The Prayer of Saint Louise de Marillac

From Vincentian Encyclopedia

by: Corpus Juan Delgado, CM


[This article first appeared in San Vicente de Paúl y la Oración, (XXV semana de estudios Vicencianos), Editorial CEME, Santa Marta de Tormes, Salamanca, 2000, p. 179-236].


Introduction

In order to present the theme that I have been asked to develop for the twenty-fifth Vincentian Week, it seems that at the very beginning we must make some introductory remarks.

1] Prayer is something that occurs between an individual and God. Therefore to speak about the prayer of Saint Louise de Marillac is to engage in a bold and daring undertaking because only she can really know and understand her relationship with God. We can attempt to understand her experience but as Saint John of the Cross states: God leads each one along different paths so that hardly one spirit will be found like another even half its method of procedure [1].

2] We do not find among Louise’s writing a systematic presentation on prayer nor do we find an account of how she developed her prayer life. Yet as you know, we do have more than seven hundred of her letters and some of her personal writings [2]. In her letters, which were written for very different reasons, we find some references to her prayer life … she offered some suggestions with regard to prayer to the first Daughters of Charity. Louise’s writings contain expressions and thoughts on prayer that Louise put on paper in order to discuss these with her spiritual director or with the Daughters … they were not meant to be a description of her prayer life. Louise wrote for herself and did not intend for these to be read by us (other saints have described with great detail their personal prayer life and have left their disciples a methodology that enables them to develop their own prayer life) [3]. Therefore what we are able to affirm with regard to Louise’s life of prayer is based on the experience that she described and that is available to us.

3] The writings in which Louise expressed her thoughts and/or feelings which occurred during prayer are rarely dated. Therefore it is very risky to pretend to have discovered an evolution in her prayer life [4]. It appears that the better approach is to highlight anew the data and organize this information in accord with the constants that appear throughout Louise’s life. This presentation can be situated in that perspective.

Throughout her life, Louise sought to give herself totally to God and thus sought to do God’s will. God was “the Other”, the “you” in her life

Prayer cannot be defined as the dedication of some specific time to meditation or as the recitation of certain formulas. “Prayer consists of cultivating an interior space for the spirit and nourishing an attitude of prayer in such a way that we are able to discover the presence of God in everything” [5]. When the life plan of individuals consists of placing God at the center of their existence, then God becomes the One to whom everything is referred and it can thus be said that the whole life of these individuals has become a prayer. Prayer has become an habitual attitude that inspires and directs all their activity and in this way their activity became an expression of their faith and their worship of God. This is the invitation that we find repeated over and over again in the scriptures: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength. Those persons who live in this relationship with God, in this spiritual intimacy, give witness to the significance of a life lived in God. Through their faith and hope and love they are able to be in union with God at any time and in any place. They have focused their life on their relationship with God [6].

The Old Testament affirms that Moses spoke with God as a friend (Exodus 33:11). Saint Teresa described prayer as a relationship of friendship, often communicating with the One whom we know loves us [7]. Prayer could be defined as a history of friendship with Christ [8]. Prayer is a celebration of God’s presence and salvation in the depths of our heart … it is an on-going dynamic of fidelity to the history of God and to the history that Christians live as members of the Church and as members of humankind [9].

God speaks to people as friends and invites them to enter into a relationship with him and then receives them as his friends (Dei Verbum, #2). In matters pertaining to God methods are not as important as an interior attitude that enables people to open themselves to God’s unexpected “interruption” into their life. Revelation is not primarily a doctrine but an event and as such people cannot respond by “knowing” but rather by offering their life [10].

Louise de Marillac’s life should be viewed from this perspective. Her prayer was not a method or a series of practices but rather her prayer was a life lived in union with God. Louise handed over her will to God and on many occasions she renewed this offering of her will to God. Like Samuel she was attentive to God’s presence: Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening (1 Samuel 3:9) … the only thing that Louise desired was to give herself totally to God and then do God’s will. As we say about some of the people in the Bible, so too we can say that Louise walked with God (Cf., Genesis 5:22).

During her life Louise looked for ways to serve the Lord and to live her life in a way that God desired. As a young woman Louise wanted to become a religious [11].

In 1622 Louise wrote: On the Feast of Saint Sebastian, Martyr, I felt a strong desire to give myself to God to fulfill his holy will for the remainder of my life. I offered to him the inspiration which he had given me to seal this desire by vow once I had obtained permission (SWLM:692 [A.15b]).

In her desire to serve the Lord in a way that he desired, Louise, when she was widowed, formulated her Rule for Life in the World. There she expressed her decision to live in God, to serve God, and to live in accord with God’s will: Upon awakening, may my first thought be of God. May I make acts of adoration, thanksgiving and abandonment of my will to his most holy will ... I shall remind myself of the obligation I contracted to serve God all my life ... I adore you, O my God and recognize that you are the author of my existence. Because of the love I owe you, I abandon myself entirely to you holy will in my life (SWLM:689, 690, 691 [A.1]).

Louise expressed this idea in the same radical manner in her Act of Consecration: I affirm and renew the sacred profession made to God for me at my Baptism. I irrevocably resolve to love and serve him with greater fidelity and to give myself entirely to him (SWLM:694 [A.3]).

During her retreat of 1628 she wrote: I intend, with the help of God’s grace, to give myself willingly and completely to God (SWLM:698 [A.7]).

Again during her retreat of 1632 Louise stated: Willingly must I allow Jesus to take possession of my soul and reign there as King. Thus, I shall preserve the joy I experience in realizing that each of us individually may desire and, indeed, has the power to become his well-beloved … I must have great trust in God and believe that his grace will be sufficient to enable me to fulfill his holy will, however difficult it may appear to be, provided the Holy Spirit is truly calling me. I shall know this by listening to the advice which he will permit me to receive (SWLM:715, 716 [A.5]).

During her retreat of 1633 Louise wrote: I shall strive to detach myself willingly and effectively from everything so as truly and habitually to attach myself to God (SWLM:717 [A.8]).

In a prayer that was composed and intended to be said in the morning and at night Louise wrote: I give you my heart and all that I possess so that henceforth I may accomplish you holy will (SWLM:770 [A.49b]).

During the years in which Louise formulated her plans with regard to the Company of the Daughters of Charity she continually renewed her desire to seek the will of God in all things: May the holy will of God be accomplished in us and through us in time and in eternity! (SWLM:33 [L.47]).

When attempting to find the most adequate institutional framework Louise de Marillac explained to Vincent de Paul (November 1642) her thoughts … expressing the ways in which she was attentive to and docile to God’s will: It seems that God gave my soul great peace and simplicity during my imperfect meditation on the need for the Company of the Daughters of Charity to remain continuously under the guidance given it by Divine Providence in spiritual as well as temporal matters. At that time, I believe that I came to understand that it would be more advantageous for his glory for the Company to fail completely than to be under another's guidance, since that would seem to be contrary to the will of God. The indications of this are that there is reason to believe that when God inspires and makes known his will for the perfection of the works his goodness wishes to accomplish, he makes his plans known at the beginning. You know, Monsieur, that at the beginning of this work it was proposed that the temporal goods of the said Company would return to the Mission if it came to fail through malfeasance. These goods would then be used in instructing the country people. . If your Charity heard Our Lord say what he seems to me to have said to you, in the person of Saint Peter, I hope it was that he wanted to build this Company on your Charity, so that it would persevere in the service asked of it for the instruction of children and the relief of the sick (SWLM:234 [L.199]).

On a piece of paper that was given to Monsieur Berthe, who in January 1653 was traveling to Rome, Louise asked for the apostolic blessing and the grace to do God’s most holy will for the remainder of her days (SWLM:409-410 [L.389]).

In a letter that was sent to Vincent de Paul (August 24th, 1654) Louise asked for forgiveness and begged for new graces from God so that I might accomplish his holy will [12].

The Sisters who lived with Louise gave testimony concerning Louise’s attitude with regard to the will of God: …Her confidence in Divine Providence for everything, and especially for anything concerning the Company was admirable. At every conference she gave, she urged us to entrust ourselves to it. Her submission to God’s will was great, as was apparent during her last illness. In all her sufferings, which were very intense, she bore her aches and pains with all possible submission (CCD:X:579).

During her whole life Louise was passionate about being faithful to God’s will. Louise also taught those who approached her that the way of holiness involved love of God’s plan and God’s will … this implied that people should dedicate their life to the enthusiastic fulfillment of God’s will.

On Mary 26th, 1653 Louise wrote to Sister Jeanne Lepintre: Our Lord inspires you to remain at peace at the foot of his cross, completely submissive to the guidance of his divine providence. It seems to me, my very dear Sisters, that you have found the philosopher’s stone of devotion when the firm resolution to do his will calms your anxieties (SWLM:416 [L.363]).

Louise’s life cannot be understood apart from her relationship with God: she wanted to be wholly possessed by God and God alone. God was everything for her: O my God … you are my God and my All. I recognize you as such and adore you, the one true God in three persons, now and forever [13].

Louise made her relationship with God the center of her life. God became for her the “Other” [14]. Therefore to those persons who wanted to live in union with God, Louise indicated that the only way to do this was to live in accord with God’s will. In order to grow in holiness Louise knew of no better path than that of fulfilling God’s will. She wrote to a woman whom she directed during a retreat and stated: Enclosed are the spiritual exercises that I mentioned. According to the insights which, in your goodness, you gave me into your dear soul, they seem to me to be exceptionally well-suited to you. Put them into practice, my dear Lady, living entirely for God by this loving and serene union of your will with his in everything. In my opinion, this practice, in its holy simplicity, contains the means for acquiring the solid perfection God asks of you. Always have great esteem, my dear Lady, for humility and gentle cordiality. While reflecting on the divine gentleness during your periods of meditation, speak to Our Lord with great simplicity and innocent familiarity. Do not be concerned whether or not you experience any consolation; God wants only our hearts. He placed within our power only the capacity to make a simple act of the will. He considers this alone and the deeds resulting from it. Make as few reflections as possible and live in holy joy in the service of our sovereign Lord and Master. In all simplicity, I present these suggestions to you, Madame, as Our Lord has given them to me since, in your humility, you requested them from my poverty. I beg him, in his infinite goodness, to raise your dear soul to the heights of holiness that, in his love, he desires you to attain. Commend me to his divine mercy I implore you, Madame, and be assured that I have already done what you asked of me and that I shall never forget you in my poor prayers nor will I fail to remember your husband and all those dear people who are so precious to you. May God be blessed (SWLM679-680 [L.40]).

