JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT

FAMILY


Summary

I. The family at Montfort-la-Cane in the seventeenth century: 
   1. Engagements and marriage; 
   2. The establishment of a home: 
        a. Birth and baptism, 
        b. Nursing, 
        c. Profane and religious education. 
II. The history of the Grignions:
   1. The Huguenot ancestors; 
   2. The Grignions of Montfort. 
III. Marriage and family in the writings of Montfort: 
   1. Writings and missionary catechism; 
   2. The family, material possession of fortune; 
   3. Mystical wedding. 
IV. Spirituality of the family today: 
   1. The turning point of Vatican II. 
   2. Pathways for experiencing Montfort’s spirituality in the family: 
        a. Family consecration, 
        b. Participating in the dynamic love of Christ Wisdom for humanity, 
        c. Life of fidelity to Mary within the covenant with God.

I. THE FAMILY AT MONTFORT-LA-CANE IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY

 

1. Engagements and marriage

At the time of Louis Marie Grignion’s birth at Montfort-la-Cane, Brittany, (1673), only about half of all children in that area of France reached adulthood. Few young men married before they reached the mature age of twenty-five. Young women, by contrast, generally found a partner before they turned twenty, and it was not uncommon for them to be married by the age of fourteen, especially in bourgeois society. Thus, Guillemette Dolliver, paternal great-grandmother of Saint Louis de Montfort, was only fourteen when she married François Saulnier in Saint- Pern, August 2, 1612.

Marriage was not a personal decision, regardless of the age of the participants. From the two sides, an extended family council discussed the advantages and disadvantages of the future union, and presided over the least details of the marriage contract in the presence of a notary. The registries of the County of Montfort still retain the conclusions of the family council authorizing, on February 7, 1672, the marriage of Jean-Baptiste Grignion to Jeanne Robert, with the marriage to take place three days later. Dispensing with this legal procedure was an offense punished severely by both the seigniorial and canonical authorities.

 

2. The establishment of a home

a. Birth and baptism.

Well before the last month of pregnancy, family and friends of the future mother were ready to baptize the child in case of a premature birth. If the woman experienced difficulty in childbirth, Saint Joseph was invoked, and the infant would be dedicated to him. A considerable number of lay people administered baptism "in emergencies where there is danger of death"; records tell of one occasion in the rural parish of Coulon de Montfort, when a wine merchant "on his way to Saint-Malo," baptized the child of his host for the night.

All newborns were baptized within hours of their birth. Thus Louis Grignion was taken to the Church of Saint-Jean de Montfort less than twenty-four hours after his birth. In cases involving the firstborn of a noble or bourgeois family, the clergy sometimes granted an additional delay, but rarely of more than three days.

The attitude of clergy and parishioners toward illegitimate or abandoned infants clearly shows that, for them, birthright transcended blood affiliation. The faithful often argued with each other for the honor of becoming godparents to these children. When such infants died, the number of mourners at the funeral procession to the cemetery was often larger than at the death of "ordinary" newborns.

The baptismal name took precedence over the family name, which in the canonical view is simply the "surname." The predominant concern was that the baptismal name appear on the calendar of saints. In the sixteenth century, the bishops of Saint-Malo took advantage of pastoral visits to search the parish registries and officially give Catholic names to those children who were victims of unabashed laxism, even if this meant giving a girl, incorrectly named Phéline, the masculine first name of Félix.

Until 1610, the custom in Montfort was that a boy have a "big godfather," who "named" him, assisted by a "little godfather"; for girls, it was the reverse. This sponsorship was generally taken very seriously, especially on the issue of religious education: this spiritual parent was also considered the juridical equivalent of a legal guardian.

When a priest agreed to "name" an infant, the child’s parents were overjoyed: they considered this a sign that the priest was willing to sponsor the secular and religious education, and indeed the vocation, of the child.

