As a poor young priest, St Louis was helped by a mistress of the king of France
Catholics are known for revering certain saints. We all have our favourites, those to whom we have a special devotion and love. My own list includes St Francis of Assisi (naturally), St Bernadette, Blessed Pier Giorgio Frassati and St John Bosco. Friends swear by St Anthony, St Philomena, Padre Pio and so on. For those outside the Church, especially other Christians, this can seem suspicious: why are we not devoting our whole energy to Christ? The answer is, we are – but to love Christ is to love those who love him; men and women who, by their example of Christian self-giving, encourage us in our less generous lives.
I mention this because the CTS has just published a new booklet in its “great saints” series: Louis de Montfort, by Fr Paul Allerton SMM. St Louis is not so well known as other major saints but he should be. His two books, True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin and The Secret of the Rosary, have had a colossal influence on later holy figures, not least St John Paul II (who adopted St Louis’s motto “Totus Tuus” as his own papal motto) and the Venerable Frank Duff, founder of the Legion of Mary and one of the greatest lay Catholics of the 20th century.
Other Christians often think that Catholic devotion to Our Lady is extravagant. For them, Christ is our sole Redeemer and Saviour and His Mother an unnecessary, if pious, distraction. I can only respond to these objections by saying “Pray to her and you will discover that her only desire is to bring you closer to her Son.” Personally, I am uneasy about the title “Co-Redemptrix”: Our Lady certainly plays a vital role in our redemption by her co-operation with God in the Incarnation; but this is not the same as a formal title that seems to give her equal standing with God. Perhaps someone can enlighten me on this. Is this title officially recognised in the Church or not?
Meanwhile, readers might like to read this short biography of one of her greatest advocates – someone who understood that to say “I only need Christ and no-one else”, denies himself an immeasurable source of inspiration and maternal solace. Like all the saints, St Louis de Montfort (born in 1673) had a characteristically difficult time trying to fulfil his vocation as a missionary priest, as well as the usual amount of enemies within the Church who tried to thwart him. His life reminds one of Christ’s imperturbable response to St Teresa of Avila, after she had been thrown out of her conveyance into a water-filled ditch one freezing night as she was struggling to reform the Carmelite order: “This is how I always treat My friends.”
Indeed, St Louis’ most famous work, his True Devotion, was lost for 130 years after his death in 1716, and only rediscovered and published in 1842. Being a saint, he understood that fidelity to Christ, rather than earthly recognition or success, was the whole point of life. The missions he started in France at the beginning of the 18th century (from 1700 until his death) were notable for several innovatory features: he relied on local parishioners to fund the missions in their own parishes; he deliberately involved lay people in his projects; he always tried to repair and renovate neglected chapels and churches he came across in his diocesan work; and as well as regular recitation of the Rosary during missions, he included visual teaching aids such as processions and hymn-singing as ways of instructing the ignorant and illiterate laity of France.
One amusing note in this informative booklet tells us that in 1700, near Saumur, St Louis “met Madame de Montespan, the former mistress of the king, Louis XIV, who, after her banishment from the court of Versailles, had made her peace with God and the Church.” A royal courtesan, who had occupied an enviable position at the extravagant court of the Sun King in the grandest palace of Europe, now wanted to help a poor, unknown and earnest young priest in his divine mission. It is surely the stuff of a film – or a BBC series?