Following the footprints of our spiritual mentor
Thomas à Kempis in his famous devotional classic The Imitation of Christ states that we should “Look upon the lively examples of the Holy Fathers in whom shone real perfection and the religious life, and you will see how little it is, and almost nothing that we do. Alas, what is our life when we compare it with (the) saints and friends of Christ…?” Our preoccupation today being 28th of April, is to celebrate the heavenly birthday of our spiritual mentor in the spiritual life. We are here to reflect on the person and spiritual legacies of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. He forms part of the communion of saints and “a communion of goods in the Church” (CCC. 947). Therefore, we are proud to proclaim him as our spiritual mentor par excellence! So, we shall renew our spiritual identity and destiny, examine and compare our identity with that of St. Louis-Marie the Montfort, and then recall two major footprints of his that we are expected to follow, that is, his two royal pathways in the spiritual life: suffering and prayer.
Our spiritual identity
Identity is concerned with who we are. Without mincing words, our identity and not just psychological dimension of it but spiritual is Slaves of love. In the litany of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort, he is invoked and venerated as the “loving slave of Jesus in Mary.” More so, in the decree that insert the Saint into the universal calendar of the Holy Roman Catholic Church, Montfort is acknowledged as “the slave of the Mother of God.” And St. Louis calls our devotion to Mary as the “Holy slavery of love.” It is very evident that we have a special identity and affiliation to the term “slave.” However, many in our contemporary times are shying away from this term that explains in precise terms the essence and depth of our devotion. They complain that it is derogatory and barbaric. I think a short history to elucidate the meaning and association of it to the Montfort’s spirituality is important.
A history of the term and title “slave”
The term “slave” was first used in the tenth century by German lords and Spanish caliphs to designate the people they recruited meaning people they owned. In the Middle Ages, the term was applied to serfs who could not be removed from their lord’s land. In a similar way, the Church had her slaves also who could not be removed from the diocese or monastery. Later, the voluntary form of slavery became very prominent as there were also voluntary slaves, and this accounts for the Consecration made by Blessed Marinus († 1016 cf. TD 159). This had a backing in the Scriptures and Traditions of the Church. Here, Mary in Luke 1:38 prayed to be a slave girl of the Lord when she said “Behold, I am the handmaid (slave) of the Lord” meaning her complete dependence on God or what St. Louis calls “Total consecration.” St. Paul also gives a good Scriptural foundation of the term slave where he urges us to imitate Christ, who “took the form of a slave, being born in human likeness” (Phil 2:7).
Furthermore, in the sixteenth century, great spiritual masters and mystics also offered themselves to Mary as her slave. For instance, St. Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises, no. 114, contemplates the birth of Christ and looks on himself as “an unworthy slave” of Mary, Joseph, and the God-man. Accordingly Blessed John of Avila (1499-1569), also says that Mary prayed to God that she might be “the slave of the young woman who is to conceive and bear you while ever remaining a virgin.” In addition, St. Joseph was the first person to declare himself a slave of Mary: “When he considered that Mary was the Mother of God . . . he gave praise to God who had chosen him as spouse of the Blessed Virgin and offered himself to her as her slave.”
Following the examples offered above, in his writings that were based on his experience of total love for God, St. Louis-Marie de Montfort recommends that we consecrate ourselves “as slaves,” that is to say, that we consecrate “completely and for all eternity our body and soul, our possessions both spiritual and material, the atoning value and the merits of our good actions, and our right to dispose of them. In short, it involves the offering of all we have acquired in the past, all we actually possess at the moment, and all we will acquire in the future” (LEW 219).
Finally, St. John-Paul II explains the significance of the term slave to mean a sense of giving up our freedom, the greatest gift of God to us in order for us to disappear and for the Lord to completely take over our lives and activities. Therefore, let us appreciate our spiritual identity as slaves of love and not shy away from it by abandoning it and our very rich devotion of the Holy slavery of love. The truth is that many of us slaves of love are “spiritually starving in the midst of plenty” as it is evident in our triviality of our identity, devotion and spiritual life. Hence to attend cenacles weekly is difficult, to participate in our monthly retreat is tasking and to undertake our monthly personal novenas has become an abandoned spiritual exercise. There is a way out for our renewal through this feast day as we contemplate the spiritual insights of St. Louis-Marie concerning suffering and prayer.
