|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. The virtue of faith in the life of Saint Louis de Montfort: 1. Absolute confidence in God; 2. Radical Gospel poverty; 3. Intensity of prayer; 4. Insight into the mystery of the Cross. II. The virtue of faith in the teachings of Saint Louis de Montfort: 1. General characteristics; 2. Points emphasized: a. Faith must be simple, b. Faith must be pure, c. Faith must lead to practical commitment, d. Faith leads to trust in the Magisterium. III. Montforts perception of Marys faith: 1. Mary, the faithful Virgin; 2. The faith of Mary and the Incarnation; 3. Mary, model of faith; 4. Mary shares her faith with us: a. Montforts request, b. Sharing in the faith of Mary. IV. Relevance of Montforts contribution to the subject of faith: 1. Faith in general: a. A faith based on the essentials, b. A faith lived in union with the Magisterium. 2. The faith of Mary: a. In Lumen gentium, b. In the encyclical Redemptoris mater.
I. THE VIRTUE OF FAITH IN THE LIFE OF SAINT LOUIS DE MONTFORT
Saint Louis Maries first biographer, Grandet, writes: "In short, all his actions, words, and sufferings were animated by a very lively faith, and he himself lived by faith. Justus ex fide vivit [The just man lives by faith]."1
It was in his home surroundings that he first found evidence of the faith he was to refine and affirm all through his life. Beyond any doubt, he saw evidence of it in his mother, Jeanne Robert, and also in his father; whose character should not be so blackened as to make him out to be almost "a profligate standing in the way of his childrens religious and priestly vocation."2 He was actually a good Christian. In a letter to his mother dated August 1704, Montfort attests his gratitude to both of them: "I know that I owe you and my father a great debt of gratitude for bringing me into the world, for looking after me, bringing me up in the fear of God" (L 20). Montfort never renounced his cradle- faith: at no time did the awesome trials he had to endure lead him to lose his complete confidence in Divine Providence. On the contrary, he came out of his trials with his faith purified and intensified. He truly is "a believer who has opted for God Alone."3
1. Absolute confidence in God
"He believes in a God Who loves him, cares for him, and cannot fail him. No other sort of faith could account for his attitude of simple, filial, and unshakable confidence in Divine Providence."4 At a time when he was in a state of complete uncertainty about his immediate future after the death of his benefactor, Father de la Barmondière, he wrote to his uncle Father Alain Robert in September 1694: "I have a Father in heaven who will never fail me" (L 2). These words reveal how intensely Saint Louis Marie was united to God as a caring, loving Father.
2. Radical Gospel poverty
On the strength of such confidence in God, Montfort is aware that he is not to be anxious. His poverty is essentially spiritual, the poverty of the Beatitudes, rooted in a profound conviction of faith. As a result, he will not really fear being stripped of everything if so be the will of God. This total, faith-inspired poverty pertains not only to material or emotional goods but even to spiritual ones as well, because through faith he is rooted in God Alone.
3. Intensity of prayer
Montfort is well aware that God can refuse nothing to the person who has surrendered all to Him. Thus, when ardently seeking for Divine Wisdom, especially in the years 1701-1704, he was certain he would be united with Wisdom. As a proof of this, we only need to read his letter to Marie Louise Trichet dated April-May 1703: "I will never cease asking for this boundless treasure and I firmly believe that I shall obtain it even were angels, men and demons to deny it to me. . . . I believe . . . the promises of God too explicit" (L 15). He is writing autobiographically when he says that "lively faith," "pure faith" should animate the prayer of anyone wishing to possess Wisdom (cf. LEW 185- 187).
He shows the same faith-inspired certainty in PM. Addressing Christ, he says: "What am I asking you for? Something you can and, I make bold to say, you must grant" (PM 6). With the boldness of a saint, he orders God, so to speak, to grant his prayer: "Arise, Lord. Why is it you appear to be like one asleep? Arise in your might, your mercy and your justice" (PM 30). We must consider, however, what he is asking for: "It is no personal favor that I ask, but something which concerns your glory alone" (PM 6). "Thus, there will be but one sheepfold and one shepherd and all will make your temple resound with their praise of your glory" (PM 30). Because the object of his request is dictated, as it were, by his faith, the promise made in the Gospel, "Ask and you shall receive" (Lk 11, 10), cannot fail to be fulfilled.
