Recently in Mectilde de Bar Category

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When Saints Help Saints

I have long believed that saints, like the fruit of the vine, grow in clusters. The history of the saints in every age bears this out. Saint Vincent de Paul was no exception. He was in relation with a myriad of other holy souls of France's Grand Siècle, the age of what Henri Brémond called her "mystical invasion."

Saint Vincent de Paul

The ravages of The Thirty Years War in Mother Mectilde's native Lorraine stirred Saint Vincent de Paul to an active compassion. As soon as Monsieur Vincent was informed of the woes that we desolating the Lorraine, he moved quickly to collect offerings everywhere. He sent to this unfortunate country twelve of his missionaries to whom he joined some brothers of his Congregation, who had secrets to treat the plague and knew medicine and surgery.

Thus did Saint Vincent's Congregation of the Mission bring relief to those distressed by the war, those turned out of their homes and reduced to a miserable poverty.

Homeless Benedictines

In 1639 Mother Mectilde and her Benedictines were among the many refugees of the War in wandering from place to place in search of a home. One of Saint Vincent's priests, a certain Julien Guérin, sought to arrange for hospitality at the Abbey of Montmartre in Paris. The Lady Abbess of Montmartre refused to receive the homeless Benedictines professed to the same Rule as herself and the nuns of her great abbey; she argued that the admission of strangers into religious houses caused disorder, and that it was better to refuse the nuns hospitality than to have to turn them out later for unsuitable conduct.

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Pilgrimage to Benoîte-Vaux

Mother Mectilde was saddened but undaunted. Five leagues away from Saint-Mihiel, towards the city of Verdun, a little to the left of the course of the Meuse, there was valley made famous by the miraculous revelation of a statue of the Blessed Virgin to a group of lumberjacks, and by the manifestation of Angels singing Ave Maria. (Interesting detail: Had Mother Mectilde followed the Meuse north, she would have arrived in Tegelen in The Netherlands where her daughters have a monastery to this day.)

The sanctuary built on the spot was a place of pilgrimage. Mother Mectilde, together with two other nuns, set out on foot for the sanctuary of Notre-Dame de Benoîte-Vaux on 1 August 1641. Upon arrival there, they entrusted their written petition to a Premonstratensian in attendance, who placed it on the altar. Prostrate at the feet of the Blessed Virgin, Mother Mectilde and her companions spent the whole night imploring her protection and assistance. They heard Holy Mass and received Holy Communion at 4:00 in the morning on the second day of August; it was the feast of Our Lady of the Angels. With all possible fervour they recommended their sorry plight again to the Mother of God.

To Paris

When they returned to Saint-Mihiel, it was obvious to all whom saw Mother Mectilde and her two companions that they had received extraordinary graces; they seemed transfigured. Much later, Mother Mectilde let slip a few words that intimated that, in the sanctuary of Benoîte-Vaux, Our Lady revealed to her God's designs on her life.

A few days later, a commissary of Monsieur Vincent, named Mathieu Renard, asked to see the prioress and, with no preliminaries, said, "I have come, Mother, to take two of your religious to Montmartre, I have orders to do this, and Madame the Duchess of Aiguillon has provided me with money for the journey."

What happened at Montmartre that caused the Abbess to have so complete a change of heart? On the very night that Mother Mectilde and her companions were praying at the sanctuary of Benoîte-Vaux, the Lady Abbess of Montmartre woke up all of a sudden and summoned the two religious her slept in her bedchamber to look after her in illness. The Abbess was in a dreadful state of fright. She said that it seemed to her that she saw the Most Holy Virgin and her Divine Son reproaching her for her lack of hospitality to the poor homeless Benedictines in the Lorraine; they threatened her with a rigourous judgment should they, through her fault, perish in their misery and need. The next day the Abbess convened her senior religious; all agreed that they had to execute the manifest will of God.

Paris, Saint Louise de Marillac and Saint Vincent de Paul

Mother Mectilde and Mother Louise were chosen to go to Montmartre. They began their journey on 21 August and arrived in Paris on August 28, 1642. Matthieu Renard led them to the home of Mademoiselle Legras (Saint Louise de Marillac) in the Faubourg Saint Martin. Saint Louise de Marillac received the homeless Benedictines with an exquisite charity. The next morning, Mother Mectilde and her companions were presented to Saint Vincent de Paul. The very same day the doors of the grand Abbey of Montmartre opened to welcome them. Once the Lady Abbess had met Mother Mectilde, she wanted nothing more than to keep her at the Abbey of Montmartre.

Towards a New Beginning

It was in uncertainty and poverty that Mother Mectilde de Bar arrived in Paris. After vicissitudes too many to be counted, it was in Paris that Mectilde de Bar laid the foundations of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament.

Our Own Need

Three years ago, my own little Benedictine community was searching for a permanent home to allow our charism of Eucharistic adoration and intercession for priests to grow and flourish. We entrusted our need and our search to Saint Vincent de Paul. He who helped Mectilde de Bar was not indifferent to our plight. He guided us all the way to Silverstream in County Meath. For this, I want, today, to give public thanks to Saint Vincent.

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For today's feast of the Visitation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, I translated this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar:

I would not know how to incite you enough to the love and to the confidence that you ought to have in the most holy Heart of the Mother of God. There is no reason to fear not being received well, since she refuses no one. Love and confidence must grow in us, considering that our Institute came forth from her holy Heart.

You will say to me, "But I don't have the capacity to love her, nor do I have all the devotion necessary to draw her benevolence and protection down upon me!"

We read in Scripture that she loves those who love her, but I will tell you something more: she loves even those who do not love her, inasmuch as she loves sinners. Affection and tenderness towards the holy Mother of God is a particular grace and a sign of predestination. Ask her to obtain this for you from her divine Son. However incapable you may be, you can always formulate desires: desire to love her, to exalt her, to honour her, each one of you individually, as much as and more than all the saints together.

When you begin to love her, she will teach you to know her divine Son and to love Him. Only through her is it possible to know our Lord Jesus Christ; it was she herself who revealed Him to me.

"No one knows the Son if not the Mother, and no one knows the Mother if not the Son." This is why all that we can think and say on her account is very far from the reality.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Conference on the Most Holy Heart of Mary
7 February 1695

God hid amidst Thine own

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Dom Benedict and I translated from the Latin this Matins hymn from the Office of Reparation given in the Mectildian Propers of the Benedictine breviary. The Office of Reparation is celebrated on the first Thursday of every month.

Hymn at Matins of the Office of Reparation
Nunc te flebilibus

[Anonymous, 17th c.--"What is there that I ought to do more to my vineyard, that I have not done to it? was it that I looked that it should bring forth grapes, and it hath brought forth wild grapes?"--Isaias 5]

1. O thou who art our Joy, our tender Grace and Rest,
God hid amidst thine own, the end of all our quest,
Thou Bread and Cup of Saints, receive our psalms and tears,
O hidden God, O silent Word.

2. Alas! while heaven outpours true Manna, living Bread,
The hearts of men grow cold, in shades amidst the dead,
No gratefulness, no praise to welcome thy descent,
O God, forsaken by thine own!

3. Ah! hath he so deserved? Hath he not given thee,
O thou his Vineyard dear, his love most tenderly?
For clustered grapes he looks, and lo! a tangle wild
Of bitter leaves and wood he finds!

4. Blasphemers circle 'round, with fangs of hatred bared,
To pierce with cruel words the Lamb in thorns ensnared,
Betrayed and sold again, his Passion still unfolds
In sacrilege and treachery.

5. Upon thine altars shine, O long desiréd King,
With radiance all divine and healing in thy wings;
O everlasting Love, reveal thy hidden Face,
That men may own thee, and adore.

6. Zeal for thy House profaned by men so wantonly,
Consumes our heart and soul, O gracious Trinity;
Open to us that House ne'er stained by evil's blight,
Where Saints with thee abide in light. Amen.


A Torch Lifted High

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A Translation and a Commentary

Back in July 2011 I translated this extraordinary page from the writings of Catherine de Bar, Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698), foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. I offer it again in preparation for tomorrow's feast of the Transitus of our Blessed Father Saint Benedict. It is a sublime piece of writing and, at the same time, certain passages are hard to understand without entering into the mind of Mectilde de Bar and into her vast spiritual culture, shaped principally by the liturgy and by the Rule of Saint Benedict. For this reason, I have taken the liberty of offering a few comments (given in italics) where I think some explanation may be necessary or helpful.

On the Spirit of Saint Benedict,
by Mother Mectilde de Bar

My sisters, I cannot help but admire ceaselessly the adorable Providence of a God who is infinitely wise and ineffable in His conduct, for having chosen religious of the great Patriarch Saint Benedict to make of them daughters of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and for having destined them not only to render Him continual homages, but also to be the guardians of this sacred deposit that He has entrusted to His Church.