At Montfort, the godfather gave his "name" to his godson, and the godmother gave hers to her goddaughter; the second "name," if one was given, was that of the godfather for the goddaughter or of the godmother for the godson. This was true for the majority of Louis Grignion’s brothers and sisters; Louis himself, though he appears in the baptismal registry under the sole name of Louis, after his godfather Louis Hubert, a doctor, also carries the name of Marie from the day of his baptism, after his godmother Marie Lemoyne.1

The bourgeois families of Montfort organized a large banquet at an eating-house to "welcome the coming of the infant." The clergy were invited, as well as the "co-fathers" and "co-mothers" of the neighborhood. The good priest sometimes made a note of the libations in the margin of the baptismal register.

b. Nursing.

After several years of marriage, the number of young widowers with children, marrying for a second time was considerably greater than the number of young widows. There are several reasons for this phenomenon, not least of which is the elevated mortality rate resulting from the difficulties of premature pregnancy.

Bourgeois women were on average three times more prolific than rural women, who generally had only five or six pregnancies, spread out over time. For bourgeois women, wet-nursing of newborns was obligatory: this was an inflexible custom. A bourgeois woman was considered disreputable if she nursed her numerous children. Ten Grignion children were born at the manor house of Bois-Marquer in Iffendic; all ten were nursed by the successive tenant farm women at the neighboring manorial farms, mixed together with any number of foster brothers and sisters.

Few children of bourgeois families managed to overcome the heavy handicap that being wet-nursed placed on them. For a long time, however, this custom was tacitly accepted as a form of natural selection. Even the best of children were lucky to survive their mother. Thus, when Jeanne Robert, mother of Saint Louis de Montfort, died in 1718, she was survived by only one son and four daughters (of whom two were religious) of the eighteen children she brought into the world. Such numerous deaths explain how entire family lines, no matter how firmly rooted in the bourgeoisie of Montfort, could die out completely after three or four generations, in the space of one generation. Such was the case with the Grignions of Montfort.

c. Profane and religious education.

The grammar school for boys in Montfort-la-Cane dated back to the twelfth century: the "scholastic" was normally an unbeneficed priest, although by the beginning of the eighteenth century he was often assisted by, or alternated with, a member of the laity. The school for girls, founded only in 1636, was run by Ursuline nuns. It was clear that the school for boys did not always boast instructors at the top of their profession.2 In any case, parents themselves did not see the utility of grammar school attendance for their children: even bourgeois families willingly waited to have their sons enroll at the Jesuit "college" at Rennes.

Since the Grignions settled in the countryside of Iffendic in 1675, their children did not attend any grammar school. Only the boys were sent to the college at Rennes; the girls did not receive any instruction of their own.

The infants of Montfort were quite naturally caught up in the circumstances of the parish. They grew up within the daily lives of their parents, their godparents, their cousins; they accompanied them from an early age to church, to religious confraternities,3 on "voyages."4 They witnessed the extraordinary reception the town of Montfort gave to the poor pilgrims of Monsieur saint Méen.5 Most homes were illiterate, and only rarely could the faith be passed on other than orally. The usual place for religious instruction was the parish church. At Sunday and feast day morning masses, a priest specially commissioned by the bishop gave the "homily," a catechism in the form of questions and answers, instead of the sermon. This had the additional advantage of simultaneously catechizing parents and adults.6

For reasons that are not altogether clear, the clergy did not admit children to confession and communion until they were fifteen. Rarely were those younger than this given the sacraments even if they were on the point of death: at best, the priest assisting them gave a simple blessing rather than Extreme Unction. Perhaps this was attributable to Jansenism, or to belief in the prolonged innocence of infants.

On the subject of confirmation, the parochial archives in Montfort as well as in Iffendic are silent. This does not mean that the seventeenth century bishops of Saint-Malo, who often visited the region, did not regularly confirm parishioners, but the lists and other written evidence are missing.


II. THE HISTORY OF THE GRIGNIONS

 

1. The Huguenot ancestors

The roots of the Grignions can be traced to Loudun (Poitou). From the end of the sixteenth century, the Grignions form what amounts to a family-held corporation of butchers, which divides into two enemy branches after the death of Calvin in 1534. One branch remained faithful to Catholicism, while the other (the richer and more important branch) only partially recanted after the successive persecutions following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes; the more fortunate members of this branch found refuge in London.7

 

2. The Grignions of Montfort

The Grignions of Montfort had always displayed a remarkable ability to distinguish themselves from other Grignons, by the second "i" in their surname, by not palatalizing the "g," and by calling themselves "Grinion," exactly like their Huguenot relatives in London. This may have enabled the members of the Reformed branch of the family to distinguish themselves from the members of the Catholic branch.