4. Insight into the mystery of the Cross
"The Cross in mystery / Is veiled for us below; / Without great light to see, / Who shall its splendor know?" (H 19:1). "Let us believe / Let us believe with lively faith / Without the cross no one can be saved" (H 11:9). Montfort was granted an extraordinarily deep insight into the mystery of the Cross because he had obtained "the wisdom of the cross, that knowledge of the truth which we experience within ourselves and which by the light of faith deepens our knowledge of the most hidden mysteries, including that of the cross" (FC 45).
II. THE VIRTUE OF FAITH IN THE TEACHINGS OF SAINT LOUIS DE MONTFORT
Montforts teaching on faith is scattered throughout all his writings.5 Hymn 6, "The Light of Faith," permeated with biblical references, is a miniature treatise on the subject. It can serve as a resume of the saints thought on the virtue of faith.
1. General characteristics
Montfort begins with a descriptive definition of faith: "I am a pure light / By which you believe everything firmly / Because it is God who assures it / Together with the Church" (H 6:1). The missionary has in mind the Catholic faith, whose content, revealed by God and transmitted by the Church, is certain, sure. Faith is "supernatural," and "the senses are irrelevant when learning about faith"; it is "obscure but very beautiful" (H 6:2); it is the foundation of hope, "the wonderful argument in favor of what cannot be seen" (H 6:3). Faith secures victory over the devil and the world (H 6:9-10); it makes prayer powerful (H 6:15), causes miracles to happen (H 6:16-18), gives strength and joy in trials, even to enduring martyrdom (H 6:19-21). It enables God to do His work in us (H 6:23-24) and discloses his secrets: "I am the key opening the door / Into the mysteries of Jesus Christ / The wonders of the supernatural world / And the great secrets of the Holy Spirit" (H 6:26).
2. Points emphasized
a. Faith must be simple.
Faith is not, Montfort insists, the conclusion of a reasoning process: "Simple faith is very beautiful and good, / Of great merit and great price. / I do not want anyone to try to prove / The truths which I teach" (H 6:40). Faith ought not to yield to the lure of novelty, which may lead astray: "Keep clear of new doctrines / And new heretics as well: / They spread very subtle errors / Which create havoc everywhere" (H 6:47). Montfort echoes Saint Paul (cf. Gal 1:7; 2 Tim 4:3-4). We must be careful, however, not to make a caricature of Montfort by thinking of him as a timid man totally unable to break with an immutable past. His illuminating teaching on Wisdom, Mary, and devotion to Mary is abundant proof that he regarded the deposit of faith as a store from which things new and old can be produced.
b. Faith must be pure.
Faith will be pure if it rests only on the rock of the Word of God transmitted by the Church. It must therefore not be founded on "fables," "groundless stories," or "visions." According to Montfort, this does not mean that the genuine signs given by God should be ignored: "As for authentic stories, / Believe them, but as good Christians" (H 6:48). The theme of pure faith recurs often in his writings. In LEW 187, for example, he says: "Simple faith is both the cause and the effect of Wisdom in our soul. The more faith we have, the more we shall possess Wisdom. The more we possess it, the stronger our faith. The just or wise man only lives by faith without seeing, without feeling, without tasting, and without faltering." In his Prayer to Mary he writes: "I do not ask for visions or revelations, for sensible devotion or even spiritual pleasures" (SM 69; cf. also LEW 186; FC 53; SM 51; TD 109, 214, 273). Montfort is calling for a total surrender on every level of personality to the God of truth, precisely because God is Truth.
We have to bear in mind these repeated warnings against attempting to ground faith upon visions or private revelations when Saint Louis Marie reports "stories" or "facts" to which he attaches some worth that is no longer acknowledged today. He was a man of his time, and people were less critical then than they are nowadays; moreover, he definitely was not a freethinker. He lived so intensely in the familiar presence of God that he had no difficulty in believing in divine actions so long as those reporting them seemed trustworthy and what was transmitted was in accord with the Scriptures as lived, taught, and prayed by the Church. It is clear that he would have had no difficulty in accepting the legitimate intervention of the Church in such matters, accepting whatever the decision of the Church might be. People voraciously hungry for the marvelous, for the extraordinary, make a great mistake if they turn to Saint Louis de Montfort for support. He puts the following in the mouth of faith: "Be satisfied with the light I give. / Do not aspire to visions. / The Church is your mother. / Accept her decisions unreservedly" (H 6:49).
c. Faith must lead to practical commitment.
