JESUS LIVING IN MARY:
HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Introduction. II. Loves Seasons: 1. Love that has come; 2. Love present: a. States and mysteries extended into the present day, b. Identify with Love present, c. Mary, perfect vessel of Divine Love, d. The Cross, where Love is to be found, e. The poor, sacrament of love; 3. Love that is to come. III. Conclusion.
"Take and read; it is always love that speaks." These words of St. Augustine, referring to the Bible, could be equally addressed to the works of Montfort. While not writing a specific treatise on love, love alone was the well-spring of his life and the inspiration of his activities. His predilection for the poor, his zeal and missionary preaching, and his writings were inspired by love. Apostolate of word or pen, the aim remained unaltered: "That all who heard be inflamed with a renewed desire to love and possess Divine Wisdom" in time and eternity (LEW 2).
To speak of love is to speak of personal relationship. The word itself evokes qualities inherent in personal relationship: reciprocity, depth, faithfulness, total commitment, and joy. For Montfort it is this love relationship with God that permeates, explains, and nurtures all other relationships. God is the source of all things, and to Him all must return. The initiative rests always with Him. He it is who first loved us, and He will continue to do so for all eternity. At the heart of Montforts spiritual experience is the discovery of Love that has come; the certitude that Love is present and a preoccupation to receive it; and the hope that Love will come again for the final accomplishment of all things.
Under this triple heading, the theme of love will be explored in Montforts works to discover with him how Love has come, Love is present, and Love will come again; and to learn from him how to respond to it.
II. LOVES SEASONS
1. Love that has come
Love desires to "be with." In the Rue du Pot de Fer, Montfort had a religious experience of the presence of God. It was with the traits of Divine Wisdom, one from all eternity with God, and at the same time through his loving Incarnation one with man, that Montfort experienced the immanence of Gods presence. Time and space both ceased to exist as Montfort communicated with the Presence that enveloped him. Do not seek for a treatise of speculative theology on the Incarnate Word from Montfort. He surpasses this and offers the reader instead a marvelous and loving contemplation of the mystery of Jesus.1 In the context of a sort of long meditation, he strives to communicate to the reader his experience, a meditation where, with mutual enlightenment, Gospel and Wisdom literature meet and merge. The first book of Montfort, LEW, concerns the relationship between God and man, with love as the focal pointthe initiative on Gods part, the response on mans part. A simple reading of the book will reveal the theme of Love, not only as present but as the source, inspiration, and substance of the work.
In chapters 2 to 5 Montfort describes Divine Wisdom as coexisting with God before time began. She (Wisdom) is not only creator of the universe but, because of her love for it, "Mother of the universe" (LEW 31). In creating man, she "enkindled the fire of the pure love of God" in his heart (LEW 37). Man, however, because of sin, "has a heart of stone for God" (LEW 39). "Wonder of wonders, with boundless and incomprehensible love, this loving and sovereign princess offers herself in sacrifice" (LEW 45) to save man. In the time preceding the Incarnation, she will "show her love for him in countless ways" (LEW 47).
Montfort then takes a chapter to expound on what it is that impels Eternal Wisdom to act thus towards man. "The bond between Eternal Wisdom and man is beyond comprehension. Wisdom is for man and man is for Wisdom. She loves him as a brother and a friend. For man to withhold his heart from Wisdom or to wrench it from her would constitute an outrage" (LEW 64). Montfort concludes that the logical outcome of such a love could lead only to the Incarnation: "Finally, in order to draw closer to men and give them a more convincing proof of her love, Eternal Wisdom went so far as to become man" (LEW 70) and continues to plead, "Come to me; do not be afraid; I am just like you. . . . I love you" (LEW 70). Everything in the actions and words of Divine Wisdom prove her love and attachment to man, a love that culminates in the Eucharist, "a marvelous and loving invention of Eternal Wisdom." A way of living and dying at the same time, and of abiding with men until the end of time (LEW 71). Montfort continues to describe Incarnate Wisdom, his actions, his attitudes, his words, his death. He sums up what he has discovered: "He was given out of love, fashioned by love; therefore he is all love, or rather the very love of the Father and the Spirit" (LEW 118). His very name, Jesus, "which is the proper name of Incarnate Wisdom," signifies his distinctive character, "which is to love and save men" (LEW 120).
Under the guise of gentleness, Montfort perceives love at work in Jesus Christ, gentle in his words, his actions (LEW 122), and his manner (LEW 124-30). This contemplation of Christ concludes with a chapter on his Passion, where once again love is the beginning and the end. "Of all the motives compelling us to love Incarnate Wisdom, the strongest in my opinion is the suffering he chose to endure for our sakes" (LEW 154). Because of that suffering endured for love, "the cross when it is well carried is the source, the food and the proof of love" (LEW 176).
Finally, Montfort gives the means for acquiring Divine Wisdom, which is to enter into a closer and ever more loving relationship with Christ, for "He asks only for our heart" (LEW 209).
