JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. The Beatitudes in the Life of Montfort: 1. A disposition for happiness?; 2. Signs of happiness; 3. Happiness that the world cannot know. II. The Beatitudes in the Spiritual Message of Montfort: 1. The style of the Beatitudes; 2. The pattern Montfort employs in proclaiming the Beatitudes: a. An invitation to happiness; b. Montfort used the pattern of the Beatitudes; c. Montfort denounced false joys; 3. The message of the Beatitudes: a. The Beatitudes according to Montfort; b. Montfort and the Beatitudes. III. Relevance of Montforts Beatitudes Today: 1. A longing for happiness here and now; 2. A search for unity; 3. A need for realism.
The Beatitudes (Mt 5:3-12; Lk 6:20-23) are central to the Gospel and central to Montforts spiritual life and message as well. Montfort explicitly cites the Gospel Beatitudes only once in his writings. He quotes them as the direct words of Wisdom Incarnate, which must be believed and practiced by Christians if they are to be saved (LEW ch.10). The Beatitudes are found in LEW 151. Left out is the one in Mt 5:11-12: "Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you for my sake." In PM 25 there is the spirit, though not the letter, of the Beatitudes. Montfort refers to the mountain from which Jesus continues to teach. The "divine mountain" is Mary. LCM reads like a detailed commentary on the first Beatitude, "Blessed are the poor in spirit." This article, however, will stress not so much the classical Beatitudes found in the Sermon on the Mount (Mt. 5: 3-12) as the "beatitudes" that Montfort himself composed.
I. THE BEATITUDES IN THE LIFE OF MONTFORT
"Beatitude," implying happiness, is not to be confused with "prosperity." But as Louis Marie lived in such a depth of union with the Lord, he enjoyed the sort of happiness that, according to the Gospel, is found in loving genuinely.
1. A disposition for happiness?
The name of Montfort is not always mentioned in connection with happiness. In fact, some are alienated from him because they misunderstand his insistence on the Cross. Others imagine that he had to overcome many obstacles before his personality blossomed. Some of his biographers declare that he did not appear very sociable as a child at home and as a student at Rennes and even at Saint-Sulpice; he delighted in prayer and action, rather than in forming relationships with his peers. From his ordination in 1700 right up to 1706 and even later, he seemed to be beset by failures and was suspended from priestly duties several times. He even appeared to draw down on himself enmities and desertion by others. His best friend, J.B. Blain, "who felt very desirous to follow him and act as a companion," eventually became uneasy about his frequent dealings with Montfort.1
It is undeniable that Montfort endured a great deal of suffering during his short life. What his biographers have called his "odd ways" aroused much opposition. This criticism would not have come his way if his makeup had been like that of his friend Blain, for example. Some of his sufferings were also due to the fact that he was a "prophet." The worldly-wise are ruthless with those who expose their foolishness. Not all who withdraw from the world do so because they have difficulty forming relationships. No one can say how much of Montforts suffering was part of the "mystery of the Cross" that some people are called to share early in life and that "psychology" is powerless to explain. B. Papàsogli was probably right when she wrote, "If we could search the depths of Louis Maries soul, we would find that deep down he was joyful."2
2. Signs of happiness
We can infer from the way he reacted on a number of occasions that he was truly joyful, for his reactions were not those of a sad or bitter man. First of all, he appreciated friendship, and all through his life he proved a loyal, faithful friend even to people, like Blain, whose views about the apostolic life almost totally clashed with his. In 1714 he made a long, exhausting journey just to meet him. All his biographers mention his special gift for touching hearts and even bringing priests to tears. And Blain adds somewhat mischievously that "priests are not easily moved to tears."3 Montfort was manifestly at ease when dealing with poor and humble people, which may explain why his missions were so successful; this does not mean that he felt awkward with people in high positions, some of whom decided to mend their ways after one meeting with him. When he returned to La Rochelle from Rennes in 1714, he was given a heros welcome.4 The gift of close rapport with people, the way he attracted the crowds, his openness to all sorts of people of which he was aware (L 11) from the beginning of his priestly ministry, are signs that joy dwelt in the depths of his heart.
