Author: St. Louis de Montfort




I. Manifestations of Zeal in Montfort’s Life: 1. Zeal for the glory of God; 2. Montfort’s zeal for Mary; 3. Montfort’s zeal for the poor and outcast. II. Zeal in Montfort’s Writings: 1. Autobiographical testimonials in the letters; 2. In the hymns: a. Hymn 21: “Flames of Zeal”; b. Hymn 22: “Resolutions and Prayers of a Perfect, Zealous Missioner”; c. Remarks on zeal in other hymns of Montfort. III. Apostolic Zeal in Respect for Human Freedom.

The term “zeal” etymologically means to be hot or to begin to boil. It refers, therefore, to a rather vehement emotion or movement of the will in relation to a cause. In its fullest sense it refers to energetic and forceful activity in favor of some project. “Zealot” usually implies a fanatical or at least excessive dedication to someone or to some ideal. St. Thomas Aquinas presents zeal as an intense impulse of love and friendship: “Zeal, considered from any of its aspects, flows from an intensity of love. . . . The love of friendship seeks the good of the friend. When it is intense, then, it impels the one who loves to act against anything that might impede the friend’s good. Thus, those are said to be zealous for their friends if they strive to repress words or deeds contrary to these friends’ good.”1

Montfort rides in the wake of the Angelic Doctor. For him, too, zeal flows from an intensity of love, just as flames come out of a fire. Indeed, he entitles one of his hymns, “Flames of Zeal.” And that hymn begins: “Sing we all, and burn with flames / of zeal for souls’ salvation! / Zeal comes of love of God, / nor ever can abide / offense to God, our Sovereign, / or brook it that our neighbor / be assaulted. Come, make we / examination of its excellence, / examination of its excellence!” (H 21:1).

In PM Montfort speaks of the jealous zeal of Moses, who seeks to satisfy God’s holiness by appealing for a conversion of heart and the destruction of idols (PM 25) and of the burning zeal of the prophet Elijah, who summons the chosen people to restore fidelity to the covenant with God.


The saint’s biographers offer abundant witness to the zeal that welled up within Saint Louis de Montfort from the love he had for God, for the Mother of the Lord, and for his neighbor.

1. Zeal for the Glory of God

From his youth, Montfort “breathed only zeal for the salvation of souls.”2 Episodes of this zeal for the glory of God and the salvation of his sisters and brothers occur all through his life. Wherever he saw offense to God, he was unable to abide it, and felt the greatest exasperation. His blood boiled in his veins, and he sometimes intervened rather violently. At Poitiers, he once caught sight of a young man harassing some ladies, and vigorously put an end to it. At Saint- Donatien one evening, he entered a cabaret, overturned tables, and smashed musical instruments. His character was no stranger to such reactions. He himself acknowledged his violent temper. Predominant in his life, however, was a constructive zeal, which committed him to seek in all things the glory of God. Indeed, Montfort’s burning desire, the raison d’être of his life as a person of action and a missioner, was the extension of the Reign of Jesus through Mary, through the operation of the Holy Spirit, for the glory of the Father.

From the intensity of his love for God’s glory, a project to found a community of missionary priests and brothers arose in Montfort’s heart: “It is no personal favor that I ask, but something which concerns your glory alone” (PM 6). The missioner was also consumed with zeal for the Lord’s house: “He always joined his preaching to a campaign for the restoration of churches.”3 At Poitiers he restored the Church of Saint John the Evangelist, at La Chèze the Chapel of Our Lady of Mercy, and at Campbon the parish church that lay in ruins.

2. Montfort’s Zeal for Mary

Montfort manifests his zeal for devotion to the Blessed Virgin in LEW, SM, and, especially, TD. “He was captivated by the person of Mary in Scripture. He contemplates her at Cana, where Jesus manifests his glory for the first time, and he contemplates her again at the foot of the cross (Jn 2:1, 19:25–27). He contemplates her in her relationship with God, in herself, and with regard to us. . . . He encourages the Marian devotions and recommends meditation on the life of Jesus and Mary during the recitation of the rosary (LEW 193; TD 249–54). From his childhood, he already was in miniature, if I may say so, what he was so magnificently at a more advanced age: zealous panegyrist of the Blessed Virgin, perpetual orator of her privileges and her grandeurs, indefatigable preacher of devotion to her. Even as a youngster, his biographers tell us that he enjoyed speaking about Our Lady. As a preacher of parish missions, he was joyfully determined to spread devotion to her and to increase the number of men and women who would lovingly serve her.”4

3. Montfort’s Zeal for the Poor and Outcast

Montfort’s predilection for the lowly and afflicted, the anawim of his time, is an echo of Zephaniah’s appeal in behalf of justice for the weak and the small (Zp 2:3). With Zephaniah as with Montfort, poverty took on a moral, eschatological dimension. Today, a concern for the poor is expressed in the activity of movements fighting world poverty or waging campaigns for human rights. Montfort could only exercise this zeal in behalf of persons in his immediate vicinity. How appropriate, then, the inscription on his tomb today: “Quid cernis, viator? / Virum charitatis igne consumptum” (“What dost thou behold, O traveler? A man consumed with the fire of charity!”)


