“The King was so liberal an almsgiver, that wherever he went throughout his kingdom, he made gifts to poor churches, to lazar-houses, to alms-houses, to asylums, and to poor gentlemen an gentlewomen. From his childhood up, he was compassionate towards the poor and the suffering ; and it was the custom that, wherever he went, six score poor should always be replenished in his house with bread and wine, and meat or fish every day. In Lent and Advent, the number was increased, and many a time the King would wait on them, and place their meat before them, and would carve their meat before them, and with his own hand would give them money when they went away. Likewise on the high vigils of solemn feasts, he would serve the poor with all these things, before he either ate or drank.”
“Besides all this, he had every day old broken-down men to dine and sup with him, and had them served with the same food that he himself was eating. And when they had feasted, they took away with them a certain sum of silver. Over and above all these things, the King used every day to give large and liberal alms to poor men of religion, to poor asylums, to the sick poor, and all sorts of poor colleges, to poor gentlemen and married women and spinsters, to fallen women, to poor widows, and to women in child-bed, and to such poor as by reason of old age or sickness were unable to labour or pursue their trade – in number past all telling.”
Jean, Sire de Joinville, Memoirs of King Louis IX
How hard it is for a ruler to also be a saint, but Saint Louis IX of France managed that difficult feat. Pious, charitable, just, a warrior for the Faith, Saint Louis is a model of what Catholic rulers should strive to be, due allowance being made for the differences between his time and ours. In his two crusades Saint Louis was notably unsuccessful and died of disease on his second. Yet the people of France cherished his memory, which was confirmed by the Church by his canonization only 27 years after his death in 1270. A Christian life is not sanctified by success, but rather by constant striving to follow in the footsteps of Christ, and in that all important effort Saint Louis was quite successful indeed.
The spirit of the man shines forth quite clearly in this advice that he left to his oldest son, written in his own hand:
“Fair son, the first thing I would teach thee is to set thine heart to love God; for unless he love God none can be saved. Keep thyself from doing aught that is displeasing to God, that is to say, from mortal sin. Contrariwise thou shouldst suffer every manner of torment rather than commit a mortal sin.
“If God send thee adversity, receive it in patience and give thanks to our Saviour and bethink thee that thou hast deserved it, and that He will make it turn to thine advantage. If He send thee prosperity, then thank Him humbly, so that thou becomest not worse from pride or any other cause, when thou oughtest to be better. For we should not fight against God with his own gifts.
“Confess thyself often and choose for thy confessor a right worthy man who knows how to teach thee what to do, and what not to do; and bear thyself in such sort that thy confessor and thy friends shall dare to reprove thee for thy misdoings. Listen to the services of Holy Church devoutly, and without chattering; and pray to God with thy heart and with thy lips, and especially at Mass when the consecration takes place. Let thy heart be tender and full of pity toward those who are poor, miserable, and afflicted, and comfort and help them to the utmost of thy power.
“Maintain the good customs of thy realm and abolish the bad. Be not covetous against thy people and do not burden them with taxes and imposts save when thou art in great need.
“If thou hast any great burden weighing upon thy heart, tell it to thy confessor or to some right worthy man who is not full of vain words. Thou shalt be able to bear it more easily.
“See that thou hast in thy company men, whether religious or lay, who are right worthy and loyal and not full of covetousness, and confer with them oft; and fly and eschew the company of the wicked. Hearken willingly to the Word of God and keep it in thine heart, and seek diligently after prayers and indulgences. Love all that is good and profitable and hate all that is evil, wheresoever it may be.
“Let none be so bold as to say before thee any word that would draw or move to sin, or so bold as to speak evil behind another’s back for pleasure’s sake; nor do thou suffer any word in disparagement of God and of His saints to be spoken in thy presence. Give often thanks to God for all the good things he has bestowed on thee, so that thou be accounted worthy to receive more.
“In order to do justice and right to thy subjects, be upright and firm, turning neither to the right hand nor to the left, but always to what is just; and do thou maintain the cause of the poor until such a time as the truth is made clear. And if anyone has an action against thee, make full inquiry until thou knowest the truth; for thus shall thy counsellors judge the more boldly according to the truth, whether for thee or against.
“If thou holdest aught that belongeth to another, whether by thine own act or the act of thy predecessors, and the matter be certain, make restitution without delay. If the matter be doubtful, cause inquiry to be made by wise men diligently and promptly.
“Give heed that thy servants and thy subjects live under thee in peace and uprightness. Especially maintain the good cities and commons of thy realm in the same estate and with the same franchises as they enjoyed under thy predecessors; and if there be aught to amend, amend and set it right, and keep them in thy favor and love. For because of the power and wealth of the great cities, thine own subjects, and especially thy peers and thy barons and foreigners also will fear to undertake aught against thee.
“Love and honor all persons belonging to Holy Church, and see that no one take away or diminish the gifts and alms paid to them by thy predecessors. It is related of King Philip, my grandfather, that one of his counsellors once told him that those of Holy Church did him much harm and damage in that they deprived him of his rights, and diminished his jurisdiction, and that it was a great marvel that he suffered it; and the good king replied that he believed this might well be so, but he had regard to the benefits and courtesies that God had bestowed on him, and so thought it better to abandon some of his rights than to have any contention with the people of Holy Church.
“To thy father and mother thou shalt give honor and reverence, and thou shalt obey their commandments. Bestow the benefices of Holy Church on persons who are righteous and of a clean life, and do it on the advice of men of worth and uprightness.
“Beware of undertaking a war against any Christian prince without great deliberation; and if it has to be undertaken, see that thou do no hurt to Holy Church and to those that have done thee no injury. If wars and dissensions arise among thy subjects, see that thou appease them as soon as thou art able. “Use diligence to have good provosts and bailiffs, and inquire often of them and of those of thy household how they conduct themselves, and if there be found in them any vice of inordinate covetousness or falsehood or trickery. Labor to free thy land from all vile iniquity, and especially strike down with all thy power evil swearing and heresy. See to it that the expense of thy household be reasonable.
“Finally, my very dear son, cause Masses to be sung for my soul, and prayers to be said throughout thy realm; and give to me a special share and full part in all the good thou doest. Fair, dear son, I give thee all the blessings that a good father can give to his son. And may the blessed Trinity and all the saints keep and defend thee from all evils; and God give thee grace to do His will always, so that He be honored in thee, and that thou and I may both, after this mortal life is ended, be with Him together and praise Him everlastingly. Amen.”
In this time of need for his beloved France, I am sure that the people of France have a tireless advocate before the throne of God.