“O God, Thou didst raise up Saint Louis-Marie, thy Confessor, to be a glorious preacher of the Cross and of the Most Holy Rosary …”
Montfort and suffering: St. Louis-Marie de Montfort is invoked in his litany as the “Apostle and prophet of the reign of Jesus through Mary.” He is worthy of such honour as he exemplifies it in his discourse on the end time. He explains that the end of time would follow four stages such as: 1. “the tragic state of the Church” (tragedy) 2. “Divine intervention within salvation history” (drama) 3. “The second coming and reign of Jesus Christ” (happiness) and 4. “The deluge of the fire of justice and the last judgment” (destruction and judgment). For the reality of these stages to take place he says there would be four key protagonists, personages or agents that would lead the way: The Trinity, The Blessed Virgin Mary, The Apostles of the end times and Satan.
We slaves of love belong to the Apostles of the end times and our distinguishing mark or characteristic is our spirituality that is centred on two great features: Marian experience and the experience of the Cross. Montfort prophesy that we would be exceptionally devoted to Mary (TD 48, 55) and by our radical devotion to Mary we shall become the “heels” of the Blessed Virgin who will crush the head of the serpent (TD 54). Therefore, to do so would mean to make “many enemies” (TD 48); and since we the children of Mary are her “heels” it implies that we will be “down-trodden and crushed” (TD 54).
This is where most of our suffering experiences are coming from but they are normal. Now, the foregoing can either be pain or suffering depending on our degree of understanding, evaluation and interpretations. If we understand every hurtful experience as coming from God and drawing meaning out of them, then we transit from pain to suffering and if we fail to see God in our hurts then we end in pain and meaninglessness. For a slave of love life is not centred on pain and pleasure but celebration and healing. What we can heal we do and what we cannot heal we celebrate and move on in life because there is a hidden meaning that would be revealed shortly. However, many of us are not aware and instead of standing to fight to the end and conquer, we end up looking for the easy way out that is not actually easy but leads us into eternal damnation with one of the agents of the end time, Satan. Consequently, our pains and emptiness become persistent, lacking in merit, values and heavenly rewards.
St. Louis-Marie’s counsels for us as we struggle with our various crosses in life is as follows: “Friends of the Cross, you are like crusaders united to fight against the world; not like religious who retreat from the world lest they be overcome, but like brave and valiant warriors on the battle-field, who refuse to retreat or even yield an inch. Be brave and fight courageously.”
Montfort and prayer: Prayer is the second royal pathway of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. Hence, he is acknowledged as a “Man of solitude and prayer” and “Restorer of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament.” Prayer is the antidote to suffering and St. Louis really experienced many forms of suffering in life but he was able to transform his suffering experiences through his intense prayer life. A prayer life that was informed by an unshakeable faith in the Trinity and a deep devotion to the worthy Daughter of God the Father, Admirable Mother of God the Son and the Humble Spouse of God the Holy Ghost. As a Man of solitude and fertile intuitions, St. Louis left us with the great prayer of meditation, the prayer of the mystics. His prayers are inspired by the mystery of the Incarnation in which the unity of the Blessed Trinity is practically demonstrated. More so, Jesus Christ dominates his prayer thought pattern and he says “Jesus, our Saviour, true God and true man, must be the ultimate end of all other devotions” (TD 61).
St. Louis-Marie’s prayer life is also known to be characterised by his contemplation of the Cross. Through his understanding of the place of the Cross in the mystery of salvation, he teaches that nothing is as necessary and useful as prayer. He explains that instead of complaining and wasting away the merits of suffering, prayer would cushion the effects of suffering. Listen to his counsels from his Letter to the Friends of the Cross: Roses are only found among thorns. It is the cross alone which nourishes our love of God, as wood is the fuel which feeds the fire. Remember the beautiful saying in the “Imitation of Christ”, “In proportion as you do violence to yourself, by suffering patiently, so will you make progress” in divine love. He says that it is only those who pray that can be enlightened with the wisdom and understanding above.
