Abelly: Book 1/Chapter 12
Index of Abelly: Book One
The Marvelous Change Brought About in the Life of a Noble Person under Monsieur Vincent's Spiritual Direction
Monsieur Vincent's reputation during his stay in Bresse spread in the vicinity, leading the Count de Rougemont, a resident in that province, to visit him for spiritual direction. He was so pleased with his talks with Monsieur Vincent that he decided to place himself completely under his guidance. He was formerly a noble of Savoy, since retired in France after King Henry annexed Bresse to the kingdom. He had been raised at court and had assumed all its values and practices. At the time one of the most deplorable evils was dueling, by which gentlemen proved their valor or defended their honor. He had gained notoriety as one of the leading duelists of his time.
By the marvelous effects of divine grace, God used the words of Monsieur Vincent to convince him of the evils of this practice and the spiritual danger in which he lived. He was so touched that not only did he give up forever his dueling, but all other misguided elements in his life as well. To atone for his past excesses he adopted the most heroic of Christian practices.
First, having sold his estate of Rougemont for more than thirty thousand ecus, he used a good part of the proceeds for the founding of monasteries and the relief of the poor. His meditations on the sufferings of Jesus Christ led him to ask how many blows were borne by the Son of God in his scourging. He wanted to give a like number of ecus to the Oratory at Lyons. In a short time he so progressed in virtue under the guidance of his prudent director, that he became an example to all. Mental prayer became his usual occupation, and he was often seen to spend three or four hours in meditation, kneeling with no support and head uncovered. His home, the Chateau de Chandes, became almost a hospice for religious and a hospital for the poor, both sick and well. They were received here with an almost unbelievable charity for the relief of their bodily and spiritual needs, for which he provided priests.
Not a sick person lived in his domain whom he did not visit and serve in person. On those rare occasions when he had to be away, he had his household staff visit.
Father Desmoulins of the Oratory is the source of the following information.
I write nothing but what I have seen with my own eyes. This good nobleman seemed almost ashamed to own so much, even though he looked like a simple farmer and used his wealth in favor of the poor. One day, with tears in his eyes, he said to me: "Alas, Father, what is to happen to me? And why am I treated as a lord, and why do I own so much?" (Monsieur Vincent, as his spiritual director, reportedly kept him in that condition.) "It is Monsieur Vincent's responsibility. If not for him, Father, I assure you that in less than a month the count de Rougemont would not own a single bit of land!" He was astounded that a Christian could hold anything on his own, seeing that the Son of God deprived himself of everything during his stay on earth.
What a remarkable lesson for the great of this world on how to make use of their wealth and with what detachment they ought to own their worldly goods. They should remember the words of the holy apostle that "they should use their earthly goods as if they did not use them, for the form of this world passes away." <Ftn: 1 Cor 7:31.>
This view also consoled the poor. They saw their condition respected and even sought for by a great lord in an effort to conform more closely to Jesus Christ. It gave an occasion for the sons of Monsieur Vincent to thank God for having given such graces to this nobleman through the prayers and efforts of their wise founder. He himself never spoke of these matters, except in a conference he once gave on detachment from creatures. He cited the example of the Count de Rougemont, but without referring to the part he himself had played in this story. Here are his own words, preserved in the minutes of this conference:
I once knew a gentleman of Bresse, Monsieur de Rougemont, an avowed duelist. He was well placed and had often had occasion to be challenged or to challenge others who had offended him in some way. He told me himself that he could hardly remember the number of persons who had challenged him because of some quarrels or whom he had challenged as his adversaries. He told me he had struck, wounded, and killed an unbelievable number. But God so touched his heart that he entered into himself and saw what a sorry state he was in. He decided to change his life, and with God's grace he did so.
After some little time in his new manner of living he went to request from the archbishop of Lyons the privilege of keeping the blessed sacrament in his chapel as a mark of respect for our Savior and as a way of furthering his well-known piety. When I visited his house, he told me what practices of devotion he was observing, mainly his detachment from worldly goods. "I feel sure", he said to me, "that if I am bound to nothing in this world I will be able to give myself completely to God. I consider that if I allow the friendship for a lord or a relative or a neighbor to hold me back, or if my own self-love hinders me, or if my worldly goods or my vanity, my passions or my love of ease do me harm. If, in short, anything can deprive me of my sovereign good, I must pray, cut, crush, leave this place. This is what I set myself to."
He then told me something I have often thought about. He related how he was on a journey one day, thinking of God, as he was his custom. He wondered where, since the time of his conversion, he had held back anything. He reviewed his business dealings, his associates, his reputation, the various movements of the human heart, both great and small. He went round and round in his mind considering these things.
All at once his eyes fell upon his sword. "Why are you carrying it? Why? Abandon this sword which, after God, has delivered you from a thousand dangers? If you are attacked once more, you would be lost without it. You might come across some disturbance and you will not be able to restrain yourself if you still carry it. You will again offend God. What, O God, should I do? What should I do? Such an instrument of my shame and my sins is still dear to me? This sword alone still stands in my way. Oh that I was not so cowardly to hold on to it!"
Just at that moment he found himself near a large rock. He got off his horse, took his sword, and immediately broke it on the rock into a hundred pieces. He then remounted his horse and rode off. He told me that this act of detachment, this breaking the iron chain which held him captive, gave him such a sense of liberty that great as his love was for that sword, he never again felt attracted to any object but God alone. <Ftn: CED XII:231-33.>
We can see by this example how a heroic act of virtue and a victory won by force over oneself can lead in short time to great progress in sanctity. Also, we see how important it is to renounce attachment to the least things of this earth to be united perfectly to God.
Index of Abelly: Book One