2] A fleeting happiness.
At her husband’s side Louise experienced moments of true happiness. At the end of the year, their son, Michel, brought great joy to their house. Antoine and Louise set up their home on the rue Courteau-Villain where they met other young couples who were engaged in service to the Queen. Louise and Antoine prayed and read the Bible together.
But soon moments of darkness would upset Louise’s like of calmness and peace. Antoine became ill and his character changed: he became irritable and angry. Louise became concerned. Why? Why this change in her husband? Why did she have to suffer anew? Was she not responsible for all of this? Had she not promised God to enter a religious order? Convinced that she had been unfaithful to her promise Louise was filled with anxiety and feelings of guilt. Gradually everything seemed to be falling apart and she wanted to flee and leave her infirm husband and her son. She began to doubt everything: the immortality of her soul and even the existence of God. Hoping to find peace Louise multiplied her fasts and vigils and prayers.
It was in this context that she had her Pentecost experience, a form of spiritual enlightenment: My mind was instantly freed of all doubt (SWLM:1 [A.2]). This sudden and unexpected light filled Louise’s heart and spirit. Is this not similar to what occurred to Paul on the road to Damascus? Is this not the same phenomena that Claudel experienced on Christmas Eve in the Cathedral of Notre-Dame? He also wrote: In an instant my heart was touched … and I believed. These rays of light that break through the clouds of darkness guide those who have such experiences into the future but they also demand personal understanding and reflection. Claudel noted that it took four years of struggling in order to fully enter into this process of conversion. Saul needed the help of Ananias and spent a lengthy time in the desert before becoming the tireless missionary of the Gentiles.
In order to keep this event before her mind, Louise put into writing her recollections of this moment. The manuscript, a piece of paper that measure 28 by 9 cm was folded numerous times. Folding the paper in this way allowed Louise to keep this document in her pocket, thus able to read it at any time. Looking at the content of this document we see that it is very ordered and surprisingly simple: three doubts, a brief moment, three enlightenments. On that feast of Pentecost, 1623 Louise found the certainty of faith. She remained focused on her mission. There would be a small community consecrated to the service of the poor where there would be the possibility of coming and going. Louise did not understand how all of this would be accomplished since at that time all religious women were cloistered. In order to guide her and sustain her on this unusual journey she was introduced to a new spiritual director, a priest named Vincent de Paul who was forty years old. Previously Louise had entrusted herself to Jean-Pierre Camus who had been appointed the bishop of Belley and therefore seldom traveled to Paris.
What an incredible encounter … Louise de Marillac, an aristocratic Parisian with a lively and sensitive spirit and Vincent de Paul, a peasant from Landes who acted with great prudence! Louise had crossed paths with this priest who was the tutor of the de Gondi children and whose home was near to hers. Speaking about the enlightenment of Pentecost she noted: I was also assured that I should remain at peace concerning my director; that God would give me one whom he seemed to show me. It was repugnant to me to accept him (SWLM:1 [A.2]). Vincent noted that Louise was sad and turned in on herself. He was very hesitant to take on the role of spiritual director of this woman who was tormented and scrupulous and he was very aware of the demands that Madame de Gondi had made upon him.
There seemed to be many difference between the two of them: their social and cultural origins and background. It appeared on the surface that nothing could possibly bring them together. It was Jean-Pierre Camus, a great friend of Francis de Sales who facilitated and opened the way for this encounter that was based on a common admiration for the bishop of Geneva who had died in September 1622. Louise had welcomed him into her house and read his books: Introduction to the Devout Life and his Treatise on the Love of God. Francis de Sales had entrusted the Visitation Sisters in Paris to the care of Vincent de Paul and both Louise and Vincent refer to Francis de Sales in their writings as the Blessed Bishop of Geneva.
Freed from her doubts, Louise realized that she should remain at the side of her husband. For two years she remained at his side and lovingly cared for him. Then on December 21, 1625 Antoine La Gras died. As a widow her financial situation changed and she could no longer remain at her home on the rue Courteau-Villain. She searched for less expensive lodgings and with her son Michel, now twelve years old, took up residence on the rue Saint-Victor, not far from the Collѐge des Bons-Enfants where Vincent was superior.