JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Tenderness in the Life of Montfort: 1. A violent person with tender gestures; 2. Tenderness as an apostolic strategy. II. The Writings of Montfort on Tenderness; 1. In keeping with his time; 2. The place of tenderness in the works of Montfort: a. The tenderness of Wisdom; b. The tenderness of Mary. III. For a Spirituality of Tenderness.
I. TENDERNESS IN THE LIFE OF MONTFORT
To speak of the tenderness and gentleness of Saint Louis de Montfort may astound some people, since he thought of himself as the most terrible man of his century. The life of this missionary was a harsh conquest of himself, a continual struggle to transform himself into the image of Christ, in order to be humble and gentle / and to walk in his footsteps (H 9:27). It is surprising to note the important place given to tenderness in the first as well as the last writings of Louis de Montfort. This man, called at times excessive, violent, and quick tempered, has left us a secret through his writings on the tenderness of Jesus and of Mary. His tenderness and gentleness give us pause in the midst of a world of violence, war, and aggression.
1. A violent person with tender gestures
Born of a quick-tempered father and a patient mother for whom he had a particular affection, Montfort was endowed with a strong and vigorous constitution. The first of his gestures that his biographers record are, nevertheless, stamped with tenderness. As a child, he consoled and encouraged his mother to endure her sufferings patiently.1 Grandet recounts this same affectionate concern toward his favorite sister, Guyonne-Jeanne. Although Montfort had a tendency toward anger, Blain insists on his great tenderness and docility. As an adolescent, he distinguished himself by novel and radical manifestations of compassion towards the poor. Whether at Rennes, at Cesson, at Paris, or at Poitiers, this young man with a fearsome temperament loved the neglected with tenderness and an excessive and passionate affection. His friend Blain once even came upon him as he embraced and washed the feet of a poor person.
The temperament of Montfort underwent severe trials. His directors at Saint-Sulpice, particularly Leschassier and Brenier, made him undergo deeply felt humiliations: He approached his persecutor in a joyful manner as though to thank him, and he spoke candidly to him as though he had been flattered.2 The tenderness of this young man, who was naturally violent, could be called heroic. It seems that by the end of his seminary training, he learned that striving for evangelical meekness must become one of the pillars of his personal commitment to sanctity.3 He joyfully sang: A saint is entirely affable, / tender, courteous, charming, / kindly, agreeable, / without any sign of anger (H 9:17).
Even in his worst trials, as in the destruction of the Calvary of Pontchateau, he tried to maintain a semblance of tenderness. It had become for him a road to sanctity: This peace, assured Father de Préfontaine, this tranquility, this evenness of disposition from which he did not swerve during eight days astounded me. . . . This patience . . . , the serenity, the joy itself which appeared on his face despite a shock so crushing for him, made me regard him as a saint.4
During his whole life, Montfort made unheard of efforts to conquer his impulses. Des Bastières did not hesitate to compare him to St. Francis de Sales: That is the character of Father de Montfort . . . he made unbelievable efforts to overcome his natural impetuosity; he came to terms with himself and acquired a charming virtue of tenderness.5
This long journey, this laborious work on himself, transformed his personal relationships: Bearing in mind what he himself was and what the mentality of his time was, his evolution seems to be a human success, a great success.6
This did not keep him from making, till the time of his death, what appear to us to be hasty and odd remarks, and from performing extreme (from todays point of view) penances. But his experience among the poor, the sinners, and the little ones made him ever more human and more capable of understanding others and of sharing in their sufferings and their weaknesses. In this harsh combat waged against himself, a new man appeared: his explosive reactions became rarer, and he became more and more open and receptive. His trials made him gentler and more compassionate. His gentle features were transformed into features of goodness which today could be called humane. A letter of Madame dOriou, whom he knew toward the end of his life, bears witness to this long maturation: He took everything happily, and conveyed to me, joyfully, very gentle moral principles . . . I never found in him any scrupulosity, either for himself or for others. He had only what every true Christian ought to have, and always: great tenderness. Although he was born with a very quick temperament, he was always master of himself in everything.7
