JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Montforts Path Toward Sainthood: 1. The evolution of Montforts sainthood; 2. The marks of Montforts holiness; 3. His reputation for holiness. II. Montforts Writings on Holiness: 1. The sources of holiness; 2. The origin of holiness; 3. The Holy Spirit through Mary; 4. A secret of holiness; 5. Models of holiness: a. Jesus Christ; b. Mary; c. The saints. 6. Cooperation needed; 7. The development of sanctity; 8. The goal of sanctity. III. Montfort, Founder of a School of Spirituality?: 1. The Montfort spiritual tradition; 2. Following the Montfort way of holiness.
I. Montforts Path Toward Sainthood
Montfort is among the saints who attained Christian perfection through a special gift of the Spirit. He did so by the "smooth, short, perfect and sure" Marian path of total consecration to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, through Mary (TD 152). He knew well the grace-filled effort required for any true encounter with holiness, but his "Good Mother" was at his side to light up the darkness. She supported him as he faced battles and obstacles (cf. TD 152). She helped him use properly the gifts God had given him (cf. TD 54).
Upon his baptism into Christ Jesus on February 1, 1673, the young Louis become a son of God, a sharer in the Divine Nature and thus truly holy. Pauvert writes that later Louis Grignion would drop his family name and take that of Montfort,1 in tribute to the place of his baptism: "a significant choice, indicative of the character of this hero of the Cross, in whom divine grace would take root and flourish."2 Given that Montfort was a Christian who was faithful to the reality of baptism and to a life shaped by Christs death and resurrection, his path toward sainthood can be seen as a progressive, ascending journey toward perfection to "the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Ep 4:13).
1. The evolution of Montforts sainthood
Biographers have described and analyzed the various stages of Montforts holiness, including infancy (the stage of beginners, incipientes), adolescence (those who advance, proficientes), and maturity (the perfect, perfecti). De Fiores correctly states: "Montforts perfection was not fully realized at birth; he did not hold the same attitudes and profess the same doctrines from the beginning of his life to its end; rather, he appears as a person who was to pursue, over time, an uneven, divergent itinerary, but progressively acquiring the fundamental tenets of his own spirituality through dynamic grace, in harmony or in contrast with his environment."3
Thus any discussion of the evolution of Louis Maries sainthood must be predicated on our great respect both for the free and unforeseeable action of the Holy Spirit (cf. Jn 3:8) and for Montforts freely given response. In effect, "among the saints we always find the principles of newness and renewal . . . a surprise, a reaction" and we must also respect "that freedom that God has chosen to grant only to His saints."4
His biographers are unanimous in observing that Montforts outstanding holiness had its beginnings in his childhood: in his love for prayer and the poor, in his filial tenderness toward his mother and toward Mary, and in his attention to others. His adolescence, which was spent at the Jesuit college in Rennes, saw him grow in wisdom and grace, so much so that "the friendships he made at school, in the Church, and in the ecclesiastical world in which he moved indicate that Louis Marie had, over the years, gained the admiration of his fellow students, his teachers, and even his most virtuous friends. They all openly said even then that he was a saint."5 H. Daniel observes, "If Louis Marie had died at the age of twenty-two, he would have left us with an image of a young saint rather like Aloysius Gonzaga, bearing the same tender devotion to Mary, the same horror of sin and scandal, the same absorption in God. We would admire him unreservedly. From his father he inherited a temperament that he himself admitted would, without Gods grace, have made him the most terrible man of the century."6 But Montfort outlived Aloysius Gonzaga and, although he never reached old age, he continued on his unique path toward sainthood.
Montforts sanctityeven in his youthdoes appear to be truly profound, so much so that he was a mystery to many. Father Leschassier himself, Montforts spiritual director, found it difficult to believe that the saint had been led by the Holy Spirit. When after Montforts death he was reproached by Blain for being so hard on the great missionary, he candidly admitted: "You can see that I do not recognize saints." 7
We can recognize moments of intense spiritual experience in Montforts journey toward Christian perfection, moments of transfiguration that reveal the inner light of his holiness, resulting from an intimate and friendly communion with God.
The letters that survive from the years 1694 to 1716 nearly always begin with a strong desire of Montforts soul: "May the perfect love of God reign in our hearts" (cf., e.g., L 2, 3, 5, 6). This desire explodes in three great hymns to charity (H 5, 14, 148) that are like tongues of fire erupting from a heart full of passionate love for God and neighbor. The hymn is sung by the voice of charity: "I enable the faithful soul / To ascend to God in a chariot of fire, / I join that soul to God in marriage, / And transform all in Gods sight" (H 5:10). "Charity embodies in itself / The most perfect holiness" (H 14:6).