"I am like a lifeless body / If am left unused. / I am as lively as a flame; / But without love I die." "Beware of a sterile faith / Which believes everything but does nothing. / Rather, live out the Gospel, / Believing all it says and doing good" (H 6:434; cf. among others LPM 1). True faith should make us "the faithful" and finds its expression in "faithfulness" in imitation of Mary. The two words recur frequently in Montforts writings, especially when he refers to the faithful children, servants (or slaves) of Mary, i.e., those who have given themselves completely to her in order better to belong to Jesus (cf. among others LEW 212, 227; TD 50, 101, 135, 173, 209).
d. Finally, faith leads to trust in the Magisterium.
In Hymn 6 Montfort comes back repeatedly to the statement made in the first verse. He puts these words into the mouth of faith: "I am, in the visible Church, / The solid rock on which truth rests. / Most holy, infallible, invincible, / In spite of hells fury" (H 6:30); and "Because the Church is so unshakable . . . / Believe her with obedient faith, / And every blessing will be yours" (H 6:36). His obedience to the Pope is well known, and he reminds Catholics of their obligation: "Believe Jesus speaking through his Vicar / When he pronounces on matters of faith. / Regard what he says as Teacher / As an oracle and sure law" (H 6:50). This is in no way to be interpreted as infantile docility prompted by a fearful mind: the authentic foundation for the legitimate authority of the Sovereign Pontiff is well recognized by the saint.
III. MONTFORTS PERCEPTION OF MARYS FAITH
It is when he speaks of Mary that Montfort is most illuminating on the qualities of faith itself and on the way he lived it.
1. Mary, the faithful Virgin
The words "faithful," "faithfulness," and "faithfully" are certainly those which Montfort associates most frequently with Mary. She is the "faithful Virgin" (LEW 222, 227; TD 88, 89, 101, 102, 173, 175, 214), "the faithful Spouse of the Holy Spirit" (SM 15, 68; TD 4, 5, 25, 34, 36, 164, 269; PM 15); "by her fidelity to God she makes good the losses caused by Eves unfaithfulness" (TD 175). The contrast between the "faithful" Mary and the "unfaithful" Eve accentuates the fruitfulness and effectiveness of Marys faith.
2. The faith of Mary and the Incarnation
It was through her faith that Maryaccording to Gods mysterious plan enabled the Word to become man for the salvation of the world. Where the "holy people of the Old Law" (LEW 104) had not succeeded, Mary did: "He found her lively faith and her ceaseless entreaties of love so irresistible that he was lovingly conquered" (LEW 107); "The Blessed Virgin is only praised / For her faith in the Lord. / It was faith that consecrated her / The Mother of her Creator" (H 6:22). "O Wisdom, Come, then, by Marys faith / You have not been able to resist her / She gave you life; / Through her you became incarnate" (H 124:8). It was that perfect faith that, for its part, enabled Mary to become the "worthy Mother of God."
3. Mary, model of faith
In order to perform our actions "with Mary," says Montfort, "we must look upon Mary, although a simple human being [a pure creature], as the perfect model of every virtue and perfection, fashioned by the Holy Spirit for us to imitate, as far as our limited capacity allows. . . . For this reason, we must examine and meditate on the great virtues she practiced during her life, especially (i) her lively faith, by which she believed the angels word without the least hesitation, and believed faithfully and constantly even to the foot of the Cross on Calvary" (TD 260; cf. 108). Montfort is well aware, however, that we cannot do this by our own strength, so he suggests an effective means to achieve it: sharing in Marys faith.
4. Mary shares her faith with us
This is a major aspect clarified by Montfort (cf., e.g., SM 51, 57, 68; TD 34, 144, 214).
a. Montforts request.
