JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Prayer in the Seventeenth Century: 1. "The great century of souls"; 2. The seminary of Saint-Sulpice; 3. A God Incarnate. II. Montfort, Man of Prayer: 1. Montfort as he prayed; 2. The beggar of prayers; 3. The teacher: a. Prayer of faith, b. Prayer of pure faith. III. The Missionarys Prayer: 1. The Rosary; 2. Other forms of prayer; 3. Consecration to Jesus through Mary. IV. The Mind and the Heart: 1. Doctrinal prayer; 2. Affective prayer. V. Prayer Today: 1. Prayer beyond formula; 2. Montfort, witness of prayer.
Prayer is both simple and complex: simple, for it is conversation with the Beloved; complex, for it stems from the very nature of our religious experience, and hinges on the psychological evolution of that experience, from childhood to adult life.1 Prayer is also complex in respect to its practice: unbelievers see no reason to address a being they believe does not exist; believers of all levels, from the non-practicing to the fervent, with whom prayer is either sporadic or habitual, are driven by utilitarianism or by grateful filial love. No matter how simple or complex, we cannot sidestep the subject, because it bears on everything in the universe: all creatures must give worship to their Creator, from those that were granted intelligence ("Therefore mortals fear him; he does not regard any who are wise in their own conceit" [Jb 37:24]) to the inanimate creatures of the cosmos ("We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now" [Rm 8:22]). We must examine how St. Louis Marie de Montfort, at one moment in the Churchs history, enhanced the sense of God and of the worship due Him for Christians then and now, through his life of prayer and his teaching.
I. PRAYER IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY
1. "The great century of souls"
This phrase of Daniel-Rops well expresses how Christian life, on the spiritual level, was thoroughly renewed in the seventeenth century, just as profane life, on the cultural level, had been similarly renewed in the preceding century with the Renaissance. A galaxy of saints and other great spiritual figures like Francis de Sales, Vincent de Paul, John Eudes, Bérulle, Charles de Condren, Olier, and, among the laity, Gaston de Renty, had a deep impact on both society and the Church. Implementation of the Tridentine decrees created a better educated and more saintly clergy. Bishops such as Cospeau,2 bishop of Nantes and later of Lisieux, friend of Bérulle and John Eudes, with whom he carried on a correspondence, were highly effective instruments of Catholic reform.
2. The Seminary of Saint-Sulpice
Jean Jacques Olier established the Society of Saint Sulpice in order to train priests in piety, learning, and the apostolate. He adopted Bérullian doctrine and made it the basis of his plans. "The paramount aim of this Institute," he wrote, "is to live supremely for God, in Christ Jesus Our Lord, so that the interior dispositions of the Son reach into the depths of our heart, and each will be able to say what Saint Paul said of himself: I live, but it is no longer myself, it is Christ who lives in me." Bérullian doctrine professes the virtue of religion to the utmost extent. Before the grandeur of God, the soul is struck dumb with wonder. Such grandeur gives rise to a deep feeling of adoration that simultaneously releases an overflowing joy, expressed in the "O" of admiration in the presence of the mystery: "O Jesus living in Mary." We see this often in Bérulle and his disciples. It has been called an "elevation," the purest form of prayer, whereby one honors and glorifies God while neither requiring nor desiring anything in return: gratuitous prayer of pure contemplation. For Olier, "living supremely for God" is an echo of this.
3. A God Incarnate
The God of Bérulle is not simply the Supreme and Transcendent being. He is God Incarnate in Jesus Christ, from whom arises the permanent states or attitudes that we must reproduce. These attitudes are interior, which is why they are called "states," and they are "mysteries" because of their depth (to distinguish them from "acts" which are exterior and transient). Again we discern the meaning of Oliers words when he spoke of "the interior dispositions of the Son" that must "reach into the depths of our heart." Insofar as it begins with God and leads to Jesus Christ, Bérullian doctrine has as its focal point the Incarnation and the related mystery of the "only Son of Mary, Jesus Christ our sovereign Lord." Mary is therefore not merely a simple accessory of devotion, but an integral and essential part of the mystery of the Word Incarnate: without her Gods planbecause of His free choicewould be impossible, in the present order of salvation (and there is no other).