This letter, which Louise gave the woman at the conclusion of her retreat, provides us with an invaluable synthesis of the journey that was undertaken by this woman whose life was centered on God and who conformed her will to God’s will in everything that she did.

The practice of prayer in a woman who always wanted to be united with God

As we have just pointed out, Louise’s life can only be understood from the perspective of her on-going, habitual relationship with God. This attitude was cultivated through various forms of prayer. We will now attempt to draw closer to the content of her prayer life and we will do this through looking at her writings, which have been preserved for us.

1] In the monastery at Poissy Louise learned to read and was formed in the practice of prayer. From the time of her adolescence Louise engaged in prayer. Sister Mathurine Guérin has told us that from the age fifteen or sixteen Louise meditated (D.822).

2] Louise’s first biographer, Nicolás Gobillon, affirmed the fact that prayer was part of her everyday life: According to the testimony of the bishop of Belley, Louise always had an extraordinary love and inclination toward prayer. Since she possessed sound judgment and was formed by her study of philosophy and by reading various books and material, Louise’s heart was sensitive to and in harmony with God’s will. She prayed in an intensive, sublime and affective manner and we are able to see this in the writings that she has left us. Despite the many obligations that she might have to fulfill during the day she never failed to dedicate time to prayer (on Friday’s during Lent she extended her prayer time) … during those days she spent the time from 2:00-3:00pm in mediation on the death of the Son of God [15].

3] Pierre Camus, Louise’s spiritual director during the first years of her marriage, encouraged her to moderate her fervor: It gives me great comfort to know that your spiritual retreats are so useful and so delightful … but you have to utilize these times like honey, that is, rarely and moderately. You have a certain spiritual eagerness that needs moderation [16].

4] In her Rule of Life in the World, Louise brought together various prayer practices that would be engaged in at different times during the day or week or month or year. These practices were proposed by spiritual writers of that era and were recommendations that were suggested to those persons who wanted to live a devout life. Today said practices might appear to be unreasonable but they are a reflection of the life of a woman who wanted to give herself totally to God: In the name of God and with his divine assistance, may I live thus… Upon awakening, may my first thought be of God. May I make acts of adoration, thanksgiving and abandonment of my will to his most holy will. Reflecting on my lowliness and powerlessness, I shall invoke the grace of the Holy Spirit in which I shall have great confidence for the accomplishment of his will in me, which shall be the sole desire of my heart… Immediately after rising, I shall meditate for an hour or at least three quarters of an hour on a subject taken either from the Gospels or the Epistles to which I shall add a reading from the life of the saint of the day so as to be instructed by a practical example. After meditation, I shall recite attentively Prime and Terce in honor of Our Lady while preserving the inspirations I received during prayer … At eight-thirty in the summer and at nine o'clock in the winter, I shall go to holy Mass. Sometimes my sole intention will be to pray for and with the Church. At other times 1will make use of the points for reflection to be found in Philotée or in another book entitled Dosithée. After Mass, I shall finish the recitation of the Office of the Blessed Virgin while continuing to ponder the great love which God showed to us by instituting this Holy Sacrifice … Exactly at midday, I shall meditate for a quarter of an hour in order to honor the instant when the Incarnation of the Word took place in the womb of the Virgin Mary. At four o'clock, even when I am in the city, provided I am not too involved in some charitable work or some essential social obligation, I shall go to the nearest church to recite Vespers of the Blessed Virgin. During that time, I shall recollect myself so as to be able then to meditate for half an hour … At eight o'clock, I shall retire to make my examination of conscience, humbling myself profoundly for the graces which I may have received from God during the day as well as for the faults which I may have committed, trusting always in his goodness and mercy which are my only hope. Afterward, I shall recite Matins of the Blessed Virgin for the following day. Sometimes, I shall examine my conscience on the manner in which, as a woman desirous of becoming devout, I fulfill the commandments of God and my obligations as a Christian and a Catholic. Every day I shall recite five decades of the rosary while meditating on one of the mysteries. I shall strive to remember the presence of God at least four times each hour exciting within me the desire for his love by means of frequent ejaculatory prayers. Once a week, I shall read the points which I wrote down about five years ago, so as to remind myself of the obligation I contracted to serve God all my life. Every first Saturday of the month, I shall renew my vows and my good resolutions by reading my act of consecration either before or after Holy Communion. I have selected Saturday as proof that, because of my weakness and inconstancy, I have chosen the Blessed Virgin as my protectress. Therefore, I shall cultivate a special devotion to the Blessed Virgin, my guardian angel and the Apostles, with the desire of imitating their lives to the best of my ability since they are imitators of Our Lord. I shall recite the hymn "Jesus nostra Redemptor" all year long on the same day of the week as that on which Christmas falIs. On the day on which Pentecost falls, I shall say the sequence, "Veni Sancte Spiritus." I shall receive Holy Communion … in honor of the sufferings of Jesus Christ, I shall take the discipline in a spirit of penance two or three times while reciting a Pater in honor of Jesus Christ, an Ave in praise of the Blessed Virgin and a De Profundis for the souls in purgatory. I shall wear a hair shirt on the mornings on which I receive Holy Communion and all day Friday. I shall fast on all Fridays of the year; during Advent and Lent; on the vigils of the feasts of Our Lord, the Blessed Virgin and the Apostles, and on all days of fast prescribed by the Church. On days on which there is no fast, I shall take only two meals unless necessity or condescension obliges me to do otherwise. I would like to spend eight to ten days in retreat twice a year. One would be during the period between the Feast of the Ascension and Pentecost in order to honor the grace which God bestowed on his Church by giving it his Holy Spirit to guide it and by commissioning his Apostles to preach the Gospel to all nations. At this time, I would strive to be particularly attentive to the Word of God and to his law expressed in his commandments. The other days of retreat would be during Advent (SWLM:689-691 [A.1]).

5] In a detailed report that was sent to Vincent de Paul, Louise described her ministry during the time of her visits to the Confraternities of Charity. Together with the details of the work that she had accomplished, Louise also highlighted her prayer life during the time of her journey: Remembering his holy instructions and practices, I formed as my sole intention the accomplishment of the most holy will of God and the practice of our Rule. We all boarded the coach for Orleans and travelled most gaily without, by the grace of God, failing in our observances except during the hours of prayer and silence when we were overwhelmed by sleepiness. This we occasionally blamed on the heat. As we approached cities and villages, we would be reminded to greet their guardian angels with the hope that they would redouble their care of the souls there so that they would be assisted in glorifying God for all eternity. As we passed before the churches we made acts of adoration to the Most Holy Sacrament and greeted the patron saints as well. When we reached places where we would eat and spend the night, some of the sisters would go to the church to thank God for his help, asking him for a continuation of it and for his holy blessing in order to carry out his most holy will. If there was a hospital, these same sisters would go visit it. If not, they would visit some other sick person in the town. This they would do in the name of the entire Company as a continuation of the offering of our services and the accomplishment of our duty to God in the person of the poor … to whom we spoke after having worshipped God and greeted the Blessed Virgin … After having made our devotions at the church of Notre-Dame, we continued our voyage most happily, thanks be to God … after having adored the Most Holy Sacrament, we went to greet our dear masters and then all our sisters, who were greatly consoled in seeing our entire Company … so that we could go to the church of the Ursulines, which was the nearest, in order to adore God and give ourselves again to him for the accomplishment of His holy will (SWLM:173, 174, 175 [L.159]).

6] Her prayer was intensified during the time of her spiritual retreats … times of intense prayer that deepened her relationship with God. Gobillon states: She was not satisfied with the ordinary practice of prayer. Several times during the year Louise set aside three or four days for a spiritual retreat and she almost ways made a retreat during the ten days between the feast of the Ascension and Pentecost … She did this to honor the example of the Virgin Mary and the Apostles who, during those days, were joined together in prayer in the upper room preparing for the coming of the Holy Spirit [17].

7] The Sisters were aware of Louise’s prayer life and Vincent reminded them about this in a conference that was given after her death … a conference that was dedicated to the virtues that she practiced during her lifetime: She was deeply interior and very absorbed in God. Ah! Sister, what does it mean to be interior, and how did she do it? She was truly raised up to God, and that stemmed from the fact that she had long ago laid a deep foundation for her interior life … Mlle Le Gras had that gift of blessing God in all things (CCD:X:574). You can imagine what a deep, interior foundation your mother had in order to regulate her memory in such a way that she used it only for God, and her will only to love him … Mlle Le Gras was such an interior woman, even though by nature she was somewhat inclined to the contrary. Through her example, I want to overcome myself (CCD:X:575). Mlle Le Gras had a great sense of the presence of God in all her actions, and she always raised her mind to God before correcting a Sister … her mind was always occupied with God, as has already been said (CCD:X:583). She was no sooner alone than she was always recollected, but as soon as someone approached her, she smiled and never showed that she was being inconvenienced, even though her prayer was interrupted … she was very fervent and devout at Holy Communion and shed so many tears at that time that sometimes the Communion cloth was drenched by them (CCD:X:584).

8] A similar testimony was offer by her first biographer … her life was focused on God and thus her life was a continual prayer: Prayer and day of retreat were habitual and common occurrences … all her actions were focused on God and so she was able to discover God in the midst of her various and multiple activities. She was so attentive during her prayer that she appeared to be immobile in front of the altar. Louise received Communion with such love and kindness that she was known to cry profoundly so that the veil that covered her face was drenched by them [18].

9] Louise’s prayer was sustained by meditation on the Word of God and by reading the spiritual masters of that day: Louise knew that her spiritual life, like her physical life, needed refreshment in order to survive. She frequently read pious books and had a special liking for the Imitation of Jesus and the Spiritual Combat as well as the work of Francis de Sales and Luis de Granada. The wise bishop, who was her spiritual director, realized that she was ready for “more solid nourishment” and placed the sacred Scriptures in her hands [19].

10] We have available to us a prayer that Louise wrote … a prayer to be said in the morning and at night before making an examination of conscience (SWLM:770 [A.49b]).

11] We also have preserved for us a prayer to be said before receiving Holy Communion (SWLM:834 [A.49]).

12] Louise de Marillac, who knew how to recognize the presence and the action of the Holy Spirit, found ways to celebrate this reality in her personal and community prayer as well as in the Church’s liturgy [20].

We note the practical-apostolic character of the prayer that Louise addressed to the Holy Spirit. Her prayer was not some abstract contemplation on the third person of the Blessed Trinity. Rather her reflections on the Holy Spirit led her to understand the important consequences that the Spirit had for the life of the Church and the life of individual men and women: unity, joy, dedication to the poor, service activity.

