Mectilde de Bar: Anam Cara

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Mother Mectilde wrote this letter to her friend, Marguerite, the Duchesse of Orléans. The poor Duchess didn't have an easy life. Her marriage was one of heartbreak and false-starts. Intelligent, and extremely sensitive, she fell easily into self-absorption and depression. Mother Mectilde was more than a friend to Marguerite; she was what the modern school of spirituality would call a spiritual director. (Personally, I don't care for that term. It is not part of the traditional monastic spirituality.) The Irish term anam cara -- friend of the soul -- seems more suitable. Mother Mectilde invites the Duchess to contemplative prayer, without requiring that she change her state in life. Moreover, she provides her with practical advice on how to go about becoming a contemplative in the midst of the world and its disappointments and challenges. The letter was difficult to translate. Mother Mectilde's French is very grand siècle, with long run-on sentences and subordinate clauses. I think, none the less, that I have done a fair job of it.

Surrender and Abandon
It will be impossible for you to keep on much longer if you are going to let your afflictions weigh you down so. Our Lord wills that your soul should rise above all that surrounds you. Attach yourself gently to God. You possess Him, in faith, within yourself. You needn't search for Him long. He wants you to be renewed in His Spirit. Your suffering nature, which, I see, has almost no vigour, needs to make a little effort. It mustn't happen that so beautiful an offering* be consumed in any fire other than that of of pure and divine love; this would be to fall short of God's designs on your soul. Your soul cannot ignore that you are being led by the gentleness and love that make one rest in God. Simply surrender all that you are to His holy Providence. Abandon everything to Him and you will no more be anxious about anything.
Put Aside What Your Mind Sees
I know well that this practice is quite difficult for a quick mind [like yours] that, once penetrated, sees in a moment more than the most enlightened people would be able to say to you. I admit this, but you need to simplify or, at least, put aside, what your mind sees, and should there be no remedy for this, you must surrender yourself to the goodness of God with a humble resignation and with confidence.
God Is
I am certain that, if we but had a little more faith, we should often see miracles in the the things that concern us, but the greatest of these would be peace and tranquility in our inmost being. I have a burning desire that you come to possess this state, that you may be so intimately united to Jesus that you will be unchangeable in the midst of the vicissitudes of this life, which is composed of nothing but vanity, inconstancy, and affliction of spirit. This is why one must hold on things in a passing way, making use of them as if not using them, remaining free in the midst of cares, relying on this infallible truth: God is.
A Quarter of an Hour Each Day
I humbly beg you to spend a quarter of an hour each day on this truth, pondering it in faith. This is how to do it: at the most free and convenient hour of the day, you need to shut yourself up in a little room where, kneeling down, or seated if you cannot do otherwise, by a simple act of faith in God, you believe Him present in your innermost soul, believing in Him without making distinctions, in all His attributes and divine perfections. You can say, "My God, You are, I believe that You are what You are, and I believe myself to be a pure nothing in your holy Presence." After these words, or others that the Holy Spirit inspires, you must remain in silence, in a profound respect of this infinite greatness, humbling yourself profoundly, leaving aside every [mental] operation, reasoning, and consideration, to let yourself sink into this adorable All. You have to restrain the acts of your mind during this quarter of an hour, so as to feel only the delicate touches of the Holy Spirit in your innermost heart. Don't think this a waste of time; if you are faithful to it, you will see that this [kind of] prayer contains an inexhaustible treasury of grace. As beginnings are a little difficult, you will only do a quarter of an hour, but do this without fail. If you give me the pleasure of coming to see me, we will talk about it more particularly.
Heaven on Earth
Let us learn to live here below as the saints live in heaven, and practise doing on earth what we hope to do for all eternity. Let us love, adore, and possess within ourselves the same God who is the glory and felicity of the blessed [in heaven]. So be it.

*Mother Mectilde uses the word "victim" here. I replaced it with "offering", which transmits the sense of what she means: a person made over entirely to God in a sacrificial oblation of self.

3 Comments

Simple, but profound, advice.

Thank you great advice.

Much-needed advice to those of us who do indeed wish to be "contemplatives in the midst of the world and its disappointments and challenges." Thank you, Father. You always seem to send perfect counsel our way.

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About Dom Mark

Dom Mark Daniel Kirby is Conventual Prior of Silverstream Priory in Stamullen, County Meath, Ireland. The ecclesial mandate of his Benedictine community is the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar in a spirit of reparation, and in intercession for the sanctification of priests.

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