Poisoned. Sickly. Talentless. Held at gunpoint. Apostle to the Americas. The life story of St. Louis Bertrand, OP, whom we celebrate today, is positively remarkable. Born in Spain in 1526 and considered too weak to become a missionary, he traveled the jungles of Central and South America and baptized as many as 25,000 people.
He is said to have raised the dead and performed countless miracles. Yet, he also faced great resistance as he was even poisoned by a tribe wanting to be rid of him (which converted after his recovery from their murder attempt).
This man who people said had an ungainly presence, poor memory and unpleasant voice was simultaneously considered a powerful preacher who brought about tears and conversions. Like so much of Christian tradition, he embodies the choice of God to act through those weak and lowly in human esteem to do wondrous things.
Yet, this is no great underdog story. The accounts of his life do not say that the man with a poor preaching voice, by the grace of God, came to have a beautiful one. His life did not follow the romantic arc of the underappreciated and misunderstood rising through the ranks to be the top dogs they always knew they were. So often this is what we want God’s use of the weak and lowly to really mean – that everyone else will one day see just how great I actually am!
No, Louis Bertrand had a bad public speaking voice and God used that. He had a sickly disposition and God used that too. In fact, his life was not really one of ascension at all. Only a few years after being ordained a priest, Louis Bertrand was named novice master. He returned to that role multiples times, including near the end of his life. After all his successes and adventures, he ended where he began. This is a radical contradiction to so many contemporary notions of success. Like countless other Saints, he is a model of seeking only the will of God. When we live out of such radical and selfless fidelity, there is just no telling what God may do.