12.1] In her Rule of Life in the World, Louise expressed her desire to spend the days between the feast of the Ascension and Pentecost in retreat [21].

We also possess Louise’s thoughts that were written during a retreat in which she meditated on the coming of the Holy Spirit and the dispositions that were necessary in order to receive the gifts of the Spirit [22].

Louise wanted the Sisters in the various houses to make their retreat on the days between the feast of the Ascension and Pentecost (SWLM:768 [A.75]).

12.2] Louise’s correspondence, those letters written during the time of the approach of the feast of Pentecost, reflected her esteem for this feast which she referred to as the great feast (SWLM:127 [L.118], 339 [L.118b], 350 [L.345], 396 [L.210b]).

On Pentecost Louise renewed her commitments and her desire to live wholly for God: I beg God with all my heart to take complete possession of all that we are on this holy feast day (SWLM:288 [L.433]).

Each month, on the date on which the feast of Pentecost had been celebrated that year, Louise would pray the Sequence, Veni, Sancte Spiritus, which the Liturgy assigned to that feast (SWLM:689 [A.1]).

Louise wanted all the Daughters of Charity to have a great devotion to the feast of Pentecost and felt that this should take the form of a special devotion (SWLM:768 [A.75]).

12.3] Louise was eager for the coming of the Holy Spirit and invoked the Spirit throughout her life: Should I be so fortunate as to receive the Holy Spirit, oh, how I must desire this with my whole heart! (SWLM:819 [A.26]).

Louise invoked the Holy Spirit at the beginning of the day (SWLM:689 [A.1]) and she also invoked the Spirit throughout her life (SWLM:768 [A.3]).

Louise exhorted the Sisters to invoke the Holy Spirit … an exhortation that reflected her own practice in this regard:

•The Sisters ministering on behalf of the galley salves should invoke the Holy Spirit frequently in order to purify their thoughts, words and actions (SWLM:741-741 [A.91].

•The Sister in charge of the Seminary should frequently implore the assistance of the Holy Spirit in order to see the Sisters and all that they do in the light of the Spirit … here Louise referred to the Sisters in the seminary as well as those in the various parishes who would be visited by the Director of the Seminary or who would be received by her when they came to the Seminary (SWLM758-759 [A.91b]).

•The Sisters teaching in the various schools will go to school at 8:00am and there kneel down and ask for the help of the Holy Spirit for themselves and for their pupils, that they be taught purely for the glory of God (SWLM:761 [A.91b]).

•The Sisters should have recourse to the Holy Spirit in order to request greater strength (SWLM:798 [A.65]).

•The Sisters will ask the Holy Spirit for joy in ministering on behalf of the poor, one of the seven gifts of the Spirit (SWLM:74 [L.102]).

13] During the era in which Louise lived, popular movement of devotion to the Blessed Virgin flourished. There were many Confraternities and centers of pilgrimage which nourished this cult to the Mother of God under various titles. This not only involved the simple people but many spiritual authors wrote about the significance and the importance of the Virgin Mary. In her meditations Louise often focused on Mary and invoked her name in various circumstances. She consecrated the Company of the Daughters of Charity to Mary and her art and imagination were often focused on the Virgin.

13.1] Louise wrote a prayer, an offering to the Virgin and after the death of her husband, Antoine Le Gras, placed her Son and herself under the protection of Mary (SWLM:695 [A.4]). In this prayer Louise offered herself and her son to Mary in order to give glory to God. This prayer contains an invitation to give praise to God for Mary’s greatness. It is a presentation of the life of Mary who should be seen as a model for the life of every person. Louise’s prayer was a recognition of the fact that God’s plan was fulfilled in Mary … thus her prayer was one of trust.

13.2] Louise put into writing in an orderly manner her thoughts with regard to devotion to the Blessed Mother. After affirming the need for all Christians to have a great devotion to the Virgin Mary, Louise then referred to some of the different ways in which people might do this: Let us celebrate, in a special way, the Church feasts honoring Mary and meditate, during the day, on the mystery proposed … We should faithfully recite, each day, those prayers which we have chosen to honor her (SWLM:785-786 [AM.33]).

13.3] In Louise’s letters and writings we find her referring to some of her devotional practices to honor the Virgin Mary. We highlight here the most important and significant of those devotions:

•We have seen that in her Rule of Life in the World Louise referred to the Office of the Blessed Virgin; fifteen minutes of prayer at noon to honor the Incarnation of the Word in the womb of the Blessed Virgin; the recitation of five decades of the Rosary every day while meditating on one of the mysteries; on the first Saturday of the month renewal of vows and resolutions (she chose Saturday as a proof that she had chosen the Blessed Virgin as her protector); to pray the Hail, Mary in honor of the Blessed Virgin; to fast on the vespers of feasts of the Blessed Virgin (SWLM:689-691 [A.1]).

•In the catechism that Louise composed she explained and recommended praying the Hail, Mary and the Rosary [23].

•Louise prepared and gifted people with a painting of the Virgin --- this was meant to be an expression of her love for the Virgin and her desire to see the Virgin honored by everyone and at all times (SWLM:130 [L.303b], 817 [A.26]).

•Louise composed a little chaplet that she intended to give to the Sisters after her death: It honors the hidden life of Our Lord in his state of imprisonment in the womb of the Blessed Virgin and congratulates her on her happiness during those nine months. The three small beads hail her under her beautiful titles of Daughter of the Father, Mother of the Son and Spouse of the Holy Spirit. This is the main thought behind the devotion [24].

•In her prayer Louise invoked the intercession of the Blessed Virgin: My Savior, grant me this grace for the love which you bear for the Holy Virgin (SWLM:819 [A.26]).

•Louise entrusted those whom she most loved to the Blessed Virgin, her only Mother: her son and the Company of the Daughters of Charity. She wanted the Company to remain consecrated to Mary and also wanted the Daughters to view the Blessed Virgin as their only mother .

14] Louise was sure that the Lord, through the cross, would reveal his will for her (SWLM:710 [A.29]). She prayed to Christ crucified and those prayers arose spontaneously from her heart and from her pen and found expression in her letters and in her writing [26].

The experience of the crucified Jesus was a central element in Louise Spirituality. Jesus, crucified for her salvation and the salvation of all people, was frequently the focus of her prayer and in her letters she often referred to the crucified Jesus. She liked to close her letters with the phrase: in the love of Jesus crucified [27].

15] In the catechism that Louise composed, she explained in detail the prayer that Jesus taught us, the Our Father. She indicated that in this prayer we speak with God and think about God alone. We reflect on God’s great love for us and we express our desire to belong totally to God. We affirm the fact that everything comes from God and that we want everything to happen according to God’s will.

---Tell me: with whom do we speak when we pray? With God, whom we called our Father. ---How should we speak with God? With honor, respect, and love. ---How should we pray? We should pronounce the words softly without moving our head from one side to another and we should only think about God … ---In what way should we speak to God as our Father? We should speak to God with great love, knowing that he will give us whatever we ask for … God has promised to do this…

Your kingdom come … this second petition expresses our desire to belong totally to God and our desire for God to take possession of our life forever. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven … in this third petition we affirm our desire to see everything happen according to God’s will … when this is our desire there is no reason to be disturbed when we have to confront some trial or affliction. Give us today our daily bread … in this fourth petition we affirm the reality that everything we possess comes from God.

---Who taught us this prayer? Our Lord, when he lived on earth, taught this prayer to his Apostles and we have learned it from them [28].

16] To conclude this section that has been dedicated to some of the prayer practices of Louise de Marillac, we gather together here from her letters and writings the numerous intentions which she requested people to pray for. We are able to see in all of this that prayer was a very natural part of Louise’s life and at the same time we are able to discover “her primary loves”.

Louise requested prayers for the following intentions:

Louise asks the Abbé de Vaux to pray for the Sisters: SWLM:105 [L.95], 380 [L.494].

Louise asks Monsieur Portail to pray for the Sisters: SWLM:117 [L.107c], 150 [L.140], 286 [L.247].

Louise asks Vincent to pray for the Sisters: SWLM:152 [L.177]. 160 [L.147], 168 [L.155], 182 [L.161], 180 [L.222], 304 [L.293], 359 [L.309], 387 [L.357], 398 [L.348], 584 [L.562], 605 [L.585], 657 [L.639].

Louise asks the Sisters to pray for one another: SWLM 77 [L.64], 113 [L.104b], 115 [L.105], 124 [L.116], 149 [L.136], 171 [L.158], 179 [L.224], 185 [L.162], 190 [L.168], 205 [L.182], 219 [L.194], 222 [L.186b], 229 [L.171], 230 [L.200], 231 [L.227], 265 [L.230], 272 [L.235], 296 [L.253], 305 [L.268], 312 [L.275], 320 [L.284b], 323 [L.277], 326 [L.287], 328 [L.130c], 356 [306], 356 [L.306b], 359 [[L.309], 361 [L.313], 366 [L.318], 379 [L.405], 388 [L.339], 392 [L.342], 394 [L.344b], 397 [L.214], 401 [L.349], 405 [L.354b], 406 [L.377], 410 [L.236], 413 [L.360], 415 [L.363], 418 [L.365b], 419 [L.310], 422 [L.368], 437 [L.375], 439 [L.391], 446 [L.412], 458 [L.376], 461 [L.422], 470 [L.436], 472 [L.440], 482 [L.450], 483 [L.496], 526 [L.547b], 531 [L.505], 533 [L.506], 556 [L.531], 557 [L.533], 562 [L.537], 562 [L.544], 573 [L.548], 577 [L.551], 580 [L.555], 581 [L.559], 593 [L.571], 603 [L.583], 616 [L.597], 640 [L.621], 647 [L.627], 657 [L.640], 664 [L.646].

Louise asks the Sisters to pray for Vincent de Paul: SWLM 281 [L.245], 371 [L.328], 407 [L.356b], 415 [L.363], 446 [L.412], 450 [L.451], 477 [L.447], 486 [L.454], 491 [L.502], 493 [L.461], 500 [L.471], 503 [L.473], 523 [L.497], 533 [L.506], 547 [L.520], 568 [L.544], 577 [L.551], 581 [L.559], 591 [L.570], 593 [L.571], 600 [L.581], 603 [L.583], 627 [L.607], 628 [L.608], 631 [L.610], 639 [L.620], 640 [L.621], 662 [L.643], 669 [L.648], 673 [L.651], 674 [L.652].

Louise asks the Abbé de Vaux to pray for Vincent de Paul: SWLM:100 [L.130], 675 [L.653].

