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May 24, 2003|
Mary Help of Christians
Louis Grignion was born in Montfort-la-Cane, in Brittany, on January 31, 1673. He was baptized the day after he was born. The day of his confirmation, he added the name «Marie» to his first name. Sent to nurse with a farmer's wife in the surrounding area, the child retained from this experience a love of nature and solitude. His father, a lawyer, had a lively and sometimes violent disposition. Louis-Marie was an energetic boy who studied with great fervor and showed a high level of intelligence. From his earliest years, he turned, as if by instinct, to the Most Blessed Virgin. He called her his «Good Mother,» asked her with childlike simplicity for everything he needed, and led his brothers and sisters to honor her. When Louise-Guyonne, his little sister whom he especially cherished, hesitated to leave her games to come recite the Rosary with him, he told her in a convincing tone: «My dear little sister, you will be very beautiful and everyone will love you if you really love God.»
The art of configuring ourselves to Christ
At the age of twelve, Louis-Marie entered the Jesuit school in Rennes. The young man soon took his seat at the head of the class. He showed a special liking and talent for painting. Guided by a devout priest, he went, with other students, to visit the sick, bringing them the best his heart could offer. He would read them a passage from the Gospel and comment on it, then talk with them about the Blessed Virgin. At the school in Rennes, he made two good friends, Jean-Baptiste Blain, who would later write his life, and Claude Poullard des Places, future founder of the Congregation of the Holy Spirit Fathers.
Louis-Marie wished to become a priest. At times he endured violent scenes from his father who had other plans for him, but Louis-Marie's gentleness won out in the end, and at the age of twenty he left on foot for the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice in Paris. On the way there he gave everything he owned to the poor, then made a vow to never possess anything. In Paris he was first received in a seminary established for poor seminarians. He excelled in his studies. During recreation he joined in the conversation, to the delight of all, making a point to cheer his confreres with lively and amusing conversation. With his superior's consent, he devoted himself to all kinds of penances, but his health could not withstand them, and a serious illness laid him low. When he had regained his health, he completed his studies at the Seminary of Saint-Sulpice and formed a small society whose members had a special devotion to Our Lady. During a pilgrimage to Chartres, Louis-Marie spent a whole day in prayer before the statue of Notre-Dame-sous-Terre.
In the school of the Blessed Virgin, and particularly by reciting the Rosary, our saint learned to pray and contemplate. «The Rosary belongs among the finest and most praiseworthy traditions of Christian contemplation,» writes Pope John Paul II... «The Rosary, precisely because it starts with Mary's own experience, is an exquisitely contemplative prayer. Without this contemplative dimension, it would lose its meaning, as Pope Paul VI clearly pointed out: 'Without contemplation, the Rosary is a body without a soul, and its recitation runs the risk of becoming a mechanical repetition of formulas... By its nature the recitation of the Rosary calls for a quiet rhythm and a lingering pace, helping the individual to meditate on the mysteries of the Lord's life as seen through the eyes of her who was closest to the Lord' » (RV, 5, 12).
A light for the world
Ordained a priest at the age of 27, on June 5, 1700, Louis-Marie celebrated his first Mass in the Church of Saint-Sulpice, at the altar of the Blessed Virgin. Then he left with a priest from Nantes who had gathered a few confreres to preach missions from village to village. After having worked with them for a while, he placed himself at the disposal of the Bishop of Poitiers. First received at the city hospital to serve the poor there, he amazed the needy with his profound piety. Seeing his charity towards them, they asked the bishop to name their new benefactor the hospital chaplain.
Louis-Marie wrote, «The hospital I am assigned to is a house of confusion in which peace never reigns, and a house of poverty in which goods, both spiritual and temporal, are lacking.» In a few short months of dedication, in the face of every adversity, and despite the lively opposition of influential individuals as well as of some poor in the hospital who did not want any reforms, Louis-Marie established order in the house once again. His activity extended to the material needs of his charges, for whom he organized collections in the city, as well as to their spiritual good: «Since I have been here,» he wrote, «I have been on a continuous missionhearing confessions almost every day from morning to evening and giving advice to an infinite number of people... The Good Lord, my Father, Whom I serve albeit sometimes unfaithfully, has given me insights that I did not have, a great ease in expressing myself and speaking immediately without preparation, perfect health, and a great openness of heart towards all.»
He brought together several sick women of good will, gave them a rule of life that emphasized humility and penance, and entrusted them to the Son of God, the Eternal Wisdom. Soon thereafter a young woman from a middle-class family, Marie-Louise Trichet, came to him for confession. She wished to become a nun, and Louis-Marie brought her into the group of poor women he had just gathered. On February 2, 1703, he gave her a religious habit that made her the laughing stock of all. But she wore it with courage for ten years, before becoming the first Superior of the Daughters of Wisdom, a congregation that is dedicated to caring for the sick, the poor, and children, and which today numbers close to 2,400 sisters in more than 300 houses.