At the time that he met with Marie Louise Trichet to confirm her as Superior of the Daughters of Wisdom, it was to tenderness that he exhorted her: You must be very firm, but tenderness should prevail over the rest. Besnard attests that Marie Louise gave much attention to and showed great affection toward all her daughters, as Montfort had recommended: It was through her tenderness that she was able to support for more than forty years, the various moods of so many of her daughters. She sought them out, spoke to them with a goodness and tenderness that disarmed them . . . . It had to be without a doubt, that Sister Marie of Jesus acquired a great control over herself and a heroic tenderness so as to maintain, in the midst of so many contradictions, her peace of soul and her equanimity of behavior which were manifested in her whole being.8
2. Tenderness as an apostolic strategy
At the hospital at Poitiers, where he lived as one of the poor, we can see that Montfort had a special gift for accommodating the poor without approving of their conduct: I tell them frankly, though gently, their faults which are, drunkenness, quarreling, and scandalous behavior. (L 11). To reproach with zeal and tenderness those who offended God were the main concerns of Montfort, who preached ceaslessly the mercy of God (which did not always please the bishops or certain Jansenist priests). According to Father de Préfontaine, he had a gift and an extraordinary grace to win hearts.
His tenderness toward sinners did not hinder his apostolic daring, which sometimes incited him to rather violent actions at the time of his missions. At Roussay, he broke open the doors of a tavern, overturned the tables, and led the people to the Church; at La Rochelle, he dared to break into houses of prostitution, and from the pulpit he would thunder against blasphemers, swearers, and those who sang wicked songs. Father des Bastières maintains, nevertheless, that in these missions, he was both tender and firm. This is also the picture that Montfort portrays of himself: I support mightily / the weak person close to falling, / I take him back gently, / without fear that he will persecute me, / but to stop sin, / I will be very firm (H 38:124)
It is in the confessional that he seems to practice best a tenderness marked with firmness: I would prefer to suffer in purgatory for having had too much tenderness toward my penitents, than to have treated them with hopeless severity.9 His gestures of tenderness toward the poor and sinners, his sermons, which touched the hearts of his audience, led the crowds to call him The good Father from Montfort. This man, capable of a violent temper, was sincerely moved by a repentant lay brother who had harmed him: he received him with angelic tenderness, and addressed him in such a touching way that the poor young man, having admitted his fault, cried bitterly.10
For Montfort, the difficulties, the attacks on his missions were occasions to delight in the love of God for him: Both men and demons in this great city of Paris are waging war against me, a war that I find sweet and welcome. Let them slander me, destroy my good name, put me in prison, these are precious gifts, tasty morsels, great and wonderful things. (L 16) He revealed the secret of Wisdom and sanctity in his missions and in the confessional by his gestures, his words, and his writings. If he preached tenderness it is because he was convinced that his action had an influence on hearts: conversion is at the center of the mission of Montfort, who spares nothing so that the penitent can turn to God. The hymns he composed on the tenderness of Jesus often included reference to the tenderness and mercy of God toward sinners; it was evident that he wanted to put into practice what he wrote: But how describe the tenderness of Jesus in his dealings with poor sinners: his tenderness with Mary Magdalene, his courteous solicitude in turning the Samaritan woman from her evil ways, his compassion in pardoning the adulterous woman taken in adultery, his charity in sitting down to eat with public sinners in order to win them over? (LEW 125).
This apostolic strategy he passed onto Marie Louise. Besnard has described her practices of tenderness: It was by her tenderness that she gained the confidence of the poor and the sick in all the hospitals where she resided and they looked upon her as their mother.11
II. THE WRITINGS OF MONTFORT ON TENDERNESS
It is surprising to note how often the theme of tenderness appears in the works of Montfort. What interests Montfort is not so much the virtue of tenderness as the tenderness of God, of Wisdom, and of Mary. There are no systematic exhortations on tenderness, but instead long contemplations of God, which resulted in TD, LEW Hymn 9, and his sermon on The Love and Tenderness of Jesus. (LS, 1st part, 80-40).