Louise asks for prayers for the Missionaries: SWLM:415 [L.363], 547 [L.520], 600 [L.581], 720 [A.53], 722 [A.52].

Louise asks for prayers for Monsieur Portail: SWLM:486 [L.454], 415 [L.516], 547 [L.520], 568 [L.544], 577 [L.551], 581 [L.559], 590 [L.570], 603 [L.583], 629 [L.609], 639 [L.620].

Louise asks for prayers for Brother Ducourneau: SWLM:446 [L.413].

Louise asks the Abbé de Vaux to pray for her family: SWLM:109 [L.95], 138 [L.129].

Louise asks the Sisters to pray for her family: SWLM:517 [L.489].

Louise asks Vincent de Paul to pray for her family: SWLM:309 [L.267], 635 [L.615].

Louise asks Vincent de Paul to pray for her son: SWLM:87 [L.76], 128 [L.120], 184 [L.165], 297 [L.255], 373 [L.329].

Louise asks the Sisters to pray for her son: SWLM:371 [L.328].

Louise asks Monsieur Dehorguy to pray for her son: SWLM:11 [L.5].

Louise asks the Sisters to pray for her: SWLM:18 [L.11], 31 [L.27], 36 [L.426], 46 [L.36], 91 [L.172b], 181 [L.163], 196 [L.174], 231 [L.227], 232 [L.204], 239 [L.208], 262 [L.219], 353 [L.119], 354 [L.304b], 371 [L.328], 374 [L.334], 379 [L.405], 390 [L.340], 407 [L.356b], 415 [L.363], 422 [L.368], 452 [L.93], 458 [L.376], 477 [L.443], 481 [L.449], 486 [L.454], 490 [L.460], 509 [L.480], 526 [L.547b], 531 [L.505], 537 [L.509], 565 [L.542], 588 [L.566], 592 [L.572], 602 [L.582], 615 [L.596], 632 [L.611], 634 [L.614], 639 [L.620], 678 [L.656], 682 [L.556].

Louise asks Monsieur Portail to pray for her: SWLM:134 [L.325], 141 [L.132b], 162 [L.148], 595 [[L.574].

Louise asks Abbé de Vaux to pray for her: SWLM:54 [L.59], 60 [L.49], 90 [L.80], 100 [L.130], 105 [L.95], 106 [L.98], 138 [L.129], 147 [L.139], 368 [L.321], 502 [L.495].

Louise ask Vincent de Paul to pray for her: SWLM:17 [L.8b], 83 [L.71], 94 [L.86], 143 [L.132c], 168 [L.155], 347 [L.301], 387 [L.357], 495 [L.463], 548 [L.522], 600 [L.580], 644 [L.626], 670 [L.649].

Louise asks a woman to pray for her: SWLM:679 [L.40].

Louise asks Monsieur Dehorguy to pray for her: SWLM:11 [L.5].

Louise asks for prayers for peace: SWLM:283 [L.259], 432 [L.400].

Louise asks for prayers for the Church, for France and for priests: SWLM:296 [L.253], 446 [L.412], 450 [L.451].

Louise asks for prayers for the world: SWLM:257 [L.220].

Louise asks for prayers for religion and for Poland: SWLM:482 [L.450], 485 [L.432b], 486 [L.454], 494 [L.463b], 523 [L.497].

Louise asks for prayers for vocations: SWLM:195 [L.166], 230 [L.200], 439 [L.391], 500 [L.471], 526 [L.547b], 537 [L.509].

Louise asks for prayers for benefactors; SWLM:288 [L.433].

Louise asks for prayers for the infirm: SWLM:259 [L.215].

Louise asks for prayers for a woman: SWLM:311 [L.365], 385 [L.337], 639 [L.620].

Louise asks for prayers for some intention: SWLM:630 [L.609b].

The many references in her letters and in her writings, as well as the testimony of those who knew her, indicate that Louise viewed God as her all and therefore was painstaking in cultivating these various expressions of her relationship with God.

Union with the Spouse … expressions of Louise’s contemplation

Louise developed different forms of expressing her relationship with God in which she was able to savor God’s closeness. She wanted to remain united with God for all eternity. Because of her fidelity to God’s will Louise was open to God’s enlightenment. Some of her writings enable us to understand that God bestowed on Louise the gift of infused contemplation.

The Trappist monk, René Voillaume, has written: contemplation is an experiential and supernatural knowledge of God which is perceived through one’s participation in divine love as an activity of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. In essence it is beyond the direct reach of the soul … the openness of the soul to receive infused knowledge can be summed up in the following words: death to everything that is not of God. This openness places one in a situation to receive God’s love [29].

Such an experience is called infused contemplation because the person involved experiences passivity on his/her part and is aware of not having been able to produce said result by his/her own effort. From a Christian perspective, infusion implies the movement of the mind toward contemplation and such movement is viewed as a gift of God … this new form of love is a grace of the Holy Spirit [30].

How do we know that specific texts of Louise de Marillac’s writings reflect this experience of God? The three introductory remarks that we made at the beginning of this presentation are most applicable to this section.

The movement toward contemplation is a typical inversion of terms: we are not dealing with “knowing God” but rather “being known by God” … one does not reflect on the mystery of Christ but rather the mystery of Christ is viewed from a new, enlightening horizon. The presence of the Other is not the result one’s own effort but is imposed on one by an all encompassing reality. Love therefore is not experienced as some dual, differentiated relationship but as the total enrapture of the self in God [31].

In the language of the contemplative, we could say that such a movement of the soul involves a sudden, unexpected intuition or some clear direct vision of one’s own interior state. One becomes keenly aware of one’s sins and at the same time becomes aware of God’s infinite goodness and mercy. It is a spontaneous experience and is not induced by some voluntary effort at reflection that results from something that was read or heard in a sermon. Here we are dealing with psychological-spiritual knowledge that is directly linked to an authentic experience of God … this is not merely some human form of knowledge but is an experience in which God takes an active role [32].

As we read Louise’s description of her contemplation we will find that together with verbal expressions in a passive form (adjectives and adverbs that indicate prolonged and powerful emotions) [33], there is spousal language and other words which indicate a direct contact with God … stereotypical formulas are not part of her description. We will analyze some paragraphs of Louise’s writings that allow us to draw closer to her experience of contemplation. Her words point toward an infused contemplation in which God took the initiative.

The light of Pentecost 1623

We have preserved for us one of Louise’s writings which she herself entitled, Light. We do not know the date when this was written but we do know that Louise gave great importance to this work: she folded this paper several times and carried it with her … on more than one occasion she was strengthened by the words that she had written. This writing refers to an experience that she lived on the feast of Pentecost, 1623.

Louise’s situation at that time is reflected by some of the words that she used: I was very disturbed … I doubted … I suffered greatly … incredible anguish. Louise described this experience as one that gave her peace and light and certainty: On the Feast of Pentecost, during holy Mass or while I was praying in the church, my mind was instantly freed of all doubt. I was advised that I should remain with my husband and that a time would come when I would be in a 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 then understood that I would be in a place where I could help my neighbor but I did not understand how this would be possible since there was to be much coming and going. I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom he seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him; nevertheless, I acquiesced. It seemed to me that I did not yet have to make this change. My third doubt was removed by the inner assurance 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 (SWLM:1 [A.2]).

We note that “the light” appeared in an instant, without any personal intervention … it was a gift of the Spirit that was given to Louise as she prayed.

This event was interpreted by Louise at different periods of her life and she used words that indicated that this was a profound experience of God, an experience which spiritual theology refers to as infused contemplation: The great feast which is approaching is a powerful reminder for me of all the special graces that his goodness granted me some twenty-two years ago, which obtained for me the happiness of giving myself to him in a way your Charity (Louise is writing to Vincent de Paul) knows (SWLM:127 [L.118]). My desire for tomorrow is that his holy love give itself to my heart as a perpetual law (SWLM:128 [L.120]). On Pentecost … God in his goodness placed in my heart a law which has never left it, despite my wickedness (SWLM:340 [L.118b]).

The mystical espousal that occurred during her visit to the Confraternity of Charity in Asni?res and Saint-Cloud (February 1630)

In May 1629 Louise began to visit the Confraternities of Charity that Vincent de Paul and the other Missionaries had established in those places where they had preached popular missions (CCD:I:64-65).

At the time of these visits Louise was accompanied by other women. She used public transportation and lodged in moderate priced boarding houses. She met with and listened to the members of the Confraternities. She encouraged them in their service and was concerned about the formation of the small girls and the young women. At the same time she resolved the various problems that the individual Confraternity had to confront. Each visit listed for several days … and even weeks. Louise sent Vincent detailed reports and included her suggestions to achieve a better spirit and service in the Confraternities [34].

With regard to her visit to Asni?res and Saint-Cloud, Louise described her experience of mystical espousal: On Ember Wednesday preceding Christmas, I left for Asnieres. I was fearful of making this trip because of my ailments, but the thought of the obedience which was sending me on this trip strengthened me considerably. At Holy Communion, on that day, I was moved to make an act of faith, and this sentiment stayed with me for a long time. It seemed to me that God would grant me health so long as I believed that he could sustain me, despite all appearances, and that he would do so if I often reflected on the faith that enabled Saint Peter to walk on the waters. Throughout my trip, I seemed to be acting without any contribution on my part; and I was greatly consoled by the thought that God wished that, despite my unworthiness, I should help my neighbor to know him. I left on the Feast of Saint Agatha, February 5, to go to Saint-Cloud. At the moment of Holy Communion, it seemed to me that Our Lord inspired me to receive him as the Spouse of my soul and that this Communion was a manner of espousal. I felt myself more closely united to Him by this consideration which was extraordinary for me. I also felt moved to leave everything to follow my Spouse; to look upon him as such in the future; and to bear with the difficulties I might encounter as part of the community of his goods (SWLM:704-705 [A.50]).

We notice that as Louise described her experience she referred to an extended period of time. She spoke about “acting without any contribution on my part”. She felt closely united to God which she felt was extraordinary for her. Louise did not hesitate to use words that referred to marriage: “Communion was a manner of espousal” … “in the future she looked upon the Lord as her spouse” … “she was moved to leave everything in order to follow her spouse” … “she viewed difficulties as part of the community of his goods”.

This experience of contemplation or mystical union did not cause Louise to become alienated from the world but rather strengthened her in the service that she had undertaken on behalf of those who were poor.