After his ordination, the young Montfort felt a strong attraction to solitude and the hidden life (cf. L 5), the silence that is the true home of saints, where they pray to God in peace and where they secretly "taste my fires and receive my characteristics" (H 5:36). For Louis Marie this close communion with God led him to desire to do Gods will only and forever (cf. L 6), in the profound conviction that in faithful obedience to Godwith Mary and in Maryhe would become rich in grace (cf. TD 54).
In 1704, after having desired so greatly and invoked so often the infinite treasure of divine Wisdom, after having yearned endlessly for this Wisdom, Montfort said good-bye to his mother, telling her of his happiness in mystical union with Wisdom: "In my new familythe one I belong to nowI have chosen to be wedded to Wisdom and the Cross for in these I find every good, both earthly and heavenly. So precious are these possessions that, if they were but known, Montfort would be the envy of the richest and most powerful kings on earth" (L 20). De Fiores remarks that Montfort, after traveling a tormenting road of purification and grace, attained the mystical state of "constant delight in the presence of Jesus and Mary even in the midst of his missionary activity."8 Montfort himself confides: "Here is something one will not be able to believe: / I carry her in the midst of me / Engraved with the marks of glory / Although in the obscurity of faith" (H 77:15).
2. The marks of Montforts holiness
"Our eye, which is sometimes dazzled by the splendor of the light that emanates from Saint Louis de Montfort, must, so to speak, examine its source." Thus spoke Pius XII on July 21, 1947, to the pilgrims who had come to Rome for the canonization of Louis Marie.9 As he added Montfort to the calendar of saints, the Pope spoke of his incessant devotion to prayer, his humility, his love for evangelical poverty, his penitence, his abnegation, his constant mortification, and his ardent devotion to the Virgin Mary.
As we examine the records of his beatification and canonization proceedings, the numerous biographies of his life, and his spiritual writings, we can see that Louis Maries holiness bears three essential characteristics: it is Trinitarian, Christocentric, and Marian. The point where these concerns meet is the focal, unifying, and dynamic point of his life, his apostolate and teaching. Montfort arrived at that stage through contemplation of the salvific and irrevocable plan that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit realize in the fullness of time and will continue to realize as the history of salvation continues throughout the centuries: Christ came into the world through Mary, and through Mary he must reign in the world (cf. TD 1). Montfort brought these concerns together in perfect, harmonious agreement in the threefold acclamation that closes TD: "Glory to Jesus in Mary! Glory to Mary in Jesus! Glory to God alone!" (TD 265).
"The Father gave and still gives His Son only through her. . . . God the Son was prepared for mankind in general by her alone. Mary, in union with the Holy Spirit, still conceives him and brings him forth daily. It is through her alone that the Son distributes his merits and virtues. The Holy Spirit formed Jesus only through her, and he forms the members of the Mystical Body and dispenses his gifts and his favors only through her" (TD 140).
In this light of faith, the Trinitarian and primordial source of grace and holiness ("Glory to God alone!") becomes Christocentric ("Glory to Jesus in Mary!") and Marian ("Glory to Mary in Jesus!").
Montforts spiritual journey centers on, and can be summarized by, consecration to Jesus Christ: "God has laid no other foundation for our salvation, perfection, and glory than Jesus" (TD 61). "The most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus" (TD 120).10 This is why Montfort so often mentions Pauls exhortation to the Christians at Ephesus: "until all of us . . . come to the measure of the full stature of Christ" (Ep 4:13; cf. TD 33, 61, 119, 156, 164, 168; LEW 1, 214, 226).