1. In keeping with his time
During his years of study at Rennes and more so at Paris, he read all the spiritual writers of his time, including Olier, Bérulle, Nouet, Saint-Jure, and Surin. With these authors tenderness was very important. In a century when the image of a distant, all-powerful, and majestic God was stressed, it is surprising to find tenderness come forward as an outstanding virtue, one that encompasses all the others: The virtue of tenderness is the summation of Christianity, for it presupposes, in itself, the destruction of all self interest as was done by Jesus Christ.12
Father Saint-Jure and Father Nouet, whose works13 had a profound and noticeable influence on Montfort, strongly insisted on the acquisition of goodness and graciousness: Tenderness is a characteristic of saints and sign of predestination.14 Bérulle, who had a strong influence on the spirituality of his time through his preaching on devotion to the mysteries of the infancy of Jesus, had also written a chapter on goodness. For him, one had to be aware of Jesus Christ and pay heed to his humility, his charity, and his goodness: one had to open ones heart to them, so as to be marked by them . . . His tenderness tends to make us tender.15
Among the authors Montfort consulted, tenderness was defined as docility, meekness, or a filial abandonment to the will of God and a conquering of aggressive tendencies. The spirituality of the seventeenth century considered tenderness as a private virtue that invites one to imitate a God who became incarnate, made Himself a little one, and worked to win hearts by His tenderness. This virtue was interpreted by spiritual writers as a demanding love for ones neighbor, and supposed a total renouncement of self: This tenderness is but a participation in that of God. It is an essential tenderness and when it renders the soul a participant, it is so fundamental to the soul that there is no longer anything of the body or the soul . . . to the extent that all that transpires is accomplished in tenderness.16
2. The place of tenderness in the work of Montfort
Like his spiritual masters, Montfort dared to suppose the nearness of the All-Holy God and insisted on the tenderness of Wisdom and of Mary. It is from the aspect of tenderness that he presents all the mystery of a God who became incarnate through love. If Chapters X and XI of The Love of the Eternal Wisdom go into long detail about the charming beauty and ineffable tenderness of Incarnate Wisdom, the first chapters of this treatise speak of the tenderness of Eternal Wisdom who is of himself tender, approachable, and winning (LEW 5). For Montfort there is nothing so tender as Wisdom (LEW 53), whom he calls tender conqueror (LEW 5).
a. The tenderness of Wisdom.
There are almost fifty occurrences of the terms tenderness, meekness in LEW. The chapters on tenderness in LEW were largely inspired by the writings of Father Nouet, which Montfort had summarized during his years of study. In The Man of Prayer, Nouet develops the charms and tenderness of Jesus.17 It is to Wisdom that Montfort attributes this virtue; not only to Incarnate Wisdom, but also to Eternal Wisdom. Contrary to Nouet, Montfort connected beauty to the tenderness of Incarnate Wisdom (cf. GA pp. 562-566). Although inspired by Nouet and Saint-Jure, Montfort had his own logical outline and describes the tenderness of Wisdom in eternity, before his incarnation, at the time of his incarnation, during his life on earth, and in his glorious life: Wisdom was born of the tenderest, the gentlest, and the most beautiful of all mothers . . . because he is Eternal Wisdom, tenderness and beauty itself (LEW 118); There came from his eyes and his countenance a ray of beauty so tender (LEW 121). The combinations of tenderness and beauty, tenderness and gentleness, and tenderness and love are often inseparable when Montfort speaks of Mary or of Wisdom. The tenderness of Wisdom is subordinate to his love, so humanity may love God and allow itself to be drawn to him: With this knowledge of Eternal Wisdom, shall we not love him who has loved us and still loves us more than his own life; and whose beauty and tenderness surpass all that is loveliest and most attractive in heaven and on earth? (LEW 131).
