August 21 – St. Jane Frances Fremiot de Chantal, Widow
Although Mary’s glory is within her, beauty appears also in the garment wherewith she is clad: a mysterious robe woven of the virtues of the Saints, who owe to her both their justice and their reward. As every grace comes to us through our Mother, so all the glory of heaven converges towards that of the Queen.
Now among the blessed souls there are some more immediately connected with the holy Virgin. Prevented by the peculiarly tender love of the Mother of grace, they left all things, when on earth, to run after the odor of the perfumes of the Spouse she gave to the world; in heaven they keep the greater intimacy with Mary which was theirs even in the time of exile. Hence it is that at this time of her exaltation beside the Son of God, the Psalmist sings also of the Virgins entering joyously with her into the temple of the King. The crowning of our Lady is truly the special feast of these daughters of Tyre, who have themselves become princesses and queens in order to form her noble escort and her royal court.
If the Saint proposed to our veneration today is not adorned with the diadem of virginity, she is nevertheless one of those who have deserved in their humility to hear the heavenly message: Hearken, O daughter, and see, and incline thy ear; and forget thy people and thy father’s house. In reply, such was her eagerness in the ways of love, that numberless virgins followed in her footsteps in order to be more sure of reaching the Spouse. She also, then, has a glorious place in the vesture of gold, with its play of colors, wherewith the Queen of Saints is clad in her triumph. For what is the variety noticed by the Psalm, in the embroideries and fringes of that robe of glory, if not the diversity of tints in the gold of divine charity among the elect? In order to bring forward the happy effect produced by this diversity in the light of the Saints, Eternal Wisdom has multiplied the forms under which the life of the counsels may be presented to the world. Such is the teaching given in the holy Liturgy, by bringing together the feasts of yesterday and today on its sacred cycle. Between Cistercian austerity and the more interior renouncement of the Visitation of holy Mary, there seems to be a great distance: nevertheless the Church unites the memory of St. Jane de Chantal and of the Abbot of Clairvaux in homage to the Blessed Virgin during the happy Octave which consummates her glory; it is because all rules of perfection are alike in being merely variations of the one Rule, that of love, of which Mary’s life was a perfect patter. “Let us not divide the robe of the Bride,” says St. Bernard. “Unity, as well in heaven as on earth, consists in charity. Let him who glories in the rule, not break the rule by acting contrary to the Gospel. If the kingdom of God is within us, it is because it is not meat and drink; but justice, and peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost. To criticize others on their exterior observance, and to neglect the Rule in what regards the soul, is to take out a gnat from the cup and to swallow a camel. Thou breakest thy body with endless labor, thou mortifiest with austerities thy members which are on the earth; and thou dost well. But while thou allowest thyself to judge him who does not so much penance, he perhaps is following the advice of the Apostle: more eager for the better gifts, keeping less of that bodily exercise which is profitable to little he gives himself up more to that godliness which is profitable to all things. Which then of you two keeps the Rule better? doubtless he that becomes better thereby. Now which is the better? The humbler? or the more fatigued? Learn of me, said Jesus, because I am meek and humble of heart.”
St. Francis de Sales, in his turn, speaking of the diversity of religious Orders, says very well: “All Religious Orders have one spirit common to them all, and each has a spirit peculiar to itself. The common spirit is the design they all have of aspiring after the perfection of charity; but the peculiar spirit of each is the means of arriving at that perfection of charity, that is to say, at the union of our souls with God, and with our neighbor through the love of God.” Coming next to the special spirit of the institute he had founded together with our Saint, the Bishop of Geneva declares that it is “a spirit of profound humility towards God and of a great sweetness towards our neighbor, inasmuch as there is less rigor towards the body, so much the more sweetness must there be in the heart.” And because “this Congregation has been so established that no great severity may prevent the weak and infirm from entering it and giving themselves up to the perfection of divine love,” he adds playfully: “If there be any sister so generous and courageous as to wish to attain perfection in a quarter of an hour by doing more than the Community does, I would advise her to humble herself and be content to become perfect in three days, following the same course as the rest. For a great simplicity must always be kept in all things: to walk simply, that is the true way for the daughters of the Visitation, a way exceedingly pleasing to God and very safe,”
With sweetness and humility for motto, the pious Bishop did well to give his daughters for escutcheon the divine Heart whence these gentle virtues derive their source. We know how magnificently heaven justified the choice. Before a century had elapsed, a nun of the Visitation, the Blessed Margaret Mary, could say: “Our adorable Savior showed me the devotion to his divine Heart as a beautiful tree which he had destined from all eternity to take root in the midst of our Institute. He wills that the daughters of the Visitation should distribute the fruits of this sacred tree abundantly to all those that wish to eat of it, and without fear of its failing them.”