Mother Mectilde ponders and admires God's choice of children of Saint Benedict to become in the Church perpetual adorers and guardians of the adorable mystery of the Eucharist that proclaims the death of the Lord and makes present His Sacrifice from age to age, and this until the consummation of the world. "For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26).

But I glimpse the reason of the mystery of this choice and of the election that God has made of the children of this great Patriarch, and for this I am not at all astonished; because, although there is something incomprehensible, hidden, and profound in the state [of life] that this glorious Patriarch brought to the earth, and that he inspired in his sons, we see that it has so great a relation to the Divine Eucharist, that I cannot but say that it is the portion and heritage of the religious of Saint Benedict. I should, rather, be astonished that it took the passage of so many centuries before the children of this Blessed Father quickened themselves to enter into possession of the inestimable treasure that the infinite bounty of God held in reserve for them.

Why did God choose Benedictines to enter deeply into the adorable Mystery of Faith and to become, in these latter centuries of the Church, souls entirely dedicated and configured to Christ in the Sacrament of His Love? Mother Mectilde, quoting Psalm 15, identifies the Most Holy Eucharist as the portion and heritage of the children of Saint Benedict. "The Lord is the portion of my inheritance and of my cup." (Psalm 15:5) She attributes this divine election of the children of Saint Benedict to an affinity with the Most Holy Sacrament that pertains to their very state of life.

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If you ask me . . . where I get that which I have just said, I dare assure you that it is a secret which was shown me in the death of our most illustrious Patriarch, who, wanting to witness to to the love he had for the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, could do it no better than by expiring in His Holy Presence, thereby rendering the last breaths of his heart to this adorable Host, and enclosing his sentiments in the sacred ciborium, so as to produce, in time, children of His Order who would, until the end of the world, offer the adorable Host adoration, respect, and the bounden duties of continual love and reparation.

Mother Mectilde alludes to the death of Saint Benedict as recounted by Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of The Dialogues:

Six days before he died, he gave orders for his tomb to be opened. Almost immediately he was seized with a violent fever that rapidly wasted his remaining energy. Each day his condition grew worse until finally, on the sixth day, he had his disciples carry him into the chapel where he received the Body and Blood of our Lord to gain strength for his approaching end. Then, supporting his weakened body on the arms of his brethren, he stood with his hands raised to heaven and, as he prayed, breathed his last.

There is in this passage something at once subtle and profound. In writing of the death of Saint Benedict, Mother Mectilde evokes the death of the Crucified Jesus. Both Our Lord and His servant, Saint Benedict, die with uplifted arms. Both die in an exhalation of love that will bring forth fruit, fruit that will remain (cf. John 15:16). Is not the "inclined head" of Jesus, noted in John 19:30, the key to understanding the summit of the Twelve Steps of Humility in Chapter Seven of the Holy Rule? "That is to say that whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing, he should always have his head bowed" (RSB 7:65). Does this not signify the complete configuration of the monk to Jesus in the mystery of His death on the Cross?

Enlightened by a particular grace, Mother Mectilde intuits a secret: it is that Saint Benedict, in his last breath, exhaled a new development in life according to his Rule: an expression of Benedictine life that would surround the august Sacrament of the Altar with adorers, vowed to repair by love the offenses, outrages, coldness, irreverence, and indifference suffered by Love living in the Most Holy Eucharist. "He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world knew Him not. He came unto his own, and His own received Him not" (John 1:10-11).

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Whereas some adore Jesus Christ in the various states of His holy life, the religious of Saint Benedict bear the title of those who are dead: this is what the blessed Monsieur de Condren, general of the Oratory, says. And so, cannot I say that their state and condition of being dead honours, by reference and relation, Jesus dead in the Eucharist? The Fathers teach us that He is there as one in the state of death. A child of Saint Benedict, living a life that is death, has he not a bond and a reference to Jesus in the Host?

Here Mother Mectilde alludes, I think, to the impressive rites of Monastic Profession and Consecration with the prostration of the newly professed during the Holy Mysteries, and the use of the black funeral pall; she alludes also to Monsieur de Condren's characterization of the Benedictine grace as being one of death in the Pauline sense of the term. "Therefore, if you be risen with Christ, seek the things that are above; where Christ is sitting at the right hand of God: Mind the things that are above, not the things that are upon the earth. For you are dead; and your life is hid with Christ in God. When Christ shall appear, who is your life, then you also shall appear with Him in glory." (Col 3:1-4)

In what sense exactly does Mother Mectilde speak here of Jesus being "dead in the Eucharist"? And in what way is the Benedictine, like Jesus in the Host, in a state of death? The death to which Mother Mectilde refers is that of the Christus Passus in the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass and in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. In the Most Holy Eucharist, sacrament and sacrifice, Jesus Christ is present in the very act of His self-offering to the Father. The moment of death recorded by Saint John -- "Jesus therefore, when he had taken the vinegar, said: It is consummated. And bowing his head, he gave up the ghost." (John 19:30) -- remains eternally present to the Father in the sanctuary of heaven, even as it is present sacramentally in the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist. Jesus is on the altar, in the soul of the communicant, and in the tabernacle as He is heaven: the Hostia perpetua. The Benedictine enters into the death and victimhood of Jesus by allowing Him to renew at every moment in the sanctuary of his soul the grace of His Head bowed in death that signifies complete abandonment to the Father. For Mother Mectilde this goes to the very heart of the Benedictine vocation: obedience (RSB 5), silence (RSB 6), humility, and the love of God, which being made perfect, casts out fear (RSB 7).

If it were permitted me to relate in detail the spirit and dispositions that a Benedictine ought to have, you would see that by the faithful practice of the Holy Rule, she would be altogether like a Host, and would enter into wonderful relations with Jesus in the adorable Eucharist.

"Altogether like a Host" -- Mother Mectilde compares the Benedictine monk to the Eucharistic Host at two levels. The first level pertains to the qualities of the Host and the Benedictine virtues: the Host is hidden in the tabernacle, and the monk is hidden in the enclosure of the monastery; the Host is silent, and the monk is silent; the Host has no movement in and of itself, the monk has no movement that is not made by obedience; the Host is abandoned to the will of another, the monk is abandoned to the will of God mediated by his abbot. The Host is, to all appearances, powerless, fragile, and perishable; the monk, too, is powerless, fragile, and perishable. The hiddenness of the Host veils the glory of the Godhead. The silence of the Host befits the ineffability of the Word. The apparent inertia of the Host conceals the love that moves the stars (Dante's "amor che muove le stelle"). The abandonment of the Host into the hands of the one who picks it up -- be he saint or sinner -- reveals the vulnerability of the Word made flesh, obedient unto death. It is in owning his powerlessness, his fragility, and his perishable flesh, that the monk experiences the power, the strength, and the imperishable life of the risen and ascended Christ.

The second level of comparison the Host pertains to the victimhood of Jesus. The monk offers himself, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to immolation on the altar in the Holy Sacrifice. There, Christ the Priest offers him, together with Himself, to the Father: a single victim (the very meaning of the word Host) of adoration, thanksgiving, reparation, and supplication. In the altar, the Host, the Chalice, and the Cross, the monk reads the terms of his own immolation.

But, leaving aside a multitude of proofs that would confirm you in the truth that I am proposing to you, judge . . . if it was not by a choice all divine that we, religious of Saint Benedict, have become daughters of the Sacrament? And do we not owe this grace to the great Saint Benedict, who merited it for us by his precious death, as we have said? Was not his death the pledge of the love which he bore towards this sacred Mystery . . . the promise that, in the latter centuries, his Order would produce in the Church victims immolated to this august Sacrament, who would not only adore by day and by night, but who would be, insofar as possible, the reparators of His glory profaned by the wicked in the Sacrament of Love?

For Mother Mectilde de Bar, it is fitting that, of all the Orders that adorn the Church with their varied charisms, that of adoration and reparation belongs preeminently to the children of Saint Benedict. Mother Mectilde sees in Saint Benedict's wholly Eucharistic death -- which, according to tradition, took place on Maundy Thursday -- an unmistakable sign that his Order was destined, by divine election, to generate adorers and reparators of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and this until the end of time.

Do you not see, my daughters, that Saint Benedict dies standing up, so that we might understand that he exhales, with the effort of love, the sacred Institute that we profess? He conceives it in the Eucharist to be produced more than twelve hundred years later!

Saint Benedict dies standing up. He dies before the altar. His last breath is an exhalation of fruitful love given in exchange for the Holy Viaticum for the final journey. He receives the Bread of Life from the Father and from the Church, and surrenders the breath of life into the hands of the Father that it might become, in future generations, the principle of a wholly Eucharistic life among his sons and daughters in the Church.

