August 19, 2011

From the Editor Emeritus / John F. Fink

Wisdom of the saints: St. Louis

John F. FinkSt. Louis, whose feast is on Aug. 25, became King Louis IX of France in 1226 at age 12, when his father died. His mother, Blanche, served as regent until Louis assumed the throne in 1234, the same year that he married Margaret of Provence. Louis and Margaret had 11 children.

Perhaps Louis is known best as a crusader. He led his first crusade in 1248 when he was 34. He ended up being captured by Saracens, and had to pay a ransom for his release. He spent four years in the Holy Land before returning to France, bringing many relics with him.

He led his second Crusade in 1270. It was equally unsuccessful, and Louis died of typhus in Tunisia on Aug. 25 of that year.

Between his crusades, Louis was a successful administrator. He also built numerous churches, hospitals and orphanages, including the magnificent St. Chapelle in Paris, where visitors can see many of those relics. Each day, he invited 13 special guests among the poor to eat with him, and he personally served them.

Like St. Stephen of Hungary, about whom I wrote last week, St. Louis wrote a letter to one of his sons. He began, “My dearest son, my first instruction is that you should love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your strength. Without this there is no salvation.”

He told his son to avoid anything that displeases God, that is to say, from every mortal sin. “You should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom,” he said, “before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin.”

He told him to bear trials willingly and with gratitude, “considering that it has happened for your good and that perhaps you well deserved it.” If, on the other hand, God bestowed prosperity upon him, “thank him humbly and see that you become no worse for it, either through vain pride or anything else.”

He advised him to listen to the divine office with pleasure and devotion. While he is in church, he said, “Be careful not to let your eyes wander and not to speak empty words, but pray to the Lord devoutly, either aloud or with the interior prayer of the heart.”

Louis urged his son to be kindhearted to the poor, the unfortunate and the afflicted, giving them as much help and consolation as possible. “Be just to your subjects,” he wrote, “swaying neither to right nor left, but holding the line of justice. Always side with the poor rather than with the rich, until you are certain of the truth.”

In conclusion, he wrote, “I give you every blessing that a loving father can give a son. May the three Persons of the Holy Trinity and all the saints protect you from every evil. And may the Lord give you the grace to do his will so that he may be served and honored through you, that in the next life we may together come to see him, love him and praise him unceasingly. Amen.” †

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