A letter from four hundred of the poor
However, his zeal and the order that he restored did not please everyoneone year after his return, he left the hospital again and offered himself to the bishop to evangelize Poitiers and the surrounding area. Making himself all things to all people, he wandered the alleyways of the suburb of Montbernage, entered the homes there, inquired after the health of the inhabitants, and blessed the children. His gentleness, his poverty, and his humility opened many hearts to him, allowing him to begin a mission. He converted a barn into a chapel, in the middle of which was placed a large crucifix. Fifteen banners representing the mysteries of the Rosary decorated the walls. Processions, hymns he had composed himself, and public recitation of the Rosary gradually transformed hearts. Having finished the mission, Louis-Marie completed his work by planting a cross. Then, in the barn that had become Our Lady of Hearts Chapel, he placed a statue of the Most Blessed Virgin and asked for someone to commit to coming to recite the Rosary before it every Sunday and feast day. Immediately, a worker in the neighborhood volunteered to do it. He kept his promise for forty years.
Such fidelity implies a great love for the Most Blessed Virgin, which is expressed in the repetition of the «Hail Marys» of the Rosary. «If this repetition is considered superficially, there could be a temptation to see the Rosary as a dry and boring exercise. It is quite another thing, however, when the Rosary is thought of as an outpouring of that love which tirelessly returns to the person loved with expressions similar in their content but ever fresh in terms of the feeling pervading them» (RV, 26).
A broad enough field
Towards the end of 1706, he joined Father Leuduger, a priest who organized parish missions in Brittany. Louis-Marie excelled in teaching catechism. To his mind, this work was «the mission's greatest work,» and «finding an accomplished catechist is more difficult than finding a perfect preacher.» The catechist «seeks to make himself all at once loved and feared, such, however, that the oil of love exceeds the vinegar of fear.» He livened up catechism, «which of itself is rather dry, with little and short agreeable stories, so as, by this means, to please the children and to renew their attention.» So that the children might better learn Christian doctrine, Louis-Marie put it in verse and had the children chant it to familiar tunes. But the Rosary remained his favorite prayer. «It is also beautiful and fruitful to entrust to this prayer the growth and development of children,» writes Pope John Paul II... «To pray the Rosary for children, and even more, with children... is a spiritual aid which should not be underestimated» (RV, 42).
Father de Montfort's faith in the mystery of the Cross was the inspiration for his plan to build a monumental Calvary close to Pont-Château. It involved erecting an actual hill, surrounded by a ditch, on which would be planted three crosses like at Golgotha. Work began without delay with many volunteer workers. Louis-Marie collected food from nearby farms for these volunteers. But when the work was finished, the Bishop of Nantes forbade the Calvary to be blessed. In fact, under the pretext that the new hill could become a dangerous fortress in the hands of invading enemies, King Louis XIV, ill-informed, had given the order for it to be razed. Louis-Marie sighed, «The Lord allowed me to have this Calvary made, and today He allows it to be destroyed. May His Holy Name be praised!» Finding his peace of soul again, he continued his apostolic work. After his death, the Calvary would be rebuilt.
In 1711, Father de Montfort was sent for by the Bishop of La Rochelle. He conducted many missions in his diocese. La Rochelle was a Calvinist stronghold. Not wanting to let the Protestants think that they alone respected the Bible, he organized a procession in which, under the canopy, a priest carried the Holy Book respectfully. Louis-Marie also had the Rosary recited in the parish and in families. In fact, following the 1710 canonization of Saint Pius V, a great promoter of this devotion, fervor for the Rosary grew. In our time, John Paul II reminds us that the prayer of the Rosary is still very powerful, especially for peace and for the family: «The Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is our peace (Eph. 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary learns the secret of peace and makes it his life's project. Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it...
«As a prayer for peace, the Rosary is also, and always has been, a prayer of and for the family. At one time this prayer was particularly dear to Christian families, and it certainly brought them closer together... Many of the problems facing contemporary families, especially in economically developed societies, result from their increasing difficulty in communicating. Families seldom manage to come together, and the rare occasions when they do are often taken up with watching television. To return to the recitation of the family Rosary means filling daily life with very different images, images of the mystery of salvation: the image of the Redeemer, the image of His most Blessed Mother» (RV 40, 41).
In 1712, Louis-Marie wrote the Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin. «I have put pen to paper to write what I fruitfully taught in public, and particularly in my Missions, over the course of many years,» he wrote. In these pages, the Saint showed that the grace of Baptism calls for a total consecration to Jesus Christ, which can be perfect only with a total consecration to Mary. Jansenist opposition prevented Father de Montfort from publishing his treatise, which would not see the light of day until 1843, more than a century after his death.
«Let us go to Paradise!»
With Saint Louis-Marie, let us turn with confidence to Mary by praying the Rosary. «A prayer so easy and yet so rich truly deserves to be rediscovered by the Christian community,» affirms the Pope. «I look to all of you, brothers and sisters of every state of life, to you, Christian families, to you, the sick and elderly, and to you, young people: confidently take up the Rosary once again. Rediscover the Rosary in the light of Scripture, in harmony with the Liturgy, and in the context of your daily lives» (RV, 43).
We pray for you, and offer all your intentions to the Queen of the Most Holy Rosary and her Spouse, Saint Joseph.