1. Autobiographical Testimonials in the Letters

Surely no other type of document better reveals an author’s true personality than his or her letters. This is certainly true in the case of Montfort. We need only page through the few letters that have been preserved in order to discover the signs of the inner flame of his zeal.

A note addressed to Father Leschassier, Superior of Saint-Sulpice, manifests Montfort’s “tremendous urge to make our Lord and his holy Mother loved” (L 5). In Letters 6 and 9 he reiterates his ardent desire to teach catechism to the poor, and Letters 9 and 11 indicate the intensity of his concern for the temporal and spiritual welfare of the poor of the hospital in which he worked.

In Letter 11, which he wrote in 1702, Montfort repeats that his greatest attraction is for the missions. This desire gradually became more concrete, and at the end of his life his letters demonstrate his zeal for the cause of God. In Letter 27, to Marie-Louise, he urges her and Catherine Brunet to leave Poitiers for La Rochelle. Citing the example of Abraham, he exhorts the pair to be willing to risk something for God: “I know you will have many difficulties to overcome but an enterprise which is going to do so much for the glory of God and the salvation of men will have its way strewn with thorns and crosses. If you don’t take risks for God, you won’t give anything worthwhile” (L 27).

Letters 28, 29, 30, and 33 evince, besides Montfort’s zeal, the urgency of the task to be undertaken by the Daughters of Wisdom. The pressing tone of Letter 30, addressed to Marie Régnier and inviting her to return to the La Rochelle community, is especially significant. The letter opens: “The grace of the Holy Spirit does not permit of delay” (L 30).

Letter 34 was the last addressed to Marie-Louise. The expressions of zeal that Montfort employs in this communication have been constants throughout his life. They have tempered and matured, but they have never ceased developing: zeal for the Cross, and zeal for divine Wisdom. No power on earth can separate him from these. In LPM, Montfort manifests the same “divine jealousy” that Paul experienced in his soul with regard to Christians he had evangelized: “Remember, then, my dear children, my joy, my glory and my crown (Phil. 4:1), to have a great love for Jesus and to love him through Mary. Let your true devotion to your loving Mother Mary be manifest everywhere and to everyone, so that you may spread everywhere the fragrance of Jesus and, carrying your cross steadfastly after our good Master, gain the crown and kingdom which is waiting for you” (LPM 2).

2. In the Hymns

A number of Montfort’s hymns praise the zeal of any servant of God.

a. Hymn 21: “Flames of Zeal.”

Hymn 21 begins by identifying the source of Christian zeal: “Zeal comes of love of God“ (v. 1) and neighbor. The flames of zeal flash forth from the very fire of love in the bosom of the Trinity, and they return there. “What pleasure to God our Father, / when, for love, we aid / poor sinners’ salvation!” (v. 3). Montfort cites the joy of, “the sweet Savior . . . / in finding some lost child— / whose price? The blood He shed!” (v. 4). “A single word of heartfelt zeal / has more than once flung wide the door / to touche some hardened heart. . . . / Just then, the Holy Spirit comes, / And peace is struck for everlasting” (v. 5).

But the flame of love that bursts forth for the glory of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (vv. 3–5) kindles zeal for the good of our brothers and sisters as well (v. 16). They deserve that we should be concerned with their salvation. After all, “our neighbors’ dignity is great” (v. 6), and “their immortal soul . . . so noble, so great, and so lovely!” (v. 7). Of ourselves they beg help and light, that they may wrench free of the clutch of evil (vv. 8–9), and rediscover the path of good (v. 10). Fed by love, the flames of zeal radiate with fervor, and fill with graces the soul that is their hearth (v. 11). Zeal is a most meritorious, divine virtue (v. 12), and its effects are precious; for it covers a multitude of sins (v. 13), prepares its practitioner for a sweet and holy death (v. 14), and leads to an incomparable glory, in heaven (v. 15). A “zeal” that would be practiced from selfish motives, rather than those of love, is a false zeal. Christian zeal is recognizable by certain characteristics: it is supernatural (v. 17) and sweet (v. 18),5 after the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd (vv. 19– 20). It is industrious and universal (v. 21), modest and disinterested (v. 22). It is accompanied by abandonment to Providence (v. 23). It is invincible (vv. 24–25), humble, and obedient.

b. Hymn 22: “Resolutions and Prayers of a Perfect, Zealous Missioner.”

