|JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. The Friendships of Montfort: 1. His favorites; 2. His friends in his family circle; 3. In his student days; 4. During his apostolic life; 5. His friendships with women; 6. In his spiritual life. II. Montforts Thought on Friendship: 1. Human friendship; 2. Friendship with God, the Supreme Good. III. Friendship Today: 1. Value of friendship; 2. Guidelines for a fruitful friendship.
I. THE FRIENDSHIPS OF MONTFORT
Montfort, who had so much difficulty winning followers for his Company of Mary, was not overly concerned about making friends for himself. His one concern was to bring to Jesus Christ the men and women he came into contact with that they might become friends of "Eternal Wisdom"; to this end, he used the most effective means, especially devotion to the Blessed Virgin.
To find out more about Montfort and his attitude to friendship, we will look at the friendships he formed in his dealings with men and women at various stages in his life.
1. His favorites
His favorites were ordinary people, especially those who were neglected or rejected, the poor (those we today describe as marginalized), and sinners. "Four hundred men and women, inmates of the general hospital [Poitiers] immediately recognize themselves in this priest, who resembles them."1 Even though those poor people realized that Montfort was close to them, can we really say that they were his friends?
The case of the people of Montbernage explores this question. They were ordinary people who had benefited from Father de Montforts mission, and it appears that he regarded them as real friends. "I beg my dear friends of Montbernage, who possess the statue of Our Lady, my good Mother and my heart, to continue praying even more fervently. . . . My dear friends, pray also for me" (LPM 3, 6). "Montfort very soon felt comfortable" in the "lower parts of the town" of Poitiers, because there he was among poor people. They were really his friends.
If we are, however, to be fair to Montfort and look at people through his eyes, we must realize that he regarded all these people as being closer to him than friends. For Montfort, they were his brothers and sisters in Christ who needed his help to become saints and who in turn were a support for him on his journey to God.
2. His friends in his family circle
Louis Marie showed very special affection towards his sister Guyonne Jeanne because he found her "more docile" and realized that because of her attitudes, he could help her progress along spiritual paths. He gave her small gifts and flattered her feminine sensitivity and vanity, even promising her something that would not necessarily follow: "If you love God, you will be very beautiful and the whole world will love you."2 His affection for Guyonne Jeanne was to continue his whole life long, as shown by the seven letters he wrote to her between 1701 and 1713. He hastened to Guyonne Jeannes help when she was in a precarious situation (L 12) and opened his heart to her when he was in difficulties (L 26).
3. In his student days
Did Montfort, who in the hagiography of the day, "had hardly any dealings with his fellow-students,"3 have any friends among those whose respect he commanded by his piety and his attitudes? It is enough to remember that he organized a collection to provide clothing for one of them.
Jean-Baptiste Blain tells us that one day he slipped away from his friends "and went to embrace . . . a poor beggar,"4 but in this context the word "friends" is general. What we do know is that during the eight years he spent at the college in Rennes, he attracted the attention of several students, and two of them at least, Poullart des Places and J. B. Blain, kept in touch with him afterwards. These were lasting friendships. Montfort collaborated with Poullart des Places, who founded a seminary that supplied a few missionaries to the Company of Mary.
It can be said of Jean-Baptiste Blain that he was Montforts greatest friend. He was one of those to whom he confided himself, as Blain himself says: "M. Grignion, who opened his heart to me easily about everything, told me in confidence . . ."5 It was to him that he revealed how Mary was present to him. It was he who was in a position to criticize his "odd and extraordinary ways," and it was with him that in 1714 he exchanged views on the two ways of life: "in a stable community" and "in the field of the apostolate."
4. During his apostolic life
This period could be described as a period of setbacks. How many times was he refused and rejected before he could make a few friends among the clergy! At Poitiers Hospital he was assisted by Father Dubois, who presumably had some affection for the saint.
When the bishop of Poitiers divided the town into six areas and allotted one to each of the vicars general, one of them, Father de Rivarol, was very friendly towards Montfort. It may be assumed that if he remained there for nine months, it was not without reason: there must have been some friendship between them.
Father des Bastières, who worked with Montfort on the missions, was another of his friends, and he remained faithful to him to the end. L. Pérouas says that "his friendship with him was almost as great" as his friendship with Blain. It was to Father des Bastières that he confided that "he had almost run away as a teenager."6
We could name many other people with whom he was friendly, for example, Father Barrin, vicar general of Nantes, his friend and supporter in his dealings with the bishop of Nantes; and also some of his collaborators, like Father Vincent, Gabriel Olivier, and Bishop Champflour of La Rochelle, etc.