From this emphasis on Christocentrism comes the ardent prayer (cf. TD 67) that rises in Montforts soul and that he invites us to recite each day in order to receive the gift of Christs love. It is tempting to connect this prayer to Pascals Memorial, the famous "night of fire" in the Year of Grace 1654. That same inflamed love for Christ gives rise in Montforts heart to his prayer to the Holy Spirit, requesting missionaries to live on the mountain that is Mary, "on which Jesus Christ, who dwells there forever, will teach them in his own words the meaning of the eight beatitudes. It is on this mountain that they will be transfigured as he was on Mount Thabor; that they will die with him as he died on Calvary, and from it, they will ascend to heaven as he did from the Mount of Olives" (PM 25). Love of Christ carries Montfort forward on his spiritual journey and in his intense missionary work: love of Christ, Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom; love of the Cross, the Eucharist, and the Heart of Christ, translated into preferential love for the poor.11
The Christocentrism of Montforts spirituality necessarily entails devotion to Mary: "The greatest means of all, and the most wonderful of all secrets for obtaining and preserving Divine Wisdom is a loving and genuine devotion to the Blessed Virgin" (LEW 203). Montforts approach has the allure of a syllogism in this well-known text: "As all perfection consists in our being conformed, united and consecrated to Jesus it naturally follows that the most perfect of all devotions is that which conforms, unites, and consecrates us most completely to Jesus. Now of all Gods creatures Mary is the most conformed to Jesus. It therefore follows that, of all devotions, devotion to her makes for the most effective consecration and conformity to him. The more one is consecrated to Mary, the more one is consecrated to Jesus" (TD 120). Montfort experiences this consecration to Mary in a progressive spiritual itinerary: "At the outset, Montfort views her in terms of affective human expressions. . . . Later, he is conscious of living in unity with the Virgin, who is wholly spirit, brought to life in the Trinitarian God: Mary is all . . . relative to God . . . she who does not exist except in relation to God . . . or the echo of God, saying and repeating only God. One must be a slave of Mary (consecrating oneself and sacrificing oneself entirely, without limit) before one can receive the Holy Spirit . . . which is to allow oneself to be molded by the Spirit in Christs image: They cast themselves in Mary and lose themselves in her in order to become the true portrait of Jesus Christ." 12
It should be emphatically noted that Montfort not only wrote about holiness; it was something he lived, a reality he strongly experienced. What he writes is for the most part autobiographical; he is sharing with his readers not an abstract way, but a path of holiness he himself has trod. "Experience alone will teach us the wonders wrought by Mary in the soul" (SM 57). Montfort similarly cites experience as the best introduction to the way of Mary: "Experience will teach you much more about this devotion than I can tell you, but, if you remain faithful to the little I have taught you, you will acquire a great richness of grace that will surprise you and fill you with delight" (SM 53).
3. His reputation for holiness
After Montforts death, the bishop of La Rochelle, Étienne de Champflour, wrote to Father Mulot: "I will always believe that he was a great saint before God. Wherever he preached, he was met with gratitude, esteem, and devotion."13 For his part, the bishop of Poitiers, Jean-Claude de la Poype, affirmed on November 29, 1718, that Montfort "gave us an admirable example of penance, prayer, zeal, and charity, over the several years that he lived in our diocese."14 Jean- Baptiste Blain tells the story of traveling as a pilgrim to the tomb of Louis Marie and encountering at Saint Laurent-sur-Sèvre, "crowds of pilgrims, from both near and far, who came to visit and honor the place where the body of the holy priest lay in repose."15 The reputation for holiness that accompanied Montfort from his youth and throughout his life, despite malicious rumors, grew and spread "through all of France" as we read in the decree on the heroic practice of his virtues.
II. Montforts Writings on Holiness
Montfort reveals to us the source of holiness (the Trinity), describes its origin (the Christian vocation), indicates its authors (the Holy Spirit working through the Mother of the Lord), reveals its marvelous secret (true devotion to Mary), proposes models of holiness (Christ, Mary, and the saints), reminds us of the necessity of mankinds cooperation in order to acquire it (the virtues), traces the development of its intensity (the three stages of the spiritual life), and speaks to us of its final goal (eternal life).
1. The sources of holiness
The source and origin of all holiness is the one and indivisible Trinity, in and through Christ. One page in TD is filled with Biblical passages that Montfort uses to emphasize Jesus central role in Christian life, e.g.: "For in him alone dwells the entire fullness of the divinity [Col 2:9] and the complete fullness of grace, virtue and perfection. In him alone we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing [Ep 1:3]" (TD 61).
In a hymn dedicated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Montfort invites Christians to draw on the sources of holiness in the Savior: "This is the source of life / On whom all the saints have drawn, / This is the beautiful fire / In which their hearts were embraced. / . . . Here is the most holy retreat / Where we avoid all transgression, / Here the most imperfect soul / Can easily become the most holy" (H: 40, 16, 18).
2. The origin of holiness
Above all, Montfort reminds mankind, which is created in the image of a living God and saved by the precious blood of Christ, that God wishes us to become saints on earth, like Christ, and to become a part of His glory for all eternity. "It is certain that growth in the holiness of God is your vocation. All your thoughts, words, actions, everything you suffer or undertake must lead you towards that end. Otherwise you are resisting God in not doing the work for which He created you and for which He is even now keeping you in being" (SM 3).
He goes on to define sainthood with an exaltation that is reminiscent of the opening of St. Teresa of Avilas Interior Castle, where she compares the beauty and dignity of the soul in Gods grace to a crystal that is completely transparent: "What a marvelous transformation is possible! Dust into light, uncleanness into purity, sinfulness into holiness, creature into Creator, man into God! A marvelous work, I repeat, so difficult in itself, and even impossible for a mere creature to bring about, for only God can accomplish it by giving his grace abundantly and extraordinarily. The very creation of the universe is not as great an achievement as this" (SM 3). Finally, in his role as a spiritual teacher, Montfort suggests the necessary means of attaining saintliness: "sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God. The grace and help of God are absolutely necessary for us to practice all these" (SM 45).
