JESUS LIVING IN MARY: HANDBOOK OF THE SPIRITUALITY OF ST. LOUIS DE MONTFORT
I. Providence in Itself. II. Montforts Little Treatise on Providence: 1. The definition of providence; 2. The existence of providence; 3. The extent of providence; 4. Confidence in providence; 5. Qualities of trust in providence; 6. Final Prayer and Resolution; 7. Conclusion. III. The Role of Providence in the Life of Saint Louis de Montfort: 1. Years preceding his ordination: a. His departure from Rennes; b. Trust in the midst of difficulties; c. Life of surrender to providence. 2. Priestly life: a. The Founder; b. Pilgrimage to Rome; c. Contradictions on all sides; d. Living by providence; e. Necessity of work. IV. Providence in the Writings of Saint Louis de Montfort: 1. Letters, 2. True Devotion and Secret of Mary: a. Marys role in Gods care of the universe; b. The consecration. 3. The Rules; V. Relevance of Montforts Teaching on Providence: 1. Insistence on the grandeur of God; 2. Abandonment to Gods will; 3. The need for human response.
All agree that Providence plays a principal if not dominant role in the spirituality of Saint Louis de Montfort. His well known phrase, "Whatever happens I shall not be worried. I have a Father in heaven who cannot fail me" (L 2), typifies his entire life. It can be said that trust in Providence is so profound in Montforts being that it forms a constitutive element of his personality. After a brief review of Church doctrine on the subject, the saints teaching on Providence will be summarized by first examining his canticle treatise on the subject, then by studying his life of abandonment to divine Providence, and finally, by investigating the emphasis on Providence in some of his writings.
I. PROVIDENCE IN ITSELF
"The universe was created in a state of journeying (in statu viae) toward an ultimate perfection yet to be attained, to which God has destined it. We call divine Providence the dispositions by which God guides his creation toward this perfection: By his Providence God protects and governs all things which he has made, reaching mightily from one end of the earth to the other and ordering all things well. For all are open and laid bare to his eyes, even those things which are yet to come into existence through the free action of creatures."1
Providence is, then, the concrete and immediate solicitude of God the creator, present and dynamically active at the most profound roots of everything which exists. The Catechism of the Catholic Church strongly declares that "the sacred books powerfully affirm Gods absolute sovereignty over the course of events: Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases (Ps 115:3). And so it is with Christ, who opens and no one shall shut, who shuts and no one opens (Rev 3:7). As the book of Proverbs states: Many are the plans in the mind of a man but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established (Pr 19:21)."2
There is nothing that escapes this sustaining, creative care of God, for there is nothing real except through Him. It is evident that belief in this immediate concern of God which directs every thing and everyone to the final purpose of the universethe manifestation of His Glory demands a firm faith. Evil in the world, which at times seems to be overwhelming, both on an individual and collective basis, can well test ones faith in the good Gods continual, loving creation.
It is not that mans input is to be disregarded. In fact, Providence is the cause of mans freedom and calls for its activity.3 The term "Providence" expresses the relationship between God and His world; it is a denial of deism (implying that God abandons the world to itself after creation) and also of pure passivity (pushing dependence on God to the extreme of denying mans cooperation). Theology insists upon the action of God working through man (concursus divinus), stressing always that God alone is first cause and the sovereign master of His plan; He freely wills mans cooperation. The precise nature of this interplay is impossible to gauge, most especially when it is a question of evil. Faith demands belief in the All-Holy Gods sovereignty and at the same time a clear affirmation of the freedom of man in this on-going creation, unfolding towards the fulfillment of Gods reign. In the final analysis, we can only repeat with the word of God: "We know that in everything God works for good for those who love him" (Rm 8:28).
Because of this concrete and immediate loving care of divine Providence for the least and the greatest events in history, "Jesus asks for childlike abandonment to the Providence of our heavenly Father who takes care of his childrens smallest needs."4 The Sermon on the Mount speaks of our response to Providence: "Do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink nor about your body, what you shall put on . . . Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these . . . Therefore do not be anxious . . ." (Mt 6:2533).
In order to cover the topic as Saint Louis de Montfort explains it, Providence will be taken in the broad sense, comprising not only Gods orderly governance of the universe to its final goal, but also the trustful response of human beings to Gods strong yet gentle care.
II. MONTFORTS LITTLE TREATISE ON PROVIDENCE
The hymns of Saint Louis de Montfort are often profound, practical catechetical sermons put to verse. For example, the first section of the canticles covers subjects like Charity, Faith, Hope, Humility, Meekness, Obedience, Patience, Virginity, etc. Hymn 28 follows this pattern; it is a forty-four verse "little treatise on Providence," covering the meaning of Providence (28:1), the existence of Providence (28:23), the extent of Providence (28:45), the confidence we must have in Providence (28:6 20), the qualities of Providence (28:2124), and concluding with "Prayer and Resolution" (28:2544). The outline itself and the number of verses allotted to each section make it evident that the missionary is not writing a theoretical, speculative paper on the subject. Rather, his goal is eminently practical. Only the first five verses are dedicated to Providence as the governance of the universe by God. The other thirty- nine stanzas deal with mans response, and of these nineteen are devoted to the final exhortation, "Prayer and Resolution."