Can we say that he had ties of friendship with his followers? The Brothers, whose advice he sought and whom he asked to reprove him, certainly held a special place in his affections, but does that mean that he confided in them?
Did he experience friendship with laypeople, for example, with M. dOrville, one of the "dignitaries" of Rennes? It really is impossible to know with any certainty.
5. His friendships with women
A certain number of women played a part in Montforts life.
We will leave aside Marie Louise Trichet, whose advice he took when drawing up RW and to whom he wrote many letters, which, unfortunately, she burned by order of her confessor.
Some of these women, like Mlle. de Montigny and Madame de Montespan, protected him or helped him in various ways. Others called his teaching into question; one such was Madame dOrion, who began by teasing playfully a saint whose "conversation was always very cheerful, edifying, and amusing."7 Being beaten at her own game, she then took part in the exercises of the mission. Mlle. Pagé, who had come to make fun of the missionary from her chosen place in the church, was not only won over by the holy preacher, but entered the cloister of the Poor Clares (cf. H 143).
The Mlles. Dauvaise also had dealings with him; they belonged to the lower middle class and worked with him in the hospice for the incurably ill (L 33). It may be with them in mind that he wrote SM.8
6. In his spiritual life
It must be acknowledged that what Montfort loved and cherished during his life was the Cross. This was his great friend. He felt he could not live without it: "No cross, what a cross!" It was his friend in every circumstance, and he kept praising its qualities to those willing to listen to him, urging them to feel glad to suffer something for the sake of the divine Master and to carry their Cross "cheerfully" (FC 34).
It can be said, however, that his closest relationships were with Our Lord and Our Lady. He considered friendship with Mary indispensable and invaluable. He loved her because she is the way Jesus Wisdom took to come to us and therefore the way we go to Jesus Wisdom. But in no way was Our Lady the "ultimate friend" or the "ultimate end." "Through Mary, in Mary, with Mary, for Mary" is a way of life by which we may more deeply live "through Jesus, in Jesus, with Jesus, for Jesus." This is the "secret" for living as friends of Eternal Wisdom.
Wisdom was Montforts supreme love. Won over by this "gentle conqueror" (LEW 5), he would preach Wisdom and do everything possible to bring men and women to consecrate themselves to Eternal Wisdom, who became incarnate in Mary.
II. Montforts Thought on Friendship
Although Montfort has not written any treatise on friendship, he readily approached the subject.9 His teaching was deeply rooted in his experience and can help Christians to live as friends of God and of all human beings. What Montfort has actually written on friendship can be brought together and looked at in a human as well as a divine perspective.
1. Human friendship
As we have seen, Montfort experienced friendship in his dealings with other people. In L he expresses his appreciation of friendship, especially when he seeks help for his spiritual journey or is in need.
He highly values the friendship of his spiritual director, Father Leschassier, who finds it difficult to guide him because of his "odd ways." Montfort promises never to abandon this "friendship in Jesus and his holy Mother" (L 6). When he feels he needs Gods help particularly badly, he asks Marie Louises prayers and urges her to "enlist some good souls among your friends into a campaign of prayer" (L 15). He repeats this request when he asks her "to make a novena of communions . . . with some of our true friends, both men and women" (L 16).
Montfort went through the painful experience of being deserted by his friends, and first of all by his spiritual director. In 1703 he wrote to Marie Louise from Paris to tell her about his loneliness and the indifference of all his former friends: "My only friend here is God. Those friends I once had in Paris have all deserted me" (L 15). He felt deserted physically, because people kept away from him, as well as psychologically and spiritually. He found it particularly hard when his actions were "misinterpreted by . . . our best friends" (L 13). In the same letter he ranks this trial among his bitterest crosses. He is convinced that being deserted and betrayed by ones friends is part of the divine strategy of Wisdom, who tests his friends "in the crucible of tribulation like gold is tested in a furnace" (LEW 100; cf. FC 18).
This is why Montfort distinguishes three sorts of friendships:
Bad friendships, which are those among "the friends of Venus" (H 12:48), "the friends of lies" (H 29:3), and "the friends of the world" (TD 54). This sort of false, or at least calculated, friendship is that of "interested friends," and Montfort describes it as "complimentary friendship." He warns against this sort of friendship, which fits in with the commandment of the world, "You shall make friends for yourself" (LEW 78). It is an illusion. Montfort does not trust unaided human nature because he knows how fickle it is: "Do not pin your hopes / On your friends or relations" (H 28:35).