II. MONTFORT, MAN OF PRAYER
Montforts prayer and extraordinary contemplative life coexisted with intense apostolic activity. Through his incredible interior gifts he appears as a practitioner of prayer, a beggar of prayers, and a teacher of prayer.
1. Montfort as he prayed
In the spiritual environment described above, Montforts life of prayer, which had been pronounced in his childhood and adolescence, matured. From his youth he had showed an inclination toward prayer. His younger sister Guyonne-Jeanne (Louise), with whom he was very close, learned her piety from him. "He would secretly draw her away . . . with her young friends, to lead her in prayer to God."3 During his journeys to and from school, he never failed to stop in a chapel or church in Holy Savior, his parish; according to his uncle, Father Alain Robert, he sometimes stayed there an hour. Similarly, one of his biographers notes that "whenever he was on his way to class, he never failed to enter the church of the Carmelites to pray, and he often spent a considerable time before the image of the Virgin."4 He loved to kneel down before the Madonnas he saw on the corners of houses. As a member of the Sodality of Our Lady, he was faithful in reciting the office of the Blessed Virgin; he already prayed the Rosary daily and dedicated time to mental prayer. His friend Blain relates that upon his arrival in Chartres for a pilgrimage, "Montfort went in haste to bow down before the image of the holy Virgin . . . . The next day . . . he remained in prayer for six or eight hours at a time, from morning until noon, on his knees, unmoving and as if in ecstasy. After the noon meal . . . he began prayer again, in the same posture and with equal devotion, that was as lengthy as his morning prayer, lasting until the evening hour or until he was told that he must leave."5 Blain also recounts that, as a seminarian, Montfort watched over the dead every other night in order to earn some money, and that during this time he spent "four hours in prayer, two hours in spiritual reading, and two hours in sleep."6 At his first Mass, celebrated eight days after his ordination, he appeared "like an angel at the altar," according to Jean-Baptiste Blain. A prolonged thanksgiving followed each of his Masses. Traveling long distances as a pilgrim, he was always conscious of the presence of God, and he therefore went without a hat. In one of his letters he speaks of his "secret attraction for a hidden life" (L 5), and seems to refer to this desire in another letter: "During this time I made a short retreat in a little room where I enclosed myself, in the middle of a large town where I knew nobody" (L 6). However, he did leave his room to provide help to the poor of the general hospital. "I went into their little church to pray and the four hours I spent there waiting for the evening mealtime seemed all too short," but he acknowledged that the poor who saw him kneeling there thought it quite a long time (L 6). On many occasions he withdrew into solitude, at the cave of Mervent and at the retreat of Saint-Lazare. On his return from Rome, he spent fifteen days at Mont Saint-Michel.
2. The Beggar of Prayers
The communion of saints is the basis for their intercession and the intercession of Gods friends here below: "The fervent prayer of the just is very powerful."7 Montfort often reminded his correspondents of this. To his sister Guyonne-Jeanne (who was about to become Sister Catherine of Saint Bernard) he wrote, "Continue asking pardon of God and of Jesus, the eternal High Priest, for the offenses I have committed against his divine majesty in the Blessed Sacrament" (L 12). A subsequent letter to his sister indicates that these offenses were "half-hearted communions" (L 19). "Thank God in my name for the crosses he has given me and which he keeps within limits to suit my weakness" (L 14). "Keep on praying, even increase your prayers for me; ask for . . . the weightiest cross, abjection and humiliations" (L 15). He asked that others join in praying for him: "So, my dear daughter, I ask you to enlist some good souls among your friends into a campaign of prayer especially from now until Pentecost, and to pray together for an hour on Mondays from one to two oclock. I will be praying at the same time. Write and send me their names" (L 15). The object of this prayer is often Wisdom: "Pray that I may receive divine Wisdom and get others to pray" (L 17).