Oh, my sisters, how divine is our Institute? For how many centuries was it hidden and buried with Jesus in the Host? For how long was it in the sacred entrails of a God-made-sacrament? He was sanctifying . . . both the Institute and the souls that He wished to call to it. Oh, what admirable things do I see and what consolation they give me!
No, no, my sisters, this was not at all the plan of a human spirit, it was not a human creature that ordered, instituted, and chose this: it is Jesus in the Host who received it from the heart of Saint Benedict; and I can say, my sisters, that it was taken from no other place than the Tabernacle wherein this great saint deposited it at the last instant of his life.

Mother Mectilde has no time for those object that Eucharistic adoration is nothing more than a baroque addition to the sobriety of classical Benedictine piety. She sees a quickening of Eucharistic devotion among the children of Saint Benedict as a treasure held in trust until, after the passage of many centuries, it emerged from its obscurity, like a Host brought forth from the tabernacle, to warm and vivify a Benedictine Order grown old and sterile, and cold, and dry.

Oh, what a marvel that God should have entrusted this work to the most unworthy, not of Saint Benedict's children, but to one born out of time! To a soul who had neither the spirit nor the grace to do it! To a poor creature who had nothing remarkable except that she was of all creatures on earth the most criminal, and the one who had most profaned this august Mystery! God chose this sinner to serve as the most common and abject of instruments for so excellent a task, and to confound thereby the human spirit that loses itself when it sees accomplishments of this sort! This was done by a God. Nothing can be said except that one must prostrate oneself very low, and fear that, after having made use of this wicked instrument, He should cast it without recourse into hell.

Mother Mectilde is conscious that her status as a properly professed Benedictine was called into question by certain hair-splitting canonists of her own time. She was, after all a member of the Order of the Annonciade before making profession as a Benedictine at the monastery of Rambervillers on 2 July, 1639. Even as a Benedictine, her life was characterized more by uncertainty and wandering from place to place, than by the security and stability enjoyed by Benedictines of a more classic stamp. "Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. For which cause I please myself in my infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses, for Christ. For when I am weak, then am I powerful." (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

Mother Mectilde admits to being, like Saint Paul the Apostle, a child born out of time. She is, nonetheless, a true daughter of Saint Benedict, entrusted with a holy mission that transcended, by far, her natural capacities. She confesses to being the most common and abject of instruments, but cannot deny that she was the object of a divine election. Admitting this, she prostrates herself before the Divine Majesty and, following the counsel of her father Saint Benedict, fears hell.

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The Mectildian--Benedictine charism is, I would suggest, even more necessary today than in seventeenth century France when it rose up like a torch lifted high to illumine the Eucharistic Face of Christ.

Reparation

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In her meditations for the Feast of Reparation, solemnized on the Thursday of Sexagesima week, Mother Mectilde reflects on the sins of those who serve in the sanctuaries of the Lord.

The Church, in her desolation, cries, O you who have some love for me, you who know all the glory that my Bridegroom deserves, see and consider if there be any sorrow like unto mine. O you, ministers of the Lord and friends of the Bridegroom, the Bride address these laments to you. Hasten to relieve her pain by making reparation for the affronts to Jesus Christ; give Him the glory that others would strip from Him.

Having once shown the disorders of the children of Israel to the prophet Jeremias, the Lord led him to the entrance of the temple; He ordered him to pierce an opening in its wall, and to look upon what was going on inside. The prophet obeyed, and says that therein he saw even greater abominations.

Who, alas, does not grasp that this is but a figure? Who does not know that the sanctuary is the theatre par excellence of the Lord's ignominies? Who does not know that, alongside of priests who are fervent and truly divine, there are priests who are lukewarm and indifferent, priests who are wicked [...]? And so, the Church, in calling [us] to reparation, begs us not to forget the outrages made against the glory of her Divine Spouse by His own ministers. Yours it is, she says, to expiate the sins of the Sanctuary; yours it is to bear the weight of the sins of the priesthood.

Let us enter into these intentions of the Church, and united in spirit with what remains on earth of fervent Christians, and of priests pressed by the charity of Jesus Christ, let us strive to repair the outrages of indifference and impiety; let us lift up the throne of the Lord, and offer Him the tribute of homage that, by so many titles, He deserves.

Mother Mectilde de Bar, Meditations for the Day of Great Reparation

The Saints Understand One Another

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Father Willie Doyle and Mother Mectilde de Bar belonged to different religious Orders, different cultures, and different moments in history. Their experience of prayer, nonetheless, engages them in a conversation that transcends all else.

Not Trying to Do Anything, Except Love Him

As regards prayer, you should try to follow the attraction of the Holy Spirit, for all souls are not led by the same path. It would not be well to spend all the time in vocal prayer, there should be some meditation, thought or contemplation. Try "basking in the sun of God's love," that is, quietly kneeling before the Tabernacle, as you would sit enjoying the warm sunshine, not trying to do anything, except love Him; but realizing that, during all the time you are at His feet, more especially when dry and cold, grace is dropping down upon your soul and you are growing fast in holiness.

Father Willie Doyle, S.J.

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Remain Humbly at Jesus' Feet

Remain faithfully in the presence of God and do not regret that you cannot do anything. It is Jesus Christ who lives in us; we must only cling to Him with humility and simplicity of heart and spirit ( . . .) Do not resist being in the presence of God without doing anything. He wants you silent and humble. You do so much already if you leave and surrender yourself to His might. Just be faithful! Do not be concerned too much about your distractions; let them pass by, and remain humbly at Jesus' feet, and count yourself unworthy to receive His graces.

Mother Mectilde de Bar, O.S.B. of Perpetual Adoration


Amen

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I referred to this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar in yesterday's homily. It is taken from Le véritable esprit [The True Spirit], the book in which she describes the vocation of one called to a life of perpetual adoration. This particular page of Le véritable esprit is worthy of the greatest mystics of the Church.

Jesus Christ in the Sanctuary of the Soul

Oh, behold here the mystery of mysteries! Jesus Christ enters the soul by means of Holy Communion without obliging it to prepare the room or open the Sancta Sanctorum into which he retires. I know that entering therein he withdraws to the holy sanctuary, to the innermost depth of our being, where he renews his adorable mysteries, and chiefly that of his sacrifice. This he does in the manner most profitable to the soul, because being united in substance with us in the divine Eucharist; we are according to the opinion of the fathers, one with him, the bone of his bone, the flesh of his flesh.

A Transformation Accomplished by the Infinite Love of Christ

This union is so intimate that it astonishes the whole church which cannot understand or adequately grasp it. Yet it is a dogma of faith which we must accept. Now I ask you; when you go to Communion, is it you who effect this union or transformation? Certainly not, it is Jesus Christ by virtue of his divine sacrament. All that is required of you is to be in a state of grace; the rest is accomplished by the infinite love of Jesus Christ.

Adhere to Jesus; Allow Him to Act

This being true and even an article of faith, then why are souls left in ignorance as to how they should act in this divine exchange? I maintain that they have but little to do, merely two things.
-- First to adhere to Jesus in the depth of their will.
-- Secondly to abstain from interfering and from wishing to enter and examine Our Lord's actions within them.

Amen: A Word Full of Mystery

In order to feel and realize his operations they need only be recollected, if possible, and assent in all simplicity to what the divine virtue and personality of Jesus Christ is accomplishing in their soul. If they cannot possess themselves in peace, reverence and attention, let them from their very heart repeat over and over again in union with the church, Amen. This word is full of mystery, it is the soul's acknowledgement of, and consent to what God does in his Church and to what the Church does for God.

A Word Originating in Heaven

It is fitting to repeat it often with this intention, such being the manifest reason why the Bride of Christ introduces it so frequently into her liturgy. The word Amen takes its origin in the church triumphant. Saint John draws our attention to it when speaking of the four animals and the twenty four elders who prostrate before the throne of the Lamb, answered Amen to all the acts of praise, adoration and blessing rendered to the living God and to Him who alone had power to open the book closed with seven seals, namely Jesus Christ, the Lamb immolated from the beginning of the world.

Acquiescence and Full Assent

It is not mentioned that the twenty four princes of the Apocalypse uttered any other word than this precious word, which likewise contains an acquiescence and full assent to the operations of Jesus Christ in [the soul] and to their hidden effect upon communicant. What then does the soul become through Holy Communion? Another Jesus Christ! What? Another Jesus Christ! But I feel nothing, see nothing, experience nothing. Undoubtedly because this transformation is wrought in the very substance of your soul, and though your body is likewise affected, yet you can neither see nor savour the change, unless God reveals it to you, as I know he has done to some souls.

