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ST. LEWIS BERTRAND, C.
LEWIS was the son of John Lewis Bertrand, a royal notary, and was born at Valencia in Spain on the 1st of January, 1526. He was the eldest of nine children, who, being all remarkable for their piety, were a proof how deep root virtue takes in the hearts of youth when it is imprinted in them by the good example and early instructions of pious parents. Lewis from his infancy loved retirement, prayed much and with fervor, and practised mortifications of which his lender age seemed almost incapable. He ate very little, shunned all frivolous amusements and recreations, and whatever served to flatter the senses in diet or other things; and, when he could deceive the vigilance of his mother, he slept on the bare ground. He was often found on his knees in some secret part of the house, and seemed by his teachable disposition and sincere humility of soul to have inherited the spirit of St. Vincent Ferrer, to whom he was related by blood. When he went abroad to the schools, he redoubled his watchfulness over himself, lest necessary commerce with the world should weaken the sentiments of piety in his breast. He never lost sight of the divine presence, and, seeking the Lord in the simplicity of his heart, he deserved to hear his voice in pious books and devout prayer, which he made his most familiar entertainment. He sought no company but that of the virtuous. At fifteen years of age he desired to take the religious habit among the Dominicans. His father opposed his inclination on account of the tenderness of his age and constitution; and the prior of that order at Valencia could not but pay a regard to his remonstrance. These delays only increased the ardor of the postulant’s desires. The next prior was the celebrated F. John Mico, who had been brought up a poor shepherd in the mountains of Albaida, in which employment he had learned to contemplate God in the works of the creation. By repeating to his fellow-shepherds the instructions he learned from pious books and sermons, he induced many to embrace the practice of perfect virtue. He afterwards became an eminent doctor among the Dominican friars, introduced a reform of that order in Spain, was a great preacher, and an apostle of some of the Moors in Spain. He wrote several works of piety and holy meditations, full of unction and science in the interior life.* This great servant of God gave the habit to young Bertrand, and conducted the fervent novice in the path of true virtue by the love of the cross and humiliations, the contempt of earthly things, and the exercises of obedience, humility, and charity; teaching him that a soul gains more advantages by patience in spiritual dryness and privations, than by consolations and supernatural favors.
When the saint was ordained priest he usually said mass every day; he prepared himself to offer that adorable sacrifice by spending always some hours in prayer and in exercises of holy compunction, by which, and often by the sacrament of confession, he endeavored diligently to purify his soul from the least stains it might have contracted, to correct the least irregularities and disorders which easily steal into our affections, and to cleanse them from all the poison of self-love which is so apt secretly to infect them. For being filled with a holy dread of the divine judgments, and the deepest sense and awe of the infinite justice, sanctity, and purity of God, with the most innocent life he joined the practice of the most severe constant penance. And he seemed desirous to set no bounds to the fervor of his compunction before he approached the holy mysteries. His angelical modesty, the ardor of his love, the impression of which seemed to appear in his countenance, and the torrents of tears which he usually shed at the altar, inspired with tender devotion all persons that heard his mass. Being made master of novices in 1551, both by his example and words he taught them sincerely and perfectly to renounce the world and their own will, to conceive an entire distrust in themselves, and by a spirit of prayer, closely to unite their souls to God. The saint’s talents did not at first appear promising for the pulpit; nevertheless, being employed in that sacred function, he overcame all difficulties, and his discourses produced incredible fruit, because they were animated with zeal and charity, and breathed a spirit of sincere piety and humility. In 1557, a pestilence raging in the kingdom of Valencia, the saint knew no danger, and spared no pains in exhorting and assisting the sick, and in burying the dead. He who cheerfully exposed his life for his brethren during this calamity, when it was over, obtained of his superiors, by earnest importunities, leave to preach the gospel to the savages in America, which was a most painful and dangerous mission.