"Worthy Mother of God, Virgin all-faithful, pure, / Share with me your faith / I will possess Wisdom through her / And all good shall come into me" (H 124:7). Montforts prayer shows how deeply convinced and conscious he was of the close connection between his faith life and the maternal influence of Mary. According to his perception of the mystery of the Incarnation, the Blessed Virgins fruitful faith, which enabled her to become the Mother of Christ, is to be continued in us. In actual fact, the Holy Spirit commissioned her to "reproduce her faith in us": "My well-beloved, my spouse, let all your virtues take root in my chosen ones . . . so that I may have the joy of seeing in them the roots of your invincible faith" (TD 34). This goes for the other virtues as well, but it is significant that faith should be named first.
b. Sharing in the faith of Mary.
TD 214 makes perfectly clear Montforts view on the subject: "Mary will share her faith with you. . . . Now that she is reigning in heaven she no longer has this faith, since she is seeing everything clearly in God by the light of glory. However, with the consent of almighty God, she did not lose it when entering heaven. She has preserved it for her faithful servants in the Church Militant."
Montfort is not unaware of the fact that in heaven faith gives way to vision. What are his grounds for saying that Mary has "preserved" it in order to share it with us? As he is speaking for "the poor and simple" (TD 36), he simply states the fact without going into details that might be above them. But we must keep in mind that Montfort lived in a spiritual atmosphere permeated by the teachings of the French school. One of the more important merits of that school was that, starting with Bérulle, it highlighted what could be called a theology (opening up to a spirituality) of the "states of Jesus." The first and fundamental of these is the Incarnation. What Jesus lived in his mysteries becomes, as it were, permanent, so that nothing of it was lost when he entered into glory. The salvific power (which in Montforts time was called "virtue") of the mysteries has not been diminished, and it saves us today. (Recall the proclamation of the Anamnesis at the Eucharist). Saint Louis Maries short prayers at the end of each decade of the Rosary are an example of this trait of the French School: "May the grace of the mystery of [the Incarnation, Visitation, etc.] come down into our souls."
What is true of Christ the Head holds good also, making due allowances, for his members by virtue of their organic spiritual connection with him. This applies with much greater reason to Mary because of her exceptional union with Christ in the Incarnation. That is why Bérulle wrote: "In and through this mystery . . . she is empowered to give her Son to the world . . . and this power will last for ever and cannot be taken from her."6 The "virtue" of Marys faith, which enabled her to share in the Incarnation of the Word, is still at work in order that the Word may be received today, that he may be born and grow in us. As it is through faith that we become able to receive him, Mary can do no better than share with us her faith so that Jesus may be born and grow in us. It is in this wider context that Montforts statement is to be explained and finds full justification.
Montfort continues with a beautiful description of Marys faith, and the description would fit his own faith as well: "Therefore the more you gain the friendship of this noble Queen and faithful Virgin, the more you will be inspired by faith in your daily life. It will cause you to depend less on sensible and extraordinary feelings. For it is a lively faith animated by love enabling you to do everything from no other motive than that of pure love. It is a firm faith, unshakable as a rock, prompting you to remain firm and steadfast in the midst of storms and tempests. It is an active and probing faith which like some mysterious pass-key admits you into the mysteries of Jesus Christ and of mans final destiny and into the very heart of God himself. It is a courageous faith which inspires you to undertake and carry out without hesitation great things for God and the salvation of souls. Lastly, this faith will be your flaming torch, your very life with God, your secret fund of divine Wisdom, and an all-powerful weapon for you to enlighten those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death. It inflames those who are lukewarm and need the goal of fervent love. It restores to life those who are dead through sin. It moves and transforms hearts of marble and cedars of Lebanon by gentle and convincing argument. Finally, this faith will strengthen you to resist the devil and the other enemies of salvation" (TD 214).
"Pure" faith animated by "pure love" is Montforts ideal; throughout his life he showed a firm faith, unshakable as a rock, which enabled him to overcome all his trials. His faith admitted him into "the mysteries of Jesus": Jesus Wisdom, the triumphant Jesus crucified. "A courageous faith which inspires you to undertake . . . great things for God and the salvation of souls": this sums up Montforts "missionary career."7
IV. RELEVANCE OF MONTFORTS CONTRIBUTION TO THE SUBJECT OF FAITH
Montforts life and writings emphasize two aspects of faith.
1. Faith in general
a. A faith based on the essentials.
While accepting authentic signs that God may give usincluding Marys "interventions" or "apparitions"it may be helpful to point out that they are not of the essence of faith. They can help us only insofar as they refer us to "pure faith," by calling us to constant conversion. In this respect, the advice repeatedly given by Father de Montfort to exercise caution concerning reputed apparitions, locutions, etc., is very relevant today. It is clear indeed that Mary cannot possibly invite her children to rise against those whom her Son has commissioned to lead his Church.
b. A faith lived in union with the Magisterium.
At a time when the authentic role of the Magisterium is questioned in various areas, it may be worthwhile to refer to Montforts attitude towards the official teaching authority of the Church. The saints experience was inevitably influenced by his time and his cultural background, as has been repeatedly underlined. Nonetheless, he set his mind and heart on the essentials. He was aware that faith is first and foremost a gift, in terms of its content and of our personal response to it; it cannot be the result of human endeavor. As a virtue it is a gift from the Holy Spirit; a gift of the essential truths, it must be received as the Word of God read according to the tradition of the Church. This tradition does not embrace the past only; rather, it is alive and continues in the life of the Church, the people of God. Therefore it is not the exclusive field of the Magisterium as such. The new insights and discoveries (which may enrich the faith) resulting from facing the many daunting contemporary issues and problems belong also to the field of research for theologians and to the experience of the faithful. Montforts life and writings testify to this. The saint also firmly reminds us, however, that far from excluding confident and intelligent reference to the authentic teaching of the Magisterium, this attitude of openness posits it. It is a condition necessary for keeping in harmony with the faith of the Church, and Christ himself willed it to be so (cf. 1 Tim 3:15).
2. The faith of Mary
In this section we will concentrate on the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and on Pope John Paul IIs encyclical Redemptoris mater.
a. In Lumen gentium.
We have seen how much importance Saint Louis Marie attached to the faith of Mary. The faith of Mary appears as one of the keys to the proper understanding of LG, chap. 8: the whole of Marys life on earth is described as a "pilgrimage of faith." Mary at the Incarnation is seen by the Council Fathers "not merely as passively engaged by God, but as freely cooperating in the work of mans salvation through faith and obedience" (LG 56); she "advanced in her pilgrimage of faith and faithfully persevered in her union with her Son unto the Cross" (LG 58; cf. LG 60); she is the model of the Church "in the order of faith," even in her maternal fecundity (LG 63; cf. LG 65); finally, "Mary, in a way, unites in her person and re-echoes the most important doctrines of the faith: and when she is the subject of preaching and worship she prompts the faithful to come to her Son, to his sacrifice and to the love of the Father" (LG 65). Montforts wording is different. Nonetheless, it is easy to recognize his thought and, particularly with reference to the faith of Mary as model of the Churchs faith, to supplement his teaching with the contributions made by Vatican II.
b. In the encyclical Redemptoris mater.
Pope John Paul II himself tells us about the importance of the theme of Marys faith: "In these reflections I wish to consider primarily that pilgrimage of faith in which the Blessed Virgin advanced [LG 58], faithfully preserving her union with Christ" (Redemptoris mater, 5). There are evident points of convergence with Montforts teaching.
First of all, Marys consent conditioned, as far as depended on her according to Gods will, the accomplishment of the Incarnation: "The mystery of the Incarnation was accomplished when Mary uttered her fiat: Let it be done to me according to your word, which made possible, as far as depended upon her in the divine plan, the granting of her Sons desire. Mary uttered this fiat in faith" (Redemptoris mater, 13).
Pope John Paul II agrees with Saint Louis de Montfort that through her faithfulness, Mary became the counterpoise to Eves unfaithfulness: "From the Cross, that is to say, from the very heart of the mystery of the Redemption, there radiates and spreads out the prospect of that blessing of faith. It goes right back to the beginning, and as a sharing in the sacrifice of Christthe new Adamit becomes in a certain sense the counterpoise to the disobedience and disbelief embodied in the sin of our first parents" (Redemptoris mater, 19).