This brief survey reveals that at the heart of Montforts spiritual experience was an encounter with Love Eternalthe Son of Godwho has taken on our human nature. The Incarnation event is willed and directed by the love God has for man. Following the Bérullian school of thought, Montfort also knows that this same love manifested in Jesus remains real and active today in each individual and in all creation.2
2. Love present
a. States and mysteries extended into the present day.
In the thinking of the French school of spirituality, the whole life of Christ, his actions, words, joys and sufferings, are considered to be epiphanies or sacraments of the eternal love of God for man. His life reveals and communicates to the world that which has forever dwelt in the heart of God, and will forever dwell there. Montforts spiritual experience was strongly influenced by this certitude. For him, the only response to this transforming love was complete acceptance. "Contemplate, commune with, cooperate with" this love: such is the foundation of the Christian life.
b. Identify with Love present.
Montfort, then, would follow Christ, modeling his life on that of the Christ of the Gospels. He would live abandoned to Divine Providence, for like Jesus he could say, "I have a Father in heaven who knows all my needs" (L 2). Living thus, he would communicate with Christ in his complete trust in his Father in heaven.
He would emulate the gentleness of Christ, which implies both mercy and compassion. He, the preacher who could proclaim the Gospel without compromise, would also find it imperative to emphasize the mercy of God. His friend and collaborator Pierre des Bastières attests: "He had such a horror of fundamentalist morality that he believed those who preached it caused more harm to the Church than preachers and confessors who were too lax. I would rather, he confided, suffer in purgatory for having been too lenient with my penitents than for having been too severe."3
The Rosary also became for him a means of responding to a love that is constantly present. For him, the Rosary is above all a contemplation of Christ in an effort to become part of "his mysteries." Contemplation in order to become: such is the whole meaning of this prayer through which we attempt to be joined with Christ (SR 66).
c. Mary, perfect vessel of Divine Love.
Montfort realized early in his spiritual journey that of all creatures Mary alone had completely responded to God in faith. She who was "blessed because she had believed" (Lk 1:45) was filled with God through the Holy Spirit; to her, then, would Montfort turn to learn how he too could be "filled" with God, divine Wisdom. "By the expression Jesus living in Mary, he depicted the mystery of the Incarnation accomplishing in Mary that which she in turn would accomplish in man."4
In Mary, who responded fully in faith, Jesus is fully present. In confiding himself totally to her, Montfort, too, would receive the fullness of Christ. His trust in her was such that he did not hesitate to make her the mistress of his whole being. His asceticism consisted in becoming supple in her hands, like liquid bronze: "One places in a mold only that which is liquid and molten . . . the old Adam must be melted and destroyed" (TD 219). Finally, fear must be cast out. Total abandonment, or Holy Slavery, as Montfort calls it, demands complete trust leading to a purification of the heart, preparing it to receive the God Who comes. In what does the Holy Slavery of which Montfort speaks consist, if not the will to remove all obstacles to Gods love and to have sufficient confidence to say, "Lord, love me as you will." Such a commitment demands complete faith in love. Mary possessed it, and Montfort, having discovered this, resolved to emulate her through "the perfect practice of true devotion" to Mary. Because he wished to love God as she did, he chose her for his "mother and mistress" (LEW 225).
d. The Cross, where Love is to be found.
In most of his writings and throughout his life, the Cross is present. For him, "the cross of Love" comes before "love of the cross," for the "cross of Love" is the great sign of Gods love. Montfort, publicly humiliated, familiar with failure, could and did identify with the Christ of Golgotha. The Cross assured him of a place near Christ, a Christ close to those who suffer and Montfort close to him through his own suffering. While not seeking suffering for sufferings sake, he would teach us that we must, nevertheless, see it as an instrument of love: sent in love and received in love.
True love demands self-emptying, but as Varillon remarks, in the very act of loving we become aware of our loving, becoming thus once more prisoners of our egoism. In suffering, however, neither pride nor pleasure has a place; we can become pure love. Montfort witnessed around him, and experienced no doubt within himself, the subtle machinations of self-love. Experience had taught him that only the Cross, i.e. failure, deprivation, and humiliation, was capable of purifying the heart, emptying it to receive God.
e. The poor, sacrament of love.
The outcasts, the marginalized, those without power or voice, all whom we designate "the poor," were for Montfort a "love" where he encountered and served his Lord. This was a constant in his life from his early years in college, when he visited the hospitals, until his death. The characteristic of love is to "be with, to be close." Montfort remained all his life close to the poorphysically, culturally, and spiritually.
