Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira
How Blessed Isabel of France
Shows That Suffering Is More Important Than Enjoying Life
Blessed Isabel of France, copy after the gothic original. Porch of Saint-Germain l'Auxerrois, Paris. By © Marie-Lan Nguyen / Wikimedia Commons, CC BY 3.0
Very few know that Saint Louis IX, King of France, had a sister who was beatified by the Church. Her feast day is celebrated on February 21. Her biographical information is taken from Réné François Rohrbacher’s Universal History of the Catholic Church:
The daughter of Louis VIII and Blanche of Castile, Isabel of France, was born in 1225. She lost her father at the age of two, but her mother gave her a complete education, aided by Madame de Buisemont, a cultured and virtuous woman.
From early childhood, Isabel showed an aversion to everything that could alienate her from God and later decided to devote herself to His service. Thus, Isabel flatly refused when Louis IX and Blanche of Castille insisted that she marry Conrad, son of Frederick II, as this union would be advantageous for France. A letter from Innocent IV, then on the Pontifical Throne, ended any doubts about the problem; he congratulated the young woman on her resolution and advised her to persevere.
Upon making this resolution, Isabel, while still in the royal palace, started to lead a life similar in everything to that of a cloister, dedicating herself mainly to aiding the poor and sick. God sent His servant many trials: long and serious illnesses, the death of the Queen Mother, which greatly shook her, and her brother’s failure in the Holy Land. When Louis IX was released and returned, Isabel left the royal castle and founded in Longchamp, a house for young women of the Order of Saint Francis. It afterward became the Convent of the Humility of Blessed Virgin.
She was always sick yet favored by graces and ecstasies. She came to know, for example, the exact day and time when she would leave the world. Blessed Isabel of France died in 1270. Dressed in the habit of Saint Clare, she was buried in the convent that she founded, according to her wish. Pope Leo X beatified her on January 3, 1521.
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The life of Blessed Isabel contradicts the “black legend” against the Christian civilization in which largely Protestant historians constantly spread falsehoods about royal courts. They presented every royal court as a place of pleasure, sensuality and pride, where virtue does not thrive. This biography presents two saints, one on the throne, and another, his sister, on the steps of the throne. They both gave the greatest glory to God. Not far from them stands Blanche of Castille, the mother of the two, who, although not a saint, was nevertheless a lady outstanding for her austerity and the various moral gifts that distinguished her.
Her life reveals the curious ways in which Providence treats the saints. Her life is different from the famous happy ending, where everything goes smoothly from beginning to end. Many people dedicated to enjoying this life imagine that consecrated people never experience difficulty and live tranquilly in the cloister. Blessed Isabel is one of a princess who abandons everything to devote herself to doing good to the poor and prayer. One also sees, more or less clearly, that she even carries part of the burden of the misfortunes of Saint Louis. She suffers, groans, prays that the Most Christian Kingdom of France is successful in its crusades, enterprises and other projects. However, she suffers acutely from the failure of the king’s Crusade and imprisonment.
She immediately starts to lead the life of a nun in the royal palace. When the king returns, she leaves the royal palace, founds a convent, and completes her religious formation. However, throughout her life, she is tormented by great and serious illnesses, which naturally hinder her works of charity and life of prayer. She often had difficulty praying because of the great illnesses that she endured all her life until death. However, her long life full of merits ended up by sanctifying her.
God gave her a great obstacle that was really an apparent obstacle since it served as a means of sanctification. By her illness, she sanctified herself more quickly and better than if she had not been ill.
Thus, it is wrong to think that all works of apostolate must go smoothly and always yield good results. To expect no difficulties in the good works that one does is a mistake. Such expectations come from a false and naturalistic spirit. People have a mania for a Hollywood happy ending for everything. Blessed Isabel shows what the life of a true saint is. Providence seemingly sowed it with difficulties, which actually helped sanctify her.
Keep this in mind when spiritual works and initiatives do not work according to expectations or even end in failure. This is normal. Indeed, when work does not suffer such setbacks, it is proof that it is not God’s work. “Our daily bread” consists in accepting this ordinary, normal and correct way of operating of Divine Providence.
The name of her convent is very beautiful. It is a convent of the Order of Franciscans, beautifully named the Convent of the Humility of the Blessed Virgin. A community of women religious called “Humility of the Blessed Virgin” gives the impression that Our Lady’s humility hovers all over the corridors, cloisters, cells and especially the chapel. Thus, Our Lady’s mantle of humility covers everything and shrouds the sisters in the annihilation of all their vanities and pride. It also covers them with a protective cloak. The whole scene is something that is already is a foretaste of Heaven.
It is beautiful to see how God always glorifies His saints. Our Lord Jesus Christ has an impressive prayer in which He asks His Heavenly Father to glorify Him because He had already given glory to His Heavenly Father. All saints are glorified, even if at the last minute of their existence.
Many people would not like to know the exact day or year of their death like Blessed Isabel. They would be afraid to know despite the advantages of making a proper preparation.
One man might say that how good it would be to know the date. He might be told, for example, that he would live to be 93. He could live a peaceful life for ninety years with no concerns. He might then spend his last three years being concerned. Another man might be afraid since he might be told that he has only fifteen days before death. Then he would experience the anxiety of facing death in the short term. Unfortunately, most people are afraid to know when they are going to die.
Blessed Isabel was not afraid, because she saw death as a liberation. God rewarded her with the knowledge of the time of her death. She prepared to go to Heaven as a spouse prepares to meet her husband. Notice the beauty of this kind of death. The Scriptures say that the death of the righteous is precious to God. She had the peaceful death of a person who knows when she is going to die and thus knows when God is going to arrive.
Like all the dying, the moment she breathed her last, she was judged by God and entered eternity. On that very day, the faithful soul can see God face to face, free from so much misery, misfortune, sadness and the ominous risk of eternal damnation. Thus was the case of Blessed Isabel of France.
The preceding article is taken from an informal lecture Professor Plinio Corrêa de Oliveira gave on February 21, 1967. It has been translated and adapted for publication without his revision. –Ed.