Several times he speaks of his happiness. He wrote to his sister Guyonne-Jeanne in 1702, two years after his ordination to the priesthood and when he was 29 years of age, "Permit my heart to join yours in a flood of joy and my eyes to shed tears of gratitude and my hands to describe on paper the happiness which transports me." This happiness was still abiding in him ten years later, when he wrote in TD, "My heart has dictated with special joy all that I have written" (TD 13). The reason for this was that he was sharing a happy experience: "Happy are those who faithfully keep your [Marys] ways" (TD 200). In a hymn addressed to the "priests and lay people who look with disdain on his way of life abandoned to Providence," he says, "Oh, if only you were able to understand my happiness" (H 28:40).
3. Happiness that the world cannot know
The sort of happiness that Montfort enjoyed is difficult to understand. It was not the degrading and more or less masochistic happiness of those who find pleasure in inflicting pain on themselves or on those they love. There are certain expressions of Montfort that, when taken out of context, appear to support this type of happiness, like the following words put on the lips of Jesus: "Endure pain virtuously, this happiness is greater / Than the joy of being loved by me" (H 11:16).
Saint Louis is talking, however, of "another sort" of happiness, the happiness mentioned in the Beatitudes, which brings joy in suffering but only to those who are "poor in spirit" or "meek" or "make peace" or are "persecuted for the cause of righteousness." When Montfort writes to his sister, "I am content and happy in all my troubles. I think there is nothing in the whole world so welcome as the most bitter cross" (L 26); when he invites other people to sing the Te Deum in thanksgiving for a severe humiliation that he has undergone;5 when he proclaims his famous "No cross, what a cross,"6 the joy he experiences is that experienced by Saint Paul when he wrote, "I am overjoyed in all our affliction" (2 Cor 7:4) or "I am now rejoicing in my sufferings for your sake" (Col 1:24). Why is "nothing . . . so welcome as the most bitter cross"? Because it is "steeped in the blood of Christ crucified" (L 26), permits a closer union with "Jesus who suffered more than any of us" (L 33), and makes missionary efforts fruitful ("I have never had more conversions than after the most painful and unjust prohibitions" [L 26]), or simply because it enables us to love, and to live our reality as Gods children (H 148:9).
II. THE BEATITUDES IN THE SPIRITUAL MESSAGE OF MONTFORT
It has been said of the Beatitudes that they are not part of the Good News; rather, they encapsulate the whole Gospel. It could likewise be argued that they are not part of Montforts message but encapsulate it.
1. The style of the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes are built in a three-part structure: the proclamation of a happiness "Blessed . . ."; the subject (and the object) of this happiness "the poor in spirit"; and finally the reason for this happiness "for the kingdom of heaven is theirs." Montfort often follows the same style in expressing his message: Not only does Montfort imitate the literary style of the Beatitudes but he also uses the same pattern and expresses their content, as shown in the following chart.
At times Montfort tries to go one better than the Beatitudes by adding a certain progression, as when he says, "Blessed are those . . . more blessed are those . . . but the most blessed are those . . ." which he applies, for example, to those who understand the eternal truths, or to the soul in which Mary, the tree of life, is planted (LEW 153; SM 78). Finally, balancing the Beatitudes are the "curses" or "woes of the world" (LEW 6, 72; TD 199, 200), which are sometimes divided into three stages: in this world, at the hour of death, in eternity (cf. LEW 72).
2. The pattern Montfort employs in proclaiming the Beatitudes
The Beatitudes contrast true happiness, which only love secures, with false worldly joys. It can be argued that this was also Montforts procedure in all his preaching and writings.
a. An invitation to happiness.