3. The Teacher
Montfort taught what he practiced. He noted that prayer is second only to desire among the means of obtaining Wisdom. "The greater the gift of God, the more effort is required to obtain it. Much prayer and great effort, therefore, will be required to obtain the gift of Wisdom, which is the greatest of all Gods gifts. . . . Prayer is the usual channel by which God conveys his gifts, especially his Wisdom" (LEW 184). His Hymn 103 is a contemplative sigh, directed at Wisdom, in twenty-nine stanzas; all but one of the stanzas has the same structure, twice repeating the same line, in an insistent litany: "Come to me": "Son of God, supreme beauty / Come to me. / Without you I am anathema / Come to me. / With you I will be a king, / But a king that bows before your law" (H 103:2). "O Word, equal to Father, / Come to me. / Light of all lights, / Come to me. / With you I will see clearly, / And I will crush hell itself" (H 103:3). "Jesus, Wisdom uncreated, / Come to me. / Jesus, Wisdom incarnate, / Come to me. / With you, what could be happier? / But what hell exists without you!" (H 103:4). "A thousand times I desire you / Come to me. / Without you I suffer martyrdom, / Come to me. / With you I will have all that is good / Without fear of want" (H 103:12).
a. Prayer of faith.
For Montfort, all rests on faith, "a strong and lively faith, not wavering, because he who wavers in his faith must not expect to receive any gift from the Lord" (LEW 185). In this case he is referring to the gift of Wisdom, but it clearly applies to everything else as well. Thus he himself prayed, "Come, O Wisdom, come! Hear this, a beggars plea / By Marys womb, by every gush / of Blood her Jesus shed for me, / Confound us not, nor bid us hush" (H 124:1). Notice the "us" of the conclusion, wherein Jesus, Mary, and the suppliant are united. Montforts faith is founded on the weight of the prayer of Jesus and Mary, united with his own. This faith is emphatic and persevering, unafraid to importune and confident of eventually being fulfilled. Witness the insistence with which he pleaded for his Company of Mary. "When I see the needs of the Church I cannot help pleading continually for a small and poor band of good priests" (L 5). His ardent PM has this same impassioned tone. "We ought not to act, as so many do, when praying to God for some grace. After they have prayed for a long time, perhaps for years, and God has not granted their request, they become discouraged and give up praying, thinking that God does not want to listen to them. They deprive themselves of the benefit of their prayers and offend God, who loves to give and who always answers, in some way or another, prayers that are well said" (LEW 188). As an illustration of this he cites the example of the man who arrives at his friends house late at night and aggressively requests some bread (cf. Lk 11:5 8). "This man knocked and repeated his knockings and entreaties four or five times with increased force and insistence . . . . At length the friend became so annoyed by the persistence of the man that he got out of bed, opened the door and gave him all he asked for" (LEW 189). Montfort prays with similar insistence in his hymn on "the desire for Wisdom": "Why do you prolong my painful martyrdom? / For you I languish night and day" (H 124:2). "My Beloved, Open!. I knock at your door. / . . . . If you do not want me to belong to you. / At least allow me in that case / The privilege of seeking you / Though finding not your hiding-place" (H 124:34). But faith carries all before itespecially Marys faith: "Worthy Mother of God, Virgin all-faithful, pure, / Lend me your faith; lift me on wings / Of faith, that I may mount secure / To Wisdoms height, and have all things. / By Marys faith then come, O Wisdom heaven-sent! / You leapt to her as light to flame; / She gave you your embodiment, / In her Incarnate you became" (H 124:7-8).
b. Prayer of pure faith.
Montforts demands are those of a true spiritual Master, equal to St. John of the Cross. Such pure faith does not mean "counting on consolations, visions or special revelations. Although such things may be good and true, as they have been in some saints, it is always dangerous to rely on them. For the more our faith is dependent on these extraordinary graces and feelings, the less pure and meritorious it is" (LEW 186). Therefore, "the wise man does not ask to see extraordinary things such as saints have seen, nor to experience sensible sweetness in his prayers" (LEW 187). This describes Montforts own prayer to Mary: "May the light of your faith dispel the darkness of my mind" (SM 68). "As for my portion here on earth, I wish only to have a share in yours, that is, to have simple faith without seeing or tasting" (SM 69). He speaks on several occasions of prayer and faith. They are so closely interwoven that it is impossible to put one before the other; they are bound like body and soul. A prayer without faith would be like a corpse without a soul. The faith that animates prayer can itself be the object of prayer. In his hymn on faith, Montfort writes, "You should often make this prayer: / Increase my faith, dear Lord, / Enable it to spread / From my head to my heart" (H 6:53). "Give me a faith that is simple and pure / Which accepts all without seeing or feeling / . . . . Pray for me, faithful Virgin. / I ask only that you increase my faith" (H 6:5455).