“Love! love! love! my daughters; I know nothing else.” This did Jane de Chantal, the glorious co-operatrix of St. Francis in establishing the Visitation of holy Mary, often cry out in her latter years. “Mother,” said one of the sisters, “I shall write to our houses that your Charity is growing old, and that, like your godfather St. John, you can speak of nothing but love.” To which the Saint replied: “My daughter, do not make such a comparison, for we must not profane the Saints by comparing them to poor sinners; but you will do me a pleasure if you tell those sisters that if I went by my own feelings, if I followed my inclination, and if I were not afraid of wearying the sisters, I should never speak of anything but Charity; and I assure you, I scarcely ever open my mouth to speak of holy things, without having a mind to say: Thou shalt love the Lord with thy whole heart, and thy neighbor as thyself.”
Such words are worthy of her who obtained for the Church the admirable Treatise on the Love of God, composed, says the Bishop of Genoa, for her sake, at her request and solicitation, for herself and her companions. At first, however, the impetuosity of her soul, overflowing with devotedness and energy, seemed to unfit her to be mistress in a school where heroism can only express itself by the simple sweetness of a life altogether hidden in God. It was to discipline this energy of the valiant woman without extinguishing its ardor, that St. Francis perseveringly applied himself during the eighteen years he directed her. “Do all things,” he repeats in a thousand ways, “without haste, gently, as do the Angels; follow the guidance of divine movements, and be supple to grace; God wills us to be like little children.” And this reminds us of an exquisite page from the amiable Saint, which we cannot resist quoting: “If one had asked the sweet Jesus when he was carried in his Mother’s arms, whither he was going, might he not with good reason have answered: I go not, ’tis my Mother that goes for me: and if one had said to him: But at least do you not go with your Mother? Might he not reasonably have replied: No, I do not go, or if I go whither my Mother carries me, I do not myself walk with her nor by my own steps, but by my Mother’s, by her, and in her. But if one had persisted with him, saying: But at least, O most dear divine child, you really will to let yourself be carried by your sweet Mother? No, verily, might he have said, I will nothing of all this, but as my entirely good Mother walks for me, so she wills for me; I leave her the care as well to go as to will to go for me where she likes best; and as I go not but by her steps, so I will not but by her will; and from the instant I find myself in her arms, I give no attention either to willing or not willing, turning all other cares over to my Mother, save only the care to be on her bosom, to suck her sacred breast, and to keep myself close clasped to her most beloved neck, that I may most lovingly kiss her with the kisses of my mouth. And be it known to you that while I am amidst the delights of these holy caresses which surpass all sweetness, I consider that my Mother is a tree of life, and myself on her as its fruit, that I am her own heart in her breast, or her soul in the midst of her heart, so that as her going serves both her and me without my troubling myself to take a single step, so her will serves us both without my producing any act of my will about going or coming. Nor do I ever take notice whether she goes fast or slow, hither or thither, nor do I inquire whither she means to go, contenting myself with this, that go whither she please I go still locked in her arms, close laid to her beloved breasts, where I feed as among lilies … Thus should we be, Theotimus, pliable and tractable to God’s good pleasure.”