The Lord continued to gift Louise with his presence and love throughout her life

In 1633 Louise wrote: On Easter Sunday, my meditation was on my desire to rise with Our Lord. Since, without death, there can be no resurrection, I realized that it was my evil inclinations which must die and that I must die completely to myself by deadening my passions and desires. I saw clearly that of myself I could never hope to achieve this, but it seemed to me that our good God was asking it of me. Therefore, I gave him my full consent to operate in me by his power whatever he willed to see accomplished (SWLM:720 [A.12]).

Since this was something habitual Louise spoke in a simple manner about the action of God which was taking place in her life. She stated: From time to time, especially on solemn feast days, the sight of my abjection, occasioned by my faults and my infidelities to God, causes me to fear to receive Holy Communion … On the Feast of All Saints, I was particularly overwhelmed by the thought of my lowliness, when my soul was made to understand that my God wanted to come to me. However, he did not wish to come into some temporary dwelling but to a place that was rightly his and which belonged entirely to him. Therefore, I could not refuse him entrance. As a living soil, I had to welcome him joyfully as the true possessor of my soul and simply acquiesce to him, giving him my heart as the throne of his Majesty (SWLM:697-698 [A.17]).

On the Feast of Saint Benedict … I was moved by a strong desire for the Holy Eucharist. Therefore, I asked God that, if such be his holy will, he might inspire my confessor with this thought. I had said nothing to him about my desire when he sent for me to speak to me about it. I was greatly consoled by this very special grace of Divine Providence. In his goodness, God had revealed his great love for me by making me realize that, although I had forgotten some sins in confession and knew full well that sin alone could separate me from him, his love was so great that not even sin could prevent him from coming to me (SWLM:733 [A.16]).

Near the end of her life, on August 16, 1658, Louise wrote: On Monday, during the reception of Holy Communion, I suddenly felt moved by the desire that Our Lord should come to me and communicate his virtues to me … Since the subject of our morning meditation that day had been the signs which appeared at the moment of Our Savior's death, I asked him to effect two in me. I desired firstly, that the veil of the temple, which I saw as my understanding, should be torn so that I would no longer cling to my own judgment, and secondly, that my stony heart should be rent by gentleness and support for my neighbor. As a means for attaining this, I thought that I must turn to the example of Our Lord during the final moments of his life. Here I was instructed by his last words, "Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," which taught me that I should do nothing of consequence without this disposition. His final action was to incline his head, thereby showing me that I must not notice so many things and must humbly acquiesce to others (SWLM:825 [A.18]).

The texts that we have referenced in this section allow us to speak of Louise as a woman who engaged in infused contemplation. The contemplative prays and meditates in a way that is different from those who are not contemplative. The contemplative’s meditation is a form of discursive reflection [35]. The intensity and immediacy of the relationship with God, its effects on the human faculties (peace, security, strength …) and the dynamism in serving the poor … all of these express a consistency in this union with God [36].


Let us love Love … from prayer to service on behalf of the poor as a response of love to Love.

We have highlighted some sections of Louise’s writings and have discovered that she achieved the very heights of infused contemplation. Yet for many of our contemporaries (including believers and members of the Vincentian Family) such references to mystical experiences, even though these were Louise’s experiences, cause surprise and a certain fear. Professor Martín Velasco has spoken about this fear: To love God with one’s whole heart … does not the mystic run the risk of not having enough heart to love one’s self and to love one’s sisters and brothers? To have the experience that “God is enough” … does not such an experience place one in a situation in which creation and life, with its many forms, sounds and colors, becomes superfluous, something “extra” and therefore meaningless? If God is everything for the mystic, then does not the mystic flee from one form of solitude to another form of solitude in which the world, a work of God, and one’s brothers and sisters whom God loved so much that he sent his only Son to them … does not all of this lose significance [37].

In order to clear up these concerns, it would be good to recall that the Christian mystic’s experience of God is characterized by its reference to Christ’s humanity and further characterized by a desire to live in accord with God’s will … a will that urges individuals to serve the neighbor [38]. Thus the emphasis is not on some extraordinary signs that on some occasions accompany said mystical experiences.

The infused contemplation of Louise de Marillac is not revealed in words that are unintelligible or in extraordinary physical-corporal phenomenon. The woman who had savored the love of her Spouse wanted to identify herself with him and in all the circumstances of her life wanted to live like her Spouse [39]. Louise’s writings make this very clear: I must imitate Jesus as a spouse tries to resemble her husband. Therefore, since to give me the greatest possible proof of his love, he chose the lowliest of surroundings, I accept the choice he wills me to make of the humblest possible way of life in a place where there is no worldly satisfaction (SWLM:716 [A.5]).

[God] asks me to give my will to him. I shall do this by entire confidence and abandonment to his most holy will … It is then that the invention of his divine love teaches me and permits me to attach myself to the greatest means he has given me for reaching my end, the most holy humanity of his Son. With the help of his grace, this sacred humanity shall be the only example for my life (SWLM:710 [A.19]).

Because Jesus took our misery upon himself, it is only reasonable that we should follow him and imitate his holy, human life. This thought absorbed my mind and moved me to resolve to follow him wholeheartedly, without any reservation. Filled with consolation and happiness at the thought of being accepted by him to live my entire life as his follower, I resolved that in everything, particularly in uncertain or questionable circumstances, I would consider what Jesus would have done [40].

True contemplation is an encounter with Christ in whom God has spoken in a definitive manner [41]. Such contemplation is also an encounter with the poor as the sacrament of Christ (Cf., Matthew 25:40, 45). During a time of contemplation and not a moment of reasoning, Louise understood that it was in the person of the poor that one is able to give all honor to God [42].

Louise viewed the Incarnation as the greatest revelation of God who is love: My meditation was more reflective than reasoning. I felt a great attraction for the holy humanity of Our Lord and I desired to honor and imitate it insofar as I was able in the person of the poor and of all my neighbors. I had read somewhere that he had taught us charity to make up for our powerlessness to render any service to his person. This touched my heart very particularly and very intimately (SWLM:820 [A.26]).

Louise described the Incarnation as if the Son of God became a pilgrim in our history, in our world: the Son of God came in person as a pilgrim, his life being one unending pilgrimage. This should be the example for our lives (SWLM:777 [A.36]).

Louise also realized that in order to be a true Christian one had to live as Christ lived and had to act in the same was as Christ: I have resolved to meditate profoundly on his life and to try to imitate it. I spent a great deal of time reflecting on the title of Christian which we bear, and I came to the conclusion that we must, indeed, truly conform our lives to the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ. In order to do this, I thought that I should study the manner in which I had acquired this name and the words employed by Holy Mother Church in conferring it upon us. Finally, I must remember that I received this holy name so as to become a true Christian (SWLM:777 [A.36]).

Louise suggested: so that in all our actions we may honor Our Lord by the witness he wishes us to bear to him by performing the actions which he accomplished on earth and to which, on account of his love for us, he will apply the merits of his own. He wills by this means that Christians experience in this life that union with God which he has merited for us. To this end, I shall strive, with the help of his grace, to overcome my sloth and to make use of a practice which was recommended in a reading: to look upon all the occasions for doing some good for my neighbor not only in terms of the recompense which Our Lord has promised to me because he considers such acts as done to himself, but also in light of the fact that the neighbor has been given to me in the place of Our Lord, by means of a love which his goodness knows and which he has revealed to my heart, although I am unable; to put it into words (SWLM:821 [A.26]).

To live like Christ meant that one had to be faithful to God’s love by ministering on behalf of the poor: I beg all of them, for the love of the death of our dear Master, to renew themselves in his resurrection, receiving the peace that he gave us so many times in the person of his Apostles. However, let us be on guard. He did not grant this peace to them in idleness, but in work and in the remembrance of the wounds he suffered for us. We are taught through this that we can have no peace with God, with our neighbor or with ourselves unless Jesus Christ gives it to us, and that he will only give it to us through the merits of his wounds and sufferings, which will only be applied to us through our mortification of self, which we acquire by imitating Him in accomplishing the most holy will of God [43].

By way of synthesis Louise stated: Let us live, therefore, as if we were dead in Jesus Christ. Henceforth, let there be no further resistance to Jesus, no action except for Jesus, no thoughts but in Jesus! May my life be solely for Jesus and my neighbor so that, by means of this unifying love, I may love all that Jesus loves, and through the power of this love which has as its center the eternal love of God for His creatures, I may obtain from His goodness the graces which His mercy wills to bestow upon me (SWLM:786 [A23]).

When people naturally move from contemplation to service on behalf of the poor then they begin to understand the meaning of the phrase which was taken up by Louise: Do not scruple to omit one or other of your services either to assist your sister or for the service of the poor [44]. The medieval mystic Ruysbroeck (1293-1381) affirmed: If you are in ecstasy and your brother or sister needs some medicine, leave your ecstasy and give your neighbor the needed medicine. The God that you leave behind is less a certainty than the God you will find in your neighbor [45].

In June 1642 Louise wrote to Madeleine Mongert and invited her to give herself totally to God and to live in a way that she desired only what God desired. Louise expressed her desire that all the Sisters be filled with a great love that will immerse them so sweetly in God and so charitably in the service of the poor: we must remain open to God, who wants us to desire only what He wills. Be very courageous then in the distrust you must have for yourself. I say the same thing to all our dear sisters. I desire all of them to be filled with a great love which will immerse them so sweetly in God and so charitably in the service of the poor that their hearts will no longer have place for so many thoughts which endanger their perseverance. Courage then, my dear Sisters. Seek only to please God by faithfully observing his commandments and evangelical counsels because the goodness of God has deigned to call us to this. This should lead us to observe our Rules exactly but also cheerfully and diligently. Serve your masters with great gentleness. Be very respectful to the administrators and greatly honor the clergy. You owe this to them (SWLM:75 [L.441]).

Louise could not separate union with God from service on behalf of the poor, from union and cordiality with the members of the community,. She did not view these as distinct matters. Prayer, service on behalf of the poor, concern for one’s salvation and community life all spring froth from the same experience of God. These are inseparable realities and in 1646 Louise wrote about this matter to the Sisters in Nantes: Do you read your Rule and the obligations of your duties? Do you say your evening and morning prayers for the sick as well as the Benedicite and Grace at meals? Do you provide towels at the beds of the sick? Do you maintain their cleanliness? Especially, my dear Sisters, do you have a great love for their salvation? It is this in particular that our good God expects of you (SWLM182 [L.160]).

Their service is intimately related to their sincere love of God: I hope that your gratitude will place you in the disposition necessary to receive the graces you need to serve your sick poor in a spirit of gentleness and great compassion, in imitation of Our Lord who acted this way with the most unfortunate … In the name of God, my dear Sister, reflect often that it is not enough to have good intentions or for our wills to be inclined to do good solely for the love of God because, when we received the commandment to love God with all our heart, we also received a second commandment which is to love our neighbor. In order to do this we must give good example as you do by the grace of God (SWLM:434 [L.383]).