Natural friendships, which do not rise above human considerations and are a danger to Gospel poverty. Montfort gives this piece of advice to the Daughters of Wisdom: "Do not underestimate the danger of natural friendships, whether with your relatives or friends" (MLW 5). Because charity makes it a duty to communicate with everyone, the Daughters are to "avoid particular friendships, never seeking to converse more often with one than with another" (RW 197). As he wants them to remain free in their apostolate, Montfort prays to Jesus that the Missionaries of the Company of Mary may be men "without friends, as the world understands them" (PM 7).
Finally, holy friendships, which foster union with Jesus. Montfort desires that the Sisters foster "a holy friendliness in the house" (RW 311). He attaches much importance to the advice and guidance given by friends, especially by the spiritual director: "In the interests of your spiritual progress / Follow the advice of a wise experienced friend" (H 10:27). He prescribes that the superior of the community "should choose a good friend among her Sisters to advise her on her defects" (RW 319), and to all who want to prepare for Christian death, he suggests that they "choose two good friends to help you" (HD 7). Montfort considered that the best friendships were with the poor, who were his own "real friends" (H 18:8). With them he was on the most friendly terms: "The poor beggars and the humble / Are my closest friends" (H 108:3). In exchange for the friends he left behind for the sake of Gospel poverty in imitation of Jesus, he formed many new friendships with the poor: "For one friend, a hundred friends / A hundredfold of everything" (H 20:20).
2. Friendship with God, the Supreme Good
It was probably his positive experience of human friendship that led Montfort to interpret the history of salvation along the same lines. For him, God, who personally reveals Himself in Christ Jesus, is the "real friend" (H 55:24). God is "the best friend of all" (H 7:11). "God alone" is his "friend" (H 39:145). But God shows He is our friend in the person of his Son, Eternal Wisdom.
Divine Wisdoms characteristic is his unutterable friendship for humanity. Even before his Incarnation, he "proved in a thousand ways his friendship for men" (LEW 47). Montfort sees in the whole OT a manifestation of friendship on the part of Eternal Wisdom, appearing most of all as a loving and liberating power (LEW 48-50).
It is at the Incarnation that the friendship of Wisdom for humanity appears most strikingly. According to Montfort, the deepest and ultimate reason for the Incarnation is this love of friendship, which involves the "rehabilitation" of humanity (LEW 42). To form friends of God, that is, to divinize humanity, Wisdom wishes to "convince man of his friendship; he wishes to come down upon earth to help men to go up to heaven" (LEW 168). The reason for the Incarnation is therefore Gods love of friendship in all its Christological depth: "Divine Wisdom became man only to stir the hearts of men to love and imitate him" (LEW 117). In his love, Jesus, "this dear friend of our souls, suffered in every way" (LEW 157) and ended by dying "in the arms of a dear friend," i.e., the Cross (LEW 171). The mystery of the Cross is revealed by Jesus to "his best friends" (LEW 175; cf. also 174).
The result of this divine initiative is that Jesus becomes "our dearest friend" (TD 138), "our very dear friend" (SR 68), our "faithful friend" (H 7:8). Montfort rates this friendship as the most valuable thing in life, as he himself says, quoting Henri Suso, "I will always prize your friendship more than anything else on earth and you will always have the first place in my affections" (LEW 101).
Friendship for Christ Wisdom is inseparable from friendship for the Cross. To be "friends of Jesus Christ" (LEW 180) is equivalent to being "friends of the cross" (FC 2, 4, 15; L 33; LEW 172). It is the rule for those who wish to follow Jesus along his way of love. It is Wisdoms way of showing his friendship for humanity, since he "sends crosses to his friends in proportion to their strength" (LEW 103).
Finally, Montfort regards Mary as "our friend" (SR 14, 53), and he invokes her as "my friend" (H 90:16). By giving her this title, he recognizes that Mary fulfills a mediating role between God and humanity "in winning his friendship and favor" (SM 37). Whoever finds Mary finds every good, "every grace, continuous friendship with God" (SM 21).
III. FRIENDSHIP TODAY
1. Value of friendship The ancient Greeks and Romans exalted friendship (philia) by distinguishing it from sexual love (eros). For Aristotle, friendship presupposes a certain equality and communion of feelings, even sharing the same way of life. Cicero, the author of Lelius, seu de amicitia (Lelius, or on Friendship), insists on the conformity of wills ("idem velle, idem nolle, to wish the same, to reject the same"). These writers of the classical age, however, fail to give an answer to two questions: the duration of friendship, fragile because based on natural virtue, which is weak, and its relevance to women, who were not recognized as mens equal.
The Bible exalts the friendship between Jonathan and David, whose similar feelings in life and in death formed a bond between them (cf. 1 Sam 18:1-4; 19:1-7; and 20 in its entirety; 2 Sam 1:4, 5, 17; 21:13-14; etc.). The Wisdom literature contains many texts on friendship, and the best-known highlight its beauty and rarity: "Whoever finds a friend has found a treasure. Faithful friends are beyond price. . . . Faithful friends are life-saving medicine" (Sir 6:5-16).