Charles Grignion (1579-1630), baptized in the Protestant church of Loudun in 1579, settled in Montfort-la-Cane (Brittany) in 1605, the very year in which Montfort and Loudun became the domain of the young Henri de la Trémoille (1598-1649), godson of Henry IV; he was raised in the Reformed religion. After the death of his father in 1604 he had become duke of Thouars and count of Loudun.

We cannot determine, for lack of precise documentation, whether Charles Grignion recanted his Protestant beliefs prior to or after his arrival in Montfort. We do know that he quickly assumed the position of royal notary for the county of Montfort. On September 8, 1606, he was admitted to the Frairie Blanche (The White Brotherhood). However, no doubt because of his Huguenot youth, he was never fully accepted by the ultra- traditional bourgeoisie of Montfort. He never, therefore, became a godfather.

In 1611, he had married Louise Lechat (1593-1658), a completely illiterate woman but a member of the best branch of the local bourgeoisie, which had produced a great number of priests.

Eustache Grignion (1620-1669), their son, royal notary, bailiff of several seignorial jurisdictions, mayor of Montfort and deputy to the States of Brittany, would have been ennobled by his position as collector general for the county of Montfort, had he not died prematurely at the age of forty-nine. He was the formidable Grignion. With his marriage in 1645 to Jacquemine Saulnier (1621-1683), he allied himself with what the county of Montfort considered the highest branch of the bourgeoisie and the lower nobility of regional squires. Through the Saulniers, the Grignions of Montfort gained the esteem of the bishops of Saint-Malo, residing near Paimpont in the principality, created by royal prerogative, of Saint-Malo-de-Baignon.

Jean-Baptiste Grignion (1647-1716), their son, in 1672 married Jeanne Robert (1649-1718), of a Rennes family whose members could be termed "saintly." He was a minor attorney at the court of Montfort but Jean- Baptiste’s true vocation was that of a manager. Criticized by the clergy of Montfort for his authoritarian management style, he retired to Iffendic in the manor house of Bois Marquer. He had inherited from the Saulniers an impetuous and thin-skinned temperament, from which his family sometimes suffered. However, he managed not to shroud the household in too much gloom. As for Louis Grignion’s relationship with his father, we should note the admiration that Louis held for him, to the point that while a young student at Rennes he imitated the paternal signature.

It has been established that Louis Grignion was very early taken into the charge of the Roberts of Rennes. After having been wet-nursed, he came to the family home at Bois Marquer in 1678; he left the village for Rennes in 1682. At that point the young boy was educated by his maternal uncle, Alain Robert. Even when his parents settled in Rennes in 1686, the young student was more influenced by the Roberts than by his often absent father. Nonetheless Louis himself admitted that he had inherited from the Grignions a temperament that tended to be excessively violent. His uncle Félix Grignion took this violence to an extreme:8 his elder son, first cousin to Saint Louis, was condemned to death for premeditated murder.9 In addition, two of his nephews became embroiled with the law, for desertion from the army and fraud.10

Louis wrote to his mother in 1704: "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, and for all the other good things you have done for me" (L 20).


III. MARRIAGE AND FAMILY IN THE WRITINGS OF MONTFORT

 

1. Writings and missionary catechism

His writings are certainly not the sole or even the primary source for Montfort’s thoughts on such fundamental aspects of life as Christian marriage and the family. Montfort himself admits that he has put into writing what he was in the habit of teaching during his popular missions. His vision of marriage and the family is essentially evangelical: he does not hesitate to remind his listeners that, whatever their condition in life, baptism necessarily carries with it a call to perfection. His sermons, like his writings, were not reserved for the souls of the elite. If his writings require from the reader (as they certainly do)—a depth of which not all Christians are capable—it is no less certain that Montfort has the evangelical boldness to remind the simplest members of his audience as well as the elite that all of the baptized are called to holiness.