During his missions, Montfort often dealt with "the most terrifying subjects" (SR 113), as was the rule in his days; his preaching, however, was basically an invitation to happiness, because he denounced the "woes of the world" when talking about these "terrifying subjects." We find evidence of this in the hymns, which are quite a faithful reflection of his preaching. It is noteworthy that these hymns generally present virtue in a most attractive manner, as in the following few examples: "This is the way [of virtue] that secures happiness / And leads straight to heaven" (H 3)."One day I was contemplating the Lord / And I fell in love with what I saw: / It was a beautiful princess" (H 4:1; Montfort is singing about virtue)."In my songs I reveal / A thing of beauty . . . / Holy humility" (H 8:1)."They think I am a simple-minded girl / Who knows no joy and is despised, But the Gospel sings my praises / And I am as happy as can be" (H 12:1; the topic of the hymn is virginity).
In the rest of his writings, which contain what Montfort had been "teaching . . . in my missions for many years" (TD 110), his call to happiness becomes an invitation to share an experience that involves frustration at being unable to do so fully, as suggested by such expressions as "If people only knew," "If Christians only knew," "If only we could realize what Wisdom actually is" (LEW 73), "If only we knew the joy of a soul that perceives the beauty of divine Wisdom" (LEW 10), "If we knew the value of the Cross" (LEW 177). The trouble is we do not truly know that beauty and joy (L13).
b. Montfort used the pattern of the Beatitudes.
Montfort has written and preached in order to share his happiness. In each of his works we can trace one or several beatitudes. LEW seeks the "infinite treasure [of divine Wisdom]" (LEW 73): Happy are those who long for her and seek her, because "nothing that you can desire can be compared with her" (LEW 73). SM is about becoming holy: "Happy are those who find the secret of Mary, because she will make saints of them" (cf. SM 20). TD is a "preparation for the reign of Jesus Christ" and invites us to a similar sort of happiness: Happy are those who practice true devotion to Mary, for she is the way to Jesus. Even FC echoes the Beatitudes since the joy of the Cross is "greater than . . . the greatest joys that can be experienced on earth" (FC 34). Montfort wrote, "Enclosed in the beloved cross is true wisdom and that is what I am looking for night and day" (L 13). He was looking for the gift of Wisdom but also for Jesus himself, who became one with the Cross by an indissoluble bond: "Wisdom is the Cross and the Cross is Wisdom" (LEW 172, 180).
c Montfort denounced false joys.
The calamity is that the Cross (which is not any suffering whatsoever but suffering out of love) does not appear as "wisdom" but as a great stupidity. People run away from it with all their strength in their quest for a so-called happiness totally opposed to the Cross: wealth, pleasure, and power, which can only disappoint them. What Montfort sets out to do is denounce the false joys by showing that they are actually "woes," and to invite his audience to discern true happiness, which may come to them in the guise of what many think of as "misfortune." In a 92-verse hymn (H 29), Montfort describes the twelve major "woes of the world"; he goes into detail and ruthlessly denounces as many as ninety-six of them. They all, however, come from three main sources that could be termed: worldly pride, worldly heartlessness, and worldly lies. The joys which the world offers end in disappointment, do not satisfy humanitys deep aspirations (H 29:37,58,67), and are short-lived (H 29:41,42).
It is mainly the lies of the world that Father de Montfort attacks. He blames the world not so much for its sins as for its attempt to justify them by concealing them under the cloak of virtue, and for calling "truth" what are in fact blatant lies. In the hymn mentioned above he says:
The world is Satan disguised Under attractive appearances . . . He is so clever at misleading people That only few can resist him. He is extremely clever At making sin look like virtue. (H 29:8,36,16; LEW 79)
In its wickedness, the world goes even further: it attacks virtue, which it represents as "sin," and turns into "affliction" the true happiness promised by the Beatitudes (LEW 77, 78; H 39). Montfort invites us to call on the Holy Spirit to help us discern true from false virtue, true from false beatitudes. To aid us in this discernment process, Montfort denounces five "snares of the world" (H 30-34), and draws our attention to the most subtle of them all, "human respect," to which he devotes a 152-verse hymn (H 34-39). Blain has described Montfort as "the man with the least human respect in the world,"7 so it is not surprising that he should warn us strongly against the greatest obstacle to the spirit of the Beatitudes: "Beware, though we such wiles enjoy, / Their hidden poison can destroy" (H 39:132).
