There’s a story about Louis-Marie de Montfort embracing a dying leper in the street. He carried the man to a religious house, where he called out, “Open the door for Jesus Christ!”
Seeing Christ in the poor, the disenfranchised, had always been part of his spirituality. In 1693, at the age of 20, Louis chose to begin seminary in Paris. He adopted the life of a mendicant, deciding to walk the entire 230 miles to Paris. He arrived with the tattered outward appearance of a poor beggar, and the inward disposition of one completely surrendered to God’s will. Louis chose to attend the seminary for poorer students, and it may have been at this time that he discontinued the use of his family name, Grignon, for the simpler and humbler association with the tiny village of his birth: Montfort.
But what does that have to do with us, living in a different time and place from this ardent young man, a future priest and a future saint? Here are three connections:
- He understood human nature, and gives us ways of dealing with our shortcomings. This is particularly comforting. One example is when he speaks of praying the Rosary: “Being human, we easily become tired and slipshod, but the devil makes these difficulties worse when we are saying the Rosary. Before we even begin, he makes us feel bored, distracted, or exhausted; and when we have started praying, he oppresses us from all sides, and when after much difficulty and many distractions, we have finished, he whispers to us, ‘What you have just said is worthless. It is useless for you to say the Rosary. You had better get on with other things. It is only a waste of time to pray without paying attention to what you are saying; half-an-hour’s meditation or some spiritual reading would be much better. Tomorrow, when you are not feeling so sluggish, you’ll pray better; leave the rest of your Rosary till then.’ By tricks of this kind the devil gets us to give up the Rosary altogether or to say it less often, and we keep putting it off or change to some other devotion.”
- He gives us an understanding of Marian devotion. “To go to Jesus, we should go to Mary, our mediatrix of intercession. To go to God the Father, we must go to Jesus, our Mediator of redemption.” The understanding of Mary as Mediatrix is, as is always the case with Mary, really aimed at saying something about Jesus and his Church. The whole point of the Incarnation is that God has chosen to reveal himself in a human way and to make us participants in his work; so it isn’t just Mary who is a co-mediator of the grace of God—we’re all called to it. That’s why we are commanded to pray for one another instead of leaving everything in Jesus’ hands. Mary’s mediation of the grace of God is only the most obvious example of what all Christians do, since all of us mediate the grace of God to the world in some way or other.
- He shows us how to live in the world. Which, of course, comes back to the beginning, seeing the face of Christ in the face of a dying outcast. Who are the poor? The Magisterium tells us the poor are those who suffer inhumane conditions for food, housing, access to healthcare, education, employment, and basic freedom. Poverty is therefore not limited to material poverty. The societal dimension of poverty is essential: the poor are “the last.” By living, the Christian imitates the life of Christ, and “in the person of the poor there is a special presence of the Son of God that requires the Church to have a preferential option for them” (Novo Millennio Ineunte). Paul VI added about the poor, “You are the Christ for us … you are a sign, a face, a mystery of the presence of Christ… you are a sacrament, a sacred image of the Lord among us!” This is what de Montfort anticipated 300 years ago.
All this and more is available in Louis de Montfort’s writings. His best-known preaching, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, was a work whose success he never got to witness during his lifetime. He died in 1716, and the manuscript wasn’t discovered until 1842, and not published until 1853 when the Vatican declared it free from theological error. That’s a long time to wait, but most modern readers will agree that it was well worth waiting for.
“Poor among the poor, profoundly integrated into the Church despite the lack of understanding he had to face, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort adopted as his motto these simple words: ‘God alone.’ His love for God was total. It was with God and for God that he went towards other people and walked the roads of the mission. Constantly aware of the presence of Jesus and Mary, his entire being was a witness to the theological virtue of charity which he desired to share with everyone. His deeds and his words had only one aim, to call people to conversion and to motivate them to live for God” (Pope John Paul II).
by Jeannette de Beauvoir