JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Montforts Experience: 1. Home; 2. Education; 3. Family; 4. Adult working life; 5. Time to pray and reflect; II. Montforts 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 Gods 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 Gods will there is peace in the individual, environment, and world. The crucial question is, therefore, "What shall I do Lord?" (Ac 22:10).
I. MONTFORTS EXPERIENCE
Montforts first experience of the tension between peace as a gift from God and the imperfections of everyday life came at home. His fathers social aspirations were not met by life nor shared by his son. This frustration only reinforced his fathers temper. It has been suggested that Montforts approach to life, and especially his literal identification with the poor, developed through "unconscious revenge" on his fathers 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 fathers 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?
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.
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 Gods 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 mans 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 weeks retreat to the Jesuits" (L 11). This is a recurring and important pattern in his grasp of peace. Active as one of Christs "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 Gods will and the natural world.
II. MONTFORTS 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 1:2125), 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 Ladys 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 . . . Marys 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 25). To revitalize Baptism and its implications is mainstream renewal, an essential pre-condition for evangelical peace (PM 56). 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 6065).
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 2:516). If that is one assessment of contemporary society, peace clearly has to be paid for (PM 2730), 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.
Notes: (1) S. De Fiores, Montforts 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).
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