In his Sermon (LS pp. 3235; cf. GA pp. 562-566) it is with love that tenderness is closely associated: Of the love and of the tenderness of Jesus. On the other hand, the outline is practically the same as in the tenth and eleventh chapters of LEW. Hymn 9 takes up this contemplation of the tenderness of Jesus in his exterior, his childhood, and his conduct and adds that the Christian should practice this tenderness according to the example of the saints. For Montfort, tenderness is the most excellent quality of the heart. It is through tenderness that one wins the heart of God, the heart of ones neighbor, and the hearts of sinners. In this same Hymn, one can find the themes that inspire Montfort to practice tenderness, including the desire to imitate Jesus in his tenderness: I am, in my behavior / rough as a bull; / make me in following him / as gentle as a lamb (H 9:28); I am full of anger / pardon me, Lord (H 9:27); When someone angers you / suffer all gently. . . . Tenderness has, in itself / a secret power / Which makes for all a rule / a perfect peace (H 9:24).
In Hymn 41, when Father de Montfort sings of the loving excess of the heart of Jesus, he teaches that tenderness is the fruit of love, which prescribes a most gentle behavior. Here charity and tenderness merge: How tender and approachable is his heart. / He speaks with little children; / how courteous and charitable he is / How exalted is his appearance! (H 41:14); With what poise and wisdom / This heart full of goodness / wins over the sinner / It is a miracle of charity (H 41:18). In imitation of Divine Wisdom, the wise man should be graciously firm and firmly gracious (LEW 53).
The whole life of Christ is viewed in the light of tenderness in LEW in the Sermon, and in Hymn 9.
The frequent references by Montfort to the tenderness of the heart of God and of the heart of Jesus lead us to believe they are not the simple reflections of youth, much less the manifestations of an unbalanced person who transfers his feminine fantasies to God. The notion of tenderness occurs constantly in the work of Montfort. It developed, however, as he contemplated Christ in his mysteries and in his hidden and public life. And he considers the Cross of Christ as the ultimate tenderness: I am content and happy in all my troubles, and I do not believe there is anything in the world sweeter for me than the bitterest cross when it is steeped in the blood of Jesus crucified (L 26).
b. The Tenderness of Mary.
If, as J. B. Blain points out, the love of Mary was inborn in Louis Grignon, it was equally manifested by a most tender piety toward his beloved Mother, his good and dear Mother, as he liked to call her. His affectionate relationship with Mary is evidenced in a language both mystical and realistic: The Blessed Virgin, mother of tenderness and mercy, never allows herself to be surpassed in love and generosity. When she sees someone giving himself entirely to her in order to honor and serve her . . . she gives herself completely in a wondrous manner to him (TD 144).
Montfort also portrays in affectionate language the conduct that should mark a true devotee of Mary: they rely on her mercy and kindness to obtain forgiveness for their sins through her intercession and to experience her motherly comfort in their troubles and anxieties (TD 199).
Montfort understood that God comes to us through Mary, He communicates Himself to us gently through her, and she leads us to Jesus with the tenderness of a mother: She is his mystic channel, his aqueduct, through which he causes his mercies to flow gently and abundantly (TD 24). The tenderness of Mary is made most explicit when Montfort speaks of Mary as one who makes the cross bearable. He attributes to Mary the precious gift of crosses: Mary, as Mother of the living, gives to all her children splinters of the tree of life, which is the cross of Jesus (SM 22). But she also sweetens the bitterness: This good Mother . . . dips all the crosses she prepares for them in the honey of her maternal sweetness and the unction of pure love (TD 154). This language conveys how intensely true devotion to Mary is stamped with tenderness and gentleness (cf. TD 107). She is like an evangelical echo of the words of Jesus: Take my yoke upon your shoulders and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart. Your souls will find rest (Mt 11:29).
