Saturday, April 22, 2017

For Those Who Mourn

Her rocking chair lets out a creak as she leans back. Physically, she's not a commanding presence, to your surprise. If it weren't for her wrinkles, she could easily be mistaken for a child in that chair. But you know different. She's, after all, Saint Louise de Marillac. And she's your director for this year's retreat on the Beatitudes.

She pats the Bible on her lap. She opens her mouth to speak and her voice is comfortingly soft. "Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted....I believe you know enough about me that you will understand why this has been my favorite Beatitude. I've had a lifetime of mourning. Later in life, I understood my way to holiness was the way of the Cross. I suffered much...beginning with my very birth."

Yes, you knew. Louise de Marillac was born illegitimate. She never knew her mother nor do any of her biographers or historians. While Louise didn't end up in a home for foundlings (as did many other illegitimate children), her relationship with her family was...well, complicated. Her father sent her to live with her aunt, who was a Dominican nun. There, Louise received a great education - better than some of her counterparts - but she never experienced love from her father.

She continues, "I mourned the mother I never knew. I mourned the loss of my family through their rejection. I mourned over breaking my promise to God that I would be a nun - I married Antoine instead. And then, of course, later...later, I mourned the loss of his warm and loving personality when the sickness fell."

Silence. You notice Louise is no longer looking at you. Instead, she's staring off somewhere in the distance. Fighting off the bad memories? Praying? You realize, at that moment, there is more to the story than you'll ever know. What you do know is that, even during his illness, Louise contemplated leaving her husband and joining the convent. It was the time of her Lumiere (Pentecost Experience) that would lead her to found the Daughters of Charity ten years later.

She clears her throat and nervously smooths out her dress, obviously flustered with herself. "I then mourned the loss of my husband's physical presence. And while I would never physically lose my son Michel, I lived in constant fear that I had lost him emotionally and spiritually."

I know you have had your own moments of mourning during your life as well...and not always over deaths.

She lovingly looks intently at you and sympathetically smiles. "Perhaps you've even going through one of those times now?"

Your eyes give away the answer. Suddenly, you share everything with this woman, this stranger, this saint. Yet, something strange has happened. By listening to Louise's story in her own words, in her own voice, she is no longer a holy card, a medal or a character in a biography - she has turned into a real person, maybe even a friend. And she listens more intently than anyone else you've ever met. 

When there's nothing more to tell, she speaks, "What got me through those mourning periods was the belief that somehow God was still in control. It's not an easy concept to grasp. Easier said than done, as you say. But I had to believe I would be comforted - in this life and the next.

She leans in and her hands clasp yours.

And I am comforted. We must trust, dear friend, always trust Him."

(Note: I wrote this in 2014 as a draft for a heritage project about St. Louise de Marillac. The project was originally a 8-day retreat with St. Louise in this style. I ended up going forward with a different idea but this draft survived in one of my writing notebooks.)

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