Montfort’s writings on marriage and family are to be interpreted in the light of his apostolate. During his parish missions, Montfort preached to children, young girls, young boys, men, women, and even soldiers in garrison towns. This missionary method resulted in writings that, when removed from their missionary context, sometimes appear to be independent of each other. These apparent paradoxes are particularly conspicuous in the popular genre that Montfort adopted, the hymn. Thus, in Hymn 12 entitled "The Beauty of Virginity," he upheld the preeminence of the state of virginity over that of the sacrament of marriage; one of his purposes was to create or strengthen religious vocations by showing that dedicated virginity for the kingdom is a life of even greater fulfillment than the married state. In the margin of stanza 25 St. Louis Marie gives the 18th reason for this preeminence: "The folly and the evils of those who marry." The stanzas under this heading consider negative aspects of marriage, well known to the married women of the time: "What does one lose in marriage? / Will I say the truth? [another copy of this hymn has: One loses virginity] / In marriage one becomes a slave, / One loses tranquillity; / Ourselves we sully and we embrace / And often do we lose grace" (H 12, 26); "My companion will marry, / She fills me with pity! / I would rather lose life, / Even though someone swear friendship with me. / Women laugh at me for this and challenge me; / I am free, she’s a slave" (H 12, 27); "I’m a woman and I am wise, / I avoid a great torment, / House and children are no prize, / Nor a husband who’s discontent" [another copy of this verse has: "No children, no housework / nor a jealous husband"] (H 12, 18).

And then the missionary adds in the margin of verse 29 a couplet to insure that his rustic language is not misunderstood: "Marriage is not an evil" and he sings: "I do not maintain the view / That marriage is evil: / If God asks it of you, / Join with someone who’s your equal . . ." (H 29).

 

2. The family, material possession of fortune

On the sacrament of marriage and the Christian home, Montfort’s missionary activity and related writings clearly conform to the traditional catechism of his time. It should however be noted that the saint emphasizes the importance of collective spiritual experience in the Christian home. When he speaks of the perfect practice of true devotion to Mary (SM 29), Montfort writes: "We should choose a special feast day on which to give ourselves. Then, willingly and lovingly and under no constraint, we consecrate and sacrifice to her unreservedly our body and soul. We give to her our material possessions, such as house, family, income . . ."

 

3. Mystical wedding

Montfort excels in giving a spiritual interpretation to marriage and the family. He summarizes perfect consecration to Jesus through the hands of Mary with this formula: "in other words, it is the perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism" (TD 120, 126). The baptized are a vital part of the divine family, and God is the Father of the family (SM 37). "God the Father imparted to Mary his fruitfulness as far as a mere creature was capable of receiving it, to enable her to bring forth his Son and all the members of his mystical body" (TD 17). "It was with her, in her and of her that he produced his masterpiece, God-made-man, and that he produces every day until the end of the world the members of the body of this adorable Head . . ." (VD 20). The mystical Body is thus presented as the brothers and sisters of the firstborn Son of Mary, virgin and mother: a fundamentally Trinitarian Montfort vision.

But Montfort’s concept of spirituality is incomplete without the primary reference to Jesus Christ, "Eternal Wisdom incarnate." In Montfort’s thinking, "possessing and maintaining Wisdom" and "uniting with Jesus Christ through the hands of Mary" are expressions that are more or less equivalent. This doctrine leads to the mystical wedding between the soul and divine Wisdom, a quest that Montfort’s personal experience convinced him was accessible even to a very young child: "Whoever wishes to find this precious treasure of Wisdom should, like Solomon, search for him, a) early and, if possible, while still young; b) purely and spiritually as a chaste young man seeks a bride; c) unceasingly, to the very end, until he has found him. It is certain that Eternal Wisdom loves souls so much that he even espouses them, contracting with them a true, spiritual marriage which the world cannot understand" (LEW 54).