The Great High Priest in the Temple of the Soul

Not withstanding your being unable neither to see nor feel this divine work, yet it is unmistakably real; you must believe it, and it is the happiness of a soul, while deprived of all light upon this matter, to persevere in faith, that she may thus be rendered more perfectly submissive to these incomprehensible mysteries. What then does Jesus Christ do in the soul wherein he abides? Where does he retire? I repeat what I have already said. He withdraws into its Sancta Sanctorum, its inmost depth which serve as a sanctuary for this great High Priest and as a temple wherein to celebrate the divine and awesome immolation of himself to his Father. This sacrifice he wishes to renew in the soul as in the sacred temple which he sanctified on the day of its baptism. Oh, inconceivable marvel! Jesus Christ descends into our hearts to immolate himself and in profound silence to celebrate his Solemn Mass.

Catherine-Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698)
Le véritable esprit


Adoring the Silence of the Word

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Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698) belongs to the family of great mystics who, like Saint John of the Cross, are content to remain in darkness, and cast themselves into an adoring silence. Here is my translation of a chapter talk she gave in 1661.

Silence in the Presence of the Word

Who would dare speak, and what can be said in the presence of the Eternal Word, who keeps so profound a silence and, all the same, with His silent language, makes Himself understood of souls who remain immersed in that sacred and most intimate silence that spreads peace abroad in the soul?

Stillness Within and Without

What could a creature, who is but darkness and deep ignorance, ever say concerning the Eternal Wisdom, the Divine Intelligence that contains in Itself all that is? We should be put to confusion were we to speak while He utters not a word and, by His silence, teaches us to be still within ourselves and without. The Angels are struck silent at the sight of the Divine Infant, seeing how He is become so little upon the straw, and how He has emptied Himself in the Host. What see we among these blessed Spirits except a holy amazement that casts them into an abyss of silence and respect?

Dum medium silentium

I find the words: Dum medium silentium admirable. The God of majesty is born amidst darkness and in silence. Oh . . . if only I could say something about the birth of Jesus Christ in a soul! He comes to birth in silence and darkness: silence within us and silence without, in our dealings with creatures. In darkness: not the obscurity caused by the soul's imperfections, but the godly darkness that hides from us the sacred mysteries that He works within us: mysteries that we must adore and honour, and this, without having knowledge of them.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Chapter Conference
31 December 1661

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Reparation to the Mother of God

As I continue to study and pray over the the writings of Catherine-Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698), I am obliged to seek help from above so as to understand them rightly, translate them faithfully, and transmit their essential message humbly, that is, without allowing my own prejudices or presuppositions to interfere with the process. I could easily pass over certain expressions of devotion, or acquiesce to them, without sufficiently grasping their meaning and their value. One such practice would be that of making reparation to the Mother of God.

In her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter 20, Mother Mectilde writes:

They shall make their Communions on Saturday in honour of the Most Holy Virgin Mary, and of all her mysteries, especially that of her Immaculate Conception, and of her Divine Maternity. The love for the Most Holy Sacrament, which the Holy Spirit imprints in the hearts of those who offer themselves in sacrifice with our Divine Saviour, will also enkindle in them a zeal for the honour of His Most Holy Mother. For this reason, they will also, each one in turn, make honorable amendment at Holy Mass on her feast days and on all the Saturdays of the year, as indicated in the Ceremonial.

The Object of Universal Honour and Grateful Affection

How are we to understand the notion of reparation to the Mother of God? What is the theology behind such a practice? I would say, first of all, that it is fitting that the Immaculate Heart of Mary, overflowing with a most tender charity for the souls redeemed by her Divine Son, should be the object of universal honour and grateful affection. Mary is the New Eve, the Mother of the Living, immaculate and full of every perfection in view of her Divine Motherhood. The maternal solicitude of her most pure Heart, created sinless for the Only-Begotten Son of God, and as a fit dwelling-place for the Holy Ghost, extends to the vast multitude of those redeemed by the Blood of Jesus, the blessed fruit of her womb.

There is no man who has lived, or who is living, or who is yet to be born, who does not owe the Virgin Mary, the humble handmaid of the Lord, and the Mother of the Lamb, the filial honours of a grateful heart. To refuse Mary the unique place given her by God in his Holy Economy (the divine master-plan) is not only to scorn the priceless gift of a Virgin Mother; it is also to offend the munificent Creator and Giver of the gift. There is nothing sadder, nothing more tragic, even in purely human terms, than a mother by her children scorned.

I Want to Love You for All the Others

Consider a mother of many sons, utterly devoted to each one of them, who finds a response to her love only in the heart of her first-born. The last and littlest one of all, observing this, one day allows himself to be brought to the mother, having taken the hand of the eldest son. Inspired by love, and moved by a guileless candour, he says, "Mother, I want to love you for all the others, and I want to make up to you the love that my brothers refuse you or forget to give you."

Communion of Reparation

A matter of pious sentimentality? No -- a matter of the heart, and also of a humble submission to the plan of God, who wills that all generations should magnify the Mother of God, who, without loss to her virginity, gave birth to God the Word. Mother Mectilde understood the rightness of such an impulse of the heart towards the Heart of Mary, and she bequeathed to her spiritual progeny the practice of a communion of reparation, by which we, receiving the adorable mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ, present ourselves to His Virgin Mother, enriched with all that His Sacred Heart holds in her regard. Thus united to the First-Born, do we, the littlest of her sons, tell her that we would love her with such tenderness and gratitude as to make up for the indifference and ingratitude of our brothers. Thus would we console her maternal Heart that never stops loving the many who have for her not so much as a word, a glance, or even an affectionate thought.

The heart has its order, the mind its own, which uses principles and demonstrations. The heart has a different one. We do not prove that we ought to be loved by setting out in order the causes of love; that would be absurd. Jesus Christ and St Paul possess the order of charity, not the order of the mind, for they wished to humble, not to teach. (Pascal, Blaise. Pensées. Translated by A. J. Krailsheimer. New York: Penguin Books, 1995. Fragment 298, p. 94)

A Filial Affection, Childlike and Simple

Reparation to the Mother of God belongs to Pascal's order of charity. The little and the poor grasp the rightness of it intuitively, while the sophisticated, and those whose inflated reason blinds them to higher things, bristle at the thought of it. Let us, then, concede -- no, let us embrace the rightness of offering the Mother of God a filial affection so childlike and so simple that it will, in some way -- known ultimately to God alone, and to Mary's Immaculate Heart -- make up for the impiety of those who, in neglecting the Mother, or in dishonouring her privileges, offend Him who wills that all generations should call her blessed and full of grace.

In a World Waiting to Hear the Gospel of Christmas

We monks of Silverstream Priory have no reason to shrink from the 17th century practice of making reparation to the Sacred and Maternal Heart of Mary by receiving the adorable Body and Blood of her Son, and by offering her the filial sentiments of His most loving Heart, united sacramentally to our own. We understand that the practice of offering the Mother of God honourable amendment on Saturday and on her feasts, is authorized by those reasons of the heart, that the heart alone understands. In a world waiting to hear the Gospel of Christmas, there are many who deny the great things that the Almighty has done for the Virgin Mary; there are those who make light of her incomparable privileges and scorn her lowliness. Let there be, also, a few who, like the shepherds, approach the Virgin Mother and, in offering her homage of their simple manly hearts, bring to the grotto that gave shelter to her, to Saint Joseph, and to the Divine Child, the warmth of grateful love and affection .

One must burn with love

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Image of Mother Mectilde: detail of a painting attributed to Philippe de Champaigne, Monastery of Mas-Grenier.

I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's conference for the Vigil of Christmas 1694. She emphasizes that the Incarnation is God's gratuitous expression of love for each and every human being. Christus natus est pro nobis. The pro nobis (for us) that the liturgy sings must be brought to bear upon each one. One who hasn't grasped that the Word became flesh for me cannot rightly understand what the Church means when she sings that Christ is born for us.

God Did for Me Alone What He Did for All

As I have told you, God, having within Himself everything that could make Him happy, had no need of His creatures, and these can add nothing to His felicity. He could not have given us a greater sign of His love, as Saint John says, "God so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son." (John 3:16) And it can be said that in giving us His Son, He gave us all that what dearest and most precious to Him.

Let us, then, immerse ourselves in profound sentiments of gratitude towards the Eternal Father for the grand gift He offers us today. But, so as to penetrate better into the grace of the mystery and enter into a true gratitude, it is necessary, dear sisters, that each one of you make it your own and strive, with all her capacity, to think of the goodness of a God who, by His birth, comes to give Himself to us. Say then to yourselves: -- God did for me alone what He did for all. Be persuaded of this, because it is really true. In making the mystery your own in this way, it will make much more of an impression on your spirit and will dilate your heart to love God, inflaming it with love of Him. Is it, in effect, ever possible to believe without being set all ablaze with love for a God who is so good, who has done all these things for us? How? God loves me, and shall I not love Him? It is impossible. One must burn with love.