Near the end of her life, on January 10th, 1660, Louise wrote to Sister Marguerite Chetif and presented a synthesis on contemplation and service: So you have not found any girls who want to give themselves to the service of Our Lord in the poor as members of the Company? You surely know that some of our sisters have come from farther away than Arras. However, this requires strong characters who desire to reach the holiness of true Christians and who want to die to themselves by mortification and a veritable act of renunciation, which they already made at the time of their holy Baptism, so that the Spirit of Jesus Christ may abide in them and grant them the strength to persevere in this way of life which is totally spiritual, although they will be employed in exterior works which appear lowly and despicable in the eyes of the world but which are glorious in the sight of God and his angels (SWLM:674 [L.651]).

The practice of pure love

All these ideas are expressed with greater depth in Louise’s meditation On the pure love we have vowed to God. Louise contemplated Jesus nailed to the cross. She mediated on the passage from Saint John’s gospel 12:28-34 and at times she addressed the crucified Lord as her Souse and Lover … at other times she spoke to herself … and still on other occasions she wanted to share her experience with the Sisters. The result of this was incredible, one of the most elevated reflections on her experience of God.

It is a shame that the members of the Vincentian Family have been afraid to approach this text. The condemnation of the errors of Miguel de Molinos in 1687 and later in 1699 the Bossuet-Fenelón conflict with regard to pure love influenced the history of Christian spirituality and made it difficult to view in a positive manner a meditation on pure love [46].

We all ought to move toward this love, a love which Christ desired and a love which enabled Christ to draw all things to himself as he was lifted up on the cross. As Jesus offered himself up on the cross he drew all things together: My very dear Sisters and all souls that aspire to the perfection of pure divine love, these are the words of our beloved Master and Spouse who teaches us thereby that we may hope for this and that such aspirations are in keeping with his plan as seen in the attraction that he will exert when he is raised up from the earth … Is it not glorious for souls to cooperate with God in carrying out this plan? Let us, therefore, submit ourselves to the will of our Well-Beloved so that his words may be fulfilled in us. What will become of us if, seeing him raised up and desiring to draw us to himself, we are so attached to earth that the weight of our misguided affections prevails over the attraction of his pure love? Draw us, therefore, O my Lord, and we shall run; and the fragrance of your perfumes will hold us so firmly that nothing will be capable of separating us from your charity. You desire to draw all to yourself. Teach us truly to understand these words. If we belong to you, we can no longer belong to ourselves. If we believe that we are yours, would it not be stealing to use ourselves and to live ever so slightly at variance with the precepts of the pure love which you taught us on earth? Once we have completely yielded our wills to the purity of your holy love, our lives must be spent entirely in the observance of the rule given to us by our Beloved from the moment that he was lifted up until his death (SWLM:827-828 [A.27]).

The crucified Christ wants us to offer the total gift of ourself, to offer everything as he offered everything for our salvation: Let us take the first step in following him which is to exclaim, “I desire it thus, my dear Spouse, I desire it thus. As proof thereof, I am going to follow you to the foot of your Cross which I choose as my cloister. There, I shall leave behind all earthly affections because your voice has called me and urged my heart to forget my people and my father's house so as to be open to your great love. Therefore, at the foot" of this holy, sacred and adored Cross, I sacrifice everything that might prevent me from loving, with all the purity that you expect of me, without ever aspiring to any joy other than submission to Your good pleasure and to the laws of Your pure love.” Do not be fearful, my very dear Sisters, even if, in using the word “All”, I am making no exceptions (SWLM:828 [A.27]).

The radical nature of our offering and the purity of our love are a response of love to the One who first loved us. The recognition of God’s love which achieved its fullness in the crucified Christ urges us to love: the intrinsic love of God who, in the unity of his essence, engendered his Word from all eternity by his omniscience; and the work of the Holy Spirit in producing their reciprocal love, which love is the Holy Spirit. The love of God for mankind willed that the Son should take human flesh because his delight is to be among his creatures. By becoming like them, he could bear witness to the fact that God has loved them from all eternity. This he did throughout his human life upon earth. Therefore, let us love this love and we will thereby grasp its endlessness since it depends in no way on us. Let us often recall all the actions of the life of our Beloved so that we may imitate them. Not content with the love that he bears for all chosen souls, He wishes to have some very cherished ones raised up by the purity of his love. But, before entering upon this lofty practice, let us admire the goodness of our Spouse, and with the simplicity of the dove that he asks of us, let us question him to discover if he loves us and if he wants us to love him … My Lord, I received a kind of new light concerning the uncommon love that you wish to receive from those whom you choose to exercise the purity of your love on earth. Look upon this little flock of yours and see if we may dare to hope for such a thing. It seems that we hold this wish in our hearts. However, the awareness of our weakness, because of our past unfaithfulness, makes us fear that you might reject us. But the thought that you placed no limits on the times that we are to forgive our enemies makes us hope that you will treat us in the same way, and so we believe that you love us. Yes! You truly love us since you are one with the Father who willed to show us his love by giving us you, his only Son. We are also certain that you want us to love you. Both your old and your new law command us to do so. You promise us that your Father will love us and that you both will come and abide with us if we love you. O power of love! O admirable treasure hidden in the depths of the soul! O excellence of the creature who knows you! All mankind would take delight in it. Love is the gauge of a glorious eternity of souls called to heaven since, if it is alive in the soul, God will come and make his abode there. O Pure Love, how I love you! Since you are as strong as death, separate me from all that is contrary to you. My Lord, we are at the foot of the Cross where we see you hanging so that we may be drawn to you as you promised. Were not your word omnipotent, I would fear the weight of my earthly affections. However, you are well aware of this, O my dear Savior, since you requested neither our consent nor our labor. Act resolutely in me and unite my love to your pure love which triumphs over life (SWLM:828-829 [A.27]).

Inspired by this pure love Louise ministered tirelessly on behalf of the poor. The love of Jesus crucified, the love of Jesus nailed to the cross, the fullest revelation of God who desired to draw all things to himself … it is this that moved Louise to live in love, to practice true charity and to consider as nothing the inconveniences that resulted from service on behalf of those men and women who are crucified on earth: I beg our dear Jesus crucified to attach us firmly to his cross so that we may be closely united to him by his love and that our little sufferings and the little we accomplish may be in and for his love in which I remain, my dear Sister, your very humble sister and servant (SWLM:54 [L.46]). Love live Jesus and his pure love which I have chosen as my permanent abode [47].

Louise de Marillac, a teacher of prayer. The prayer of Louise de Marillac and the experience of the Vincentian Family

We indicated at the beginning of this presentation that Louise has not left us a treatise on prayer. Nevertheless we can state that she instructed and formed the first Daughters of Charity in the area of prayer [48]. We can also affirm that Louise’s experience can enlighten the prayer experience of the Vincentian Family.

Gobillon states: this educated and spiritual woman was careful in forming her daughters in the spirit of prayer. Louse saw prayer as an absolute necessity in order to persevere in one’s vocation [49].

Motives to live in a state of prayer

In the Mary 31, 1648 conference on prayer Louise, who had been asked by Vincent to Paul, explained the motives to remain faithful to prayer: On the first point of our prayer, I thought that one reason we should never omit making our prayer is its excellence, since when we pray we are speaking to God. And I saw great advantages in this, since in prayer God helps us to realize his goodness in abasing himself to this degree and in raising us up as he does. Another reason is the recommendation the Son of God gave so many times, by word and example, of praying to God his Father, both in vocal prayer, which he himself taught us, and in mental prayer, reminding us that God wants to be served in spirit and in truth. A third reason is that, since prayer is a gift of God, we must do our utmost to obtain it, not only because of the great help we may gain from it, but also because of the esteem we must have for the Giver (CCD:IX:324).

In her letters and in her writing, Louise added other reasons to remain faithful to a life of prayer:

•In prayer we find all the help that we need (SWLM:227 [L.126]).

•We can consult with Our Lord concerning our interior and exteriors needs (SWLM:434 [L.383]).

•Prayer adorns and beautifies our mind and our will so that Jesus can take up his abode with us (SWLM:735 [A.45b]).

•Prayer is like incense (a reference to one of the gifts of the Magi) (SWLM:735 [A.45b]).

•The Lord will never be lacking to us and therefore we must not fail to respond to God’s love (SWLM:439 [L.391]).

The Daughters have passed on to us a phrase that has been attributed to Louise de Marillac: Love the practice of mental prayer and despite any reluctance that we might have never abandon the habit of prayer but rather let us pray with recollection, humility and fervor [50].

Louise’s concern for the prayer live of the first Sisters

Louise de Marillac was continually concerned about the prayer of the Sisters … concerned about their perseverance and their faithfulness to prayer [51]. She was concerned about the effects of prayer on the life of the community, for example, union, tolerance, etc.: My dear Sister, I would be very pleased if you told me a bit about your spiritual welfare; if your Rules are strictly observed; if sometime during the day you make repetition of prayer together; if you hold the Friday conference; and if you take time for your other little exercises. For the rest, I have no doubt but that your dear hearts beat in close union and that you share with one another what you are doing. If this were not so, my dear Sister, you would not experience the consolation that Our Lord promises to those who come together in his name, and in whose midst he is present. I believe, my dear Sister, that your mutual support causes you to feel the effects of divine consolation (SWLM:510 [L.480]).

On several occasions Louise made reference to books of prayer, to the Liturgy of the Hours, to books of meditation that the Sisters could use. She also offered suggestions with regard to meditation and spiritual direction [52].

In all the rules and schedules that Louise formulated and revised she specified times for prayer for the Sisters [53].

Louise, when writing to Abbé de Vaux who counseled the Sisters, spoke in detail about the prayer life of the house: You have greatly consoled our poor sisters by allowing them to make a retreat. Since you have ordered me to do so, Monsieur, I shall tell you quite simply how the sisters here make their retreats. They make two half-hour meditations at different times in the morning and one after supper at 5 p.m. The subjects are taken from the book by our Blessed Father. After they have been to confession, they are given meditations on the life and death of Our Lord. The meditation before confession is taken from a lengthy text in Grenada designed to obtain from God the grace of true contrition. The reading on the day preceding confession deals with subjects which encourage penance and expiation. We send a sister to read to those who do not know how. After confession the reading is from Gerson or another similar text which inspires the soul with the love of God. They make repetition of meditation at least once a day. They are advised to remain recollected by reflecting during the day on their previous meditations; to make not only general but practical resolutions in keeping with their own needs and especially concerning the practices necessary in their way of life in imitation of the actions of the Son of God and of his Holy Mother who are their patrons and whom they should often keep before them during prayer. They say vocal prayers, as usual, and work or sometimes go for a walk. Briefly put, Monsieur, this is an outline of their horarium. Please completely disregard it and organize their retreat in whatever way it pleases God to inspire you (SWLM:69-70 [L.63]).