M. Sibold


IV. SPIRITUALITY OF THE FAMILY TODAY

 

The attitude and thoughts of Montfort on the subject of family and marriage make evident that there are differences between his time and ours. And the fundamental difference is that in Montfort’s time the family was sacrosanct, and today it is threatened by grave dangers, such as rampant divorce, abortion, drugs, radical feminism, same sex "marriages," etc. Although the spirituality of marriage has so beautifully flowered through the efforts of Vatican II—whose authentic teachings on this and all other points Montfort would surely uphold— there are some interesting insights of the saint on this subject which are still relevant today. His thoughts must, however, be placed within the context of contemporary theology in harmony with the Second Vatican Council.

 

1. The turning point of Vatican II

Certainly the ecclesiastical magisterium has always fought the tendency to discredit conjugal life.11 Nonetheless, the exaltation of monastic life had in some areas made it appear, sad to say, that marriage was a second-rate vocation. CCC explains the Church’s teaching: "Both the sacrament of Matrimony and virginity for the Kingdom of God come from the Lord himself. It is he who gives them meaning and grants them the grace which is indispensable for living them out in conformity with his will. Esteem of virginity for the sake of the kingdom and the Christian understanding of marriage are inseparable and they reinforce each other." The Catechism then quotes Saint John Chrysostom: "Whoever denigrates marriage also diminishes the glory of virginity. Whoever praises it makes virginity more admirable and resplendent. What appears good only in comparison with evil would not be truly good. The most excellent good is something even better than what is admitted to be good."12

The Constitution Lumen Gentium devotes chapter V to the "call of the whole Church to holiness," ruling out a monopoly by any category of the faithful, and explicitly mentioning "married couples and Christian parents" among those who are sanctified through their vocation.

In Gaudium et Spes it is affirmed that conjugal love "is caught up into divine love and is governed and enriched by Christ’s redeeming power and the saving activity of the Church" (GS 48). That is why, in matrimonial life, the husband and wife "increasingly advance their own perfection, as well as their mutual sanctification, and hence contribute jointly to the glory of God" (GS 48—the entire number is important for a contemporary understanding of married love).

The term "domestic church" or "little church," used by the Fathers and revived by Vatican II to designate the family, is of great significance. Not only does it declare that marriage is the privileged "sign" and "place" of participation in and manifestation of the mystery of God’s charity, but it also confers on the family an explicit ecclesial dimension. Thus, the family is not simply a "part" of the Church, but a "place" where the Church expresses Herself in a specific way and, in a sense, in Her totality.13 The Christian family is, therefore, called to be a living Gospel for contemporary secularized society.

Vatican II ushered in a new period for conjugal and family spirituality, to which the magisterium of the pope and bishops is still contributing. Several movements in conjugal spirituality (like "Marriage Encounter") have flowered from the Council’s clarification of marriage and the family.

 

2. Pathways for experiencing Montfort’s spirituality of the family

Montfort’s preferred manner of expressing spiritual realities is through the language of love, most especially marital love. He recognizes, then, that marriage is a disclosure of God, a privileged means of discovering the full meaning of the reality that "God is love" (1 Jn 4:16).

Saint Louis Marie believed that all Christian couples are called to experience married life in the light of the wedding at Cana, to which Jesus and his mother were invited (H 146,2). The presence of Christ and Mary in the Christian family indicates that family life with all of its joys and difficulties is to be lived in light of Gospel values. With their salvation in mind, Montfort insists on the unity of the married couple and on their loving sharing (H 109), implicitly suggesting that there is a spiritual path common to husband and wife. The Christian family that is consecrated to Christ through the hands of Mary must live this reality by clarifying, developing, and applying to itself several essential elements that are particularly dear to Montfort.

a. Family Consecration.

First and foremost, the saint invites his readers to consecrate themselves to Jesus through Mary as slaves of love. Especially in light of the attention given to the family occasioned by the "Year of the Family" (1994) and the directives of the Holy See concerning family life, consecration should not only involve individuals as such but also the families and communities they form.

Even if Montfort were aware of collective consecrations (Louis XIII had consecrated all of France to Mary in 1638), he never mentions them in his works. On the contrary, he insists on the "consecration of oneself to Jesus Christ, Wisdom incarnate, through the hands of Mary" (LEW 223), that is, the eternal, total gift of an individual.