3. The message of the Beatitudes
What is the true happiness that Montfort invites us to enjoy? We are fully aware that it cannot be different from that held out by the Beatitudes, even if it is described in different terms and with a stress on the Wisdom of God.
a. The Beatitudes according to Montfort.
It is possible that St. Louis spiritual message may be summed up in the following beatitude: "Blessed are those who are wise in the Spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Blessed are those wise people, for they know Jesus Christ. "To know Jesus Christ incarnate Wisdom, is to know all we need. To presume to know everything and not know him is to know nothing at all" (LEW 11). To know Jesus Christ means to "know" him in order to be able to love him and acquire the vital experiential knowledge of him, which is precisely the gift of Wisdom making us realize that we are loved by him (LEW 8, 64-65). To know Jesus Christ also means that we acknowledge him as "an inexhaustible source" of true riches, true joys, and true grandeur; he is the true love we are all seeking (LEW 63, 72, 181). He is "infinitely eager" to give himself to us: "Happy are those people wise with the very wisdom of Jesus, for they will also share his mind and therefore the same Spirit and the same life" (Phil 2:5). Those who have acquired Wisdom possess "that infinite treasure which contains every good" (LEW 206).
Wisdom is not only a "treasure" but also a "fruit" produced by Mary, who is the "tree." If we desire the fruit, we must possess the tree (TD 164). "Happy is that soul in which Mary . . . is planted . . . happier again is the soul in which she brings forth her fruit" (SM 78). Montfort adds: "Happy, indeed sublimely happy, is the person to whom the Holy Spirit reveals the secret of Mary, thus imparting to him true knowledge of her. . . . That person will find only God and no creature in the most lovable Virgin Mary" (SM 20). This brings us back to the beatitudes, mentioned earlier,8 that celebrate the joy of those who have "taken her for their own" and live in her, with her, through her because it is Mary who gives us Jesus. She is the Mother who continues to give birth to all the members of the Body of Christ (LEW 204; TD 32).
A second Marian beatitude could be added to this and complete it. Happy are those whose "devotion to Mary is true and loving," for they have found an easy way to union with Jesus and they will be able to experience her "sweet presence" (SM 52). Any Christian who wants to follow Jesus has to carry his Cross, but with Mary he will be able to carry it joyfully and perseveringly (TD 152, 154).
Mary is not the only "dwelling place" where we can be certain that Wisdom resides. Wisdom is also to be found in the Cross, which is inseparable from Jesus (LEW 180). So we can say: Happy are those who live the mystery of the Cross, for they will encounter Jesus. This beatitude will only shock those who have not yet been shocked by the Gospel Beatitudes. Who but Christ could say, "Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are persecuted. Blessed are you when people revile you" (Mt 5:5,10,11)? Each of the Beatitudes promises joy as a reward for suffering endured in love and out of love. Montfort applies this to the Cross. At Baptism we have been buried with Christ into his death (in a sacramental manner), so that we too might share in his glory (Rom 6:3-5). Like the other Beatitudes the Beatitude of the Cross is only a small (or great) "Baptism" through which we continue our union with Wisdom.
b. Montfort and the Beatitudes.
Although Montfort has his own beatitudes, we will attempt to show that in all his works he repeated in one way or another each of the Gospel Beatitudes.
"Blessed are the poor in spirit." LCM is an explicit commentary on this first invitation to happiness. Those who profess "voluntary poverty" are happy, because their hearts are rich and they lack for nothing; they are rich in faith and the other virtues; they are rich in divine consolations and even in heavenly glory (LCM 5-7). "You are indeed happy if you are poor in spirit," Montfort wrote to his sister Louise Marie in a letter that has been described as "a hymn and a commentary on the first Beatitude."9 The watermark of this Beatitude is embossed on every page of Montforts life. The saint was truly "poor in spirit" to such a point that we could say that he was a "commentary"10 on the first Beatitude. His life was nothing more than a translation of the "humility of God," the first of all the "poor."