3. The Holy Spirit through Mary
Pope Paul VI referred to the "hidden relationship between the Spirit of God and the Virgin of Nazareth, and . . . the influence they exert on the Church" (MC 27). Montfort is noteworthy among spiritual theologians for his efforts to make this vital relationship between the Holy Spirit and Mary visible.16 In a classic passage from TD he reveals the links between Mary and the Holy Spirit in the Trinitarian economy of salvation as well as the reciprocal relationship between life in the Spirit and devotion to Mary: "God the Holy Spirit wishes to fashion his chosen ones in and through Mary. . . . The formation and the education of the great saints who will come at the end of the world are reserved to her, for only this singular and wondrous virgin can produce in union with the Holy Spirit singular and wondrous things. When the Holy Spirit . . . finds Mary in a soul, he hastens there and enters fully into it. He gives himself generously to that soul according to the place it has given to his spouse. One of the main reasons why the Holy Spirit does not now work striking wonders in souls is that he fails to find in them a sufficiently close union with his faithful and inseparable spouse" (TD 3436).
4. A secret of holiness
While it is true that Montfort believed that life in the Spirit and devotion to Mary are inseparable in any journey to Christian holiness (cf. TD 1442)specifically for those who are called to a particular perfection (cf. TD 4346), the children of Mary (cf. TD 56), and the apostles of the end times (cf. TD 4754)it is also true that in his Marian writings Montfort proposes and recommends a special form of holiness that he calls "perfect devotion to Mary," the keynote of his own spirituality.17 Here is how he describes this secret of holiness, the filial sacrifice in Marys hands: "I have seen many devout souls searching for Jesus in one way or another, and so often when they have worked hard throughout the night, all they can say is, Despite our having worked all night, we have caught nothing. . . . But if we follow the immaculate path of Mary, living the devotion that I teach, we will always work in daylight, we will work in a holy place, and we will work but little. There is no darkness in Mary, not even the slightest shadow since there was never any sin in her. She is a holy place, a holy of holies, in which saints are formed and molded" (TD 218).
In his hymns, Montfort speaks of receiving grace and gaining happiness for having discovered such a marvelous secret of saintliness: "All through her / Nothing without her, / This is my secret / For becoming perfect" (H 75:9); "I do all things through her. / This is the surest way / To do Gods will, the spur / And key to sanctity" (H 77:19).
5. Models of holiness
Montfort is a teacher, an expert in the spiritual life: he educates us in holiness not only by teaching a sound ascetic and mystical theology but also by providing us with models of such holiness.
a. Jesus Christ.
Jesus is the teacher and the exemplar of all Christian sainthood. Montfort asserts this vigorously in both LEW and TD: "Eternal Wisdom alone enlightens every man that comes into this world. He alone came from heaven to teach the secrets of God. We have no real teacher except the incarnate Wisdom, whose name is Jesus Christ. He alone brings all the works of God to perfection, especially the saints, for he shows them what they must do and teaches them to appreciate and put into practice all he has taught them" (LEW 56). Montfort again emphasizes the unique mediation of Christ in the order of salvation and holiness: Jesus Christ "is the only teacher from whom we must learn; the only Lord on whom we should depend; the only Head to whom we should be united and the only model that we should imitate" (TD 61).
In his hymns, Montfort describes Jesus as a model of humility (H 8:9 10), tenderness (H 9:311), obedience (H 10:58), patience (H 11:1314; 41:137), charity toward others (H 14:11, 40), prayer (H 5:10), poverty (H 20:28), silence (H 23:18), thankfulness (H 26:6), modesty (H 25:6), and love of the Cross (H 19:6.912).
For Montfort, Mary is "the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows" (TD 260). Since Mary is the "great queen of virtue" (H 4:22), the Christian must imitate all of her virtues, and particularly her ten primary virtues: "deep humility, lively faith, blind obedience, unceasing prayer, constant self-denial, surpassing purity, ardent love, heroic patience, angelic kindness, and heavenly wisdom" (TD 108). Montfort mentions several of Marys other virtues that the Christian should imitate: poverty (H 25:89), silence and ability to listen (H 23:19), modesty (H 25:89), thankfulness (H 26:11 12, 24), and her abandonment to Providence (H 28:17).
c. The saints.
The saints are also exemplary models of Christian perfection: "The saints seek perfection, full of ardor, / for their grandeur and beatitude; / Unhappy are they who do not have this (desire) / Or who do not make the saints / Their principal study here below!" (H 4:8).
