Saturday, August 25, 2012

God, France, and Marguerite


Saint Louis IX, King of France, whose feast we celebrate today, is the epitome of the Christian knight, king and crusader. He is the patron saint of Franciscan tertiaries. In addition to his administrative duties as king, he prayed the daily Mass and Divine Office. His strong interior life aided him in being a competent ruler and a father to his people.

While still a teenager, St. Louis married a beautiful princess from the south of France, Marguerite de Provence. She was also pious, although not as devout as Louis. Inside his wedding ring, he had three words inscribed: "God, France, and Marguerite." They had eleven children. King Louis had a secret staircase built from his study to his wife's parlor above so that he could visit her during the day without his mother knowing it. Louis' mother, Queen Blanche, thought that Louis should concentrate solely upon his work. She also may have feared that Marguerite might gain too much political influence over Louis, and so tried to keep the young lovers/spouses apart as much as possible.

Blanche went to extremes by making young Louis leave Marguerite when she was suffering after a particularly difficult childbirth and wanted her husband to hold her hand. Blanche told Louis that it was not his place to be in the birthing room and Louis obeyed his mother. Marguerite was quite distressed although she forgave Louis.

Louis and Marguerite lost children to sickness and had their share of domestic misunderstandings. At one point, Louis thought Marguerite focused too much on her clothes, and later on Marguerite complained that Louis would not look at her. To his friend Jean de Joinville, Louis confided, "A man should not behold that which he can never fully possess." I assume it was soon before he left on his second crusade on which he would die; perhaps he was trying to detach himself from everything he loved in this world, especially his beloved wife.

Marguerite shared her husband's sorrows and joys. When his mother died, she wept copiously. Joinville asked her in amazement how she could weep over someone who had caused her so much suffering. Marguerite replied that it was because her husband was so deeply grieved and she shared his grief.

Greatly devoted to Our Lady, St. Louis was responsible for bringing the Carmelite Order to France. While on a crusade in the Holy Land, King Louis’ ship ran into a violent storm within view of Mt. Carmel. The sound of the bells from the chapel of Our Lady on Mt. Carmel pierced the roar of the wind and the waves. The king, kneeling in prayer, begged Our Lady to save his ship, promising in return a pilgrimage to Carmel. The ship was saved. King Louis climbed the slopes of Carmel to visit the holy hermits who lived near the chapel. Greatly edified by their life of prayer and solitude, he asked several of them to come to France, where he established a monastery for them. This was a great help to the Carmelites, who were finding life in Palestine very difficult due to the hostility of the Moslems.

St. Louis of France had a busy schedule and a multitude of duties. Through the Eucharist, the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony and devotion to Our Lady, he attained a life of union with God. Power and riches had no hold on his heart. Let us seek his intercession in this often disorienting time we live in.

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