"Blessed are the meek. Blessed are the merciful. Blessed are the peacemakers." Montfort lived out these three similar Beatitudes also, and he mentions them in his writings: "Happy are the meek" not only towards others whom they forgive "from their heart" (H 14:30-41), towards whom they are patient (H 11), and exercise their zeal in a fatherly way (H 21:18; 22:17), but also who are "meek" and "gentle" towards themselves (SM 51), and even in their relationship with God by a "tender" devotion to Mary (TD 107). Montfort has devoted a whole hymn to the "charms" of gentleness, which is, first of all, an attribute of Incarnate Wisdom (LEW ch.10) and of Incarnate Wisdoms mother, Mary (LEW 118; TD 199).
"Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake. Blessed are you when people revile you." The whole of FC as well as extensive passages from LEW (LEW 173-180; 194-202) are a commentary on these three Beatitudes and reflections on the "Mystery of the Cross."
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness." Montfort enters deeply into the spirit of this Beatitude when he speaks of the "desire" with which we should burn for social justice (H 18; H 29:49,80; H 150:8,14), and even more ardently for holiness, for Wisdom herself (LEW 54, 61), "who is supremely desirable" (LEW 181-183). Blessed are those who seek her ardently (LEW 54, 61); in so doing they only respond to the "infinite eagerness" of Wisdom to give herself to us (LEW 63), because she thirsted and hungered for us first (LEW 165).
"Blessed are the pure in heart." Montfort has pointed out that "of the eight beatitudes it is only the pure in heart who are promised they will see God" (MRL II). The hymn "Beauty of virginity" (H 12) is about purity of heart rather than purity of the body. The aim of devotion to the Blessed Virgin is to make us pure in heart (LEW 210, 211) by purifying not only the "fruit" of our good actions but most of all the "tree" that bears it, i.e., our heart (TD 146, 205; cf. Lk 6:43- 45), so that it may be worthy to welcome Wisdom. In order to purify our heart, Mary rids it of any desire for a purely human reward (TD 110), and above all she rids it of any servile fear; she opens and enlarges it "to obey the commandments of her Son with alacrity and with the holy freedom of the children of God" (TD 215). She crowns this by giving "herself completely in a wondrous manner" and shares her purity with us (TD 144).
III. RELEVANCE OF MONTFORTS BEATITUDES TODAY
The Beatitudes that Montfort lived out and taught by his way of life and his writings are relevant to our contemporaries and their aspirations, marked by a longing for happiness here and now, a search for unity, and a need for realism.
1. A longing for happiness here and now
A survey carried out in France in 1977 showed that people thought that the four main ingredients of happiness were health, love, freedom, and the family. Health was rated first by 90% of the people surveyed, love by 80%, freedom by 75%, and the family by 73%.11 More recent surveys show that, apart from love, which thankfully remains one of the main driving forces, money, pleasure, and power are pursued by most of our contemporaries in their quest for happiness. It is noteworthy also that in the early 1990s people seem disillusioned with ideologies or "golden tomorrows" and long for happiness in immediate life experiences through personal relationships.
And it is happiness that Montfort offers. His entire teaching is punctuated with cries of "happy," "happy indeed," "a thousand times happy." His teaching holds out the promise of immense happiness, since it concerns the happiness of God Himself, of the Happiness Who is God! This happiness lies in relationship, since God is love and relationship by nature. Finally, it offers a happiness that is a life experience here and now, since Jesushere and nowinvites us to share his "mysteries" and, therefore, his life. Montfort seems to draw inspiration from Jn 1:45 and to say to our contemporaries, "I have found the One Who can give peace to your restless hearts, but you are vainly looking for Him in wealth, pleasure and power. He is the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, Jesus from Nazareth." He alone is true wealth, true joy and true power. Moreover, we need not discard our humanity in order to find Him, for He has made Himself a member of the human family. To our contemporaries who are so keen on the "promotion of the human being" in general and of women in particular, Father de Montfort reminds us of the marvel of the mystery of Mary, our sister within the human family, in whom we can find "only God" (SM 20). The great mystery of fraternal love, which Montfort expressed when he said, "I must love as none other God hidden in my neighbor" (H 148:1), finds its true fulfillment only in Mary, Mother of God.