1. The Definition of Providence.
As in many of his other teaching canticles, Father de Montfort begins with a definition, putting into one verse the core of his understanding of Providence: "Let us admire providence / Which leads everything to its end, / This supreme prudence / And this sovereign order / Which knows, rules and arranges / Strongly yet gently, / Everything even to the least thing / Without any disorder." Montfort follows rather closely the thought of Aquinas, who considers Providence the principal part of the virtue of prudence, whose object is the proper ordering of things toward their final end.5
There is a triple stress in the missionarys general understanding of Providence, found not only in this hymn but throughout his writings. First, God is supreme. "God alone" is in charge, as the first cause of the entire universe. Following a thought so basic to the French School of spirituality, the missionary underlines the grandeur of God. His approach is clearly theocentric (stressing God) not anthropocentric (stressing man). Second, Montfort insists that there is nothing whatsoever that acts "on its own," outside of Gods knowledge, orderly rule, and arrangement of the universe. Even the farthest speck of existence in outer space, Montfort would declare, is not only known by God but is part of his orderly plan dynamically tending to the fulfillment of Gods eternal purpose. Third, Gods Providence is carried out "fortiter et suaviter," strongly and gently. In the first stanza, Montfort implicitly points to the fundamental truth of his entire structure of spirituality: "God Alone," and this God is Love. It is God who gently rules all and who leads all to their end, and nothing can conquer Gods will. Yet, God, who is Love, does not force: all is done from love and therefore with infinite love. Montfort, the missionary to "the poor and the simple" (TD 26), avoids all academic speculation on the question of the supremacy of Gods governance of the universe and mans free will.
In the margin next to the first stanza, this gospel troubadour writes: "Essence and definition of providence." This core definition will be expanded and explained in the following verses of the hymn. If we were to limit our study to this stanza alone, it would appear that man plays no role in the unfolding of Gods plan to its ultimate fulfillment. This is far from his teaching, as can be seen not only in this hymn but especially in his own way of life of "total abandonment to divine Providence." His stress in the definition is on God. H 51 again praises this care of God: "His tender Providence / Rules everything strongly, / Conducts everything wisely, / Without anyone else even thinking about it" (v. 3). And this fatherly concern is directed especially towards man: "Not a leaf may fall / Without his express command, / Over everything his Providence watches, / But in a special way over us" (H 11:29).
2. The Existence of Providence
The missionarys first point, as clearly expressed in the margin of the manuscript, is "the truth of Providence," which englobes six proofs that divine Providence is a reality. His marginal notes indicate clearly what they are: the order in the universe, the change of seasons, the movements of the stars and planets in the skies, the testimony of conscience, the punishment of even hidden sins, and the witness of every creature that God is always present within it, mysteriously leading it. His expressionsagain reminiscent of Thomas Aquinas6are easily understandable by his audience. They encompass objective phenomena that can be compressed into onethe orderliness of creation itselfand subjective reasons that again can be resumed into onemysteriously, Gods ruling, orderly presence is experienced primarily by ones conscience. Saint Louis de Montfort is not arguing with atheists or deists. On the other hand, he requests that one peacefully and sincerely gaze into the magnificence of creation and into the depths of ones being. The missionary seems assured that such a person will come to accept the mysterious Providence of God.7
3. The Extent of Providence
Nothing whatsoever escapes the sovereignty of God, declares Montfort; nothing whatsoever is withdrawn from his supreme, orderly rule, this continuous creation. "From the first of the archangels down to the least worm," this wisdom of God knows and rules all in a hidden way, often beyond our comprehension; He guides all things freely to the fulfillment of the divine plan. "Over each thing, He watches / And the fools do not think of it. / Without him, even the least leaf / Cannot fall to the ground / He rules the thunder / The wind and the clouds in the air/ And the dust of the earth / And the storm on the sea" (cf. H 11:29).
As mentioned above, intrinsic to the saints understanding of Providence is the response of man to Gods loving care. The rest of the canticle centers on this response.