Louise had initiated the Sisters in the practice of sharing their prayer in community … the repetition of prayer [54].

A lifestyle that favored prayer

In forming the Sisters in the area of prayer, Louise insisted on the importance of living in a manner that created the possibility for an ever deeper union with God.

•To maintain interior recollection in the midst of one’s work (Cf., SWLM:600 [L.581]).

•To be simple and to speak with one’s eyes focused on God (Cf., SWLM:588 [L.566]).

•To allow God to act and to take complete control of our will: Oh, what an excellent way of life, hard on nature but sweet and easy for souls enlightened by eternal truths and by the awareness of the joy to be found in pleasing God and in allowing him full mastery over their wills! This, it seems to me, my dear Sister, is the road that God wills you to travel to reach him, however difficult it may appear. Enter upon it, then, wholeheartedly as you would a vessel that will carry you where you must go. I am certain that Our Lord will always be with you as he was with his Apostles, during his lifetime, granting them graces and preserving them. This is what I beg of him, unworthy though I am (SWLM:481 [L.448]).

•To give preference to union with God in all things: We must not allow our will to oppose the will of God in any way; we must give ourselves to him to put into effect all the practices that have been suggested to us, so that we may be detached from our own judgments and strive to mortify our inclinations even in matters which appear to be good (SWLM:514 [L.531b]).

•To always act in union with the actions of Jesus Christ: it would be well if every morning each sister would individually pray (so as not to multiply the prayers said under the Rule) for the blessing of our good God in order that they might act in the manner of his Son while he was on earth as they carry out the works of charity to which they have been called. Better yet, they should pray that the same Spirit that acted in him should act through them. They should begin their day by reflecting that they are accompanied by Jesus Christ, the Blessed Virgin and their guardian angel. It would also be well to have devotion to the guardian angels (SWLM:773 [A.85]).

•To live in the presence of God: It seems to me that our interior conversation with God should consist in the continuous remembrance of his holy presence. We must adore him every hour and make acts of love for his goodness, recalling, as far as possible, the thoughts that we received during meditation so that we may correct our faults and advance in this same holy love. On all those occasions which are painful to our senses, we must consider the paternal goodness of God. Like a good Father, he allows the rod of his divine justice to touch us, sometimes to correct us and at other times to show us his great love by allowing us to share in the sufferings of his Son so that we may likewise share in his merits. Let us, therefore, make acts of thanksgiving. When pleasant things happen to us or when our undertakings succeed as we wish them to, before abandoning ourselves to the joy of the moment, let us glance interiorly toward God and thank him for his mercy since it is his love alone which affords us this consolation. Therefore, let us accept it in this light by an act of love. We must strive to use all the things that strike our senses as means to raise our minds to God. We should consider them as coming from his all-powerful hand or we should reflect on his design in creating them, which is almost always for the benefit of the human race so that it will be grateful to him. At other times, we should ponder the excellence of the being which God has given to us ... which we do not deserve. Sometimes we are under pressure, and it seems to us that we urgently need and hope for help from others. However, we are disappointed … We must then look immediately to the will of God and accept it in this situation. We should raise our minds to God and depend only on him, remembering that, from all eternity, he has been and is sufficient to himself; consequently, he can and should be sufficient for us. Since we are so fortunate as to be in a state of life in which he is to be our only consolation, we must lovingly accept the privation of all we lack, although we consider certain things as essential for us. Let us remain in intimate peace with God without complaining of creatures who would not be a subject of trial to us if God did not permit it. We must strive to keep our minds closely united to God. Such acts must stem from our wills. Therefore, I think that it is an excellent means of keeping our minds directed toward God as is his good pleasure. In all the situations that we have mentioned, we must develop the practice of making frequent acts of the desire to know God and ourselves. This will lead us to make the repeated acts of love which we owe him and to avoid anything that is displeasing to him. We must often abandon ourselves to him; show him our hearts filled with trust and gratitude; and try, from time to time, to whisper ejaculatory prayers to him (SWLM:825-826 [M.73]).

Forming other women in prayer: spiritual accompaniment

Many women who wanted to make progress in prayer and who desired to have a more profound experience of God sought the advice of Louise de Marillac whom they viewed as a model in these matters. Louise offered these women her counsel and shared with them her experience. Some of the women with whom she spoke about these matters were: Mme. De Goussault, Mme. De Traversay, Mlle. De Pollalion, Mme. De Liancourt, and Mme. De Ventadour: These were women from the noble class of society who admired Louise’s zeal. As a result of this admiration they would spend some days in the countryside outside of Paris and there they reflected on their relationship with God. They set aside the comfort and ease of their homes in order to reflect on their salvation in a place of mortification and penance. Putting aside their title and rank they served those who were poor and submitted themselves to the same discipline as that which was utilized by Louise. They learned from Louise to place less value on their riches and stature … Louise accompanied these women in their spiritual journey for she herself had developed her spiritual life and had achieved some success in this area .

Conclusion

Allow me to conclude this presentation on the prayer life of Louise de Marillac with three practical suggestions … suggestions that can encourage us, as members of the Vincentian Family, to continue to develop a life of prayer.

1] In the area of prayer we should not excuse ourselves because of a lack of time or because we have serious matters that must be dealt with: I am distressed, my dear Sister, that you have not made a retreat since you have been in Nantes. Monsieur Vincent, to whom I showed your letter, says that you must take the time to do so. I will tell you what I did, shortly before Pentecost, with the advice of our Most Honored Father. He had me take five or six days for retreat after I had made arrangements to have important matters taken care of during this period and had turned the day to day running of things over to Sister Assistant. This does not mean that when a need arose I did not take time to discuss what was going on. I assure you, my dear Sister, that God made up for what was lacking in me … All that remains is for you to resolve to take the time. You may be certain that no one will find fault with your decision. You can place Sister Henriette in charge of the other sisters (SWLM:367-368 [L.326]).

2] Prayer should not be reduced to a specific time but should be prolonged throughout the day, in the mission or the service that has been entrusted to us: A practice which our Most Honored Father taught us at one of his recent conferences will prove useful to you. It is, my dear Sister, to turn to God at the beginning of each action; to make an act of humility, recognizing that we are unworthy to perform it; then to make an act of love, undertaking it for love of him and offering it to him in union with similar actions which his Son performed while he was on earth. His Charity assures us that, if we go to the trouble to carry out this exercise for a week, it will become habitual and we will perform it effortlessly. I have no doubt that you will grow to love this practice which we must look upon as inspired by God for us (SWLM:493 [L.461]).

3] During times of difficulty prayer should not be abandoned [56] … nor should it be put aside when we feel as though nothing is occurring during prayer. We must realize that in our prayer there will be trials and difficulties … there will be a need for purification and therefore we must remain faithful to prayer: I am not surprised that Our Lord has given you a share in his interior sufferings. Did you think that you could be so honored before God and his angels without its costing you anything? I am certain that His grace is sustaining you very powerfully during this period when you feel abandoned and lacking in sensibility toward God. Moreover, do you not realize, my dear Sister, that the Holy Spouse of our souls takes his delight in these trials, when we bear them with loving patience and peaceful acceptance, without being troubled by what we are enduring when we find ourselves in such a state? I am certain that you are careful not to lose these opportunities to bear witness to your fidelity. I am likewise sure that your heart is not open to listening to the arguments of nature which incline us to judge events without the guidance of Divine Providence and the accomplishment of the most holy will of God. I know that you turn a deaf ear to any longing for the garlic and onions of Egypt that would lead us to desire to be, once again, back in our native town, among people we know. Sometimes these persons compliment us. This seems to comfort us a great deal because our senses are involved. For a time, our minds derive pleasure from reflecting on these words, but after a while, we find that we have not become more virtuous because of them. If we are assailed by temptations and trials, we become completely dejected, imagining ourselves to be in a deplorable state. And truly, this would be our condition if we did not cling to God by the tip of our souls, saying to him, from the depths of our hearts, "My God, do whatever you will; I belong entirely to you!" Despite these temptations, we must perform all our actions purely and simply for the love of God. You must be convinced that it is his holy will that you find yourself in the state in which he has placed you, either by the direct operation of his Providence or by permitting his creatures to put you in such a state. Have you considered, my dear Sister, what we have learned from the example of Saint John the Baptist who knew Our Lord so well that he bore witness to him, as you know, and loved him more than anyone else in this world? Nevertheless, he drew away from him, or rather God separated him from Jesus by his vocation to penance, although he was born without the stain of sin. Could it not be, my dear Sister, that God wanted to give this example to souls that he wishes to separate from all earthly affection, so that he may fill their hearts with his holy love? How consoling for a soul to find itself completely dependent on his special guidance! This thought is sufficient to make me rejoice with you. Do not believe that things will always be as they now are (SWLM:575-576 [L.546]).

Vincent did not hesitate to place before the first Daughters of Charity the example of the Louise de Marillac: Yes, we have this picture, and you must consider it a model to inspire you to do likewise … You should also recall how [Louise] tended to conform all her actions to those of Our Lord. She did what Saint Paul said: “It is no longer I who live, but Jesus who lives in me.” In this way she strove to make herself like her Master by imitating his virtues. And that is what we saw in this good soul, who patterned herself on the virtues of Our Lord. So, it is this picture that you must contemplate, a portrait of humility, charity, gentleness, and patience in her infirmities. See what a portrait this is!

Could this not be a beautiful portrait for the whole Vincentian Family, one that strengthens us to cultivate a more profound relationship with God through a life of prayer?

Footnotes

[1]Saint John of the Cross: http://emmerich1.com/LivingFlameLove.htm

[2] Spiritual Writing of Louise de Marillac, Edited and Translated by Sister Louise Sullivan, DC, New City Press, Brooklyn, New York, 1991. Future references to this work will be indicated by the initial SWLM, followed by the page number, followed by the number assigned to the letter [L.56] or to one of her writings [A.1]. [M.5b], [S.4].

[3] Saint John of the Cross: (this site prevented me from posting the link here); Saint Teresa of Avila: http://www.ccel.org/ccel/teresa?show=worksBy.

