Editor’s note: The following homily was preached for the memorial of St. Louis Grignion de Montfort (April 28, 2022) at the Church of the Holy Innocents in New York City.
Today the Church holds up for our veneration St. Louis Grignion de Montfort, a French priest of the eighteenth century, most known for his promotion of Marian devotion.
Firstly, let’s do a quick review of his life – actually, a very short life. He was born in 1673, the eldest surviving of eighteen children. He was a gifted student and early on came under the spiritual influence of the Abbé Julien Bellier, who propagated consecration and entrustment to Mary among his students. The 23-year-old Louis fell quite ill but upon release from hospital, he found himself at Saint-Sulpice, where he then came under the influence of none other than the Abbé Jean-Jacques Olier, a key figure in what developed into the French school of spirituality, with its strong stress on Marian devotion. He also became familiar with the thought of Cardinal Pierre de Bérulle – another luminary of the so-called French school. Angels had a prominent place in the spirituality of both Olier and Bérulle – which likewise was picked up by Montfort who, like Pope John XXIII centuries later, always greeted the guardian angel of his interlocutors.
Montfort was ordained at the age of 27 and, barely six months later, he became a Third Order Dominican, preaching the importance of the rosary and forming rosary confraternities. Not surprisingly, eventually he would write The Admirable Secret of the Rosary. Having a burning desire to become a missionary, he went to Rome to seek the counsel of Pope Clement XI (amazing how easy it once was to gain personal access to a pope!)1. Clement told him there was a fertile field for his aspirations right in France.
Falling back on his devotion to angels, he made a pilgrimage to Mont Saint Michel, praying to that archangel for the grace “to win souls for God, to confirm those already in God’s grace, and to fight Satan and sin.” Buoyed up by this retreat, he launched out on years of preaching missions throughout France. He also laid the foundations for three institutes of religious life – the male Company of Mary and its female counterpart, the Daughters of Wisdom, as well the Brothers of St. Gabriel (sadly, all three of those congregations have gone the way of all flesh, which is what happens when you abandon the charism of your Founder).
His fiery preaching hit home, so much so that he once was poisoned; although he recovered, it caused his already-frail health to deteriorate further. In April of 1716, he preached his last mission, the theme of which was the tenderness of Jesus and the Incarnate Wisdom of the Father. He was only 43 years of age and a priest for a mere sixteen years, but those years were jam-packed with hard and fruitful labor.
His spirituality can be summed up in these five points: “God alone” (his personal motto, which surfaced more than 150 times in his writings); the Incarnation, causing Pope John Paul II to declare: “The Incarnation of the Word is for him the absolute central reality.”; love of the Blessed Virgin; fidelity to the Cross; missionary zeal.
Of course, Montfort is most known for his “total consecration,” comprised of seven elements and effects: knowledge of one’s own unworthiness; sharing Mary’s faith; the gift of pure love; unbounded confidence in God and Our Lady; communication of the spirit of Mary; transformation into the likeness of Christ; enhancing the extrinsic glory of Jesus. St. John Paul – the quintessential Marian pope – once shared that as a young seminarian he “read and re-read” Montfort and came to “understand that I could not exclude the Lord’s Mother from my life without neglecting the will of the Triune God.”
Montfort was beatified in 1888 by Pope Leo XIII, who produced twelve encyclicals on the Holy Rosary; he was canonized in 1947 by Pope Pius XII, who defined the dogma of Mary’s bodily Assumption into Heaven.
At times, some of his most ardent devotees do him the disservice of “cherry-picking” lines from his works which present a rather unbalanced Mariology. So, let’s consider some of his bons mots that give a context for his Marian devotion and so learn just how Christo-centric was his spirituality:
Chosen soul. . . what steps will you take to reach the high level to which God is calling you? The means of holiness and salvation are known to everybody, since they are found in the Gospel; the masters of the spiritual life have explained them; the Saints have practiced them…These means are: sincere humility, unceasing prayer, complete self-denial, abandonment to Divine Providence, and obedience to the will of God.
We never give more honor to Jesus than when we honor his Mother, and we honor her simply and solely to honor him all the more perfectly. We go to her only as a way leading to the goal we seek – Jesus, her Son.2
God is a spring of living water which flows unceasingly into the hearts of those who pray.
The Our Father contains all the duties we owe to God, the acts of all the virtues and the petitions for all our spiritual and corporal needs.
Take advantage of little sufferings even more than of great ones. God considers not so much what we suffer as how we suffer. . . Turn everything to profit as the grocer does in his shop.
Now, we are in a position to appreciate how he sees Mary fitting into the economy of salvation:
The Son of God became man for our salvation but only in Mary and through Mary.
Mary has produced, together with the Holy Spirit, the greatest thing which has been or ever will be – a God-Man; and she will consequently produce the greatest saints that there will be in the end of time.
The greatest saints, those richest in grace and virtue will be the most assiduous in praying to the most Blessed Virgin, looking up to her as the perfect model to imitate and as a powerful helper to assist them.
The rosary is the most powerful weapon to touch the Heart of Jesus, Our Redeemer, who loves His Mother.
Recite your rosary with faith, with humility, with confidence, and with perseverance.
St. Louis de Montfort’s unswerving focus can be encapsulated in that maxim of classic Catholic spirituality: Ad Jesum per Mariam, remembering always that the goal is “Ad Jesum.” When Cardinal Newman was struggling to understand Marian devotion, a wise and holy Jesuit (there are some!) told him “we could not love the Blessed Virgin too much, if we loved Our Lord a great deal more.”
I think our saint of the day would agree.
1Here we can recall the impetuous Little Flower at the age of fifteen jumping into the lap of Pope Leo XIII, seeking his approval for her way-too-early entrance into the Carmel.
2This saying puts one in mind of the title of one of the sermons of St. John Henry Cardinal Newman – “The Glories of Mary – for the Sake of Her Son.”
If you value the news and views Catholic World Report provides, please consider donating to support our efforts. Your contribution will help us continue to make CWR available to all readers worldwide for free, without a subscription. Thank you for your generosity!