Among the virtues of the saints, we must imitate:18 the splendor of their humility (H 8:15), the charm of their tenderness (H 9:14), the excellence of their obedience (H 10:10), their strength of patience (H 11:19), the beauty of their virginity (H 12:16), the necessity of their penance (H 13: 8, 11), the tenderness of their brotherly charity (H 14:1315), their joy of pardon (H 14:37), their blessed solitude (H 5:36), the frequency of their prayer (H 15:10), their power of fasting (H 16:6), the generosity of their alms (H 17:11), their love for the Cross (H 19:1517; H 37:91), the treasures of their poverty (H 20:15 16), the flame of their zeal (H 24:16), the wisdom of their silence (H 23:2), their experience of the presence of God (H 24:12), the pleasant appeal of their modesty (H 25:10), their thankfulness (H 26:8), their abandonment to Providence (H 28:1718), and even their innocent games (H 30:3).
In all, fifty saints are mentioned in Montforts writings.
(a.) Of these, just over half are listed in SR: Agnes (128), Augustine (37, 40, 53, 88), Albert the Great (88), Alphonsus Rodriguez (25), Antoninus (51), Bonaventure (30, 53), Bridget (72), Charles Borromeo (80), Catherine the martyr (128), Cyprian of Carthage (36), Dominic (11, 16, 19, 20, 22, 26, 31, 51, 61, 66, 79, 90), Francis of Assisi (25, 32, 130), Francis Borgia (80), Francis de Sales (80, 130), Francis Xavier (8), Gertrude the Great (54), Jerome (40, 73), Gregory of Nyssa (65), Louis IX, king of France (98), Mechtilde of Helft (48), Michael the archangel (79, 81), Peter of Verona (34), Pius V (80, 93), Teresa of Avila (8), Thomas Aquinas (69, 76, 88), Thomas of Villanova (80).
(b.) Those named in True Devotion are: Augustine (8, 33, 40, 67, 127, 145, 219, 230), Alphonsus Rodriguez (258), Ambrose (217, 258), Anselm of Canterbury (40, 76), Bernardine of Siena (27, 40, 76, 141, 152), Bernard (27, 40, 76, 141, 152), Bonaventure (8, 27, 40, 75, 85, 86, 116, 152, 174), Cecilia (170), Cyril of Jerusalem (40), Dominic (42, 249, 250), Ephrem (40, 153), Francis of Assisi (42), Francis de Sales (152), Germanus of Constantinople (40), John Capistran (249), John Damascene (40, 41, 152, 182), Gregory the Great (199, 226), Laurence the martyr (222), Michael the archangel (8), Odilo (159), Thomas Aquinas (40, 127), Vincent Ferrer (48).
(c.) In The Love of Eternal Wisdom: Augustine (30, 213), the Apostle Andrew (175), Arsenius the Great (200), Carpas (130), Francis of Assisi (166), Francis of Paula (166), John Chrysostom (9, 21, 175), John of the Cross (177), Gregory the Great (60), the Apostle Peter (175), Peter of Alcantara (177), Teresa of Avila (177), Thomas Aquinas (94, 163).
(d.) In The Secret of Mary: Augustine (14), Ambrose (54), Bernardine of Siena (10), Bernard (10), Thomas Aquinas (23).
(e.) In the Prayer for Missionaries: Francis of Paula (2), Catherine of Siena (27), Dominic (12), Michael the archangel (28), Vincent Ferrer (2).
(f.) Finally, in the Letter to the Friends of the Cross: Augustine (58), Catherine of Siena (27), Elizabeth of Hungary (54), John Chrysostom (37), Ignatius the martyr (32, 34).
Montfort spoke prophetically of the Marian secret of sainthood and had a natural sympathy for saints who, like himself, had followed the virginal and immaculate way of Mary to grow in wisdom, maturity, and holiness: "There have been some saints, not very many, such as St. Ephrem, St. John Damascene, St. Bernard, St. Bernardine, St. Bonaventure, and St. Francis de Sales, who have taken this smooth path to Jesus Christ, because the Holy Spirit, the faithful Spouse of Mary, makes it known to them by a special grace. The other saints, who are the greater number, while having a devotion to Mary, either did not enter or did not go very far along this path. That is why they had to undergo harder and more dangerous trials" (TD 152). Drawing on this observation, Montfort formulates a new argument for Christians to embrace perfect devotion to Mary: it is an easy way "of attaining union with our Lord, in which Christian perfection consists" (TD 152).
6. Cooperation needed
Everyone in the Church is called to saintliness. But sainthood is expressed through the external manifestation of virtuous acts. For this reason, "the saints seek perfection, full of ardor, / for their grandeur and beatitude" (H 4:8). "Through virtue the saints have / Consummated all their plans" (H 36:68). "Without virtue, all is lost" (H 4:14). We must thus abandon the worldly spirit that prevents us from becoming holy (H 29:27) and subdue our concern about the opinions of others (H 38:120). Montfort speaks of "poor saints" (H 23:33), hypocrites who waste their time chattering before God, blind persons whose false holiness will lead them to perdition (cf. H 23:33).
