St. Louis IX: King, Crusader, Saint
King St. Louis IX of France embodied all that a monarch ought to be: he ruled with justice, integrity, generosity, and holiness. He and Queen Margaret of Provence bore eleven children, their line reigning over France until the French Revolution put a brutal end to it. (As the guillotine fell onto the neck of Louis XVI, Abbé Edgeworth, his confessor, cried, Le fils de St-Louis, montez au paradis!--"Son of St. Louis, ascend to Heaven!")
St. Louis' mother told him often as a child, Je t'aime, mon cher fils, autant qu'une mère peut aimer son enfant; mais j'aime mieux que tu soit mort à mes pieds que tu commettes un péché mortel. "I love you, my dear son, as much as a mother can love her child; but I would rather see you dead at my feet than that you should commit a mortal sin."
How many mothers today, I wonder, could say such a thing, and mean it? Are most not often busy worrying about their children's physical well-being, their education, their careers, reputations, relationships? How many among us can say that the welfare of our children's souls is truly first and foremost in our hearts? A mother's worst fear is to lose her child early--but if we as Catholics truly believe what we claim to believe, should our worst fear rather not be that our children's souls be eternally lost? And should we not therefore throw the entire weight of our efforts and prayers toward that end: the salvation of their souls?
When St. Louis grew to manhood and became a parent himself, he would write to his eldest son Phillip III, "You should, with all your strength, shun everything which you believe to be displeasing to Him. And you ought especially to be resolved not to commit mortal sin, no matter what may happen and should permit all your limbs to be hewn off, and suffer every manner of torment, rather than fall knowingly into mortal sin."
St. Louis once asked his friend, the Sieur de Joinville, whether or not he would prefer to be one of the lepers who wandered the byways, or to commit a mortal sin. Joinville replied, "I would rather commit thirty mortal sins than to be a leper." The King said, "When a man dies, he is healed of leprosy in his body; but when a man who has committed a mortal sin dies, he cannot know with certainty that he has in his lifetime repented such that God has forgiven him; he thus must stand in great fear lest that leprosy of sin last as long as God is in Paradise."
It was St. Louis who bought the Crown of Thorns, which now lies in the beautiful Chapelle St-Louis in Paris. He attended mass twice daily, supported priests and bishops in their work, and was never afraid to chastise those who failed their duty. In such reverence did he hold obedience that he refused to put to death the traitorous son of Hugh de la Marche, who acted at his father's behest: "A son," the King said, "cannot refuse to obey his father's orders." At times, when called on to put down rebellions, he always made restitution to the innocent harmed. If an infidel was taken prisoner, he ordered that, rather than put him to death, he be given the chance to receive Christian instruction and be baptized. Determined to live a life of holy purity, he exhorted all in his court to put away their concubines and live chastely, or otherwise regularize their situation and marry. One woman in his court known for her extravagent and immodest dress was brought to amend her ways through his private and gentle admonishments.
The good king died from illness while leading a crusade. At 3 o'clock, the hour of mercy, he uttered his last words, "Into Thy hands I commend my spirit," and passed into glory. He was canonized 27 years later.
St. Louis, priez pour nous!