When One Feels Nothing

Somebody may say to me: -- But one does not always have so much ardour, nor a love that is felt --. This is true, but we must not fall into sadness if we are not feeling a sensible love. just as we must not refuse it when God grants it. Believe me, go to God with naturalness, in all simplicity, just as little children go to their papa, without scruple; don't be so fearful. Take what is given to you: if there are sensible feelings of love for Our Lord, so much the better: you shall be set all aflame by the desire to love Him. Receive everything and refuse nothing, not to satisfy your self-love or permit it to claim such sentiments by living them too sentimentally, but only to receive them from Our Lord so that they may produce in us the effect that He wants.

Desiring Nothing but the Reign of His Good Pleasure Within You

At the same time, when He makes you suffer a more painful disposition, darkness, dryness, incapacity, etc., receive it all equally and be indifferent to whatever state [you find yourself in], content with what God gives you, refusing nothing, and desiring nothing but the reign of His good pleasure within you, which reign will not be established except by your own destruction.

Things So Prodigious and Incomprehensible to the Human Mind

De Condren, noting that on the loveliest feasts and in the celebration of great mysteries, one often finds oneself in darkness and in interior dryness, asks why this is so. He responds, observing that our human reason wants to penetrate into the mystery in order to understand it, but because the mystery surpasses the capacities of reason, it does not succeed in going there. This is what produces our darknesses. We never, therefore, enter into the mysteries except by pure faith. Let us leave aside our reasoning and our own mind: they are not worthy, they are too material to conceive what is above the sensible; let us not even heed them. Follow with simplicity the spirit of faith that illumines and makes us believe things so prodigious and incomprehensible to the human mind.

Tacere et adorare

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This beautiful text of Mother Mectilde de Bar is the first part of a conference she gave on the Vigil of Christmas 1694. She insists that silence alone is a worthy homage of the adorable mystery of the Incarnation, which mystery is, in the end, prolonged in the Most Holy Eucharist.

One would have to be a seraph to speak of this mystery; it is so deep, and so surpasses every thought of ours, that not even a seraph would be capable of it. How can this be? That a God supremely happy in Himself, infinite in all His divine perfections -- He alone being capable of knowing Himself with that knowledge that is the only spring of His felicity -- as well as that of all the blessed -- this infinite God, I say, of whom we cannot grasp the grandeurs, comes to earth and makes Himself a little child so as to dwell among us; He empties Himself so as to make us pass into Him. What an abyss! Who could ever understand it?

Let all creatures fall silent. In fact, all that they should be able to say will never come near even to the minimal part of the reality. We can honour this mystery in no better way than by keeping a respectful silence, filled with awe and with admiration. The Eternal Word who keeps this silence gives us the example.

All the mysteries, but in particular this one, enclose things so prodigious and incomprehensible for the human spirit, that everything one can find in books and everything that one say will always fall short of the reality. Let human reason, then, fall silent: it is not capable of laying hold of the mystery we celebrate today. This only faith can do.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Conference for the Vigil of Christmas 1694

Be nothing and await all from God

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Acknowledgement: This beautiful image of Mother Mectilde is a detail of the painting of the First Amende Honorable on 12 March 1654, attributed to Philippe de Champaigne. It belongs to the monastery of Mas-Grenier in France.

I wanted to translate this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar in time for the feast of Christ the King last Sunday. Her teaching on the Kingdom of God seemed to me very appropriate to the mystery of the feast. Time, however, was lacking and only this morning was I able to take a few minutes to do the translation. I find it an extraordinary text. My own commentary is in italics.

Hold on to Nothing

In a profound silence, O my soul, bear up under all our interior situations, and let all things be brought to stillness within us. Neither in ourselves, nor in any one of these things, nor in creatures do we find a motive to vaunt ourselves. Allow all things to flow back down into their source.

Hold on to nothing for ourselves, and even after having received many demonstrations of predilection and of grace, let us conduct ourselves as having received nothing. Remain like one dead, in a perfect detachment, without going over such things and without elevating ourselves, as if we didn't even know that the hand of God touched us to show us mercy. Let us not pin our lives on the gifts of God and on His lights.

Mother Mectilde's teaching is austere; some would even find it harsh. She doesn't want souls to fluctuate according to their feelings in prayer, nor to become febrile in times of consolation. Allow all things, she says, to flow back down into their source, like water off a duck's back. She doesn't like souls who are greedy and grasping for spiritual experiences. Her expression, "remain like one dead" may shock some, but it comes straight from the Desert Fathers who teach that whether one is praised or denigrated, lifted up or cast down, one should react as would a dead man, that is, with indifference.

Pure Capacity for God's Good Pleasure

Our life must be sustained by the divine good pleasure. God must be the soul of our soul; He is the one who must give us life and cause us to act. Apart from the life we receive from Him, there is no purity of life in us, everything inside us is corruption. Instead we must lose everything and bring to nought (1) all that we are in ourselves, (2) all that we are with regard to creatures, (3) and all that we are with regard to the gifts of God. Before arriving at the self-emptying (of which I am speaking), one must lose these three things; and then, my soul, thou shalt be nothing more than a pure capacity for God's good pleasure. He will make of thee, and do in thee, whatever He pleases. Oh, what a great thing it is to be nothing and to await all from God!

It is impossible to find God while searching for ourselves. It is necessary to make one's way in darkness in order to find the light, to lose oneself in order to find oneself (cf. Matthew 16:25), to die in order to live, to empty oneself out in order for God to reign.

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Mother Mectilde's doctrine is that of Saint John of the Cross. I have had occasion to suggest, elsewhere, that she is the Benedictine John of the Cross. It is her last sentence in the above section that seemed to jump off the page and lodge itself in my heart: "Oh, what a great thing it is to be nothing and to await all from God!" Saint Jeanne Jugan said something very similar.

One Who Holds onto Something Is Not Poor

Blessed are the poor in spirit, because the kingdom of heaven is theirs (Matthew 5:3). What is poverty of spirit? It is a soul stripped of creatures and of herself. When the Spirit of God takes charge of a soul who abandons herself to Him, He makes that soul poor. And why? Because God cannot reign in a soul filled and occupied by things. One who holds onto something is not poor; but one who dies continuously to every sensible thing; who suffers the lack of every human help; who willingly practises poverty even in outward things; who empties his spirit of creatures and takes rest in no created thing, however excellent it may be; who does not welcome any thought of self aggrandizement, nor the praises of men; who, in a continual attitude of simplicity towards God, desires Him alone; who wants to know nothing apart from Him; who looks for nothing outside of Him; who does not attach herself to the gifts and graces she has received, and claims no good thing as her own; who remains in her own littleness and makes it the place of her rest: this soul is ready to have full possession of the kingdom of God that, according to the Gospel, is conceded only to the violent (cf Matthew 11:12). In fact, only those carry it away who know how to overcome themselves and overcome their senses and their own passions.

Nothing namby-pamby here! Mother Mectilde is a direct descendant of the Desert Fathers. Her language is that of Saint John Cassian and of Saint John Climacus. At the same time, she is imbued with a Benedictine sense of compassion for the weak. Like Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, she is content to remain in her own littleness and make it the place of her rest.

Made Poor by the Operation of the Spirit of God

Furthermore, what does the kingdom of God mean? And how are we to understand it? The kingdom of God in us is nothing other than God who lives and reigns in the soul that He possesses as His divine palace. He is the master therein. He is the sovereign. He formulates its laws, and to Him all things are in submission. The expression "kingdom of God" means that God alone is found to occupy the soul, and nothing shines through her but Him alone. The soul is so perfectly submitted to Him in all things that her own will disappears, and nothing more remains except the one desire to see God living in her more and more, even unto the complete loss of herself in Him. This is the one single desire and the only richness left in her. But even if the soul is still animated by this desire, this thing happens in so gentle and tranquil a way that the desire passes from God into her, and from her into God, in a movement that is incessant and yet without any agitation or disturbance. Happy the soul who possesses this celestial beatitude, who is poor in spirit by the operation of the Spirit of God, rendered poor by grace, and not reduced to poverty by the misfortunes of life.

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Ode to Poverty

Let us love this precious poverty. Let us choose it upon solicitation by the Holy Spirit, and let us say: "O sacred poverty, thou formest in me the reign of God Himself! I choose thee and I want to receive thee into my heart. I will that Jesus should take delight in seeing His reign established therein, and that all that I am should be filled full of Him. No longer do I want any creature [that binds itself to me], nor projects, nor programs, nor desires or attachment to any created thing. No longer do I want to possess anything, not even any little thing. O blessed poverty, O sacred indigence! Blessed will that day be in which I shall see myself perfectly stripped of all things, and in which, seeing myself bereft of all, shall be clothed by thee, in thee, and for thee! O adorable Jesus! Thou alone art the only one who is truly poor, and in whom God reigns sovereign without any opposition! Let us speak of Thy poverty, O my Saviour! A poor life, a hidden life with suffering, a life of unspeakable privations."