2. A search for unity
It is because people live such scattered lives that they aspire for unity. They feel somewhat lost when confronted with a series of moral virtues in addition to the commandments that Jesus summed up so simply: "You shall love the Lord your God, you shall love your neighbor" (Mt 22:37-39). He spoke of the two commandments as one, since "the second is like the first." "Love suffices."12 The Beatitudes prove attractive because they offer happiness without imposing any obligations, but, even so, there are perhaps too many of them. They should be reduced to one, which in a sense contains the whole of Montforts message: "Happy are those who love" or, rather, "Happy are those who know they are loved," loved with a boundless love by Wisdom herself, for they will not be able to stop loving. "In truth, to know what our Lord has endured for us [because he loves us] and yet . . . not to love him ardently is morally impossible" (LEW 166; TD 138). But this is not the whole beatitude: "Happy are those who love . . ." Why? Because they love for the sake of loving and for nothing else. When he invites us to consecrate ourselves completely to Jesus through the hands of Mary, i.e., to experience the joy of loving, Montfort warns us that we should not seek any "reward." Love is its own raison dêtre.
3. A need for realism
Although Montforts entire message is the offer of happiness, which in this sense sounds attractive to our contemporaries, they are also afraid of it, since in his typically frank and blunt manner, the Apostle of the Cross never hesitates to remind us that "no one has greater love than this, to lay down ones life . . ." (Jn 15:13). The Cross stands at the very heart of all the Beatitudes in the shape of "poverty in spirit," "gentleness," "tears," "mercy," etc. This is a useful reminder for our contemporaries, who are so easily misled by the "beatitudes" of the world from which the Cross has been carefully eliminated. In contrast to widely publicized false joys, Montfort assures us that the true joy and happiness offered by the Gospel do not come cheap, because the promises of the Kingdom are not for the rich and powerful but only for the poor and the weak.
As Montfort translated the Beatitudes for his time, he would expect us to do the same for our times. A journalist with a sense of humor, Joseph Folliet, offered what he called his "Little Beatitudes" to the public, and they are still relevant today: "Blessed are those who can laugh at themselves, for they will always find something to laugh at. Blessed are those can tell a mountain from a molehill, for they will be spared a great deal of worry. Blessed are those who can keep quiet and listen, for they will learn more than they thought possible." Bishop Torija of Ciudad, Spain, wrote "Beatitudes for a time of high unemployment": "Blessed are those who are prepared to lose money in investing in order to create jobs, for they amass wealth for the eternal kingdom. Blessed are those who reject holding several jobs that are not necessary for them to live in dignity, for a place is reserved for them in the kingdom . . ."13
A few years ago, Daniel Ange offered "variations on the theme of the Beatitudes": "Blessed are you whom the Spirit makes poor, for the kingdom of God is yours. Blessed are you who do not resist love, for you will inherit the land of God . . ."14
The Montfort beatitudes must be adapted for our times. Their basic message is clear: "Blessed are those who believe. Blessed are those who hope. Blessed are those who love."
Notes: (1) Blain, 224, 226. (2) B. Papàsogli, Montfort, A Prophet for our Times Edizioni Monfortane, Rome 1991, 192. (3) Blain, 309. (4) C. Besnard, V, 405. (5) Besnard, V, 529. (6) Besnard, V, 532. (7) Blain, 298. (8) Cf. p. 4. (9) B. Papàsogli, 142. (10) Ibid. (11) Théo, Nouvelle encyclopédie catholique (New Catholic Encyclopedia), Droguet-Ardant/Fayard, Paris 1989, 775a. (12) Name of a film on the life of St Bernadette Soubirous. (13) Théo, op. cit., 840. (14) In Prier, November 1982.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St.
Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
Provided courtesy of the Montfort Fathers © All Rights Reserved.
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