Thereupon Mary set out, proceeding in haste into the hill country to a town of Judah, where she entered Zechariah’s house and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby leapt in her womb. Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and cried out in a loud voice: “Blest are you among women and blest is the fruit of your womb. But who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:39-43
The Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth is a joyfully familiar story and one which gave direction to a religious order, the Visitation Nuns. It was founded by St. Jane Frances de Chantal with the help of St. Francis de Sales.
Born in Dijon, France in 1572, Jane was the daughter of the President of Burgundy. Her mother died when she was only 18 months old, but her father saw to her education and instruction in the faith. She grew into an intelligent and refined woman, marrying Baron von Chantal when she was 20 or 21. Together they had six children, but 3 died in infancy. The Baron and Jane lived in a castle where there were frequently guests for hunting parties and other kinds of entertainment, and Jane hosted all with kindness. She ensured that daily Mass was practiced in the castle chapel. Also, since the Baron had to travel frequently in service to the King, Jane spent a great deal of time ministering to the poor and needy nearby. The Baron died in a hunting accident just seven years into their marriage. Jane grieved deeply and took a vow of chastity.
Jane’s father-in-law was a most difficult man and he insisted she come to live with him. In order to preserve her children’s property, she did so. Her life became one of servitude, but Jane remained cheerful in spite of the hardships. She won over her father-in-law with patience and gentleness after 7 years. All the time, she continued praying that God would send her a guide to help her discern His holy will. In a vision, she saw the spiritual director God wanted her to have.
When visiting her father in Dijon, she listened to a priest preaching and saw that it was the guide from her vision. This was St. Francis de Sales. So, at age 32, she began seeing him for spiritual direction. She told Francis she wanted to become a nun, but he told her to wait. She was obedient, trusting in God’s will for her. After 3 years, Francis told Jane he wanted to begin an Order of women for those whose age, health, or something else prevented them from entering the rigorous cloistered Orders of the day. Francis’ idea was that these women would not be cloistered; instead, they would carry out works of charity that showed forth the humility of Mary when she came to Elizabeth at the Visitation. Jane Frances, at the age of 45, began to lead the Visitation Nuns. They worked with those suffering from the plague and used their resources for all who needed help.
Due to the practices of the day, the Visitation Nuns were required to return to the Cloistered life after 8 years of serving the poor. Jane embraced this life with steady virtue despite many sufferings. She had lost family, her dear spiritual director, and friends. She underwent many spiritual trials. Yet, she continued to uplift her Sisters, traveling from convent to convent to encourage all to do the Divine Will. She died in 1641 during such a convent visit. No doubt Mary, Elizabeth, John the Baptist and Jesus welcomed this mother, wife, nun and friend of those in need into her heavenly home with great joy!
St. Jane Frances de Chantal is today’s Ornament of Grace.
OBSERVING THE BEAUTIFUL ORNAMENTS
Have you ever had to wait many years before God revealed a plan for you in your life? How was it worth the wait?
How can you imitate the gentle patience and loving mercy of St. Jane Frances de Chantal?