When, therefore, he insists that consecration is "a perfect renewal of the vows and promises of holy baptism," his underlying assertion is that consecration represents a mature and responsible Christianity. Whereas in baptism the Christian engagement is made indirectly and unconsciously by means of the godparents, in other words "by proxy," in consecration "we give ourselves personally and freely and we are fully aware of what we are doing" (TD 126). For Montfort, consecration is the offering of one’s life to Christ, by the example of Mary and under her guidance, an offering that proceeds from the heart of the person who makes it. In his realistic and straightforward language—springing from love realities—he calls this consecration "voluntary slavery," which is the greatest glory, because it represents a free choice of God, "who looks into the heart and wants it to be given to him. Is he not indeed called the God of the heart. . . ?" (TD 70).

Does this exclude consecration of the family? Far from it. Montfort includes the family in personal consecration, because he considers the family one of the "possessions" belonging to each person (SM 29; cf. TD 121). Offering the family to Jesus through Mary means that one submits one’s family to the will of God and commits oneself to living within the family in accordance with the Gospel (cf. in TD 158-265, the interior practices of consecration). Leaving aside the question of the legitimacy of collective consecration, which implies engagement in the name of others or at least a prayer of intercession on their behalf,14 Montfort falls decidedly on the side of personal consecration. As a result, following his line of thought, we must aim for a consecration of the family in which each family member personally undertakes to live an authentic Marian spirituality, adequately prepared to understand the nature and demands of such a life (TD 227-235). A family consecration made corporately presumes this individual consecration of each member.

If a family were to achieve this ideal it is clear that the consecration would assume a communitarian dimension: no longer a solitary, interior path, but one shared by the family, a "domestic church" engaged in giving witness to Christ in a secularized world. This is what Montfort calls "joint salvation" (H 146,9): the family as family working out its salvation, experiencing as family the total and irrevocable gift of self through Mary.

And even if the consecration is pronounced by only one spouse, and even if only by some but not by all the children of the family, the family is certain to experience the wonderful effects of the loving consecration for, de facto, the family is formally given over to Christ by the hands of Mary. This not only enhances the intercession of Mary for the entire family, but may also lead other family members to renew their baptismal promises through our Lady. The transformation this means for family life are evident.

b. Participating in the dynamic love of Christ Wisdom for humanity.

There is in Wisdom, Montfort reveals, a dynamic, condescending love that leads Him to the most radical kenosis: "Eternal Wisdom went so far as to become man, even to become a little child. . . . He hides himself under the appearance of a small piece of bread. . ." (LEW 70-71). This logic of self-abasement and self-sacrifice is put into a context of ineffable love: "The bond of friendship between Eternal Wisdom and man is so close as to be beyond our understanding. Wisdom is for man and man is for Wisdom" (LEW 64).

Montfort cannot describe this interpersonal link between Wisdom and humanity without recourse to the symbolism of marriage: "Eternal Wisdom loves souls so much that he even espouses them, contracting with them a true, spiritual marriage. . ." (LEW 54). Humanity, in turn, cannot refrain from responding in love, which ends in an irrevocable gift of the heart (LEW 132), after a daily search "as a chaste young man seeks a bride" (LEW 54).

This interpersonal, loving encounter has a clear value for all of the Church and all of its members (cf. Ph 3:7-8; Rm 8:39; 2 P 3:18), but its sacramental sign is offered by marriage: "This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church" (Ep 5:32). To experience existentially the great mystery of the nuptial sacrament, the married couple should be urged to contemplate the history of Wisdom in His love for mankind. In this light, the couple—as sacrament of the love of Incarnate Wisdom for the Church—will live in mutual rapport and support. This is the logic of Wisdom that we find in Montfort and that he experienced in his relationship with the Church and with the poor of his time: to be with and for others. Conjugal spirituality must adopt similar language, especially if the married couple embraces the consecration to Christ Wisdom as proposed by Montfort.

The theological and spiritual importance of the example of Wisdom for married Christians is inescapable. On the basis of such a paradigm, their behavior, tempted to conform to prevalent worldly myths about power, fashion, possessions, egotism, will have to change radically, drawing its inspiration from the path of Wisdom, from the outpouring divine love.

c. Life of fidelity to Mary within the covenant with God.

