by Patricia Roberts
It was on 29 January 1997 that I picked up the latest issue of Footsteps in an attempt to find inspiration - and read the article about the Holy Father's visit to the tomb of St Louis Marie, followed by the declaration that his feast day might be celebrated each year and "included henceforth in the liturgical calendar of the Universal Church."
I had been asked to give a little talk to the Ladies' Group of my parish, having already introduced them to St Louis and sparked off some interest in this 'little-known' saint. Due to their good-natured receptivity and in recognition of my enthusiasm for "Wisdom's Fool", some members of the group had come to refer to ourselves informally as MARY'S KNITWITS, since one of our activities was to knit for funds for the parish. The article in Footsteps provided me with more Good News that I might share with them.
I quoted from Footsteps: "It is clear that St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort (1673-1716) must be placed among the most illustrious missionary apostles. Giving himself definitively to Divine Wisdom, he was the slave of the Mother of God and worked ceaselessly to confound the wisdom of the world by the folly of the cross, in order to bring Christian people to a life lived according to the Gospel ... In seminaries and novitiates around the world, there are priests, there are men and women consecrated to God, NOT FORGETTING THE LAY FAITHFUL, who are formed in the Marian doctrine of St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort and who find there a fruitful source of norms by which they can live their lives."
There could be no doubt that the Holy Father was giving St Louis Marie Grignion de Montfort a place of prominence - and that he was asking US to look to St Louis Marie as an example of one of the most "illustrious missionary apostles" - as a giant of a saint and an example on which to focus TODAY.
I attempted to list those qualities possessed by St Louis Marie that had set him apart from his confrères of the day - and which might also have made him the victim of taunts and ridicule from his fellow clergymen:
(i) He was the MISSIONARY WHO STAYED AT HOME (despite pleas to Pope Clement XI).
(ii) He denounced academic qualifications and status, appointing firstly a BLIND WOMAN to lead his team of "inmate-managers" of the poorhouse in Poitiers.
(iii) He had a great respect for women, giving them positions of responsibility and leaving them in charge of projects for extended periods, where decision-making would be theirs. This faith in the "weaker sex" was not typical of his times, e.g., he left a very young Marie Louise Trichet to run the Poitiers hospital for years, and later to found the Daughters of Wisdom.
(iv) He enlisted LAY PEOPLE, without hesitation, in the running of his missions and in implementing "the rule" which he left regarding the setting up of meetings, prayer-groups, etc., to maintain good practices in the parishes after he had gone.
I thought of parallels between St Louis Marie and our Holy Father, Pope Jean Paul II:
(i) The Holy Father is confined to Rome for much of the time, and yet seems to love to go to the poorest countries with his message of faith.
(ii) The Holy Father is not only sending out his "call" to religious throughout the world, but to the LAY FAITHFUL and societies such as the Legion of Mary, etc.
(iii) Pope John Paul has shown in the past that he has a great appreciation of the unique and valuable contribution made in the past by women, despite their low profile in the Church. His recent letter concerning women (issued last year) ilustrated without doubt his FAITH in them and his ADMIRATION for their special gifts and qualities. They have a very important role to play in his Church.
In the light of these parallels, I dared to suggest that WE (the parish Ladies' Group) were being called by both the Holy Spirit and the Holy Father to be MISSIONARIES OF TODAY in the spirit of St Louis Marie de Montfort, "Montfort missionaries - by Association", who would stay at home, where we are and AS WE ARE.
If we accepted this challenge, then how were we to answer this "call" in the light of the example of St Louis Marie de Montfort?
I left my friends to ponder and pray over this question (perhaps the theme for a future discussion?).
For the sceptics among us, there were two further points to ponder:
- Was not the PATRON SAINT OF MISSIONARIES (St Teresa of Lisieux) a woman who suffered from poor health and was confined to an enclosed convent for the whole of her religious life?
- Was not the FIRST CHRISTIAN MISSIONARY, and the most perfect example that we might follow, MARY - who took Jesus to her cousin Elizabeth nearly 2,000 yeara ago?
Our meeting concluded, as always, with a prayer and a hymn with a rousing chorus, and I could not help but wonder what St Louis would have to say had he been there.