III. THE MISSIONARYS PRAYER
Jesus expressed a fundamental law of the economy of grace when he said, "Apart from me you can do nothing" (Jn 15:5). This law is based on our complete and essential dependence on God; however, this dependence does not mean that we must become robots. There are always two actors: God and His creature. Mankind can do nothing without God, but God does not carry out His plan of salvation unless we freely open ourselves to His mercies. Montfort himself was imbued with this feeling. He was convinced that he was "unable to do anything conducive to [his] salvation" (TD 79). Thus he resorted to prayer. This conviction also permeated his apostolic work. His preaching could not be effective unless God touched the hearts of his listeners and disposed them to turn toward Him. The missionary requires the grace that will render his ministry fruitful. "I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict" (Lk 21:15). This is why Montfort so often prayed and asked others to pray that he would be granted this Wisdom. "How few preachers there are today who possess this most wonderful gift of eloquence and who can say with St. Paul [1 Co 2:7], We preach the wisdom of God" (LEW 97). There are several forms of prayer that Montfort values especially highly and that he often recommends.
1. The Rosary
For Montfort, the Rosary has a dual function. It is both worship and catechesis, summarizing the mysteries of Christianity. He loved to describe it as the Gospel in tableau form. The very title of his work The Secret of the Holy Rosary for Renewal and Salvation (written before his Rule for the Missionary Priests for the Company of Mary and only published two hundred years after his death in 1911) indicates his opinion of its effect: "renewal and salvation." Its origin is further proof: "It was given to the Church by St. Dominic, who had received it from the Blessed Virgin as a means of converting the Albigensians and other sinners" (SR 11). That is why it is the preferred weapon of her missionaries, "true servants of the Blessed Virgin who, like a Dominic of old, will range far and wide, with the holy Gospel issuing from their mouths like a bright and burning flame, and the Rosary in their hands" (PM 12).
At the beginning of his work on the admirable secret of the Holy Rosary, Montfort addresses his readers as "dear ministers of the most high God, you my fellow priests who preach the truth of God," so that they will keep in their hearts and in their mouths the truths that are revealed in the Rosary. "Please keep them in your heart so that you yourselves may make a practice of the Rosary and taste its fruits. Please have them always on your lips too, so that you will always preach the Rosary and thus convert others by teaching them the excellence of this holy devotion" (SR 1).
The priest or director who is given its secret "will say the Rosary each day and will encourage others to say it. God and his blessed Mother will pour abundant grace into his soul, so that he may become Gods instrument for his glory; and his word, though simple, will do more good in one month than that of other preachers in several years." Montfort concludes: "It will not be enough for us to preach this devotion to others; we must practice it ourselves" (SR 1-2). Montfort repeats his counsel to priests and directors of souls, but in stronger terms, in the RM, as a guide for their apostolate, the purpose of which is "to renew the spirit of Christianity among the faithful" (RM 56). We can see Montforts practical, methodical temperament in this passage from RM: "During the whole of the mission, they must do all they can by the morning readings and by the conferences and sermons, to establish the great devotion of the daily Rosary." To ensure that this can be done, "they will enroll . . . as many as possible in the Rosary confraternity." The Rosary is also included in the catechism classes given during the parish mission: "They will explain the prayers and mysteries of the Rosary either by instructions or by pictures and statues which they have for this purpose." Montfort would not have hesitated to utilize modern video technology. He ends by saying, "They will give the people the example by having the Rosary recited aloud every day of the mission, saying all fifteen decades in French [i.e., not in Latin] with the offering of the mysteries" (RM 57).
2. Other Forms of Prayer
Although the Rosary looms large in Montforts perspective, he does not neglect other forms of prayer. Among external practices of true devotion to the holy Virgin, he also mentions the chaplet of five decades, which comprises one-third of the Rosary. With certain groups he refers only to the chaplet; the Rosary appears to be optional.