Devotion to Mary must be holy; only then will it lead those who practice it to avoid sin and to imitate the virtues of the Virgin (cf. TD 108). Those who wish to be virtuous must remember that Mary is the queen of virtue (cf. H 4:22): we must request virtue of her, and from her we shall receive it (cf. H 104:8). We must follow the example and the virtue of the saints: "We must confound our lack of courage / By contemplating the holiness / Of all the saints, our brothers. / Beside these powerful giants, / We are idle dwarves, / Filled with human misery. / They are made of iron and fire, / And we are fragile as glass before God" (H 4:19).
Among the numerous virtues that Montfort considers part of a spiritual path, two in particular should be emphasized: obedience, which Montfort describes to the Company of Mary as "the foundation and unshakable support of all its holiness" (RM 19), and charity, which "in itself contains / The most perfect holiness. / It is the fulfillment of the law; / Without it, there is no law" (H 14:6; cf. H 17:29).
7. The development of sanctity
Montforts spirituality is dynamic: those who adopt it are introduced to the itinerary of spirituality and accompanied throughout their journey; it guides Christians through the stages of (a) purification, (b) illumination, and (c) union. The month-long exercises in preparation for consecration to Jesus by the hands of Mary (outlined by Montfort in TD 22733) reveal this path of (a) purification: liberating oneself from the worldly spirit that is counter to the spirit of Jesus Christ; (b) illumination: charismatic knowledge of Mary and of her way of living, dynamic presence in the mystery of Christ and the Church, and thus in the spiritual life of the Christian; and (c) union: filling oneself with Jesus Christ by means of Mary.
The Marian element of Montfort spirituality, far from diminishing the dynamism of this march toward saintliness, in fact enhances it. In order to describe this dynamism, Montfort invokes the Biblical narrative of Rebecca and Jacob, in which he sees depicted a life of consecration to Jesus Christ by the hands of Mary: "What does this good Mother do when we have presented and consecrated to her our soul and body and all that pertains to them without excepting anything? Just what Rebecca of old did to the little goats Jacob brought her. (a) She kills them, that is, makes them die to the life of the old Adam. (b) She strips them of their skin, that is, of their natural inclinations, their self-love and self-will and their every attachment to creatures. (c) She cleanses them from all stain, impurity and sin. (d) She prepares them to Gods taste and to his greater glory" (TD 205).
This purification is followed by illumination: "Once this good Mother . . . has stripped us of our own garments, she cleanses us and makes us worthy to appear without shame before our heavenly Father. . . . She clothes us in the clean, new, precious and fragrant garments of Esau, the first born, namely, her Son Jesus Christ. . . . Finally, Mary obtains for them the heavenly Fathers blessing" (TD 206207). We are thus led to union with Christ (cf. TD 152168): "Furthermore, once Mary has heaped her favors upon her children and her faithful servants and has secured for them the blessing of the heavenly Father and union with Jesus Christ, she keeps them in Jesus and keeps Jesus in them. She guards them, watching over them unceasingly, lest they lose the grace of God and fall into the snares of their enemies. She keeps the saints in their fullness (St. Bonaventure), and inspires them to persevere to the end" (TD 212).
8. The goal of sanctity
If "Mary raises up, develops, and crowns the saints,"19 and if the death of the saints is their dies natalis, then their entire life must be considered their formation in the womb of Mary, mother in the order of grace. On this subject, Montfort writes, "St. Augustine, surpassing himself as well as all that I have said so far, affirms that in order to be conformed to the image of the Son of God all the predestinate, while in the world, are hidden in the womb of the Blessed Virgin where they are protected, nourished, cared for and developed by this good Mother, until the day she brings them forth to a life of glory after death, which the Church calls the birthday of the just" (TD 33).
But the fact that the saints dwell in Marys womb does not mean that they are passive and inert. We must imitate Marys virtues until the end. For Montfort, the greatest inducement to embrace perfect devotion to Mary is that it is "a wonderful means of persevering in the practice of virtue and of remaining steadfast" (TD 173). He places these consoling words on the lips of the Virgin: "Happy are those who practice my virtues and who, with the help of Gods grace, follow the path of my life. They are happy in this world because of the abundance of grace and sweetness I impart to them out of my fullness, and which they receive more abundantly than others who do not imitate me so closely. They are happy at the hour of death which is sweet and peaceful for I am usually there myself to lead them home to everlasting joy. Finally, they will be happy for all eternity, because no servant of mine who imitated my virtues during life has ever been lost" (TD 200).
III. Montfort, Founder of a School of Spirituality?
The conviction is ever-growing that Saint Louis de Montfort founded a school of spirituality, an outgrowth of the Bérullian school and of many other strands of holiness in the Church.