This is a veritable ode to poverty. One hears in Mother Mectilde's words echoes of her Franciscan experience as an Annonciade. One understands that even long after her profession as a Benedictine, the Friars Minor regretted her loss to the Seraphic family. One understands also that, as a Benedictine, she had close spiritual friendships with several sons of Saint Francis. For Mother Mectilde, however, the true icon of evangelical poverty is the Sacred Host. It is the Eucharistic Jesus, hidden, stripped of every appearance of His humanity and of the glory of His divinity, silent, and immobile on the corporal, in the tabernacle, and in the monstrance, who reveals that poverty is the horizon over which dawns the splendour of the kingdom.

Miraculously Poor in the Divine Eucharist

Jesus was poor in the virginal womb of His glorious Mother, poor in the manger, poor during the flight into Egypt, poor in the house of Joseph, poor and penitent* in the desert, poor in His life of preaching, poor upon the Cross, poor in His death, and miraculously poor in the divine Eucharist. This extraordinary poverty gives to God, His Father, an infinite glory and causes Him to reign in a perfect manner. And this same kingdom of God is in us, but only one who is perfectly poor may come to know it. Those whose hearts are not pure will never possess it. It is revealed only to the poor and to little ones (cf. Matthew 11:25), who are no longer anything in themselves, and who are buried in littleness and in nothingness. When all things are so consumed in the soul, then does Jesus rise up, like a splendid sun in the heaven of the soul -- that heaven is the innermost place of the spirit and of its substance -- and there He shines, filling its interior with glory, with joy, with love, and with ineffable blessings.

* Some readers may be startled by Mother Mectilde's application of the adjective "penitent" to Our Lord Jesus Christ. She is using an expression that was not uncommon among the spirituals of her day, particularly in reference to Our Lord's forty day fast in the desert, during which He, though sinless, took upon Himself, like the scapegoat, the sins of sinners and assumed, in their place, the penance incumbent upon them.

Repose in the Heart of Jesus

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In this letter to her friend, Marguerite, the beleaguered Duchess of Orléans, Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement instructs her on the inner repose and joy that come from perfect detachment from all passing things. She tells the Duchess that what she has been seeking all along is rest in the Heart of Jesus, the centre of her soul, and that outside the Heart of Jesus, there is no real rest.

The Duchess has a hard life: a husband on whom she cannot rely, constant moving from one place to another, civil strife, the toxic intrigues of the court, financial worries, and more besides. Mother Mectilde tells her plainly that every created thing and situation here below is bitterness and affliction of spirit. She counsels her not to get wrapped up in passing things, but to live in the presence of God.

Then Mother Mectilde uses an emphatic triple rien: nothing, nothing, nothing. One cannot but be reminded of Saint John of the Cross, who, for that matter, she resembles in so many other ways. Nothing that is not for Him, she says, nothing outside of Him, and nothing loved that is not loved in Him.

I very much like Mother Mectilde's image of the adorable immensity in which we live, and move, and breathe, swimming like a sponge in the sea. She sees the ordinary Christian life as one of total immersion in God.

Do this, says Mother Mectilde, and prayer, that is, conversation with God, will become easy. She wants the Duchess to understand that by losing everything, she is losing nothing, and gaining the bliss that comes from attachment to God alone.

This is, I think, one of the texts in which Mother Mectilde comes closest in her teaching to that of the Spanish mystics, Saint Teresa of Jesus and Saint John of the Cross.

Repose in the Heart of Jesus

I was much gratified that yesterday you assured me of your health. This is news that brings me much joy. I pray Our Lord to continue giving it to you. But, with all the blessings that I wish for you, you will be in a perfect repose, by a holy union and transformation in the Sacred Heart of Jesus, which is the blessed centre of your soul, to which, for a long time already, you aspire. In truth, this is the true and essential repose.

Nothing, Nothing, Nothing

All the earth and its creatures are but bitterness and affliction of spirit, you know it well. The most deeply felt regret of our soul at death will be that we have not separated our heart from all that is created, and that we have often preferred creatures to the love of Jesus, by letting ourselves get too wrapped up in human things. Every day let us go to God with a holy resolution to do nothing that is not for Him, to desire nothing outside of Him, and to loving nothing except in Him.

In God Like a Sponge in the Sea

Let us see and do all things in this adorable immensity in which we swim like a sponge in the sea. No matter where we turn, we are in God. We move, and live, and breathe in Him, but often without thinking of it. Mother Mectilde wants the Duchess to walk in the presence of God, and discover the happiness that comes from possessing Him by faith.

Walk Thou in My Presence

Let us mind ourselves lest we continue our petty negligences, and hasten to become attentive to this admirable Presence. Jesus so deserves our attention. One must often arrest one's focus on this divine object, remembering the precious lesson given that God gave Abraham: "Walk thou in my presence, and thou shalt be perfect." Now, there is a law of perfection that is very amiable, very gentle, and very sweet. Become faithful to it, and partake of the supreme happiness of the saints, which is to possess God in this world by faith, whilst we wait to possess him by glory in heaven.

Joy in the Love of God

A soul that finds no more satisfaction in the objects of the earth will not find it difficult to converse with God and to take all her delights in Him. Be content that you're no longer finding your joys among creatures, so that henceforth, you may find them all in Him who loves you with a love that is infinite and eternel.

The Precious Flames of Love

I pray Him to consume you in His precious flames, and make me worthy of being, with all the profound respects I owe you, all yours.

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Humiliation

Mother Mectilde de Bar was fond of repeating to her daughters that, "a victim of the Holy Sacrament [that is, one entirely offered and made over to God with Christ in the Most Holy Eucharist], even in the midst of all the good she may do, must not know what it means to have honour, praise, esteem, glory, and elevation; and that her portion in this world must be shame, humiliation, and opprobrium.

Two Different Registers: the Psychological and the Mystical

This view of monastic life may offend the ears of those educated to value affirmation, self-esteem, and a healthy notion of one's self-worth. None of these things are in contradiction with Mother Mectilde's teaching. They belong to two different registers. Affirmation, self-esteem, and self-worth belong to the register of human psychology and are necessary elements of one's mental and emotional health. Mother Mectilde's teaching belongs to the register of mystical identification with Christ, the Suffering Servant, whose passion will perdure until the end of time in the members of His Mystical Body, and in His Eucharistic Body in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

There is no beauty in him, nor comeliness: and we have seen him, and there was no sightliness, that we should be desirous of him: Despised, and the most abject of men, a man of sorrows, and acquainted with infirmity: and his look was as it were hidden and despised, whereupon we esteemed him not. Surely he hath borne our infirmities and carried our sorrows: and we have thought him as it were a leper, and as one struck by God and afflicted. But he was wounded for our iniquities, he was bruised for our sins: the chastisement of our peace was upon him, and by his bruises we are healed. (Isaiah 53:2-5)

Mectilde and Thérèse

Here again, Mother Mectilde is close to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Thérèse wrote:

O Lord, send us away justified! May all those who are in no way illumined by the bright torch of the Faith at last see it shine. O Jesus, if it is necessary that the table they have soiled be purified by one soul who loves You, I am willing to eat alone the bread of suffering, even until it pleases You to admit me to Your Kingdom of light. The one grace I ask is never to offend You.

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Thérèse: the Table and the Bread

The image of the table, like the image of bread, is a Eucharistic one. It is not often recognized that Saint Thérèse situates her identification with sinners and unbelievers in a Eucharistic context. Mother Mectilde's spirit of reparation in the 17th century and Saint Thérèse's spirit of solidarity with sinners in the 19th are, in effect, two expressions of the same mystical charism. The "bread of suffering" is the "living Bread come down from heaven" (John 6:41), and this because, as Saint Paul says, "as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall shew the death of the Lord, until he come" (1 Corinthians 11:26). One cannot partake of the Most Sacred Body of the Lord without accepting a share in His Passion. This, again, is why the Apostle says, "As it is written: For thy sake we are put to death all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for the slaughter" (Romans 8:36), and also, "We who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake; that the life also of Jesus may be made manifest in our mortal flesh." (2 Corinthians 4:11)

Chapter VII of the Holy Rule

Mother Mectilde is a Benedictine through-and-through; she has interiorized the essence of Chapter VII of the Holy Rule, Of Humility. For Mother Mectilde, as for Saint Benedict, her father in Christ, humility has to do with an effective identification with the suffering Christ in His abjection, in His self-emptying, and in the rejection He suffers on the part of men. In Chapter VII's fourth degree of humility, Saint Benedict says:

The fourth degree of humility is, that if in this very obedience hard and contrary things, nay even injuries, are done to him, he should embrace them patiently with a quiet conscience, and not grow weary or give in, as the Scripture saith: "He that shall persevere to the end shall be saved." And again: "Let thy heart be comforted, and wait for the Lord." And shewing how the faithful man ought to bear all things, however contrary, for the Lord, it saith in the person of the afflicted: "For Thee we suffer death all the day long; we are esteemed as sheep for the slaughter." And secure in their hope of the divine reward, they go on with joy, saying: "But in all these things we overcome, through Him Who hath loved us." And so in another place Scripture saith: "Thou hast proved us, O God; Thou hast tried us as silver is tried by fire; Thou hast led us into the snare, and hast laid tribulation on our backs." And in order to shew that we ought to be under a superior, it goes on to say: "Thou hast placed men over our heads." Moreover, fulfilling the precept of the Lord by patience in adversities and injuries, they who are struck on one cheek offer the other: to him who taketh away their coat they leave also their cloak; and being forced to walk one mile, they go two. With Paul the Apostle, they bear with false brethren, and bless those that curse them.