He acknowledges other practices that were common in his day: "The Rosary of six or seven decades in honor of the years our Lady is believed to have spent on earth," or the fourteen Our Fathers and Hail Marys in honor of her fourteen joys; a certain amount of genuflecting or bowing each morning while saying "Hail Mary, Virgin most faithful" sixty or one hundred times in order to obtain her faithfulness, or, in the evenings, "Hail Mary, Mother of Mercy," to be pardoned for the days sins (TD 116).
He also mentions the Little Crown of the Blessed Virgin, three Our Fathers and twelve Hail Marys in honor of her twelve stars or privileges. He suggests still other liturgical prayers, depending on the liturgical season, such as the Alma, the Ave Regina coelorum, the Salve Regina, and the Regina Coeli, as well as the Ave Maris Stella and the Magnificat (TD 116).
3. Consecration to Jesus through Mary
Montfort composed several prayers, including those to Wisdom (LEW 1), a prayer for Wisdom [O God of our fathers . . .] (MR 11), and to Jesus and to Mary (SM 66-69), in addition to composing his methods for saying the Rosary and his inspired writing "vocation prayer," PM. However, in Montforts missionary perspective, consecration ranks above all else. This consecration is made to Jesus Christ: "I give myself entirely to Jesus Christ" (CG), through the hands of Mary: "I, an unfaithful sinner, renew and ratify today through you my baptismal promises" (LEW 225). Mary thus takes into her charge the consecrated soul and ensures its continuing growth, which can only be accomplished in her. Montfort prays to the Virgin that he become "in everything so committed a disciple, imitator, and slave of Jesus, your Son, incarnate Wisdom" and thereby be given "the fullness which Jesus possessed on earth, and . . . the fullness of his glory in heaven" (LEW 227).
IV. THE MIND AND THE HEART
Created in the image of God, man has both intelligence and a will, and they are mutually dependent. We cannot love what we do not know, but once we are brought to this knowledge, intelligence, by action of the will, will attempt to gain even greater knowledge of the object that it loves. Montfort is thinking of this law of nature when he says of devotion to Mary that "it comes from within the mind and the heart, . . . the high regard we have for her greatness, and the love we bear her" (TD 106). This explains why his prayer is so rich in its doctrinal content, which aids intelligence, and so full of tender confidence, "the confidence that a child has for its loving Mother" (TD 107).
1. Doctrinal Prayer
Montfort prayer is highly doctrinal, profoundly theological, and Bérullian in approach, and yet it is comprehensible to all. He articulates the truths of Christian dogma in formulas that are intricate but clear. For example, in his methods for reciting the Rosary, Montfort speaks of the "unity of one, living and true God" and of the Trinity: of the "eternal Word, equal to his Father and who with him produces the Holy Spirit by their mutual love," of the "Holy Spirit who proceeds from the Father and the Son by the way of love" (MR 16). He then mentions "the creation of the soul and the formation of the body of Jesus in the womb of Mary by the Holy Spirit" (MR 17) and "the coming forth of the eternal Word from the womb of Mary without breaking the seal of her Virginity" (MR 19). Montfort recalls the life of Mary: "the eternal predestination of Mary to be the masterpiece of Gods hands," her "Immaculate Conception" and her "fullness of grace and reason in the very womb of St. Anne"; "her fullness of pre-eminent virtue"; "her divine Motherhood and her relationship with the three persons of the most Holy Trinity"; "her resurrection and triumphant Assumption" (MR 30). For Montfort, Mary is "queen of heaven and earth . . . . treasurer and dispenser of the graces of God, the merits of Jesus Christ and the gifts of the Holy Spirit . . . mediatrix and advocate of men . . . nurturing Mother of sinners" (MR 31). In a Bérullian approach, Montfort honors God with each Our Father in the Rosary for His Immensity, His most adorable Majesty, His Wisdom, His Holiness, His unspeakable Beauty, His unlimited Omnipotence, His Providence, His unattainable Glory (MR 17-31).
