Feast of King Louis IX, Patron of the Secular Franciscans and Third Order Regular
Homily for the Feast of King Louis IX
Our first reading for the Feast of St. Louis IX comes to us from the Book of Wisdom and from a section of the book that is entitled “Wisdom Preserves Her Followers.” The specific verses that we read today were written about Jacob and Joseph, two characters from the book of Genesis who prevailed over their brothers. Toward the end of the reading, there is a reference to the scepter of royalty which, I suspect, is why this reading was chosen for the Feast of King Louis IX. The Gospel passage for today is also about a king and is probably a reference to King Herod.
The perception of Louis IX by his contemporaries as the exemplary Christian prince was reinforced by his religious zeal. Though this religious zeal took the form of strengthening the Inquisition in France and resulted in his leading to crusades against the Muslims in Jerusalem, he is also remembered for many different kinds of good works on behalf of the poor and the sick. In 1230, the King forbade all forms of usury, defined at the time as any taking of interest and therefore covering most banking activities. He founded houses for reformed prostitutes, another for 300 blind men, and at least three hospitals for the poor.
St. Louis installed a house of the Trinitarian Order at Fontainebleau, his chateau and estate near Paris. He chose Trinitarians as his chaplains and was accompanied by them on his crusades. In his spiritual testament he wrote, "My dearest son, you should permit yourself to be tormented by every kind of martyrdom before you would allow yourself to commit a mortal sin."
Though he stands as the patron saint of the Secular Franciscan Order, there is no evidence that he ever joined this Franciscan movement at any time during his life. His patronage seems to stem from the fact that he was a thoroughly secular ruler who embodied the teachings of Francis with regard to penance, fasting, and care for the poor. When he became king, over a hundred poor people were served meals in his house on ordinary days. Often the king served these guests himself. His acts of charity, coupled with his devout religious practices, gave rise to the legend that he joined the Third Order of St. Francis, though it is unlikely that he ever actually joined the order.
Louis authored and sent teachings to his son Philip III. This letter outlined how Philip should follow the example of Jesus Christ in order to be a moral leader.
Our reading from the Book of Wisdom emphasizes the fact that God rewards those who persevere in their faith and who embody the virtues which are espoused in this book. Louis definitely fits the profile of a Christian leader who relies on the help of God and rules with humility, charity, and devotion to the sacraments.