Saint Isabelle of France (1225-1270, also known as Isabel and Isabella), the daughter of King Louis VIII of France. Remembered for extreme devotion to the Lord, even as a child, Saint Isabelle requested spiritual direction and permanent confessors from Pope Innocent IV, who allowed her to retain some local Franciscans for that post. As she matured, she became even more devoted to the Lord, through the direction of the Franciscans, eventually breaking off several engagements (arranged for political reasons by her brother who had assumed the throne), and refusing to marry so as to remain virginal for the Lord.
Isabelle resided in the royal castle for much of young adult life, but lived a cloistered life, similar to that of a religious. She refused the lavish appointments and meals offered to her, instead subsisting on meager rations, and donating what she saved to the poor. Her days were spent in service to those in need, specifically the sick and the destitute. Of weak constitution, Isabelle was often ill, specifically with stomach ailments, a condition exacerbated by her fasting and mortification.
Following the king’s return from the Crusades, where he had been imprisoned for some time, Isabelle left the castle, called to found a Franciscan Order for women—the Convent of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin-- in Longchamp, France. The sisters of the order spent their days in charity, but as the name of the order suggests, never accepted recognition or reward for their labors, instead glorifying the Lord. The mission of the Franciscan Order was to serve the poor in love.
Saint Isabelle was appointed Abbess upon recognition and approval of the Order, but refused, instead preferring to live nearby the monastery, oversee operations from her home in solitude, and re-write the rules governing the work of the sisters. Unpleased with the first rule of the order, which was modified from the Rules of the Order of Poor Clares, Isabelle sought to make the direction of her sisters more strict, eventually succeeding in gaining approval.
Isabelle continued to suffer from constant illness, but also, through the grace of God, received mystical graces and experienced numerous ecstasies. During one of these ecstatic visions, she foretold the day and hour she would pass away, which delighted her greatly, as she was eager to return to her Lord. Following her death, she was buried in her habit, and laid to rest in the convent she had founded. Her body was exhumed twice, both times found to be incorrupt.
The life of Saint Isabelle suggests to us that our human weaknesses, even those of the body, can be overcome by the grace of God. Isabelle, despite pressure to do otherwise for personal and political gain, resisted the pressure of the Courts of France to marry, remaining a virgin, and consecrating herself to God. She sought out the spiritual direction she needed, listened for the call of the Lord, and followed it without question. Despite sickness and discomfort throughout her life, she found the strength to serve the Lord and those around her. So eager to rejoin her Maker, she was rewarded with knowledge of when that would happen, which she awaited with joy. Saint Isabelle of France inspires us to examine our lives, identifying those small barriers we hide behind, rather than serving God. Whether it be work, sickness, fatigue, or financial security, we all have many reasons—many excuses—to focus on ourselves, rather than on the Lord, and through Him, on those in need around us. This is a perfect opportunity to broaden our view from ourselves to those around us, breaking down our barriers, and embracing the Lord in those we serve.
Litany of Humility
Written by Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X
O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, hear me.
From the desire of being esteemed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being extolled, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being consulted, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being approved, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being humiliated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being calumniated, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being forgotten, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being ridiculed, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being wronged, deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected, deliver me, O Jesus.
That others may be loved more than I, O Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be esteemed more than I, grant me the grace to desire it.
That, in the opinion of the world, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may increase and I may decrease, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I unnoticed, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be preferred to me in everything, grant me the grace to desire it.
Why pray the Rosary every day for a year?
Each time the Blessed Virgin has appeared-- whether it be to Saint Bernadette Soubirous at Lourdes; to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco at Fatima; or to Mariette Beco at Banneux-- she has asserted the importance, saving grace, and power of praying the Holy Rosary on a daily basis. Based upon her words, the Rosary is penance and conversion for sinners, a pathway to peace, an end to war, and a powerful act of faith in Jesus Christ. Pope Paul VI presented the Rosary as a powerful means to reach Christ "not merely with Mary but indeed, insofar as this is possible to us, in the same way as Mary, who is certainly the one who thought about Him more than anyone else has ever done."
To show us how this is done, perhaps no one has been more eloquent than the great Cardinal Newman, who wrote: "The great power of the Rosary consists in the fact that it translates the Creed into Prayer. Of course, the Creed is already in a certain sense a prayer and a great act of homage towards God, but the Rosary brings us to meditate again on the great truth of His life and death, and brings this truth close to our hearts. Even Christians, although they know God, usually fear rather than love Him. The strength of the Rosary lies in the particular manner in which it considers these mysteries, since all our thinking about Christ is intertwined with the thought of His Mother, in the relations between Mother and Son; the Holy Family is presented to us, the home in which God lived His infinite love."
As Mary said at Fatima, "Jesus wants to use you to make Me known and loved. He wishes to establish the devotion to My Immaculate Heart throughout the world. I promise salvation to whoever embraces it; these souls will be dear to God, like flowers put by Me to adorn his throne."