Montfort calls the act of consecration to Christ through the hands of Mary a "covenant contract made with God" (CG, TD 127). This expression quite naturally echoes the language of marriage and in fact the renewal of the marriage vows would be a welcome addition to Montfort’s formula of consecration when prayed by couples. The relationship or covenant of God with his people, in accordance with the Biblical vision of Hosea and afterwards, is interpreted to be that of a spouse. It implies God’s faithful love, a love that remains faithful even when the people desert Him and betray Him by idolatry.

The problem of remaining faithful to the covenant continues to be a difficult one for Christians, as Montfort noted in his day: "We have had too many sad experiences of our fickleness and natural thoughtlessness. Let us be distrustful of our own wisdom and fervor" (LEW 221). Even if husband and wife pronounce themselves faithful until death, a moment arrives when all is brought into question; the marriage risks failure, and often effectively ends. What does Montfort offer as a remedy for human inconstancy?

For the missionary saint there is a special means of attaining evangelical fidelity: daily life in harmony with the Mother of the Lord, and therefore in intense union with Christ her Son. "This devotion, if well practiced, not only draws Jesus Christ, Eternal Wisdom, into our soul, but also makes it agreeable to him and he remains there to the rest of our life" (LEW 220). Montfort’s words bear a tone of certainty: continual union with Mary and adherence to her example and her maternal work represent "a wonderful means of persevering in the practice of virtue and of remaining steadfast" (TD 173).

This conviction stems from the very existence of Mary and her place in the history of salvation. "She stands alone as the Virgin most faithful to God and to men. . . ; and she still keeps watch every day, with a special care, over all those who have placed themselves entirely under her protection and guidance" (LEW 222). Montfort readily returns to this definition of Mary: "Mary is the Virgin most faithful. . . . She obtains fidelity to God and final perseverance for those who commit themselves to her" (TD 175). For Montfort, the roots of human infidelity are presumption, self-sufficiency, self-confidence (TD 173). As a result, men and women test their fragility and fall back on the worldly wisdom. Marian spirituality is an education in the mystical life, because it compels us to give primacy to the grace of God, and to place ourselves wholly in the hands of Mary, to be guided like her by the Spirit. With her prayers and her fidelity at every trial we face, Mary helps us every day to say "Yes" to Jesus.

Mary especially fulfills her maternal role in the sufferings and the crosses that accompany family life. In sickness, in lack of understanding between parents and children, the invocation of Mary and her presence give comfort and strength. She does not protect us from the crosses (SM 22) that are the normal consequences of human life and our journey in Christ’s steps; rather she brings help and consolation with which to confront our crosses with courage: "Oh Christians, do not grieve, / But call for Mary’s aid. / Your pain she will relieve / Your faith in her repaid" (H 80:3).

The consecration spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort, no more than any spirituality, can not of itself be considered a panacea to cure all the family’s ills. But it is, nonetheless, a sure road toward important objectives. Pius XII recommended that families consecrate themselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and noted its effects: "This act of piety will be for the married couple a precious spiritual aid in the practice of the duties of chastity and conjugal fidelity; it will ensure an atmosphere of purity in the home as children become older; what is more, the family that is invigorated by its devotion to Mary will become a living cell of apostolic force and renewal."15