[4] This approach was attempted by B. Martínez during another Vincentian Studies Week. Cf., Martínez, San Vicente y la oración de Santa Luisa. AA.VV. Vicente de Paúl, la inspiración permanente, CEME. Salamanca, 1981, p. 315-360. It is not easy, however, to analyze Louise’s writings in such a way that we are able to discover some form of evolution.

[5] AA.VV. La vida según el Espíritu [Life in accord with the Spirit], Bogotá, Clar, 1977, p. 44.

[6] J. Garrido, Proceso humano and gracia de Dios: apuntes de espiritualidad Cristiana [Human process and the grace of God: points with regard to Christian spirituality], Sal Terrae, Santander, 1996, p. 262.

[7] Teresa of Avila, Libro de la vida 8.5., Obras Completas, [Book of Life, 8.5; Complete Works], Monte Carmelo, Burgo, 1990, p. 72.

[8]“Orar es sintonizar la onda de Dios”, C. Rojas, Oración, experiencia posible, Imágenes de la fe, 222 (1988), 12.

[9] J. Castellano, Pedagogía of oración Cristiana, [Pedagogy of Christian Prayer], Centro de Pastoral Litúrgica, Barcelona, 1996, p. 72.

[10] H. Urs Von Balthasar, Theología y espiritualidad, Selecciones de Teología, 13 (1974), 141.

[11] Cf. SWLM:692 [A.15b]; N. Gobillon, Vida de la señorita Le Gras, fundadora y primera superiora de la Compañía de las Hijas de la Caridad, siervas de los pobres enfermos, CEME, Salamanca, 1991, p. 39

[12] SWLM:645 [L.626. Vincent counseled Louise in the matter: Cf. CCD:I:23-24, 35-36, 54-56, 63-64 … In the same way, although with a different emphasis, Michel de Marillac (Louise’s uncle) also counseled Louise in this matter of doing God’s will: Cf. La Compagnie des Filles de la Charité aux origins (ed. E. Charpy), Documents, Paris, D. 828, 829 [Future references to this work will be indicated with the letter [D] followed by the number of the document. Cf. J. Tauler, Que la Buena voluntad que pretende y busca puramente a Dios, todas las cosas puede, in T. H. Martín (ed.), J. Tauler, Obras, Madrid, Fundación Universitaria Española, 1984, p. 478-488.

[13] SWLM:694 [A.3]. See also SWLM:341 [L.369]: My heart is still overflowing with joy on account of the understanding which, I believe, our good God has given me of the words, “God is my God!”

[14] Cf., J. Garrido, Nada transforma tanto como la relación interpersonal con el Dios vivo, op.cit, p. 263.

[15] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 97.

[16] D.830; N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 42.

[17] Gobillon, op.cit., p. 98.

[18] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 99.

[19] D.831; N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 42

[20] Few believers have experienced in such a lively manner, as Louise did, the action of the Holy Spirit. Few people have been so precise in expressing their recognition of said presence and activity. In her letters and writings there are many references to the Holy Spirit and the action of the Spirit in the church. Those statements of Louise let Calvet to describe the spiritual universe of Louise de Marillac as Spirit centered and he exclaimed: among the saints, Louise presents herself as one who remained calmly recollected in the chapel of the Holy Spirit. J. Calvet, Louisa de Marillac: retrato, CEME, Salamanca, 1997, p. 37 and 138; C.J. Delgado, Luisa de Marillac ante el Espíritu Santo, ANALES (1998), 26-41; cf., A. Orcajo, La pasión por el Espíritu de Jesús: Luisa de Marillac, Ediciones Paulinas, Madrid, 1992.

[21] SWLM:689 [A.1]; See also the two meditations on the Holy Spirit that correspond to the retreat that Louise made in 1632: SWLM:714 [A.5].

[22]SWLM:817 [A.26]; The thoughts expressed in those retreat meditations constitute the most systematic presentation of Louise’s reflections on the action of the Holy Spirit in the life of the Church and in the life of individual Christians. Gobillon (1676) only referred to the first part of this reflection and presented it as one meditation. Castañates (1945) followed the same procedure and this method was also employed in the publication of Louise’s writing in distinct languages [these publications were done on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of her death (1960)]. We had to wait until the 1983 Spanish edition to read the complete text of these retreats. A study of Louise’s retreats can be found in B. Martínez, Ejercicios con santa Luisa de Marillac: El Espíritu Santo, CEME, Salamanca, 1988.

[23] In the Spanish text there is a reference to the Catechism that Louise wrote [A.48] but this document was not included in the English edition of the Selected Writings of Louise de Marillac.

[24] SWLM:140 [L.303b]; Vincent did not authorize this devotion which Louise referred to in another of her letters (SWLM:351 [L.304]). In any case this devotion of Louise has been preserved in the traditional prayer of the Daughters of Charity that is recited between the decades of the Rosary.

[25] SWLM:120 [L.110]. 121 [L.111], 281 [L.245], 617 [L.598], 621 [L.602], 734 [M.35b], 835 [Spiritual Testament]; (CCD:X:500).

[26] SWLM:53 [L.46], 693 [A.3], 725 [A.35]; in the Spanish text there is also a reference to A.114, the last testament of Louise, dated December 15, 1645 but this document was not included in the English edition of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac.

[27] SWLM:56 [L.58b], 250 [L.239], 268 [L.235], 281 [L.245], 299 [L.218],. 366 [L.318]…etc

[28] In the Spanish text there is a reference to the Catechism of Louise de Marillac, [A.48] but this document was not included in the English edition of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac.

[29] R. Voillaume, Orar para vivir, Narcea, Madrid, 1979, p. 52-53.

[30] Cf., J. Garrido, op.cit., p. 444.

[31] Cf., J. Garrido, op.cit., p. 443. … Mystical life from a Christian perspective is an experiential knowledge of God that leads an individual through various transformations in order to rejoice in the divine presence through the gift of grace. Cf. T. H. Martín, op.cit., p. 22.

[32] P. Finkler, La oración contemplative, Ediciones Paulinas, Madrid, 1991, p. 125.

[33] Cf., B. Martínez, La señorita Le Gras y Santa Luisa de Marillac, CEME, Salamanca, 1991, p. 49-56 and 155-182.


[34] Joseph I. Dirvin, CM, Louise de Marillac, Farrart, Straus and Giroux, New York, 1970 p. 83-84. Several reports of Louise’s visits to the Confraternities have been preserved.

[35] P. Finkler, op.cit., p. 125.

[36] Very often this union is established in us through no action of our own, in a manner known only to God and not as we would wish to imagine it (SWLM:514 [L.531b)].

[37] J. Martín Velasco, La experiencia Cristiana de Dios [The Christian experience of God], Trotta, Madrid, 1997, p. 186.

[38] Cf., J. Martín Velasco, op.cit., p. 85.

[39] The true Christian mystic seeks only the Kingdom of God and his justice and not some extraordinary experience. J. Garrido, op.cit., p. 455. Cf., C. Charpy, Spiritualité de Louise de Marillac: Itinéraire d’une femme, DDB, Paris, 1995.

[40] SWLM:715 [A.5]. See also SWLM:719 [A.8], I must bear in mind the fact that the humility which Our Lord practiced His Baptism is not only a source of humiliation for me but it must serve as an example which I must imitate, neither to a greater nor to a lesser degree, than would an apprentice imitate his master if he wanted to become perfect.

[41] Dei Verbum, #4; Hebrews 1:1-2; Colossians 1:15-20.

[42] Because it is not the subject of this presentation we have not referred to Vincent de Paul’s influence on the prayer life of Louise de Marillac. One of the most solid recommendations that Vincent offered Louise with regard to her prayer and her life in general was to place Christ in the poor and the poor in Christ at the center of everything. Cf., B. Martínez, San Vicente y la oración de Santa Luisa [Saint Vincent and the prayer life of Saint Louise]. Translator’s Note: no further information is given about this work.

[43] SWLM:197 [L.174]). See also SWLM:541 [L.513]: Imitate the example of Our Lord who consumed his strength and his life in the service of his neighbor.

[44] SWLM:526 [L.547b]). See also SWLM:638 [L.618]): You will discover in your Rule many instructions both for the service of the poor and for your spiritual exercises which cannot always be performed at the hour indicated. See also CCD:IX:252; X:76.

[45] J. Van Ruusbroec, Obras, Fundación Universitaria Española, Madrid, 1985, p. 337.

[46] Cf., Denzinger 1221-1288 and 1327-1349. Cf., B. Martínez, La señorita Le Gras (Madeimoselle Le Gras), op.cit., p. 151-153.

[47] The reference in the Spanish test is to document A.34 and A.35 Thoughts on Saint Dionysius, however, there is no such document in the English edition of the Spiritual Writings of Louise de Marillac.

[48] In this matter I differ with my teacher, Father Benito Martínez. Cf., La señorita Le Gras, op.cit., p. 116-117; Ejercicios espirituales con Santa Luisa, op.cit., p. 15. Vincent de Paul asked Louise de Marillac to form the Young women who presented themselves to her … to form them in solid virtue and prayer so that prayer will allow them to see their faults and encourage them to correct them (CCD:I:223).

[49] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 99.

[50] Common Rules #5; cf., Benito, Ejercicios, op.cit., p. 23

[51] See, SWLM:26 [L.18], 360 [L.311], 367 [L.326], 509 [L.480], 556 [L.531], 637 [L.618].

[52] See, SWLM:273 [L.233], 350 [L.345], 434 [L.383], 493 [L.461], 494 [L.473b], 500 [L.504], 635 [L.615], 640 [L.621], 673 [L.651], 682 [L.556].

[53] In all the rules for the different houses and various ministries, in all the different foundations and even when the Sisters were traveling … times were specified for prayer, SWLM:765 [L.134], 726 [A.55], 736 [A.80], 737 [A.76], 738 [A.91], 746 [A.88], 754 [A.91b], 770 [A.77], 805 [A.92], 810 [A.93], 811 [A.81].

[54] See, SWLM:69 [L.63], 360 [L.311], 509 [L.480], 510 [L.439], 600 [L.581], 726 [A.55], 737 [A.76], 738 [A.91], 810 [A.93].

[55] N. Gobillon, op.cit., p. 96-97.

[56] Cf., SWLM:51 [L.388]. Saint John of the Cross spoke about the dark night of the soul: Three nights must be endured by the soul, or perhaps it is better to say that the soul must pass through three nights in order to achieve divine union with God. Louise experienced purification and the trials of prayer.

Translated: Charles T. Plock, CM