Bérulles great work, the Discourse on the State and Grandeurs of Jesus, is full of the words "greatness" and "ineffable." We find them similarly in Montfort. He writes, "There is not and there never will be, either in Gods creation or in his mind, a creature in whom he is so honored as in the most Blessed Virgin Mary" (SM 19). Mary derives her greatness from the greatness of God within her. And everything that Bérulle most admires in what is "ineffable" can be seen in this passage: "Mary is Gods garden of Paradise, his own unspeakable world, into which his Son entered to do wonderful things" (SM 19).
Although these passages are not integral parts of a prayer, the admiration that permeates them, transporting the writer and the reader, turns them into a kind of contemplative prayer. It is in this sense that, in order to show how Mary is not an obstacle but rather a means to prayer, Montfort could write, "Rest assured that the more you turn to Mary in your prayers, meditations, . . . seeing her, if not perhaps clearly and distinctly, at least in a general and indistinct way, the more surely will you discover Jesus" (TD 165). The admiration that emerges from a passage like this is expressed in increasingly elevated language. Confronted with the greatness of Mary, he cries, "What incomprehensible height! What indescribable breadth! What immeasurable greatness! What an impenetrable abyss!" (TD 7). His "Consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ, Wisdom incarnate" opens with a passage of splendid sublimity, even closer to the style of the French School: "Eternal and incarnate Wisdom, most lovable and adorable Jesus, true God and true man, only Son of the eternal Father and of Mary always Virgin, I adore you profoundly, dwelling in the splendor of your Father from all eternity and in the virginal womb of Mary, your most worthy Mother, at the time of your Incarnation" (LEW 223). It would be difficult to give a more compact doctrinal presentation of the mystery of the Word incarnate. In the text of this consecration he again addresses Mary in the same Bérullian style: "Gracious Virgin . . . O admirable Mother . .. Mother of mercy . . . Virgin most faithful" (LEW 226-227).
2. Affective prayer
As doctrine leads to admiration, admiration expresses itself in outbursts of the soul. Montfort composed several prayers to Mary that illustrate these feelings. At the end of the Rosary St. Louis Marie prays: "Hail Mary, well-beloved daughter of the eternal Father, admirable Mother of the Son, most faithful spouse of the Holy Spirit, glorious temple of the Blessed Trinity. . . . Hear, O my Queen, the prayers of a heart that desires to love and serve you faithfully. . . . O my hope, my life, my faithful and immaculate Virgin Mary" (MR 15). The opening of his Prayer to Mary (SM 68) and the prayer that comes after the Little Crown follow the same lines: "Virgin most faithful . . . Gracious Mother . . .O Queen of heaven . . . O daughter of the King of kings" (MP 13). In his Night Prayer we find the well-known prayer, "O Jesus living in Mary" (NP 20).But, more than any of his other writings, his hymns, appropriately for a lyric genre, display Montforts most ardent feelings. They could be quoted endlessly. "A thousand times my heart desires you, / Divine love, come to me: / To be without you is to martyrdom, / Come to me and give me the law" (H 5:40). "Here is my body, here is my soul: / All are yours, O queen of heaven, / Light your flame so it shines over all, / Sacrifice everything to your fires" (H 5:41). We should particularly note his hymns to the Sacred Heart. "Hear my divine lament. / Friends of the Heart of my Savior, / If I open my breast / It is to allay the grief of my heart" (H 43:1). "Speak, my heart, speak, my tears. / Sigh, cry, a thousand times. / Wherever I feel such strong alarms / Then I have neither words nor voice" (H 43:2). "You wish to ask me now / Why my heart is afflicted, / Why I sigh and I cry. / Ah, my Jesus has been so attacked" (H 43:3). The following stanza would be an excellent prayer to repeat often: "O my Jesus, my love, I love you / From the depths of my heart, / Above all, I love you" (H 45:30).