But it was Jesus who gave friendship its true dimension by his attitude towards men and women. He calls his disciples friends (Jn 15:15) because he has received them into his intimacy and revealed his secrets to them. Among his apostles, Jesus granted special favors to three, Peter, James, and John, by allowing them to be present when he worked miracles, was transfigured, and underwent his agony in the Garden of Gethsemane (cf. Lk 9:28; Mk 5:37; 14:33). Jesus granted special favors most of all to the author of the Fourth Gospel, the "disciple whom he loved": he was his special friend, who was allowed to recline on the breast of the Master (Jn 13:23, 25); he was the friend who went all the way to the Cross, where he was given the Lords Mother as a gift (Jn 19: 25-27); he was the friend who ran to the tomb (Jn 20:3, 4) and recognized the risen Christ by the Sea of Tiberias (Jn 21:7).
It is Jesus who answers the problems unsolved by pagan antiquity by showing that faithful friends go as far as laying down their life for their friends: "No one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life for ones friends. . . . He loved them to the end" (Jn 15:13; 13:1). Jesus showed his love of friendship towards women as well, especially the sisters of Lazarus, Martha and Mary, to whose house he retired from time to time (Lk 10:38; Jn 11:5). Another great friend of Jesus was Mary of Magdala, whom he called by her name and to whom he appeared first after his resurrection (Jn 20:16)?
It is in Christ that friendship reaches perfection. Only one who is deeply rooted in Christ can share in the Love that had no beginning; only one who is rooted in Christ can experience fully and in complete freedom the human reality of friendship with other human beings. This is how Christian tradition interprets friendship: "You and me, and Christ between the two of us." These words were written by a medieval abbot, Aelred of Rievaulx, who goes on to define friendship as "supernatural love that begins in Christ, develops according to his will, and ends in him."10
It is in this perspective that we can explain the many deep friendships between men and women saints: Francis of Assisi and Clare, Francis de Sales and Jane Chantal, Louis Marie de Montfort and Marie Louise of Jesus, etc.11 Authentic Christian friendship, centered on Jesus, is a meeting place with God: "Of all human realities, nothing is more effective than friendship between friends of God to keep their gaze fixed ever more intently on God."12
Montfort is a genuine teacher in the matter of friendship. He gives us examples of faithful friendships with men and women; he invites us to discern between bad, natural, and holy friendships; and above all, he sets us, through Mary, on the road to friendship with Eternal Wisdom, which he considers to be the Supreme Good.
2. Guidelines for a fruitful friendship
Solid Christian friendship is perhaps still rare. Yet it is a fruit of the Redemption, an expression of the Gospel. For, after all, the Holy Spirit does not work in vain in the world, especially since the coming of the Messiah ("I will send you an advocate"). It cannot be in vain that his holiness has spread and keeps spreading. Cannot we say, however, that true friendshipas priceless as it isis still rare because "sin is at work in the world"?13
Friendship needs an environment in which it can be born, blossom, and bear fruit. Is making friends, with or without worldly goods, synonymous with creating friendships? Or does it mean serving ones own interests and ensuring ones future? What binds together those who follow a leader and are prepared to die for him? Is it certain that they meet the requirements of friendship? These questions flow from the brief study of friendship in Montfort spirituality. For Saint Louis Marie, the fundamental test of friendship is the simple "Do we love each other in Christ Jesus, for Christ Jesus, with Christ Jesus?" Such a criterion demands an authentic knowledge of the Lord as lived, prayed, and taught in his Body, the Church.
C. Le Bot
Notes: (1) Pérouas, 45. (2) Grandet, 1-2. (3) Blain, 2. (4) Blain, 13. (5) Blain, 105. (6) Grandet, 349. (7) Besnard II, 140. (8) Les Chroniques de Soeur Florence (The Chronicals of Sister Florence), International Montfort Centre, Rome 1967, 100-101. (9) Montfort used the words "friend" and "friendship" 224 times. (10) De spirituale amicitia (On spiritual Friendship), PL 195, 662. (11) Cf. E.M. Gentili, Amicizia e amore (Friendship and Love), in Dizionario enciclopedico di teologia morale (Encyclopedic Dictionary of Moral Theology), Edizioni paoline, Rome 1973, 28-43. (12) Simone Weil, Attente de Dieu, Paris 1950, 81. English translation, Waiting on God, Fontana, London 1951. (13) Brothers of Saint Gabriel, Rule of Life, Constitutions, and General Statutes, Rome 1986, 2, 9.
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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