The Passion of Christ in History

There are those, even, alas, among Catholics, who would argue that the Passion of Christ, once accomplished, at a given moment in history, is over and done with, swallowed up in the triumph of the Resurrection and, in no way, prolonged in history. Divine Revelation, however (being both Scripture and Tradition), as well as the experience of the saints and mystics affirm that Christ suffers, and will continue to suffer, in His Mystical Body and in His Eucharistic Body, and this until the end of time.

Our Lord Himself instructed Saul of His own suffering in the sufferings inflicted on the members of His Mystical Body.

And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. (Acts 9:4-5)

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The sufferings of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love would be, for some, more difficult to grasp were it not for the vivid reproaches of the Sacred Heart of Jesus addressed to Saint Margaret Mary:

Behold the Heart which has so loved men that it has spared nothing, even to exhausting and consuming Itself, in order to testify Its love; and in return, I receive from the greater part only ingratitude, by their irreverence and sacrilege, and by the coldness and contempt they have for Me in this Sacrament of Love. But what I feel most keenly is that it is hearts which are consecrated to Me, that treat Me thus.

Pope Pius XI

Finally, Pope Pius XI, in his Encyclical Miserentissimus Redemptor (8 May 1928) wrote:

Whosoever of the faithful have piously pondered on all these things must need be inflamed with the charity of Christ in His agony and make a more vehement endeavor to expiate their own faults and those of others, to repair the honor of Christ, and to promote the eternal salvation of souls. And indeed that saying of the Apostle: "Where sin abounded, grace did more abound" (Romans v, 20) may be used in a manner to describe this present age; for while the wickedness of men has been greatly increased, at the same time, by the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, a marvelous increase has been made in the number of the faithful of both sexes who with eager mind endeavor to make satisfaction for the many injuries offered to the Divine Heart, nay more they do not hesitate to offer themselves to Christ as victims. For indeed if any one will lovingly dwell on those things of which we have been speaking, and will have them deeply fixed in his mind, it cannot be but he will shrink with horror from all sin as from the greatest evil, and more than this he will yield himself wholly to the will of God, and will strive to repair the injured honor of the Divine Majesty, as well by constantly praying, as by voluntary mortifications, by patiently bearing the afflictions that befall him, and lastly by spending his whole life in this exercise of expiation.

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The Finding of the Cross and Its Exaltation

Mother Mectilde practiced what she preached. Readily she accepted whatever humiliations, calumnies, accusations, and offenses came her way, seeing in them so many occasions of mystical union with the Christus Passus. Not without wit, Mother Mectilde declared, "The Invention [Finding] of the Cross is a feast that occurs every day, because, ceaselessly, one encounters suffering; but it is not so with the Exaltation of the Cross; nothing is more rare than to see tribulation honoured and accepted."

Jealousies

As is often the case, even today, the greater number of her humiliations and sufferings came from pious persons. The establishment of her monastery in the presence of the Queen, Anne of Austria; a steady flow of vocations to the community; and the esteem in which she was held by persons highly-placed in the Church, stirred up jealousy. Jealousy, once stirred up, will stop at nothing to destroy the object of its animosity.

Heroic Charity and Silence

Heroically, Mother Mectilde nourished an exquisite charity and a touching love for those who humiliated her and treated her with suspicion. People who had absolutely no authority over her, and no right to do so, gave themselves the mission of interrogating her, of examining her motives, of questioning her actions. These pious zealots, whatever their intentions, obliged her to undergo their hurtful and wounding inquisitions. Mother Mectilde could have revealed the work of God in her soul and, thereby, silenced her critics and accusers but, instead, she resolved never to justify herself and never to complain.

To be continued.

I am reading the Letters of Mother Mectilde de Bar in an Italian translation entitled Non Date Tregua a Dio, Lettere alle monache 1641-1697. How I wish that this great teacher of the interior life and, especially, of confidence in love of God, were better known. Here, in my own translation, is one of the letters I just read. She is writing to the Prioress at Toul. Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement, once again, is a precursor of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. Confidence, she maintains, is the sure way of avoiding the Divine Justice.

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20 May 1665

May Jesus be for you strength, life, and consummation!

My dear Mother, I pray Him that He bring about in you unity with those gifts of the Holy Spirit whom I desire [to have] in the depths of your heart even as I would wish to have Him in mine. If we had this spirit of love, this spirit of peace, this spirit of strength and of wisdom, truly we would be privileged. I ask it for you, my only Mother, with all the capacity of my heart, that is full of compassion for yours.

The [Regular] Visitation was carried out with much gentleness and all in the greatest calm. As for me, I am in [a period of] solitude, which I savour all the more intimately in that it has been a while since I last had one. It already seems to me that I am half out of it. Only three or four days remain and they will fly by like the wind, and afterwards I will have to return into the turmoil. Blessed be God.

It seems to me that He is showing me a very great mercy when He keeps peace in the depths of my soul. Just so long as I do not offend Him! As for the rest, He can do as He pleases. I want to say this from the heart. We must believe by faith that He loves us as His children, and that this is an infallible truth; we must therefore abandon ourselves to His care and to His maternal goodness.

Oh, how a little grain of faith would do us great good and would liberate us from so many troubles by a total confidence in Him. This is what He wants from us, all the more in that He shows us grace and mercy by His pure goodness and not by reason of our merits. I prefer that He save me by His charity and by His divine goodness rather than by my works.

It is an immense felicity to depend on that essential goodness and see oneself as a debtor in all things. My God, Mother so dear, let us keep ourselves mightily attached to this reality; Divine Justice will never tear us away from it, on the contrary confidence is the sure way of avoiding it.

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.

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In her letters to Marguerite, the Duchess of Orléans (1613-1672), Mother Mectilde de Bar has some very beautiful things to say about the mystery of the Child Jesus. To me they seem to reflect something of the experience of Jesus, the King of Love, that one finds in the writings of Saint Thérèse, of the Trappist Abbot, Dom Vital Léhodey, and of Mother Yvonne-Aimée. Here, in my own translation, is what Mother Mectilde has to say:

It seemed to me that the desire to belong to God and to love Him enlivened your heart several times. Your heart wants to rise above itself, so as to abide in God: but the weight of human misery does not allow it to enjoy this happiness without intermission in this life. One must suffer the length of our exile in patience. This will be lighter for us to bear i we look upon the Eternal Word under the figure of our flesh; he comes . . . to make Himself our companion on pilgrimage.
He comes into the world, and the world has not received Him. He comes among His own, and they know Him not. Here, then, is Jesus upon earth like a stranger who has nowhere to rest His head. It is the love He bears us that reduces Him to this indigence. But, my God, how great this love is, that it casts Jesus into nothingness. Among His subjects, He is like a slave, and all that He does are but wondrous inventions of His love to draw us to Himself. It is to win our hearts, and to give us the freedom to converse with Him, and never more to doubt of his kindnesses toward us; and so that we will cling no longer to the thoughts of distrust and fear that get in our way and disquiet our spirits. . . .
If this Child God manifests Himself in the secret of your soul, His presence will bring you joy, and His love will make you strong. There is nothing so sweet as to love and to know (and to love) Jesus; the prophet assures us of this. Love, love this lovable Saviour who loves you so tenderly, and who presses upon you His merits and all that He is in Himself. Possess Him, and find in His fulness all that you lack. Make use of His virtues and of His love to make up for everything, and rest in His goodness by means of a childlike confidence. And you will experience that your hope is not in vain, nor your confidence disappointed.

A Charism Exhaled in Love

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Images: details of an anonymous 13th century Italian fresco of the Transitus of Saint Benedict.