Hymn 22 transfers, as it were, the flames of zeal, of which we hear in Hymn 21, to a missioner of flesh and bone. The three opening lines of the hymn perfectly fit St. Louis Marie de Montfort, the zealous missioner of the Reign of Christ through Mary: “The die is cast: / I scurry ‘cross the world, / rootless to the very quick of me— / to save my poor neighbor!”

The first verses of the hymn cry the missioner’s love for his brothers and sisters in need of spiritual help. But since love for one’s neighbor proceeds from love for God, the good missioner asks God for the holiness, the truth, and the fervor needed to overcome evil and convert souls (v. 4). He asks for the gift of wisdom and charity that transform him into a “a man divine” (v. 5) by truly sharing in the divine nature.

In his zeal, the missioner is animated and guided by the Father’s “interests,” and encouraged and strengthened by the joy of pleasing the Father (v. 6). In vv. 7 and 10 there are echoes of PM: “For a grain of sand, they scour sea and land alike, / their labor past conceiving. / For Thee, then, O my God, shall I lack zeal? / To win the blood of my God, / shall I not stir from my place? / O what contempt, / O what contempt! / Were this some unbeliever here?” (v. 7). “A soldier, drumming ‘cross the land, / enlistments wins from every side. / ‘To arms!’ he cries, and sudden there’s a regiment. / But to defend an injured God / what cavalry is here? / Who ever takes up holy arms? / Alas, alas! / Alas, alas! / No thought for that!” (v. 10).

The missioner casts his regard over fields now white for the harvest, and from deep in his heart wells a prayer to the Lord of the harvest, to send forth laborers of the Gospel (v. 9). Rising up as well is a reproach to the “false devout,” all closed off in the shell of their selfishness, for their “cruel rest” (v. 11). And especially, a renewed commitment surges: an engagement to work for the good of human beings— one’s brothers and sisters (v. 12)—and for the cause of the Gospel (v. 13). The missioner toils with a humble, trusting heart (vv. 14–15), joining action to contemplation (v. 16). Montfort is moved to express this ideal in a number of mottoes or slogans: “How I would make Thee loved, O Lord!” (v. 18); “May I become / all things to all!” (v. 19); “Thou alone, my God, and souls’ salvation!” (v. 28); “Make of me Thy missionary!” (v. 31).

The qualities of zeal are proposed, not in abstract fashion, as in Hymn 21, but as invocations in the missionary’s own prayer, which asks for a zeal that will not be austere. After all, a little vinegar and much oil win minds and hearts (v. 17). And so this zeal will be modest, kind, and heavenly (v. 19), obedient, humble, and prudent (v. 20), disinterested (v. 21), trusting (v. 22), and vibrant with initiative (v. 29). A missionary zeal lives in poverty: “All monies are a brackish pool. / They soil a soul. How generous / it otherwise had been!” (v. 26). “It relies on the providence of God” (vv. 22–23, 24–27).

Hymn 22 closes with a prayer to Jesus and Mary. The missionary asks Jesus to kindle his soul with the fire of his own love (vv. 28–29), to guide him by wisdom (v. 30), and to support him with his strength (v. 31). He asks Mary for her help: “Mary, my good Mother, / send thou a whole army / to my aid!” (v. 32). He also asks her for wisdom and strength, that his word “may grow and bear fruit.” He confides to her his desire, “that I may grow in holiness, / and glorify my God.” (v. 32).

Montfort must have composed Hymn 22 during his missionary life; unlike Hymn 21, which was probably written at his desk in the years of his youth at Saint-Sulpice. It is in Hymn 22 that he speaks of a humble, prudent zeal: “Now, through my own experience, I have learned: / a burning zeal is a terrible thing, / unless it be all humble, meek, and wise— / submissive to the laws of human nature” (v. 20).

Mary’s spirit is presented as “zealous yet prudent, humble yet courageous,” just as we find it in TD 258. Just as in PM Montfort begs his Lord to send him missionaries of “burning and prudent zeal” (PM 21). Hymn 22 attributes more importance to poverty, which ought to be both actual and affective in a zealous missioner. It may well allude, between the lines, to that abandonment to Providence that Montfort has chosen for himself and now proposes to his followers (cf. RM 10–18; LCM).