1. The Montfort spiritual tradition
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II includes Saint Louis Marie de Montfort among the many witnesses and teachers of Marian spirituality, and describes the specific nature of this spirituality: "Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort . . . proposes consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary, as an effective means for Christians to live faithfully their baptismal commitments" (RMat 48). Fundamentally, of course, there is only one uniform school of Christian spirituality in the Church. However, the Spirit, "according to His own richness and the needs of the ministries, distributes His different gifts for the welfare of the Church" (LG 7). In this sense, we can speak of diverse forms or schools of Christian spirituality.
In his book The Spiritual Life at the School of the Blessed Louis Marie de Montfort, A. Lhoumeau discerns in Montforts teaching a true "system of spirituality."20 "A century later, Lhoumeaus assessment remains completely valid, and the numerous and ever-multiplying studies of Montforts works since that time have demonstrated that this assessment rests on an increasingly sure foundation. A. Martinelli, for example, has asserted that Montforts TD forms the "basis for modern Marian spirituality."21 For his part, John Paul II has invited us to be faithful "to the inexhaustible source of spirituality that Montfort left for us, by teaching us the meaning of true devotion to Mary."22
Deville recently described Montfort as one of the great heirs of the Bérullian school. He summarizes Montforts mission and his particular grace as follows: "In many aspects of his thought and teaching, Montfort remains one of the best witnesses of the French School; Brémond unhesitatingly referred to him as the last of the great Bérullians. He is certainly a part of the Bérullian tradition, but with his own particular emphases, notably on the subject of eternal Wisdom. He colors and enriches that tradition . . . with his long, loving contemplation of the Wisdom of God, which is the person of the Word incarnate." Deville also observed that, among the teachers of what is called the French School, and perhaps "among all of the saints, Grignion de Montfort has probably done the most to put this theological study of devotion to Mary at the service of the lives of the most ordinary Christians. John Paul II, a great reader of True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin, could say: Grignion de Montfort introduces us to the ordering of the mysteries in which our faith lives, enabling it to grow and become fruitful."23
Among the elements that make up Montfort spirituality, the dominant motifs are the Trinitarian, Christocentric, and Spirit-filled elements that characterize Montforts pedagogy of baptism. His missionary work and his writings were all concerned with preparing for the reign of Jesus Christ and with renewing personal consecration to Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom. And the Marian element is intertwined throughout his thinking. On the subject of Marys presence in Gods salvific plan, Montfort suggests that we live with, in, and for Mary, the mother and model of Christian life, to experience the fundamental, constitutive consecration of baptism into Christ Jesus. This synthesis can be expressed as follows: "Montfort received in the Church the charism to express, with great vigor, the marvels and demands of baptism, which consecrates us to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and at the same time to illuminate clearly the theological and pastoral value of true devotion to the Mother of the Lord. With this secret of grace, we can become alive to the duties that our covenant with God entails and that make us Christians, and thus to the fundamental consecration of baptism."24
In this way, the path of holiness that Montfort describes becomes the path that baptism laid down before us. Thus, with Gods help, we must maintain and perfect the holiness that becomes ours when we receive this sacrament of spiritual rebirth. By renewing his or her baptismal promises in the hands of Mary, the disciple of Montfort will journey toward holiness, conscious "of his elevation, or rather, of his rebirth to the most happy reality of being the adopted Son of God, to the dignity of being a brother or sister of Christ, to the grace and joy of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, to the vocation to a new life."25 The itinerary that Montfort proposes can thus be called an easy, short, perfect, and certain path, open to everyone, a path to sainthood for "daily . . . or ordinary time." If trust in Mary "makes us give Jesus and Mary all our thoughts, words, actions, and sufferings and every moment of our lives without exception" (TD 136), then the consecrated Christian finds comfort in the thought that "everything is done for Jesus and Mary. Our offering always holds good . . . unless we explicitly retract it" (TD 136).
2. Following the Montfort way of holiness
From the time of the rediscovery of TD in 1842 until today, many have followed the path that Montfort proposed.
We can agree that "Montfort spirituality has been accepted by and given a place of honor in the contemporary Church. No book or dictionary on spirituality can ignore him."26 It surely could be said that the deep, renewed devotion to Our Lady so resembles Montforts thought that he could well be named its precursor.