First of all, physically: Montfort did not "talk" poverty; he lived it: in his food, clothing, shelter, bodily needshis whole life style. He loved, and because he loved, he respected the poor, sharing their life, whether that of the sick, the outcasts who sought refuge in the hospices, or the peasants of Lower Brittany referred to by Blain with disdain as "sub-human."5 Small wonder that the beneficiaries of his charity at the General Hospital of Poitiers repeatedly called for the return of "Father de Montfort, who so loves the poor." He shared their deprivations, their food, and the contempt in which they were held, for he chose to identify with the poor at a period in which they were particularly abused.6
Montfort was close to the poor in the language and practices he used when preaching a mission. Many of his eccentricities could be attributed to the fact of his being only too aware of the gap that existed between the culture of the clergy and that of the people, and to his desire to proclaim the message in a language and manner that would touch the ordinary people. He was sensitive to their need for visual aids, to see and touch. Could the motive for the erection of the Calvary of Pontchateau have been to give to the poor their own "Holy Land" (cf. H 164)? At a period of time when the Church, wary of a combination of magic and devotion, was distancing herself from popular religious ceremonies, Montfort corrected and used them as a means of evangelization.7
Finally, he was close to the people spiritually. He did not hesitate to call them to a deep and active faith. "He had confidence in the Christian potential of the simple faithful."8 It was his desire to serve God in His little ones. Towards the end of his life, he ministered to another category of the poor, less apparent but nonetheless real: the spiritual poverty of the population of the Aunis. He turned his back on the spectacular conversions, and the enthusiastic crowds, for a work of evangelization far less rewarding. This is proof of the conviction in his heart that the poor, in whatever guise they presented themselves, were none other than Jesus Christ pleading for his love. To Mère Andrée, who nursed him, confused at having failed to recognize him, he replied, "Forget Monsieur Grignion, he is of no account; think of Jesus Christ; he is all, and it is him that you find in the poor."9
3. Love that is to come
Montfort was not the only one of the spiritual authors of his day to have reflected on and written about the last days. Unlike his contemporaries, however, he envisaged this final period of history as a final manifestation of the love of a changeless God. "The plan adopted by the three persons of the Blessed Trinity . . . is adhered to each day in an invisible manner throughout the Church and they will pursue it to the end of time until the last coming of Jesus Christ" (TD 22).
To emphasize his convictions concerning the end times, he would go so far as to correct certain of his sources, bringing what is too negative in them into line with his own more positive vision.10 Where the visionary Marie des Vallées, whom he quotes as one of his sources (TD 47), speaks of "a coming in fire and judgment," Montfort writes instead of "a coming of a fire of pure love" (PM 16-17).11
What will they be like, these saints, apostles of the end times, if not "Ministers of the Lord, who like a flaming fire will enkindle everywhere the flames of divine Love." For they themselves "will carry the pure love of God in their heart" (TD 56) and "leave behind them nothing but the gold of love which is the fulfillment of the whole Law" (TD 58).12 For Montfort, mans future is in love.
The great experience and intuition of Montfort was to have realized in the depths of his being that he was the unique object of the love of the Eternal Divine Wisdom. He encountered this Divine Wisdom in all its force and energy. Overwhelmed by a Love that enveloped and upheld him and even sacrificed itself for him, Montfort realized he had nothing to offer in return but his human misery. From Mary, through whom Love came into the world, he would learn how he, too, should receive him in his daily life. He would serve him in the least of his poor and, in so doing, would anticipate the last coming of Love at the end of time. For Montfort love is the guiding force of this great cosmic and human event, in some ways "the Law" of God himself (H 5:5). As "perfect love casts out fear" (1 Jn 4:18), Montfort could sing: "Divine Jesus, I love you, / Not through fear, / Not for reward, / But for thyself alone" (H 5:45- 46).
Notes: (1) A. Bossard: Incarnation, notes of montfort summer session, Saint-Laurent-sur-Sèvre 1991, 2. (2) "The events of his (Jesus) life take place only once; they are over as regards their actual happening, but they are still present as regards their power, and their power will never pass away, any more than will the love with which they were accomplished." A. Molien: Les grandeurs de Marie daprès les écrivains de lécole française (The Grandeurs of Mary according to the Writers of the French School), DDB, Paris 1934, 42. (3) Th. Rey-Mermet: Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, Nouvelle Cité, Paris, 1984, 108. (4) A. Bossard, Incarnation. (5) J. Geraud: Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort, un point de vue du psychiatre (Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort: A Psychiatric Point of View), in Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort vu par lhistorien, le psychiatre et le théologien (Saint Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort, Viewed by the Historian, the Psychiatrist, and the Theologian), Montfort Generalate, Rome, 1973, 55. (6) R. Mandrou: Grignion de Montfort et son temps: Perspectives historiques (Grignion de Montfort and His Times: Historical Perspectives), in Saint Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort vu par lhistorien, le psychiatre et le théologien, 18-19. (7) Ibid. (8) Th. Rey-Mermet, Louis-Marie, 119. (9) Ibid., 76. (10) On this topic see S. De Fiores, Le Saint-Esprit et Marie dans les derniers temps selon Grignion de Montfort (The Holy Spirit and Mary in the End Times according to Grigion de Montfort), in Bulletin de la Société Française dEtudes Mariales (1986), 133-171. (11) S. De Fiores, Le Saint-Esprit, 150. Montfort makes further reference to this final coming of love in TD 241 and perhaps in H 42:15. (12) The same idea is to be found in PM 8, 21, 24.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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