The Church abridges for us far better than we could, the life of St. Jane Frances de Chantal:
|Joanna Francisca Fremiot de Chantal, Divione in Burgundia clarissimis orta natalibus, ab inuente ætate eximiæ sanctitatis non obscuras edidit significationes. Eam enim vix quinquennem nobilem quemdam Calvinistam solida supra ætatem argumentatione perstrinxisse ferunt, collatumque ab eo munusculum flammis illico tradidisse in hæc verba: En quomodo hæc verba: En quomodo hæretici apud inferos comburentur, qui loquenti Christo fidem detectant. Matre orbata, Deiparæ Virginis tutelæ se commendavit, et famulam quæ ad mundi amorem eam alliciebat, ab se rejecit. Nihil puerile in moribus exprimens, a sæculi deliciis abhorrens, martyriumque anhelans, religioni ac pietati impense studebat. Baroni de Chantal nuptui a patre tradita, virtutibus omnibus excolendis operam dedit, liberos, famulos, aliosque sibi subjectos in fideo doctrina, bonisque moribus imbuere satagens. Prufusa liberalitate pauperum inopiam sublevabat, annona divinitus non raro multiplicata: quo factum est, ut nemini se umquam Christi nomine roganti stipem abnegaturam spondonderit.||Jane Frances Frémiot de Chantal was born at Dijon in Burgundy, of noble parents, and from her childhood gave clear signs of her future great sanctity. It was said that when only five years of age, she put to silence a Calvinist nobleman by substantial arguments, far beyond her age, and when he offered her a little present she immediately threw it into the fire, saying: “This is how heretics will burn in hell, because they do not believe Christ when he speaks.” When she lost her mother, she put herself under the care of the Virgin Mother of God, and dismissed a maid servant who was enticing her to love of the world. There was nothing childish in her manners; she shrank from worldly pleasures, and thirsting for martyrdom, she devoted herself entirely to religion and piety. She was given in marriage by her father to the Baron de Chantal, and in this new state of life she strove to cultivate every virtue, and busied herself in instructing in faith and morals her children, her servants and all under her authority. Her liberality in relieving the necessities of the poor was very great, and more than once God miraculously multiplied her stores of provisions; on this account she promised never to refuse any one who begged an alms in Christ’s name.|
|Viro in venatione interempto, perfectioris vitæ consilium iniens, continentiæ vote se obstrinxit. Viri necem non solum æquo animo tulit, sed, in publicum indultæ veniæ testimonium, occisoris filium e sacro fonte suscipere sui victrix elegit. Modica familia, tenui victu atque vestitu contenta, pretiosas vestes in pios usus convertit. Quidquid a domesticis curis superarat temporis, precibus, piis lectionibus, laborique impendebat. Numquam adduci potuit ut alteras nuptias, quamvis utiles et honorificas, iniret. Ne autem a proposito castimoniæ observandæ in posterum dimoveretur, illius voto innovato, sanctissimum Jesus Christi nomen candenti ferro pectori insculpsit. Ardentius in dies caritate fervascns, pauperes, derelictos, ægros, teterrimisque morbis infectos ad se adducendos curabat; eosque non hospitio tantum excipiebat, solabatur, fovebat, verum etiam sordidas eorumdem vestes depurgabat, laceras reficiebat, et manantibus fœtido pure ulceribus labia admovere non exhorrebat.||Her husband having been killed while hunting, she determined to embrace a more perfect life and bound herself by a vow of chastity. She not only bore her husband’s death resignedly, but overcame herself so far as to stand godmother to the child of the man who had killed him, in order to give a public proof that she pardoned him. She contented herself with a few servants and with plain food and dress, devoting her costly garments to pious usages. Whatever time remained from her domestic cares she employed in prayer, pious reading, and work. She could never be induced to accept offers of second marriage, even though honorable and advantageous. In order not to be shaken in her resolution of observing charity, she renewed her vow, and imprinted the most holy name of Jesus Christ upon her breast with a red-hot iron. Her love grew more ardent day by day. She had the poor, the abandoned, the sick, and those who were afflicted with the most terrible diseases brought to her, and not only sheltered, and comforted, and nursed them, but washed and mended their filthy garments, and did not shrink from putting her lips to their running sores.|