In his encyclical Redemptoris Mater, John Paul II notes that "in our own time too new manifestations of this spirituality and devotion are not lacking" (RMat 48). John Paul IIs example and word, signified by his motto "Totus tuus," invite the twentieth-century Church to scrutinize and carry out Montforts spiritual message as a path toward Christian holiness.27 The Pope himself has expressed this message in new and personal terms based on his own experience: "Grignion de Montfort even shows us the working of the mysteries which quicken our faith and make it grow and render it fruitful. The more my inner life has been centered on the mystery of the Redemption, the more surrender to Mary, in the spirit of Saint Louis de Montfort, has seemed to me the best means of participating fruitfully and effectively in this reality, in order to draw from it and share with others its inexpressible riches."28 In these words of John Paul II we can hear a distant echo of Paul VIs exhortation to the Montfort family on January 31, 1973, the three-hundredth anniversary of Montforts birth: "There are still greater secrets of your Father to be discovered; you must live and proclaim Jesus Christ, eternal Wisdom; you must bring others to know and love Mary as the surest path to Jesus."
If it is true that "Saint Louis-Marie de Montforts spiritual legacy has been received by countless souls, even beyond the religious congregations he founded"; if it is also true that "the Montfort movement is strengthening, extending throughout the world" and that "new forms of social communication are accelerating and multiplying the spread of Montforts message in the world,"29 then we must rejoice with all our hearts. This heralds a new springtime of holiness.
Notes: (1) According to Grandet (p. 45), Louis-Marie first used the name "de Montfort" in a letter to his sister Guyonne-Jeanne (L 12, October 1702). On August 28, 1704, in a letter to his mother, he called himself simply "Montfort": ". . . Montfort would be the envy of the richest and most powerful kings on earth" (L 20). (2) A. Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort . . . (Life of the venerable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort), Oudin, Poitiers-Paris 1875, 12. (3) De Fiores, Itinerario, 4. (4) G. De Luca, Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort. Saggio biografico (Biographical Essay), 2nd ed., Edizioni di storia e letterature, Rome 1985, 152. (5) Ibid,. 85. (6) H. Daniel. Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. Ce quil fut, ce qud fite, (St. Louis de Montfort, Who He was and What He Did), Téqui, Toulouse 1967. 27. (7) Blain, 227. (8) De Fiores, 264. (9) Pius XII, Discourse of the pilgrims gathered for the Canonization of St. Louis- Marie de Montfort, July 21, 1947, in AAS 39 (1947), 411. (10) The first authentic title for the manuscript of TD was "The perfect consecration to Jesus Christ" (TD 120). Montfort wrote it in large letters to indicate its importance. (11) Apart from LEW and FC, one can find various hymns that Montfort composed in honor of Christs passion and Cross, the Eucharist, and the Sacred Heart of Jesus. In RM 7, Montfort exhorts his missionaries to share in "the most tender inclinations of the heart of Jesus, their model." (12) T. Goffi, P. Zovatto, La spiritualità del Settecento (The Spirituality of the Eighteenth Century), Edizioni dehoniane, Bologna 1990 175176. (13) Grandet, 440. (14) Grandet, 440. (15) Blain, 201. (16) Cf. S. De Fiores, "Le Saint- Esprit et Marie chez Grignion de Montfort" (The Holy Spirit and Mary in Grignion de Montfort) in CM 20 (1975), n. 99, 195216. (17) A. Rum, "La spiritualità mariana di s. Luigi Maria Grignion de Montfort," (The Marian Spirituality of Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort) in E. Ancilli, ed., Le grandi scuole della spiritualità cristiana (The Great Schools of Christian Spirituality), Edizioni O.C.D., Rome 1984, 577 596. (18) Often, in the margin of his hymns, Montfort wrote, "The examples of the saints." (19) Pius XI, for the canonization of Jeanne Antide Thouret. (20) A. Lhoumeau, La vie spirituelle a lécole du Bx. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (The Spiritual Life at the School of Blessed Louis Marie de Montfort), Oudin, Paris 1901). (21) In Palestra del Clero, February 1965, 207. (22) John Paul II, To the General Chapter of the Brothers of Saint Gabriel, 1985. (23) R. Deville, Lécole française de spiritualité (The French school of spirituality), Desclée, Paris 1987, 162. (24) A. Rum, La spiritualità, 584. (25) Paul VI, Encyclical Ecclesiam suam, August 6, 1964, 23. (26) Ibid., 591. (27) Cf. M. Comin, "Movimento mariano monfortano," (Montfort Marian Movement) in A. Favale, ed., Presenza di Maria nelle aggregazioni ecclesiali contemporanee (Presence of Mary in the contemporary ecclesial societies), LDC, Leumann 1985, 1528. This article gives an insight into the influence of Montfort Marian spirituality on the progress of the Church. (28) A. Frossard, "Be Not Afraid!": Pope John Paul II Speaks Out on his Life, his Beliefs, and his Inspiring Vision for Humanity, St. Martins Press, New York 1984, 126. (29) B. Cortinovis, "Presentazione" (Presentation), in S. Luigi Maria da Montfort, Opere (Works) vol. I: Scritti spirituali (Spiritual Writings), Edizioni monfortane, Rome 1990.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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