Finally, at the heart of the prayer life of St. Louis-Marie is the liturgical and sacramental life of the Church as ordained by Jesus Christ. Hence, the slavery devotion is rooted liturgically in our Baptismal promises and its renewal. Furthermore, it is daily nourished by the Holy Eucharist and other sacraments especially Reconciliation. It is pertinent to quickly identify one of the secrets of the Montfort’s spiritual life, and that is the daily renewal of our baptismal promises once the total consecration to Jesus through Mary is done. If this is the case, then it will be very difficult and impossible for anybody to go to hell under the spiritual domain of St. Louis-Marie de Montfort. Nevertheless, there is a little cost to negotiate with and that is how to accept life the way it comes to us or the way we receive it from God and find meaning from every circumstance or experience. Again, many of us are drifting away from the narrow path that leads to life. Listen to Jesus Christ the ultimate Master of the spiritual life: “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Even the cross that many are running away from or have completely abandoned for the allurements of the world can be appreciated better through prayers that are informed by the sacramental life of the Church. For instance St. Louis-Marie asserts:
So rejoice and be glad when God favours you with one of his choicest crosses; for without realising it, you are blessed with the greatest gift of heaven, the greatest gift of God. If you really appreciated it, you would have Masses offered, you would make novenas at the shrines of the saints, you would undertake long pilgrimages, as did the saints, to obtain from heaven this divine gift.
Some questions for our personal reflection: What is my frequency and sacramental devotions to the liturgical life of the Church especially attendance and participation in the Holy Mass? How frequent do I commune with the Lord through Holy Communion? What is my passion and appreciation of Jesus Christ in the Blessed Sacrament? Do I adore Him in the spirit of St. Louis-Marie who is the “Restorer of devotion to the Blessed Sacrament? Unfortunately, slaves of love who supposed to champion life as it comes from God, see it mainly from our human perspectives as against divine perspectives and an integrative approach. Those who try to accept life and live it purely for God are said to be psychotic because they seem not to reconcile their lives with the realities of the times. They are said to be mad, stupid, lacking a sense of judgement and of common sense. Is it the case?
The spiritual mentor calls us to renew our zeal and understanding of prayer in our spiritual lives. To pray is to make what happens in heaven to happen on earth. At the level of intimacy with Jesus and Mary and in the order of the slavery devotion, prayer is not merely to get something from God, it is not a technique to bribe God but simply a means to practice heaven here and now. Therefore, in order to make prayer here and now, St. Louis-Marie “The eminent preacher of the Cross and of the Holy Rosary shows us how to pray the Holy Rosary devotionally, meditatively and contemplatively as we daily relive the mysteries of our salvation. Let us carry our Rosaries in our pockets, cars, hand bags for sisters and ultimately employ it prayerfully and on a daily basis to overcome the world and its challenges especially in this era of political, economic, social and religious failures. St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort who is a preacher and promoter of the Rosary, used the Rosary to attract graces and virtues from God through Mary, he used it for exorcising people from the dominion of Satan and his demons, he prayed the Rosary for the fruitfulness of his missions, and he spread the Rosary to people of all walks of life. Therefore, no one can end miserably in this life if he/she prays the Rosary faithfully and imbibe the graces and virtues that accompany every bead of the chain/chaplet of the Holy Rosary.
In conclusion, we are grateful to God for the opportunity to celebrate the feast day of St. Louis-Marie Grignion de Montfort. He is an ardent lover of God and His Mother, a Saint, a peaker, a transcender, a spiritual mentor, a Man of the Cross and prayer and one great intercessor for our Marian and spiritual life. God be praised for creating him and endowing him with multiple qualities that we have been imitating and are celebrating liturgically and otherwise today. St. Louis-Marie de Montfort – pray for us.
Fr. John-Mary Atep.