bears that Son." (TD 44) He never 
left the shade of that tree, with which he was one in Baptism. Many, 
clerical and lay, share that insight today.
D. Macdonald

 

Notes:
(1) S. De Fiores, Montfort’s spiritual development until 1700, in 
Montfortian Encounter No. 11. (2) L. Cognet, "Ecclesiastical Life in 
France," in H. Jedin and J. Dolan, History of the Church, vol. VI, New 
York 1981. English translation of Handbuch Der Kirchensgeschichte vol. 
V., Verlag Herder, Freiburg im Bresgau 1970; R. Mandrou, Montfort and 
the Evangelisation of the Poor, Rome 1973 (English translation), in 
Montfortian Encounter No. 11. (3) R. Mandrou op. cit. (4) Blain, 228.

 


Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.

 

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