St. Louis, King of France
Fr. Scott Haynes
King Louis IX of France was the quintessential Christian Prince of the 13th century. He was crowned at Rheims, like almost all French Kings, on the First Sunday of Advent in 1226. It would surely have been easy for St. Louis to fill his life with early pleasures and treasures and to be very self-centered. But St. Louis was the most generous of kings. He was utterly devoted to his family, loving his wife and helping to raise his eleven children. But as King of France, he saw the whole of France as his family and so he served the people with the same generous love he showed his immediate family.
It is an undisputed fact that he built many hospitals. Not only that, he built homes for reformed prostitutes. But he was not merely satisfied to be the governor and overseer over all these good works. No! He got his hands dirty by helping people one on one. Every day, he met with the poor personally. Many times he was seen to wash the feet of the poor. St. Louis invited thirteen special guests from among the poor to eat with him every day. He did this to imitate Christ at the Last Supper. But he went further still. He also washed their feet just as Christ washed the feet of the apostles. All who knew him admired him; no one spoke ill of him and he spoke ill of no one else. His biographer, Joinville, wrote,
I was a good 22 years in the King's company and never once did I hear him swear, either by God, or His Mother, or His saints. I did not even hear him name the Devil, except if he met the word when reading aloud, or when discussing what had been read.
Where did St. Louis gain the spiritual strength to do these good works in honor of the Kingship of Christ? His source of strength was the Divine Office and the Mass. Every day he went to a Requiem Mass to pray for the poor souls in purgatory. Every day he would attend the Latin High Mass to pray for himself and for his Kingdom. And during Lent he would daily attend three Masses.
Once when a Eucharistic miracle occurred in a nearby chapel a servant came running to the chapel where St Louis was praying before the Tabernacle. The servant wanted St Louis to come and see the miracle because he knew how his master loved Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament. In this Eucharistic miracle, the Lord in the Eucharist was appearing to some persons as the little Infant of Bethlehem. To others he appeared in some moment of his suffering and death. But the saintly king refused to go to this other chapel to witness this miracle. The servant was confused. St Louis explained to the servant that such miracles were manifested to help the weak faith of the unbelieving.
St. Louis wisely explained that he already believed in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist. He wisely realized his faith would be stronger if he did not go, for he recalled the words of the Apostle and Evangelist St. John who said, “Blessed are they who do not and yet who believe.” After his devotion to the Holy Mass St Louis filled out his day by the prayer of the Divine Office, chanting all the hours of the Office in the company of priests, religious and the laymen of his court.
Even when his court had to travel from place to place on horseback they would sing the Office as they rode along the way. Even on the Crusades to the Holy Land and even when he was captured by the Saracens, he even impressed his jailers by his piety, his conduct and how he kept all the hours of the Divine Office singing loudly the psalms, hymns and canticles. Charlemagne once said: “Of a king I expect wisdom; of a scholar, learning; of a priest, piety.” I think St. Louis, King of France possessed all three because daily he south wisdom, learning, piety and every virtue from the fount of grace which is the sacred liturgy.
As St. Louis fostered the sacred in the life of his family, his nation and most eminently through his saintly life, he knew that the greatest comfort he could ever possess at the end of his life was the knowledge that he had made Christ the King over his life and the life of his beloved nation.
When at last he died at the hour of mercy, at three in the afternoon, on 25 August 1270, his last words were those of Christ, the words which he had daily chanted in the Divine Office many times over: "In manus tuas Domine commendo spiritu meum. - Into Thy hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit."