On May 9, Vincentians all over the world celebrate Saint Luise de Marillac, the tireless companion of Saint Vincent de Paul in the adventure of charity. In CMglobal we share the article “Saint Luise and Saint Vincent” by Fr. Juan-Pierre Renouard CM published in Vincentiana.
As is usual each year, the feast of St Vincent de Paul is celebrated over three consecutive days at the Berceau. The Eucharist was celebrated this year by Mgr Sarrabère, with Fr Christian Laboure as Master of Ceremonies. A large number of friends, amongst whom was a delegation of young people from the College and BEP (who came of their own free will!) gathered around the ‘residents’.
It fell to Fr Jean-Pierre Renouard to give a chat, the following day, on the links between St Louise de Marillac and St Vincent de Paul; a way of celebrating, one last time, the four hundredth anniversary of the birth of St Louise.
For a week, St Louise was in agony. She had entered it imperceptibly, at the end of many years when she was not too aware of it. But suddenly, on the morning of that Ascension Day, 25 May 1623, everything collapsed; she was assailed by a thousand questions which tortured her and kept her trapped in a serious crisis of conscience.
She wanted to flee, to leave her sick husband and her slow-learning child, she began to doubt everything; the immortality of the soul and even the existence of God. Thinking she would find peace there, she multiplied fasts, vigils and prayers (Petite Vie, p.12). Fr Gonthier, a diligent reader of St Louise for many years, has clearly grasped the agony in which she lived; “Her interior night reached its darkest on the feast of the Ascension…her scrupulous temperament and her tendency to neurasthenia became allies in the temptations which shook her faith in eternal life and even in the existence of God. By these means, the Lord tested his servant who sought to love him with a purer love”. (Messages et Messagers, 202, p.V)
This was the woman then who took a serious decision: if her husband should die, she would accept no other attentions and would not enter a second marriage, even if this should be flattering and lead her to rise to greater social heights. She made a vow to remain a widow. For her, service of God must come first. But the means of doing so eluded her…she did not know ‘how that would come about’…she could not find peace at all.
It was during this difficult and trying time that she went into the church of St Nicholas des Champs on the morning of Pentecost. Suffering, but not despairing, she prayed to God to give her peace…as she was preparing for the Eucharist in prayer, or perhaps as she was reciting the ‘Veni Sancte Sprirtus’, she was suddenly overcome by an extraordinary mystical grace. We call it her ‘Light of Pentecost’. This grace, both personal and intimate, has been passed on to us by means of a manuscript 28cm by 9cm, made fragile as a result of being much folded and carried about, in a pocket or a bag. Lest we doubt it, here is the major event which changed the life of St Louise and which was the very origin of your Company;
On the day of Pentecost, during the Holy Mass or praying, in the Church, suddenly, in an instant, my spirit was enlightened of its doubts. And I was made to understand that I must remain with my husband, and that a time would come when I would be in a condition to make vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, and that I would be in a small community with others doing likewise. I understood also that it would be in a place where we might serve the neighbour; but I could not understand how this might happen since it would mean going and coming.
I was then assured that I must remain at peace about my Director and that God would give me one who would help me see, and while I seemed to feel a repugnance about accepting this nevertheless I acquiesced and it seemed to me that this was with the purpose of not having to make this change again.
My third sorrow was lifted from me by that the assurance that I felt in my spirit that it was God who was teaching me all of this and that, having such a God, I need not doubt what followed.
This ‘Light of Pentecost’ really is the major event in her life, the one which transformed her and set her again at peace and in union with God, which gave birth to her ardent and fruitful charity, despite all her suffering and her human limitations. All her doubts collapsed, she knew that she must lead her husband to the final harbour, and that she could then undertake to live a consecrated life if she did not see fully all the newness of the future community life of the Daughters of Charity. Time did its work and, imperceptibly, as M Vincent said, she would see fulfilled to the letter all that she had perceived first on that Pentecost morning. Manifestly the Holy Spirit, this great interior Master prepared her for great things by giving her, at the same moment, the grace of serenity.
This prophesy was also to put into her life someone she would first feel ‘repugnance about accepting’, by which I mean, of course, M Vincent. It is this companionship that we must discover now. What I suggest is that we examine certain facts before explaining the quality and nature of their collaboration.
Jean-Pierre Renouard CM
Province of France