Pope John Paul II describes Mary living her faith on earth as the one who lives to perfection "the obedience of faith" (Redemptoris mater, 12- 19), i.e., a faith immediately incorporated into her life through her faithfulness to Gods will. Montfort intends the same when he calls Mary the "faithful" Virgin par excellence.
These similarities between the teaching of John Paul II and Father de Montfort are hardly startling, since they concern common doctrine on Our Lady. But their teachings tie together in a special way when both declare that although Mary is now glorified, in a certain sense we share in her faith. Like Montfort, John Paul II points out that now that she is glorified, Mary no longer has faith: "The pilgrimage of faith no longer belongs to the Mother of the Son of God; glorified at the side of her Son in heaven, Mary has already crossed the threshold between faith and that vision which is face to face" (Redemptoris mater, 6). Montfort did not explain how we can share in Marys faith, but Pope John Paul put forward an explanation. To begin with, Mary is the one who initiates the faith of the New Covenant on the day of the Annunciation: "It is precisely Marys faith which marks the beginning of the new and eternal Covenant of God with man in Jesus Christ; this heroic faith of hers precedes the apostolic witness of the Church, and ever remains in the Churchs heart, hidden like a special heritage of Gods revelation. All those who from generation to generation accept the apostolic witness of the Church share in that mysterious inheritance, and in a sense share in Marys faith" (Redemptoris mater, 27).
"If, from the moment of the Annunciation, the Sonwhom only the Father knows completely, as the one who begets him in the eternal today (cf. Ps 2:7)was revealed to Mary, she, his Mother, is in contact with the truth about her Son only in faith and through faith!" (Redemptoris mater, 17).
The mission that Mary carried out for the sake of the early Christian community she carries out for our sake today: "In the Upper Room Marys journey meets the Churchs journey of faith. . . . That first group of those who in faith looked upon Jesus as the author of salvation (cf. LG 9) knew that Jesus was the Son of Mary, and that she was his Mother, and that as such she was from the moment of his conception and birth a unique witness to the mystery of Jesus, that mystery which before their eyes had been disclosed and confirmed in the Cross and Resurrection" (Redemptoris mater, 26). We are able to believe today because Mary believed first, and what we believe concerning the mystery of Jesus, God made man, is what she was the first to believe.
John Paul IIs explanations supplement the attempts to explain Montforts statements on Marys shared faith in light of the views prevailing in the French school. In this regard, as in many others, John Paul II not only shows that Montforts teaching is highly relevant but also demonstrates that it is possible to deepen the saints intuition thanks to contemporary insights.8
Notes: (1) Grandet, 285. (2) Itinerario, 21. (3) See Dieu Seul (God Alone), Centre International Montfortain, Rome 1981, 76ff. (4) A. Bossard, Saint Louis-Marie de Montfort, in Esprit et Vie, July 12-19, 225. (5) Although LS gives evidence of the importance that Montfort attached to the theme in his preaching, it is not the book most likely to reveal his own way of thinking. It contains quotations and summaries of passages from writers he may have turned to either when he was at the seminary or when he was a young priest. The three plans of a mission or a retreat may also leave us unsatisfied, as the theme of faith is mentioned only twice. We should not jump, however, to hasty conclusions. In order to "renew the spirit of Christianity among the faithful," the missionary did not hesitate to remind his hearers of the truths of the faith and urged them to make a deep commitment to keeping the faith by solemnly renewing their baptismal vows and promises. (6) Passage quoted by H. Brémond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France (Literary History of Religious Sentiment in France), Bloud et Gay, Paris 1921, 3:96. It is necessary to read at least the whole of B in chap. 2 of Le Verbe incarné (The Incarnate Word), 43-110, to form an idea of the importance of this theology. Montfort became acquainted with it through, among others, the Sulpicians, who follow the tradition of Olier. (7) It has inspired a beautiful prayer used by the Legion of Mary (8) Cf. A. Bossard, Jean-Paul II actualise Grignion de Montfort (John Paul II Shows Grignion de Montforts Relevance), in Journal de la Grotte, Lourdes, magazine no. 9, December 20, 1987.
Taken from: Jesus Living in
Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.
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