4. Confidence in Providence
The longest explanatory segment in the hymn is devoted to the third point, the confidence one should have in Providence. Fifteen motives are brought forth by the missionary to inspire his people to a total abandonment to Gods Providence. After recalling that God is a loving Father who knows all our cares and wants us to hope in His love for us the first four motivesFather de Montfort presents nine reasons that are nothing more than a hymnal paraphrase of Matthew 6:2434, excerpted from the Sermon on the Mount. In simple rhyme, impossible to capture in English, Montfort repeats the words of Jesus: "Do not be anxious / Avoid the troubles of pagans / Who make their primary concern / To love and seek earthly goods. / Not having faith to believe, / They think of the future; / Tomorrow, what will we have to drink, / To eat, to be clothed? And please do not become / Anxious about your body / For your soul far surpasses / Your body and your treasures. / It is your soul which I have filled / With my infinite treasures/ How could you think that I would forget / Your food and clothing? Consider, I beg you, / The birds in the millions / Who do not have for their poor life / Any reserves or barns. / Your loving Father / Makes sure that they lack nothing; / And you, worth far more, / Would ever lack what you need? . . . Look at the magnificence / Of the lilies of the fields and all the flowers. / Solomon in all his power / Never had such splendor. / If they have this beautiful glory / Without working, without spinning, / You who are worth so much more, / Must I not clothe you? . . . First and before all else / Seek the eternal goods / The Lord and his justice, / His kingdom and his love. / Win by this sacrifice / Your daily bread . . ." (vv. 9-14). Montforts marginal note introducing the section on these words of Jesus is revealing: "Especially we must try to understand this great secret of the Savior which he came to teach us thereby doing us so great a favor: Hope in God so faithful, Repose in the bosom of his fatherly goodness, Without worrying about tomorrow." Providence is, in Montforts eyes, a secreta mysterywhich motivated divine Wisdom to become incarnate in order to share his beauty with us. The Sermon on the Mount of the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom appears to be for Saint Louis the strongest motive for trusting totally in Providence.
Yet Jesus teaches us not only by words. The fourteenth motive instructs us to follow the example of the Lord who so trusted in the Providence of the Father, as did Our Lady and all the saints: "They had, almost without any trouble / Food and clothing, / And that sovereign meekness / Of perfect detachment (v. 19)."
The final motive is a reminder that to turn away from Gods Providence and to put our trust in human support is not only harmful but "cursed are those who so trust, /the Holy Spirit tells us, / But happy are those who depend / on God alone through Jesus Christ (v. 20)." The loving care of the Father is mediated to us through Our Lord Jesus Christ. For Montfort, this is the only route to follow.
5. Qualities of trust in Providence
In the first quality of trust in God, Montfort declares that God can accomplish His will even if man does not collaborate and in the same breath puts emphasis on the divinely willed human cooperation in the work of Providence. Similar to his discussion in SM 23 of Marys universal mediation, the saint appears to be making a distinction between what can be done in theory and the actual manner in which God carries out His will.8 The first quality of any authentic abandonment to God is, therefore: "Trust in Divine providence is prudent and laborious." This is elucidated in stanza 21: "It is absolutely necessary that the trust / Which you have placed in God / Be joined with prudence / According to time and place. / Even though God may accomplish an event/ And that we do nothing, / Nonetheless, it is absolutely necessary that we do it / And even that we work at it well." Montfort is attempting to balancewithout explainingthe Grandeur and Sovereignty of God as primary cause of all things with the human response. It is clear from Montforts life (as will be seen) that, in his eyes, this human response is part and parcel of the entire picture of Providence; but he also makes this belief explicit in LEW, where he twice boldly declares with strong words that the human person is the "vicar on earth" of Wisdom; it is in and through this vicar that the orderly governance of the world is carried out (LEW 35, 41).9
The second quality of trust in God is repeated often in his works: nothing whatsoever is to be withdrawn from this loving trust in God. It must be universal, for "God is our Father and infinitely liberal." The third quality is perhaps the most difficult: "Be calm . . . when your plans are turned upside down (v. 23)." Becoming irritated when we dont get our way is harmful, he sings. His advice for those times when everything seems to crash about us is, "to love God alone who loves you so / And who never leaves you. / Throw yourself entirely into God." Montfort is calling for a life lived in God alone so that when Providences cross seems too heavy to bear, we will be sustained by our faith conviction that infinite Love is intensely sharing life with us. Finally, trust in God must be humble and thankful, recognizing His tenderness.
6. Final Prayer and Resolution
The lengthy conclusion to this Hymn on Providence is a fiery call especially to the clergyto make the interests of God ones goal, and not the interests of "the world": money, power, and prestige. In strong language he rebukes those who ridicule him for his total abandonment to Gods loving care: "Men of the church and lay folk / If you despise my way of life / Know that I detest yours / Which leads to death. / Oh, if you could only understand / My joy and your unhappiness, / Without hesitation, from all your goods / You would detach your hearts" (v. 40). His call to "voluntary poverty," to "lose ourselves in God," will, he firmly believes, enable all to become apostles leading others to heaven. For this vagabond saint, Providence implies not only a universal trust in God but also a resolve to make God alone and His Righteousness our only goal. It is always to be recalled that for Montfort "God Alone" includes essentially loving service to all our brothers and sisters in God. The motto of Saint Louis Marie is not only vertical (outstretched to God) but also horizontal (outstretched to neighbor).
Some of the principal points stressed by Saint Louis de Montfort in this little treatise on providence are: God, the creator of all things, is Love and tenderness; He governs all out of love, leading everything, infallibly yet freely, to the final goal; man is called upon to work arduously (there is no quietism in Montfort) for the kingdom of God and His justice. Providence implies Gods presence in all things as continuing Creator, and also calls forth in us full trust, a total abandonment to his divine plan, even and especially when nothing seems to make sense.
III. THE ROLE OF PROVIDENCE IN THE LIFE OF SAINT LOUIS DE MONTFORT
The saints Providence Canticle does not detail his full thought on the topic. It is clarified and made more complete by examining the manner that he himself lived his teaching. His years preceding his ordination and his life as a vagabond priest reveal his growing abandonment to the Providence of God.