P. Burrascano


Notes - (1) On the faith of his first biographer, Grandet, successive biographers of Louis Grignion have not hesitated to affirm that he "added the name of Marie on his confirmation day, as a mark of his attachment to the Blessed Virgin." There is nothing to this. We have several signatures of the young Louis, when he was a student with the Jesuits at Rennes; they invariably consist of his single baptismal name, "Louis." He will continue this practice until well after his ordination for the priesthood. It appears that the first time he signs his name "Louis-Marie" occurs in December 1703, at the professional registry of Mont-Valérien. This is a considerable time after his presumed confirmation date. - (2) Mathurin-Allain Régnier, cousin of Saint Louis de Montfort, an odd priest who performed missionary work for a time with Father Mulot and his group, had been named "scholastic" of Montfort in 1699, and again in 1721, but dismissed before the expiration of his triennium as schoolmaster for having drawn his salary without ever having held class, "being absent most of the time." - (3) In the three parishes of Montfort in the seventeenth century there were numerous confraternities, all of them charitable rather than pious in their aims. Among these, the oldest was the "Pure Confraternity," founded in 1431 in honor of the Nativity of Mary. - (4) "Voyages" were pilgrimages to a holy place, whether near or far or indeed in the same parish. It is in this sense that a celebrated hymn of Montfort’s composition must be understood; it begins, "When I go on a voyage / With my stick in hand . . ." - (5) Located some leagues from Montfort, the fountain of saint Méen attracted pilgrims from all over the region, and indeed from abroad. Its water was reputed to cure "slave sickness," a skin malady that caused eruptions similar to those of leprosy. In order to have any hope of cure, the pilgrim of "monsieur saint Méen" was obliged to undertake this "voyage" in voluntary poverty, on foot, assuming the covering and lodging of a beggar, at least in the initial stages. Day after day these pilgrims became true indigents. They traveled as a group, and a considerable number died en route. The town of Montfort estimated that in 1633 more than 20,000 of them spent a night in the Hospital of Saint-Nicholas or in private homes. This sizable influx of the voluntarily destitute had brought about a large charitable movement on the part of the local population. - (6) The bishops of Saint-Malo, in the course of their successive canonical visits, had insisted on this form of catechism that brought parents and children together. - (7) Among these Huguenot Grignions, who were originally from Loudun and had settled in London after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes, we shall mention: Daniel Grignion (1684-1763), watchmaker, who had three sons: 1. Thomas Grignion (1713-1784), reputable watchmaker and one of the first members of the London Society of Arts; 2. Reynolds Grignion (+ 1787), engraver; 3. Charles Grignion (like the ancestor of Saint Louis de Montfort) (1717-1810), engraver; Thomas Grignion, Jr., watchmaker; Charles Grignion, Jr. (1754- 1801), painter of talent. - (8) He will be imprisoned at Rennes for malpractice, in his position as community collector for the town of Montfort. - (9) Jean-Mathurin Grignion (born in 1692), together with Antoine Elliot (another cousin of saint Louis), had assassinated squire Hubert de la Massue, gentleman of Redon, south of Rennes in 1722 in order to rob him. They were both condemned to torture on the wheel in absentia. - (10) These were Félix Grignion (born in 1724) and Louis- Constant Grignion (1732-1793). The latter was a former student at the Seminary of the Holy Spirit in Paris, treated with veneration as the nephew of the great missionary on his admission; an "apostolic reader," an extravagant and megalomaniacal man, he was called the "abbot of Bois- Marquer" although he never attained holy orders. - (11) "If anyone condemn human marriage and abominate the procreation of children, as the Manicheans and Priscillians, let them be anathema": Council of Braga in Portugal, of 561, DB, n. 461. Against the Armenians: "they say that concupiscence of the flesh is a sin and an evil, and that parents, even Christians, when they unite in the conjugal act, are committing a sin. . . , because in their view the matrimonial act is a sin, even within marriage. . ." (Decree of Benedict XII, in 1341). - (12) CCC 1620; St. John Chrysostom, De virg. 10,1: PG 48, 540. The Catechism’s entire sections on marriage and the family should be studied in order to grasp the contemporary teaching of the Church on these important points. - (13) Cf. G. Volta, La famiglia communità di Chiesa (The Family, Community of the Church) in Rivista diocesana di Mantova 54 (1973) 230. - (14) On collective consecration, cf. S. De Fiores, Consacrazione (Consecrations), in NDM 394-417; A. Rum, Consécrations collectives à Marie (Collective Consecrations to Mary), in CM, no. 137 (1983), 107- 117; A. Bossard, Consécration, in Voici ta Mère. Petit vocabulaire marial (Here is Your Mother. A short Marian Vocabulary), in CM, no. 116 (1979), 17-19; J. de Sainte-Marie, Réflexions sur un acte de consécration: Fátima, 13 mai 1982 (Reflections on an Act of Consecration: Fatima, May 13, 1982), in Mar 44 (1982), 88-142. - (15) Pius XII, Encyclical, "The Pilgrimage to Lourdes," 2-7-1957.

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Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort
(Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).

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