St. Lewis embarked at Seville in 1562, with another friar of his order; and during the voyage, by his daily exhortations and instructions, he brought all the sailors to a reformation of their lives. The vessel in which he sailed landed in Golden Castile, in South America, and the saint repaired to the convent of his order in that province. Without the least thought of allowing himself any rest, or taking any refreshment after the fatigues of his journey, he prepared himself by severe fasts and watchings to open his mission. During the course of his mission in those parts he lay often in the open air and usually on the ground, or on pieces of wood, which formed rather a rack than a bed; by refusing the ordinary succors which missionaries in those parts furnished themselves with, he often suffered the utmost severities of hunger and other inconveniences. The gifts of tongues, of prophecy, and of miracles, were favors conferred by heaven on this new apostle, as the authentic history of his life, and the bull of his canonization, assure us. In the isthmus of Panama, the isle of Tobago, and the province of Carthagena, in the space of three years, he converted to Christ above ten thousand souls, and baptized all the inhabitants of the city of Tubara and the places adjoining. He then preached with like fruit at Cipacoa. The savages at Paluato, still more enslaved to their passions than to their idols, resisted the light of heaven. The prayers, tears, and mortifications which the saint offered up for them seemed at that time to be lost; but afterwards produced the most plentiful harvest. In the manner it pleases God frequently to try the patience and perseverance of his most faithful ministers. The next mission which the saint undertook was among the Caribbees, who are looked upon as the most brutal, barbarous, and unteachable people of the human race. The holy preacher making no account of the sacrifice of his life, penetrated alone through the forests, and over the mountains of Guiana, which they inhabit; neither was the divine seed altogether barren among these barbarians, and several even of their priests were baptized by our saint. The inhabitants of the mountains of St. Martha received him as an angel sent from heaven, and he baptized there about fifteen thousand persons. One thousand five hundred Indians followed him thither from Paluato, and having been instructed in the faith, were baptized by him and his companions. In the country of Monpaia, and in the isle of St. Thomas, the saint gained a new people to Christ, and new triumphs to the church Heaven protected him more than once from all attempts made upon his life by poison, the sword, and other ways. He foretold many things to come, and in the city of Carthagena raised a dead woman to life. Pierced to the quick to see the avarice and cruelty of several Spanish adventurers in the Indies, and not being able to find any means of putting a stop to those evils, he was desirous to seek redress in Spain; and about that time he was recalled thither by his superiors. He sailed from Carthagena in America, and arrived at Seville in 1569, whence he returned to Valencia. He was appointed successively prior of two convents of his order, and wonderfully revived in them both the primitive spirit of their holy founder. Among many other predictions he foretold the conversion of John Adorno, a noble Genoese, and that he would institute a new religious Congregation; which was verified by that of the Regular Clerks, called Minors, whom he afterwards founded. St. Teresa consulted St. Lewis, and received great comfort from his advice under her greatest difficulties. When she wrote to him about her design of establishing a reformation of the Carmelite order, he sent her the following answer: “Because the honor of God is highly concerned in your intended undertaking, I took some time to recommend it to him by my poor prayers. For this reason I deferred so long my answer. I now bid you take courage in the name of the Lord, who will favor you. It is in his name that I assure you your reformation will be, within the space of fifty years, one of the most illustrious orders in the church.”
St. Lewis preached the divine word during twelve years, without intermission, in several dioceses in Spain. He trained up many excellent preachers, who succeeded him in the ministry of the word in that and the following ages. The first lesson he gave them was, that humble and fervent prayer must always be the principal preparation of the preacher; for words without works will never have the power to touch or change hearts. Words must be animated by the spirit of prayer, and must derive their force and efficacy from this source, or they will be little more than an empty sound. A want of feeling in the preacher never fails to leave the hearers cold, how much soever his eloquence may tickle their ears; and as for those who court applause, and preach themselves rather than the word of God, their studied affectation or vanity alienates and disgusts those that hear them; but the language of the heart is almost irresistible. Our saint inculcated that preachers must not judge of the fruit of their sermons by the applause of men, but by their tears, and by the change of their manners. It said he, they lay aside enmities, forgive injuries, avoid the occasions of sin and scandals, and reform their conduct by your discourses, then say that the good seed is fallen on a good soil; but give all glory to God alone, and acknowledge yourselves unprofitable servants.* He first practised these rules himself, especially by cultivating in his soul the most profound humility, and an eminent spirit of prayer. His humility never appeared more remarkable than when it was put to the most dangerous trial, amidst the greatest honors. When all persons with loud acclamations called him a saint and an apostle, and treated him with the highest esteem, then the fear of the divine judgments made the deepest impression upon his soul. With his apostolic labors he joined assiduous prayer and abundant tears for the conversion of sinners; and in this he earnestly exhorted all devout Christians to join him, and to call in all the mourners of the earth, and all creatures, that by their united loud cries and perseverance they might move the tender bowels of the divine mercy to compassion for so many souls that are blind amidst the greatest spiritual miseries, and sport themselves, without thinking of their danger, on the brink of eternal perdition. His thirst for their salvation made him cheerfully meet all dangers, and regard labors and fatigues as the greatest pleasures. Crosses were always his joy, and his continual austerities and penance made his whole life a long martyrdom. The two last years of his life he was afflicted with painful colics, and frequent fevers, under which it was his constant prayer to say with St. Austin: “Here cut, here burn, here spare not, that I may find mercy for eternity. Under his infirmities it was wonderful with what zeal and alacrity he continued his penitential austerities, and his apostolic labors. In 1580 he preached the Lent at Xativa, and went thence to preach in the cathedral at Valencia, where he was carried sick from the pulpit to the bed, from which he never rose. Amidst the tears of all about him he appeared cheerful at the approach of death, having foretold the very day to several friends in secret, almost a year before; in particular to the archbishop of Valencia and the prior of the Carthusians. The archbishop would attend the saint during his illness, and administered his remedies and broths with his own hand. The holy man gave up his soul to God amidst his prayers, in company with all the brethren of his convent, on the 9th of October, 1581, being fifty-five years old. Many miraculous cures attested his favor with God. He was beatified by Paul V., in 1608, and canonized by Clement X., in 1671. See the bull of his canonization, and his life written by F. Vincent Justinian Antist, Dominican of Valencia, printed at Saragossa and Valencia in 1582; and again most accurately by John Lopez, bishop of Monopolis. See also Touron, Hommes Illustr., t. 4, p. 485.