1. Years Preceding his Ordination
Three aspects of Montforts youth can be singled out as examples of his total dependence on God alone.
a. His departure from Rennes.
At the age of nineteen, having completed eight years at the Jesuit college in Rennes, Louis Grignion decided to pursue his theological studies at Saint Sulpice in Paris. The young man bade goodbye to family and friends at the bridge of Cesson at the outskirts of Rennes. The event takes on deep symbolism. Having left all, he crossed the Cesson bridge to a new life of total dependence upon divine Providence. So convinced is he that God is truly his loving Father, that he gave to the first beggars he met his money and baggage, and even exchanged clothes with one of them. With total abandon he gave joyful, free expression to his deep desire to experience the loving care of God. Begging for food and shelter along the way, he walked to Paris arriving in the rags of a beggar. He was finding his freedom in an active and responsible total surrender to Gods loving, tender, intimacy.10 His friend John Blain writes: "From that time forward he gave himself over to divine Providence, leaving all his troubles behind, confidently and peacefully. The thought that God might not care for him never even entered his head. If he had a purse full of gold or a letter of credit for six thousand pounds to be drawn on a bank in Paris, he could not have had more security."11
b. Trust in the midst of difficulties.
Difficulties abounded as Louis Marie began his seminary studies. He had been told that a friend of a friend would pay the boarding fee at the seminary. When he arrived in Paris he discovered that the person had no intention or ability to do so. Louis Marie was overjoyed to learn that he would have to reside in a community "of the poor students who lived in common quarters adjoining the seminary of St. Sulpice. It was a sharing in the life of the poor and in the hidden life that Jesus led for about thirty years in order to prepare Himself for his priestly ministry."12 This becomes a pattern in his life: his plans are torn up by God and God calls forth from Louis Marie total trust without revealing the divine strategy. Examples of Louis Maries response of total trust even in the midst of serious difficulties are numerous: e.g., during his illness as a seminarian, which brought him to deaths door; in his difficulties adjusting to seminary community life; in his struggle to pay for room and board, which forced him to beg for assistance and to work during the nights keeping vigil at wakes. His trust in the Providence of God was often severely put to the test. His solution was not to run back home to Rennes, but to trust even more in Gods loving care, come what may.
c. Life of surrender to Providence.
However, there is another side to the young mans trust in Providence, which is underplayed by his more exuberant biographers. Montfort the seminarian trusts in divine Providence; however, it is not a quietistic abandonment. He knows that Gods infallible overall plan is realized through creatures and therefore does not hesitate to ask for help or to accept assistance when it is offered. He understands that divine Providence calls upon him to work for his daily bread. The young Louis Marie does not expect that his tuition will float down from heaven or that he can do without professional help in his illness. Providence, as he writes in his little treatise, demands prudence and hard work. This is a trait that characterizes his life of surrender to Providence. Trusting in God and doing nothing is not St Louis formula for total abandonment to God. He searches for people to help pay the expenses at the seminary, he seeks work to earn his tuition, he pours out his heart to his superiors and directors in order to accomplish Gods will.
2. Priestly Life
Almost every aspect of Saint Louis de Montforts priestly ministry is stamped with his amazing trust in divine Providence. Several facets of his apostolate will be highlighted to substantiate this statement.
a. The Founder.
The founding of both the Daughters of Wisdom and the Company of Mary illustrate the missionarys radical abandonment to the will of God. After inviting Marie-Louise Trichet to help at the Poitiers General Hospital, he began to realize his dreams of a congregation of women who would be representatives of the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom in quest of the poor and the outcasts of society. However, he never approached this project as if it were his own, or as a businessman attempting to launch some new enterprise. He is convinced that he is no more than Gods loving apostle. After giving Marie Louise a religious habit and instructing her in the ways of Divine Wisdom, he left her for ten years, keeping in touch only by letter. He had done what he could; moreover, his ministry obliged him to move on. If the congregation is the will of God, then it will definitely survive. It is not carelessness or a lack of concern for Marie Louise; rather, the congregation of the Daughters of Wisdom is too precious a gift of God for him to "take charge." God in his Providence must oversee and bring to birth this new community.
His yearning to found a congregation of missionaries, proclaimers to the poor of the reign of Christ through Mary, dates from the earliest years of his priesthood. Yet aside from the faithful Brother Mathurin, he found no one who would join him in fulfilling this hope. So convinced is he that Gods Providence wills the congregation that he wrote an ardent prayer for missionaries, a rule, and a letter to all the future members of the Company of Mary before the community even existed (LCM). His prayer for this Company indicates his stress on the Providence of God: "[Almighty God], be mindful of your Congregation, for it is you alone who must, by your grace, make it a living reality. If man is the first to put his hand to the work nothing will come of it. If he contributes anything of his own to what you are doing, the entire undertaking will be warped and come down in ruins" (PM 26).13 Thwarted in every way, he still was convinced that God desires such a congregation of priests and brothers. At his death only two priests and a few brothers were counted as his followers. None had taken vows. But Saint Louis Marie dies assured that the Providence of God will raise up the congregation.
b. Pilgrimage to Rome.