V. PRAYER TODAY
1. Prayer Beyond Formula
For many people, even the pious, prayer is a rote oral statement ("to know ones prayers"); they cannot believe that any prayer that does not come wrapped in that verbal packaging is truly prayer, although in fact their lives are often permeated with thoughts of God. This is to confuse essence and appearance. The Gospel speaks of Anne, the prophetess, a widow, eighty-four years old, who never left the temple: "she worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day" (Lk 2:37). Her service to God lay not simply in words but in her constant prayer and thoughts of God there in the temple. However, as it is traditionally defined, "prayer" always refers to God. Saint John Damascene saw in prayer "an elevation of the soul" toward God,8 and Saint Augustine also noted its "affective" character, but every definition includes lovingly recognizing an attribute of God, and letting it form us more perfectly in His Image. Therefore, we can elevate ourselves before God by recognizing His Greatness, and adoring it; by remembering His blessings, and expressing our thanks to Him; by becoming conscious of His rights, and asking His forgiveness for having ignored or scorned them; and finally by requesting His help in our need. By our very nature we always tend to disguise our feelings in that verbal packaging. This is true of prayer as well. It is first and foremost "an affair of the heart," or, in St. Augustines thinking, "a loving attempt to approach God." Only as a last resort does it become visible, like a volcano that carves out an opening so that its flames can escape. We can pray very well without a formula, just as we can pray mechanically by repeating words without truly praying.
The Second Vatican Council spoke of "the spiritual bond linking the people of the New Covenant with Abrahams stock" (NA 4). The Jewish liturgy was "the symbolic and direct setting of the encounter with God."10 This was not an intellectual concept, a theology, but an experience of life, so that prayer in Judaism was not part of some other realm. It was a part of the life of Israel under the Torah. Worship meant becoming familiar with what it contained. So, over time, prayer moved away from being a precise formulation. "Its value is in its spontaneity, in the outpouring of the heart."11 It was this liturgy on which Jesus, Mary, the Apostles, and the first Christians were all nourished.
2. Montfort, Witness of Prayer
"There are spiritual and religious values present in todays culture, and man, notwithstanding appearances to the contrary, cannot help but hunger and thirst for God."12 Montfort is a great witness for our time to this hunger and thirst for God. He made it his motto: "God alone." He is a witness as much for priests as for the Christian people who, by the force of his missionary zeal, were led to God. John Paul II remarks as well that "an intimate bond exists between the priests spiritual life and the exercise of his ministry."13 As members of the laity are invited to intensify their activity on behalf of the Church, by virtue of their baptism, this principle, which is true for all of us, is new impetus for them to live a more intense life of prayer and in closer union with Christ and, through him, in the Holy Spirit, with the Father. Mary is a "smooth, short, perfect and sure way" (TD 152) of entering into intense union with Christ. Those who have consecrated their lives to Mary become so closely one with her that, even without words, they can live a life of continuous prayer. "We must gradually acquire the habit of recollecting ourselves interiorly and so form within us an idea or a spiritual image of Mary. She must become, as it were, an Oratory for the soul where we offer up our prayers to God" (SM 47). In this silent intimacy, "we naturally turn to Mary for help, with never a fear of importuning her or displeasing our Lord" (TD 106).
Notes: (1) Cf. M. Parent, Expériences de Dieu (Experiences of God), Ed. Paulines-Médiaspaul, Montreal-Paris 1983); 22-23. (2) Y. Durand, "Nantes," in Histoire des diocèses de France 18 (History of the dioceses of France), Beauchesne, Paris 1985); 9394. (3) Grandet, 23. (4) Clorivière, 17. (5) Blain, 100-101. (6) R. Laurentin, Dieu seul est ma tendresse (God alone is my tenderness), O. E. I. L., Paris 1984, 77. (7) Fifteenth ordinary Sunday, response after first reading. (8) "Ascensus mentis in Deum," De Fide orthodoxa, vol. III, 24, PG 94, 1090. (9) "Oratio namque est mentis ad Deum affectuosa intentio," Sermo IX, n. 3. (10) C. di Sante, La prière dIsrael (The prayer of Israel), Descleé-Bellarmin, Paris-Montreal 1986); 12. (11) R. Le Déaut, A. Jaubert, K. Hruby, "Le Judaisme" (Judaism), DSAM 2 (1975), 109. (12) John Paul II, I Will Give You Shepherds (apostolic exhortation), 46. (13) Ibid., 24.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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