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Catholic Heroes . . . St. Louis Marie Grignion De Montfort

May 21, 2020 saints No Comments


During the month of Mary, we turn to St. Louis Marie de Montfort (1673-1716), a saint inseparable in devotion to Christ’s Blessed Mother. His feast falls on the anniversary of his death, April 28, as if he is joyfully pointing us to the Marian month ahead.
Many are familiar with Pope St. John Paul’s personal motto, “Totus tuus,” or “totally yours,” meaning to Christ through Mary. Many are unaware this was shortened from St. Louis de Montfort’s own motto, “Totus tuus ergo sum.” So inspired was John Paul II by the works of St. Louis de Montfort that he read and reread them during the dark days of Nazi-occupied Poland. Around the same time, Pope Pius XII made the consecration himself, before canonizing St. Louis in 1947.
Mary is the key to understanding the saintliness of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. Even now, centuries later, many still make his “Total Consecration to the Blessed Virgin” and are influenced by his enormous love of the rosary. But first to his beginnings.
“De Montfort” refers not to his surname — Grignion — but rather to his French birthplace, Montfort-le-Cane. Today, the town is named Montfort-sur-Meu. The eldest of eight, he also had an additional seven or eight siblings who did not reach adulthood. Of these surviving siblings, half would enter religious life. At 12 he began his Jesuit schooling in nearby Rennes. He added “Marie” to Louis as his Confirmation name, and his spiritual director at the school for 3,000 was Fr. Philippe Descartes, nephew of the philosopher. Louis soon dreamt of the priesthood.

Radical Evangelism

We see already how overwhelmingly the future saint would not hesitate to make himself “a fool” for Christ. The journey to Paris, to the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice, was almost 200 miles. Though Louis was energetic at 19, it was still a long journey. He rejected a horse offered for half the journey and walked instead. Meeting a pauper along the journey, he gave him everything, arriving in the beggar’s clothes with empty pockets. He could not begin his studies thus, and his penury became so extreme that he became ill and was hospitalized.
Admitted afterward, he was blessed with revenues from a chaplaincy, with his parents helping later financially, as well. But his own spiritual adviser, Fr. Leschassier, was often at a loss to comprehend him and would later publicly reject him. Like him, many were at a loss at the wholehearted radical embrace of Christ that characterized Louis his entire life.
A priest friend from Rennes once asked Louis how he expected others to ever follow his example. “Fr. Louis showed me his New Testament and asked me if I could improve on what Jesus Christ had said and done. Could I show him a better life than that of His apostles, one of poverty and mortification based on abandonment to Providence?” (Montfort Fathers, EWTN).
As Fr. Leschassier rejected Louis’ request to become a missionary to Quebec, he was directed next to Nantes to train for the missions. When he found he would have to wait five months to begin, a friend suggested he visit the bishop of Poitiers, only to find him absent, too. At a loss, he entered a church to pray. The poor who saw him found him so pitiable in his poverty, even more beggarly than themselves, that they gathered a collection together to get him better clothes! After prayers he went to ask next door if he might help feed and wait on the poor. Those in charge also mistook him for a poor soul with nothing and insisted he remain so they could feed him.
These patterns would repeat themselves. Caring for the poor created problems, he left, the poor asked for him back. The bishop of Poitiers once returned assigned him as a hospital chaplain. Fr. Louis instituted needed reforms, came under attack, and was forced to resign. He began missions, some successful, wrote, started the beginnings of two orders, but in the end was banned from the diocese.
He paid a visit to Pope Clement XI in Rome, feeling God was again urging him to missions in other countries. The Pope told him there was plenty for him to do in France and promptly made him a “missionary apostolic” and sent him back. Louis returned to France finding his bishop still forbade him to preach in his own diocese. Roughly the age of Christ, this was already older than the average lifespan of a Frenchman at that time, age 30.
But Louis’ humility and seeming happiness at his crosses removed barriers to the immense missions he would continue, the books he would write, the countless souls he influenced. It was at this time his gift of speaking revealed itself, and today he is the patron saint of preaching!
“What can I say to you, my dear mother, in reply to your letter except to repeat what the Holy Spirit tells you every day. Love to be humbled and being given scant respect, love the hidden life, love silence, be the silent one who offers Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, love divine Wisdom, love the Cross. I am opposed and restricted in everything I do. Thank God in my name for the crosses He has given” (Letter fragment to a sister, date unknown/EWTN).
St. Teresa of Calcutta once said God does not ask us to be successful, He asks us to be faithful. Louis founded an order, the Daughters of Wisdom, to care for sick and destitute girls and women. When Fr. Louis died, the order had only four sisters. Was this “failure”? Today the order numbers over 5,000 in multiple countries.
And less than a hundred years after Louis’ death, the Daughters of Wisdom shed martyrs’ blood during the French Revolution. Author/translator Fr. Faber shares that the manuscripts for the True Devotion to Mary were then secreted at farmhouses, to preserve them from certain destruction. Many years later a priest discovered them “by accident” returned and misfiled in the library. The priest was astonished by what he believed was their founder’s handwriting. Confirmation revealed that over a century after Louis’ death the book that led to the Total Consecration to Mary was unknown, hidden under dust, waiting….We can only conclude that God’s timing in its unveiling may be a mystery but as such, ever perfect.
“Montfort’s spiritual path was centered on a passionate search for Wisdom. Wisdom, for him, was Jesus Christ, the Eternal Word made incarnate for our salvation. It was also to live for Him, and with Him to enter into the depths of God’s design of love for the world. This design was expressed in the folly of the Cross, because the Wisdom of God was contrary to the wisdom of the world” (Montfort Fathers/EWTN).

His Legacy

St. Louis Marie de Montfort was a priest for a mere sixteen years. It is astonishing that in so short a time, he gave so much to God. His two most famous works are True Devotion to Mary and The Secret of the Rosary. The former advocates his “enslavement” to Mary, to become “Servi Christi” or “Servants of Christ.” The book is preparation to make the 34-day consecration; resources showing how may be ordered or found online. Meanwhile, let us follow Mary’s example from the Marriage at Cana: “Do as He tells you.”
St. Louis was beatified in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII and canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII.

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