For Saint Louis de Montfort, Providence entails first discerning Gods will and then carrying it out through the power of the Holy Spirit. Providence, therefore, connotes obedience to God. Since God works through creation, through events, and through others, Providence includes obedience to God as manifested through His representatives. First and foremost, this means obedience to Jesus as revealed in the Scriptures and to Our Lady whose will is always one with her Son. It means obedience to the Church, the Body of Christ, and in a special way to its chief pastor, the vicar of Christ, the bishop of Rome. Caught up in dilemmas on all sides, the young Father Louis from Montfort made a decision to seek the advice of the Holy Father in order to discern Gods will. His pilgrimage to the Holy City was made on foot even though war was being waged between France and Italyso confident was he that God wanted him to consult the vicar of Christ. The words of Pope Clement XI assured him that his itinerant preaching in western France was of God and gave Montfort the confidence he needed. He spent the rest of his life fulfilling the wish of the Holy Father, assured that it was Gods providential will for him.
c. Contradictions on all sides.
Father de Montfort was faced with opposition that tested his total abandonment to Gods Providence. Several times bishops forbade him to preach in their dioceses. Unjust treatment at times brought him to tears; Gods Providence was often a heavy cross to bear. He spoke with confidants about the injustice that some local ecclesiastical authorities inflicted upon him. Yet he obeyed, certain that Gods Providence would bring good out of evil; he would even praise God for the gift of such a cross.
Montforts interpretation of divine Providence is evidenced in his attitude when told by the local bishop to destroy the Calvary at Pontchateau on the very day it was to be blessed. He did not sit by and watch the destruction of a project he firmly believed would strengthen the faith of the people. The bishop was wrong and the missionary knew it. He went immediately to the bishop to change the prelates mind. Only after having done all he could to keep the Calvary intact and having failed to convince the bishopdid he accept the fact that in some mysterious way, Gods inscrutable Providence is permitting the evil for some greater good of the church. "We had hoped to build a Calvary here," he reportedly told the waiting crowd, "but God wills that we build it in our hearts." And he set about obeying the bishops orders to destroy the site.
d. Living by Providence.
Perhaps the clearest evidence of Montforts total abandonment to divine Providence is his strange lifestyle: a vagabond missionary, with his few belongings packed into a knapsack slung over his shoulder, a walking stick with a cross or statue of Our Lady on its top, moving from town to town freely proclaiming Gods reign. He is absolutely certain that Gods fatherly care will always envelop him, giving him food to eat, water to drink, and a place to sleep. He describes this life à la Providence in one of his canticles: "With stick in my hand / My bare feet on the road, / I speed through the land / For I carry no load. Like a bird in the tree / With no worry or care / My heart is quite free / For no burden I bear. / With no cash for tomorrow / I live day by day / And I know that I follow / The far better way" (a paraphrase of a few verses of H 144).
e. Necessity of work.
Although Saint Louis de Montforts trust in Providence knew no bounds, he never interpreted Gods loving care as a dispensation from personal work. Quite the contrary: it was only by laborious seeking that Gods will unfolded; it was only by steady, painful toil that Gods will is fulfilled. When his sisters were in need, he did not only pray for them. He sought help, requesting aid from some wealthy women, including Madame de Montespan, the former mistress of Louis XIV. He insisted that the founding of the Company of Mary was Gods work, but he recognized that this meant that he himself must be Gods hands in forming the community by writing the Rule, by seeking recruits, and by begging his friend, Claude Poullart des Places, to direct seminarians to his proposed congregation. Preaching Gods word, as Providence willed him to do, in no way freed him from laborious preparation, as his Book of Sermons testifies. Total abandonment to Gods Providence implies action on our part.
IV. PROVIDENCE IN THE WRITINGS OF SAINT LOUIS DE MONTFORT
The direct and implied references to Providence abound in the writings of Saint Louis de Montfort. In addition to his cantique on Providence studied above, there are passages relating to Providence especially in his Letters, in his Triptych (PM, RM, LCM), and in his Marian classics, TD and SM.
Ten of the thirty-four letters of Father de Montfort which have been preserved explicitly mention "Providence." Letter 7, addressed to his favorite sister, Guyonne-Jeanne (whom he affectionately called Louise), contains the most references. Its theme is to prompt the young girl not to be so concerned about the future: "What God wants of you, my dear sister, is that you should live each day as it comes, like a bird in the trees, without worrying about tomorrow. Be at peace and trust in divine providence and the Blessed Virgin and do not seek anything else but to please God and love him . . . if you serve God and his Holy Mother faithfully you will want for nothing in this world or the next." Even his early letters, written as a seminarian, refer to the loving care God constantly shows him. When Father de la Barmondière, his superior and director at the seminary, died, the young Louis Grignions future as a seminarian was placed in serious jeopardy. In this difficult situation, he wrote to his uncle priest: "I do not know how things will go, whether I shall stay or leave, as Father de la Barmondières last will and testament has not yet been made known. Whatever happens I shall not be worried. I have a Father in heaven who can never fail me. He brought me here, he has kept me here until now and he will continue to treat me with his usual kindness. Although I deserve only punishment for my sins, I never stop praying to God and rely completely on his providence" (L 2). Several months later, the young seminarian wrote again to his uncle, informing him that "God, in his loving providence, without my ever having thought of it," had indeed taken care of him through the intermediary of some benefactors and that he was able to continue his studies at St. Sulpice. Yet Gods loving Providence never forces: "When God asks his creatures for anything, he asks gently leaving them entirely free." But to delay in fulfilling Gods will places us in danger, for "the longer we delay in responding to his gentle request, the less we hear his voice" (L 30). "I only want to do Gods will" (L 6) is a primary theme of all his correspondence, coupled with a complete, loving trust in God (L 8, 9, 10, 25, 33).