Finally, Hymn 22 presents a missionary zeal so enlivened and filled with the spirit of Mary that we easily discover, here again, Montfort’s own experience and a part of the spiritual legacy that he has bequeathed to his religious families.

c. Remarks on zeal in other hymns of Montfort.6

Hymn 32:31–34 is an appeal to priests to be courageous shepherds of their flock. Hymn 46:6 exhorts all Christians to speak of the Heart of Christ, and to preach with courage Christ’s greatness and the attractions of his goodness. In H 47:20–26 Montfort’s impassioned cry summons all the earth to the love of Christ. Hymn 139:67 is fired with a zeal for the glory of God, which is being profaned.

Hymn 130:3 celebrates the Heart of Christ, which in the Eucharist burns with such intense zeal. Saint Michael the Archangel (H 21:2, 138:6), along with Moses and St. Paul (H 21:16), are consummate models for Christian zeal to imitate. The true devotee of Mary, as well, given over completely to her service, appears as an example of Christian zeal (H 80).


Since Montfort’s times, the apostolate has acquired certain qualities that are based on a contemporary reading of the Bible and a consciousness of human freedom. Certain expressions of zeal that are comprehensible in Montfort’s milieu and culture of the seventeenth century may not be viable in our times. The reason Montfort still speaks to us today is his sincere, fervent love for God and human beings, and his having lived a life utterly consecrated to the proclamation of the Gospel. Deeds that may appear inopportune, or even violent, in Montfort— as in Christ himself (Jn 2:15)—are the exception rather than the rule. Montfort’s habitual behavior, marked by a welcome of the sinner, commitment to preaching, and charity, won him the appellation, “the good Father from Montfort.”

In the light of the New Testament, Christians must not allow themselves to be contaminated by a thickheaded, unenlightened zeal, even when it is rooted in a religious spirit. Christians look to Jesus, who condemned the extreme reactions (Lk 9:54–55) of James and John, those “sons of thunder” (Mk 3:17), and will mount the very Cross rather than resort to violence (Mt 26:51–55).

Thus, zeal is not rejected in itself. On the contrary, Paul insistently calls us to be zealous. Zeal is a good thing when lived for love of Christ, who himself was zealous for God (Jn 2:17). And so the Apostle expressly praises the missionary zeal that seeks to attract others (cf. Ga 4:18; also 2 Co 11:2, where Paul justly speaks of a “divine jealousy”). Finally, there is as well such a thing as a positive zeal for others’ good (2 Co 7:7, 9:2), which translates into a manner of being and acting stamped with goodness, and with a love that takes precedence over every other solicitude (1 P 3:3–4; T 2:14).7

Enriched by a deep respect for the human being—that icon and child of God—Montfort’s missionary zeal retains its value today. It thrusts us to continuous, tireless, and courageous commitment to the Reign of God in our world. Montfort refers especially to Christ as Wisdom, who is the principle of apostolic dynamism, and at the same time, of tenderness. He appeals as well to the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose spirit is “gentle yet strong, zealous yet prudent, humble yet courageous, pure yet fruitful” (TD 258). Montfort’s proposal, a gift and consecration of self to Christ through the hands of Mary, is altogether valid and a precious secret of holiness.

A. Rum - Mary Firth

Notes: (1) ST II–II, q. 28, a. 4, c. (2) Blain, 13. (3) Pauvert, Vie du vénérable Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort (Life of the Venerable Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort), Oudin, Poitiers 1875, 175. (4) Blain, 10. (5) For zeal in its quality as “tender,” cf. a piece of advice for missionaries that Montfort himself borrows from Saint Francis Xavier: “At every moment, seek to be in an agreeable humor, and wear a cheerful, serene countenance. Never allow the least shadow of anger or sorrow to cross your face. Otherwise those who see you will not open their hearts, and will not have in you all of the confidence that will be necessary if they are to profit from meeting with you” (LS 502). (6) A number of Montfort’s hymns manifest the fire that consumed him for the house of the Lord: H 23:31, 28:29, 33:18–21, 43:14–16,23-28, 47:7, 133:6, 136:9– 15, 158:11–12. (7) H.-C. Hann, “Zelo” (Zeal), in Dizionario dei Concetti Biblici del NT (Dictionary of Biblical Concepts), Dehoniane, Bologna 1976, 2036.

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

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