|A Sancto Francisco Salensio, quo spiritus moderatore usa fuit, divinam voluntatem edocta, proprium parentem, socerum, filium denique ipsum, quem etiam vocationi obsistentem, sua e domo egrediens, pedibus calcare non dubitavit, invicta constantia deseruit, et sacri instituti Visitationis sanctæ Mariæ fundamenta jecit. Ejus instituti leges integerrime custodivit, et adeo paupertatis fuit amans, ut vel necessaria sibi deesse gauderet. Christianæ vero animi demissionis et obedientiæ, virtutumque denique omnium perfectissimum exemplar se præbuit. Altiores in corde suo ascensiones disponens, arduissimo efficiendi semper id quod perfectius esse intelligeret, voto se obstrinxit. Denique, sacro Visitationis instituto ejus potissimum opera longe lateque diffuso, verbo, exemplo, et scriptis etiam divina sapientia refertis, ad pietatem et caritatem sororibus excitatis, meritis referta, et sacramentis rite susceptis, Molinis, anno millesimo sexcentesimo quadragesimo primo, die decima tertia Decembris, migravit ad Dominum, ejusque animam, occurrente sancto Francisco Salesio, in cœlos deferri sanctus Vincentius a Paulo procul distansadspexit. Ejus corpus postea Annecium translatum est: eamque miraculis ante et post obitum claram Benedictus Decimus quartus beatorum, Clemens vero Decimus tertius Pontifex Maximus albo sanctorum adjecit. Festum antem ejusdem die duodecimo calendas Septembris ab universa Ecclesia Clemens Decimus quartus Pontifex Maximus celebrari præcepit.||Having learned the will of God from St. Francis de Sales her director, she founded the Institute of the Visitation of our Lady. For this purpose she quitted, with unfaltering courage, her father, her father-in-law, and even her son, over whose body she had to step in order to leave her home, so violently did he oppose her vocation. She observed her Rule with the utmost fidelity, and so great was her love of poverty, that she rejoiced to be in want of even the necessaries of life. She was a perfect model of Christian humility, obedience, and all other virtues. Wishing for still higher ascensions in her heart, she bound herself by a most difficult vow, always to do what she thought most perfect. At length when the Order of the Visitation had spread far and wide, chiefly through her endeavors, after encouraging her sisters to piety and charity by words and example, and also by writings full of divine wisdom; laden with merits, she passed to the Lord at Moulins, having duly received the Sacraments of the Church. She died on the 13th of December, in the year 1641. St. Vincent de Paul, who was at a great distance, saw her soul being carried to heaven, and St. Francis de Sales coming to meet her. Her body was afterwards translated to Annecy. Miracles having made her illustrious both before and after her death, Benedict XIV placed her among the Blessed, and Pope Clement XIII among the Saints. Pope Clement XIV commanded her feast to be celebrated by the universal Church on the 12 of the Calends of September.|
The office of Martha seemed at first to be destined for thee, O great Saint! Thy father, Francis de Sales, forestalling St. Vincent de Paul, thought of making thy companions the first daughters of Charity. Thus was given to thy work the blessed name of Visitation, which was to place under Mary’s protection thy visits to the sick and neglected poor. But the progressive deterioration of strength in modern times had laid open a more pressing want in the institutions of holy Church. Many souls called to share Mary’s part were prevented from doing so by their inability to endure the austere life of the great contemplative Orders. The Spouse, who deigns to adapt his goodness at all times, made choice of thee, O Jane, to second the love of his Sacred Heart, and come to the rescue of the physical and moral miseries of an old, worn-out, and decrepit world.
Renew us, then, in the love of him whose charity consumed thee first; in its ardor, thou didst traverse the most various paths of life, and never didst thou fail of that admirable strength of soul, which the Church presents before God today in order to obtain through thee the assistance necessary to our weakness. May the insidious and poisonous spirit of Jansenism never return to freeze our hearts; but at the same time, as we learn from thee, love is only then real when, with or without austerities, it lives by faith, generosity, and self-renunciation, in humility, simplicity, and gentleness. It is the spirit of thy holy institute, the spirit which became, through thy angelic Father, so amiable and so strong: may it ever reign amidst thy daughters, keeping up among their houses the sweet union which has never ceased to rejoice heaven; may the world be refreshed by the perfumes which ever exhale from the silent retreats of the Visitation of holy Mary!
This text is taken from The Liturgical Year, authored by Dom Prosper Gueranger (1841-1875)