2. True Devotion and Secret of Mary
The originality of Montfort on the theme of Providence rests especially in his understanding of the place of Mary in Gods governing of the universe in and through the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom. His Marian classics, TD and SM, are the principal sources for his Marian theology and also for the foundations of the consecration to Jesus-Wisdom through Mary, which encompasses a total abandonment to Gods Providence.
a. Marys role in Gods care of the universe.
That Providence is to be attributed to God alone as primary cause, the missionary leaves no doubt. However, the Lord of all makes use of others in the governing of the universe. Jesus, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, true God and true man, is in his very reality the essential and only mediator (cf TD 61). He alone is King "by nature" (TD 38), he alone is "the beginning and the end of all things," (TD 61) he alone is Gods plan itself and its fulfillment, for through Wisdom and for Wisdom all things are created and governed (LEW 3138). "After creating all things, Eternal Wisdom abides in them to contain, maintain, and renew them. It was this supremely perfect beauty who, after creating the universe, established the magnificent order we find there. It was Wisdom who separated, arranged, evaluated, augmented and calculated everything" (LEW 32).
We can summarize the saints thought on Mary and Providence by piecing together various elements of his teachings on God, Jesus, and Our Lady. Because the Trinity freely chose Mary to be the "Yes" of the universe in accepting and, in this sense, bringing about the Incarnation, Our Lady plays a unique role in every aspect of salvation history (TD 1436). It is through her consent that our redemption, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, came to be (TD 16). The Incarnation, as the first of all mysteries, is the pattern of all the works of grace (TD 248). God comes to us in Jesus Christ who is always and everywhere the son of Mary, the fruit of her representative faith (TD 44).
Montfort insists then that Jesus, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, "shares his power with his holy mother" (TD 76). "Such is the will of the Almighty who exalts the humble, that the heavens, the earth and hell itself, willingly or unwillingly, must obey the commands of the humble Virgin Mary. For God has made her queen of heaven and earth, leader of his armies, keeper of his treasures, dispenser of his graces, worker of his wonders, restorer of the human race, mediatrix on behalf of men, destroyer of his enemies and faithful associate in his great works and triumphs" (TD 28; H 77:8, 81:6). The saint underlines, therefore, that "Whatever belongs to Jesus by nature, belongs to Mary by grace" (TD 74). The governing of the universe takes place through Jesus and belongs to him by nature as the incarnate Son of God. Mary, the inseparable companion of Jesus, even "of his glory and of his power in heaven and on earth" (TD 74), shares by grace in this role of the Incarnate Wisdom. Providence, then, governs us through Jesus Christ in union with his mother, Mary.
The same conclusion is reached when considering Montforts teaching on the spiritual maternity. Mary is truly the mother of the Christ who is in himself the goal, the fulfillment of Gods Providence (TD 61). As the Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son, Spouse of the Holy Spirit (SM 68), she, the living Yes of all creation to Gods desire to espouse us in Christ, is the spiritual mother and queen of the universe (TD 3740). Mary is, then, the Mother of the whole Christ, head and members (TD 32 33), Mother of the fulfillment of Gods plan when all shall be one in Christ Jesus in the power of the Spirit, for the glory of God alone. As the true Mother of all, and as the Yes of the human family, she is the mediatrix of the gifts of God. The gift of Gods loving care, which governs all things to their goal, comes to us in Christ Jesus through Mary, as the eternal surrender of the cosmos to Gods plan, Jesus the Lord. In this sense, Our Lady is, in Saint Louis de Montforts eyes, intrinsic to the mystery of Providence.
b. The consecration.
Saint Louis de Montforts "Act of consecration to the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom through the hands of Mary" (LEW 223-227) is a recognition of Gods Providence and of a total loving surrender to his purpose. His design for the universe is to incorporate all things into the Beloved, the Eternal and Incarnate Wisdom, through Mary. The consecration, an act of latria, is addressed ultimately to the God-Man, Jesus Christ, the goal of all creation. However, in light of the Incarnation, it is evident for Montfort that Jesus the goal comes to us and we to him through Mary (TD 1); she is the unique means of union with Christ. The consecration is, then, the loving acceptance of this providential plan of GodJesus our goal, Mary the unique meansand the consequent emptying of all the idols set up in its place. This was done in Baptism (at least implicitly); the consecration is the renewal of our baptismal promises, accepting lovingly and freely the governance of the universe, and in particular of our own life, the way that God so wills.
