Thursday, January 23, 2014

Saints on the religious life: Louise de Marillac

St Louise de Marillac (1591-1660) is an interesting case. She had family troubles (born out of wedlock, she never knew her mother. Her father acknowledged her but not as his legal heir, and she suffered from rejection by her father's second wife.)
When she was young she applied to the Capuchin nuns but was not accepted. This disturbed her greatly but she accepted it and went on to get married. Still, her heart always had a desire for the religious life. When she was 32 she wrote:

On the feast of Pentecost during Holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was completely freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that the time would come when I would be in the position to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience and that I would be in a small community where others would do the same. . . . I felt that it was God who was teaching me these things and that, believing there is a God; I should not doubt the rest.

She had guidance because up to about that time she had St Francis de Sales as her spiritual director. She made a vow that she would not remarry if her husband died before her. Three years later, he did die. They loved each other and Louise grieved his loss. Meanwhile Louise had met St Vincent de Paul and began to assist with some of his charitable works. In 1630 as she was thinking about what to do with her life, she records this incident:

I left on St Agatha's day, the 5th of February, to go to Saint-Cloud. At Holy Communion it seemed to me that Our Lord gave me the thought to receive him as the Spouse of my soul, and more, that this would be for me a form of espousal; and I felt myself most strongly united to God in this consideration which struck me as extraordinary, and I had the thought to leave everything to follow my Spouse, henceforth to consisder him such, and to support the difficulties I would encounter as receiving them out of the community of his goods.*

This is quite interesting because of several points.
1. She specifically says that the thought of espousal came from Jesus himself.
2. It was connected with her receiving Holy Communion.
3. She felt very strongly united to God.
4. It struck her as something extraordinary.
5. She knew that difficulties would come, but she looked on them almost as if they were gifts.

Louise continued to collaborate with St Vincent and together they founded the Sisters of Charity.

My point in looking at the spiritual experiences of these saints as they were drawn to religious life, is to examine what it meant to them. The idea of espousal is very clear here with Louise de Marillac. She was drawn to Jesus as her Spouse, and according to her testimony here, it came to her most clearly in a prayer experience at Mass and Communion. This is how the Holy Spirit has worked in the lives of the saints. Any theoretical treatment of religious life needs to take this data into account.


*p. 55, Louise de Marillac, by Joseph I. Dirvin, C.M., New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1970.

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