Tenderness is very often expressed in feminine and maternal images. Saint Louis de Montfort also sings without reserve of the tenderness of the Father, His goodness, His gentleness: He is my dearest Father, / He takes great care of me, / He holds me close to him, / He helps me in my distress. . . . /His tenderness caresses me / His grace cures me . . . God alone is my tenderness, / God alone is my support (H 52:8, 10, 11). You will look upon him as a loving Father and endeavor to please him at all times. You will speak trustfully to him as a child does to its Father. (TD 215) The filial love full of tenderness and gentleness, which he expressed in his first work LEW, is again present in the work of his maturity, TD.
III. FOR A SPIRITUALITY OF TENDERNESS
It would appear that the message of Montfort on gentleness and tenderness is quite relevant for todays world. Without locking ourselves into the flowery language of another century, we can, through an attentive reading of Montfort, rediscover the prodigious beauty of a God who makes Himself one with our humanity. In contemplating the tenderness of Wisdom and of Mary, Montfort stresses for us that the Power of God is not domination but a power of gentleness, tenderness, of humanization. The Omnipotence of God is love. If Wisdom is for man and man is for Wisdom (LEW 64), the gentleness of Wisdom should remind us of our human and divine dimension. Mont-fort presents the tenderness of Jesus as a secret of eternal life, a mystery of rejoicing and creativity (cf. LEW 5, 118, 119). It is from the tender Father that the Son is born in time, through the gentlest of mothers, Mary. It is through tenderness that Wisdom Incarnate draws hearts to his friendship (cf. LEW 117). In studying these montfort texts on tenderness, we are called to deepen our own faith experience in regard to God and to Mary: He is a gift sent by the love of the eternal Father and a product of the love of the Holy Spirit. He was given out of love and fashioned by love. . . . Jesus is eternal Wisdom and therefore pure tenderness and beauty (LEW 118).
In the numerous passages on the gentleness of Wisdom and of Mary, we find the Incarnation at the heart of the history of salvation, and at the heart of human experience itself: Behold that Eternal Wisdom who, to captivate our hearts and to take away our sins, has gathered unto his person all that is meek in God and in men, in heaven and on earth (LEW 119).
In the midst of conflict and division Montforts beautiful stress on tendernessin his life and writingsshould encourage us to think of peace, and even more so to make peace. Furthermore, the reflection of Montfort on tenderness and his efforts to reproduce it in his gestures and actions remind us that love is tenderness, beauty, wisdom, goodness, and gentleness.
Tenderness, as an evangelical quality and as a beatitude, has something to say to our afflicted world. For believers, it is an assurance of the kingdom already present: Blessed are the gentle, they shall possess the land (Mt 5:4). The pages of Montfort on the tenderness of Wisdom recall this text of St. James: Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good life let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. . . . The wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, without uncertainty or insincerity (Jm 3:13, 17).
P. T. Daviau
Notes: (1) Grandet, 2. (2) Blain, 77. (3) B.Papàsogli, Montfort, A Prophet for Our Times, Edizioni Monfortane, Rome 1991, 132. (4) Grandet, 451. (5) Grandet, 373. (6) Perouas, 105 (7) Besnard II, 140141. (8) Besnard, Marie Louise, 375. (9) Grandet, 376. (10) Grandet, 374. (11) Besnard, Marie Louise, 374. (12) J. J. Olier, Introduction à la vie et aux vertus chrétiennes (Introduction to Christian Life and Virtues), nouvelle edition (new edition), Téqui, Paris 1889, 261.-(13) J. B. Saint-Jure, De la connaissance et de lamour du Fils de Dieu, notre Seigneur Jésus Christ (On the Knowledge and the Love of the Son of God, Our Lord Jesus Christ), nouvelle edition (new edition), Palmé, Paris 1873; J. Nouet, Lhomme doraison, ses lecture spirituelles pour toute lannée (The Man of Prayer, His Spiritual Readings for the Entire Year), vol. 6, part 3, Périsse, Paris-Lyon 1837. (14) Nouet, Lhomme doraison, 443. (15) Bérulle, Correspondances (Correspondence), vol 3, Dagens, Paris-Louvain 1939, 550. (16) Ibid. (17) Nouet develops the theme of tenderness over more than a hundred pages: Lhomme doraison, 350453.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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