For Montfort, the more that we live this baptismal consecration whereby we freely accept divine Providence, the more intense our freedom. Liberty is in direct proportion to our surrender as slaves of love to Gods plan in Christ Jesus. It is the consecration, the total abandonment to Gods Providence, that sets us free; fabricating our own plans outside the Lords is enslavement.
As Montfort outlines in the effects of the consecration (TD 21325), Mary prompts all of us to surrender actively and responsibly to Gods will for us; she strengthens us by her maternal intercession so that our response may resemble hers, a fiat to Gods mysterious ways (TD 20112; 21416).
3. The Rules
Abandonment to divine Providence is an important element in the Rules the saint drew up for his congregations. In the first number of his Rule for the community of women, he calls the congregation the Daughters of Providence, finally erasing that title and substituting Daughters of Wisdom. His insistence on total trust in Providence is apparent. Moreover, he writes that the Sisters "abandon themselves, in everything, to the cares of divine providence which will help them in the manner and time that providence so wills." In his Hymn to the Daughters of Wisdom, he sings: "Establish everything on providence / Without thinking of tomorrow. / Disregard that so-called prudence/ Which wants a sure support" (H 149:2).
It is especially in the Triptych of the Company of Mary that the saint stresses trust in the Providence of God. The PM is a clear indicator of Montforts understanding of total abandonment to divine Providence. With an incredible boldness, he begs God to create this congregation that he so ardently desires and that he so strenuously tries to establish; yet he recognizes that it must be Gods will, it must be the result of Gods love. If man takes charge instead of God, the entire project is lost (PM 26). He prays for a group of men whose preaching will "reform the church and renew the face of the earth," who will be apostles ushering in the kingdom of Christ through Mary. In order to do this, they must be "men according to your own heart, O Lord, who without any will of their own . . . carry out your desires . . . men always at your hand, always ready to obey you" (PM 8, 10), ". . . men abandoned to your providence" (PM 20), ". . . the Lords bodyguard of hand-picked men" (PM 30), known for their "abandonment to providence and their devotion to Mary" (PM 24).
In order to enter the Company of Mary, a candidate must surrender all material goods and rely totally on divine Providence: "Priests and Brothers alike must not accept even simple benefices and temporal possessions, even those they may inherit. If they did have any before entering the Company, they must return the benefices to those who presented them. What they inherited must be given to their relatives or to the poor, having first taken the advice of a good counselor. They thus exchange their paternal inheritance for one which God himself gives them, namely, the inexhaustible inheritance of his divine providence" (RM 5). "Their sole resource must be Gods providence . . . the community will supply all that is necessary in the way of food and clothing, depending on what providence supplies to the community" (RM 10-11). "The missionaries will not become settled in any one place, as communities, even the most regular, normally do. Instead of this undesirable stability they will be more solidly grounded in God alone, provided that they always yield themselves without reserve to the care of providence" (RM 12). "They must rely on divine providence for all things. God would sooner work a miracle than fail to supply the needs of those who trust in him. They are not, however, forbidden to mention in public or private their state of dependence on providence and the rules they follow in this matter" (RM 14).
The short but powerful LCM is an appeal to all the professed of the congregation to live a life of poverty, totally trusting in divine Providence. The founder places these words on the lips of the eternal Father: "I have graven you on my heart and on the palms of my hands in order to cherish and defend you because you have put your trust in me and not in people, in my providence and not in wealth" (LCM 3). St. Louis de Montfort then himself addresses each member of the community: "These are the marvelous promises which God has made to you through his prophets. They will be yours provided you put all your trust in him through Mary. Entirely dependent as you are on Gods providence, it is up to him to support you and to increase your numbers . . . fear nothing whatsoever and sleep in peace in your Fathers arms" (LCM 4). Saint Louis de Montfort again combines two elements in his explanation of living in total abandonment to divine Providence: complete trust in God joined with prudence and hard work: "earn your bread by the sweat of your brow" (LCM 10).
V. RELEVANCE OF MONTFORTS TEACHING ON PROVIDENCE
Saint Louis de Montforts theological, ecclesial, and general cultural context differ greatly from that of contemporary society. Not surprisingly, his teaching runs counter to several present currents. The autonomy of humankind in formulating its destiny is a characteristic of many modern men and women of the First World (the industrialized countries). The marvelous technological advances with repercussions most especially in First World society have influenced some to disregard, for all practical purposes, Gods governing presence in every particle of creation. With the emphasis on rugged individualism, the notion that God has an infallible plan for the human race appears outlandish. As always, the personal and collective calamities and perennial injustices raise serious doubts in many minds that Gods loving care is a reality. Montforts insistence that God governs all things in Christ Jesus through Mary and that we should have total abandonment to the designs of so loving a Father appears to many rather quaint, at best.
Without denying the need to update the expressions of Saint Louis Marie, it must be said that Montfort offers a healthy confrontation with contemporary thought. Three points especially should be noted which make his teaching relevant for todays society.
1. Insistence on the Grandeur of God
Montforts stress on the absolute supremacy of God is needed in a neo- Pelagian world. The missionarys teaching recalls not only the Sermon on the Mount but also the words of Paul: "For he has made known to us in all wisdom and insight the mystery of his will, according to his purpose which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth. In him, according to the purpose of him who accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will, we who first hoped in Christ have been destined and appointed to live for the praise of his glory" (Ep 1:912).
Connected to this stress on the grandeur of God is the saints emphatic teaching that Gods greatness does not distance Him from creation. Rather, it is precisely His Majesty which enables Him to be so intimately present within us. For the Omnipotence of God is love. This loving presence in every particle of creationmost especially in human persons, directing all freely to the final goalis an important lesson for a society so filled with fear of tomorrow while attempting to handle burdensome responsibilities without God. Montfort appears to be crying out to the present generation: "You are loved by God who dwells within you, there is purpose in life, your goal is glory with Christ, the son of Mary; do not be frozen by fear."
2. Abandonment to Gods Will
Montfort calls upon us to be who we really are. To ignore Gods will and to do whatsoever one pleases, to withdraw Christ from the goal of all creation and set up aims with no relation to the Lord, is to live a counterfeit existence. "Seek the Lord and His righteousness, His Kingdom and His Love," (H 28:14) is the only prescription for a fully human life. Such is the meaning of abandonment to Gods will. The missionary is a realist and at times will call this surrendernothing more than an acceptance of our realitya heavy cross. He himself experienced grave and painful illnesses, extreme poverty with all its consequences, injustices from authorities, betrayal by friends, the death of loved ones, apparent failure after failure; and yet there was in the midst of his tears a deep peace if not a joyful light-heartedness. He knew that in some mysterious way Gods will was being accomplished; he was convinced of the loving care of the Trinity who continually shared life with him and rejoiced in the experience of the presence of Mary. "Thy will be done," was his formula for peace. He calls this total abandonment to God. It is a lesson that every generation must constantly learn.
Saint Louiss teaching on the consecration to the eternal and incarnate Wisdom through Mary encompasses total abandonment to divine Providence. Seen in this light, the consecration with its liberating "slavery of love" takes on a clearer and more urgent meaning.
3. The Need for Human Response
Taken out of context, excerpts from the saints teaching may appear to neglect human cooperation and to over-stress trust in God, as if we were to do nothing, but such is definitely not his thought. Providence, as Gods continual creation, is the ground and source of our freedom, which must be used to promote the glory of God. True, the missionarys stress is on Gods sovereign, loving care; yet that means that we are to be open to that care by hard work. Following his example, that implies boldly living the gospel, protesting injustices, standing up for the truth even at the cost of ones life, seeking help and advice, creatively proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ to the poor and the marginalized. To be open to the guiding Spirit is to be filled with zeal for Gods glory. This is, for Montfort, intrinsic to a balanced understanding of "abandonment to God." His teaching offers a corrective to any quietistic understanding of the response to Gods loving care.
Notes: (1) CCC 302. The Catechism is quoting Vatican Council I, Dei Filius 1 (DS 3003) and also Ws 8:1 and Heb 4:13. (2) CCC 303. (3) Cf. Ernst Niermann, Providence, in Smun, 131415: "There is no rivalry or competition in the relation between divine and creaturely freedom. Divine freedom is the transcendent cause which enables the creatures to be free. The exact relationship is a controversial question in theology." (4) CCC 305. Cf. also CCC 322: "Christ invites us to filial trust in the providence of our heavenly Father (cf. Mt 6:2634), and St. Peter the apostle repeats: Cast all your anxieties on him, for he cares about you (1 Pet 5:7) cf. Ps 55:23)." (5) Summa Theologiae, II-II, 49, 6 and ad 1. (6) Ibid., I, 22, 2. (7) Saint Louis de Montfort seems to refer to the text of Paul: "For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. Ever since the creation of the world his invisible nature, namely his eternal power and deity has been clearly perceived in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse" (Rom 1:1920). (8) "God, as the absolute Master, can give directly what he ordinarily dispenses only through Mary, and it would be rash to deny that he sometimes does so. However, St. Thomas assures us that, following the order established by his divine Wisdom, God ordinarily imparts his graces to men through Mary." Saint Louis de Montfort is discussing the question of Mary, mediatrix of all graces. All his writings insist on this privilege, and SM 23 must be read within that context and not considered as some momentary hesitation about the universality of Marys mediatrix role. The text of Montfort is to be understood in the light of LG 60, 62. (9) Cf. CCC 307: "To human beings God even gives the power of freely sharing in his providence by entrusting them with the responsibility of subduing the earth and having dominion over it (cf. Gn 1:2628)." (10) Cf. Grandet 89. (11) Blain, 24. (12) B. Papàsogli, Montfort: a Prophet for Our Times, Edizioni Monfortane, Roma 1991, 61. (13) Cf. ibid., 414.
Taken from: Jesus Living in Mary: Handbook of the Spirituality of St. Louis de Montfort (Litchfield, CT: Montfort Publications, 1994).
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