Charism

After the momentous ceremony of 12 March 1654, life in the newly established monastery in rue Férou began to unfold. Mother Mectilde insisted on what, today, we would call the specific charism of the foundation, that is, the graced identity by which a particular community fulfills its unique mission in the Church. For Mother Mectilde, this graced identity found expression in a continuous presence of adoration and reparation before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The foundress was well aware of the sacrileges and abominations perpetrated against Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. She knew of the diabolical machinations of people involved in superstition, witchcraft, and magic, and of Sacred Hosts stolen and exchanged among the perfidious adherents of secret societies and cults. She suffered whenever the Most Holy Sacrament was treated with irreverence, ingratitude, indifference, and scorn. She grieved when priests offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass hastily and unworthily, with scant fervour, attention, and devotion. She suffered the ignominy endured by Our Lord when He descended sacramentally into souls chilled and darkened by grave sin.

Self-Emptying

The new Institute was brought into existence to offer Our Lord, present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, souls that would enter into His own state of profound self-emptying (kenosis), souls that would enter into the humility, silence, obedience, and hiddenness of His sacramental state. The new Benedictines would draw this imitation of the Eucharistic Jesus, the Deus absconditus (hidden God), by persevering in an unbroken watch of adoration and reparation by abiding, by day and by night, before His Face, close to His Heart.

Christus Passus

One cannot abide for any length of time in faith, in hope, and in love, before the Most Blessed Sacrament without being drawn into the mysterious action of Jesus Christ, Priest and Victim, who in the stillness of the tabernacle, or from the centre of the monstrance, offers Himself to the Father with same dispositions that rose once from the altar of the Cross on Calvary. The Eucharistic Christ is, as I have had occasion to write before, the Christus passus: Christ in the very act of offering Himself to the Father; Christ, the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, so described in the Roman Canon.

Language of Symbols

Mectilde be Bar had an understanding of the language of symbols, not after the fashion of contemporary anthropologists, but rather as a daughter of Church immersed in sacred signs and rites of the liturgy. She made use of symbols -- among them the lighted candle and the cord about the neck -- to express outwardly the mystical realities that, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, she had apprehended inwardly. Even as such symbols give outward expression to what is essentially hidden, they engrave upon the souls of those who make use of them a vivid impression of what they signify. Fluency in this language of symbols has always been, and continues to be, integral to the pedagogy of monastic life.

Appeal to Souls

Mother Mectilde prescribed the hourly ringing of the bell five times as a way of recalling the community to mindfulness of the abiding presence of Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love. The peal from the belfry was, in effect, an appeal to souls. She writes in her Constitutions:

To keep alive the memory of the inestimable benefit contained in the divine Eucharist, and to renew thanksgiving for it, one shall ring, at all the hours of the day and of the night, five strokes of the largest bell, whilst the one ringing as well as all those who hear it, say: Praised and adored forever be the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar!

Perpetual Adoration

Hour after hour, a rota of adorers would assure a living, loving presence before the tabernacle. On Thursdays, the community would sing the Office and Mass of the Most Blessed Sacrament, and the Blessed Sacrament would be exposed in the monstrance from the end of Holy Mass until Compline, concluding with the amende honorable and Benediction.

Special Feasts

Certain days were to be solemnized, particularly Holy Thursday, Corpus Domini, the Thursday of Sexagesima (feast of The Great Reparation), and January 1st, the Circumcision, seen as the inauguration of the victimhood of Christ. A renewal of the vows of monastic profession marked the first day of the New Year.

Our Lady

The Blessed Virgin Mary, elected Abbess of the Institute on 22 August 1654, shared in every corporate action of the community's life. In all the regular places of the monastery, the image of the Mother of God occupied the place of honour. The Most Holy Virgin, insisted Mother Mectilde, would keep the community faithful to its charism. The practice of perpetual adoration, being entrusted into Our Lady's hands, would remain vigorous, stable, and permanent. After God, Mother Mectilde turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary to preserve the monastery from falling into laxity, and to the insidious compromises that would weaken or alter its mission.

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Saint Benedict and His Rule

As for the Benedictine identity of the new monastery, it rested upon the rigorous observance of the Holy Rule that Mother Mectilde had first learned at Rambervillers, a community marked by the reform of Dom Dider de la Cour (1550 - 1623), founder of the Congregation of Saint Vanne and Saint Hydulphe. In Paris, the proximity of the monks of the Congregation of Saint Maur at Saint-Germain-des-Prés assured the new monastery of adorers a stable point of reference within the Benedictine tradition.

The Benedictine identity of the Institute derived, even more, from Mectilde's mystical understanding of the death or transitus of the great Patriarch, as recounted by Pope Saint Gregory the Great in the Second Book of the Dialogues. Mother Mectilde writes:

Wanting to leave a testimony to the love that he nourished for the Most Holy Sacrament, [Saint Benedict] could not render It a greater honour, nor a more eloquent demonstration of his faith and of his charity, than by breathing his last in Its holy presence, and by entrusting the last beats of his heart to this adorable Host. . . so as to generate, in the time fixed by God, sons of his Order, who until the end of the world, would render to [the Most Holy Sacrament] adoration, reverence, and the witness of uninterrupted love and reparation. Do you not see, my sisters, that Saint Benedict died standing up, so as to make us understand that, in a supreme act of love, he "exhaled" the sacred Institute to which we are professed? He conceived it in the Eucharist, so that, nearly twelve centuries later, it would come to birth.

To be continued.

Mother Mectilde and Thursday

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Painting: The Eucharistic Transitus, or holy death, of Saint Benedict, in which Mother Mectilde de Bar recognized a "breathing forth" of the charism entrusted to her. According to tradition, Saint Benedict passed from this life on a Thursday.

Exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament on Thursday

Six days after the memorable events of 12 March 1654, Dom Placide Roussel gave permission for exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament every Thursday. Thursday thus became a weekly rememoration of that first Holy Thursday when, in the Cenacle, Our Lord Jesus Christ instituted the adorable Sacrament of the Eucharist, offering Himself to the Father, and nourishing His Apostles with the life-giving mysteries of His Body and Blood.

Response to an Inquiring Reader

One reader of Vultus Christi, in reading my translation of Mother Mectilde's text on The Solemnity of Thursday (from La journée religieuse) questioned her affirmation that Thursday is a day of Pascha. How are we to understand this affirmation of Mother Mectilde, which, at first, seems surprising to those who think more in chronological than in theological terms? Mother Mectilde's affirmation is rooted in an profoundly intuitive experience of the liturgy of Holy Thursday. The Introit of the Mass on Holy Thursday is a synthesis of the entire Paschal Mystery. What does the Church sing on the threshold of the Sacred Paschal Triduum?

It is for us to glory in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ,
in whom is our salvation, life, and resurrection:
through whom we have been saved and set free. (cf. Gal 6:14)

The Sacred Paschal Triduum

The liturgy of the Church does not wait until Easter Sunday to sing of "salvation, life, and resurrection." It is the whole Paschal Triduum, beginning with the Evening Mass In Coena Domini on Thursday that actualizes the mysteries of Our Lord's Passion, Death, and Resurrection. Holy Thursday includes Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter Sunday, and these days include within themselves the mystery already announced, and realized, and communicated in the Cenacle on Thursday in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Ces français!

I rather suspect that the reader who questioned Mother Mectilde's affirmation that Thursday is a day of Pascha may be French! The dear French, with their gift of clear thinking and of making fine distinctions, are often rigidly fixated on an "either/or" perception of things, and intellectually challenged by the inclusive "both/and". This, at least, has been my experience in over forty years of exposure to, and participation in the richness of French culture and French theologizing. It is not, then, a question, of Thursday or Sunday, but of Thursday and Sunday: Thursday contains, as in a kernel, the complete mystery that unfolds over Friday and Saturday, to emerge into a glorious light on Sunday.

Kairos and Chronos

Mother Mectilde's affirmation springs from her own contemplative participation in the liturgy of the Church, and from her intuitive grasp that the liturgy is played out in kairos -- God's moment, the liturgical hodie -- rather than in chronos, the human way of measuring time.

The Mystery of the Cross

Mother Mectilde focused on Thursday, and established it in her Institute as a kind of weekly Fête-Dieu, because she understood that the Most Holy Eucharist is the sacramental demonstration of the Cross. Is this not what the Apostle teaches? "For as often as you shall eat this bread, and drink the chalice, you shall show forth the death of the Lord, until he comes" (1 Cor 11:26).

Eucharistic Amazement

The Most Holy Eucharist makes present the Cross as the altar of Christ, Eternal High Priest and spotless Victim. The Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is the sacrifice of the Cross set before the eyes of faith, not as something dim and ineffectual, but as an astonishing inbreaking, here and now, of "the power of God and the wisdom of God"(1 Cor 1:24). This is, to borrow the expression of Blessed John Paul II, the source of Mother Mectilde's "Eucharistic amazement." This is this realization that leaves us, together with her and with the saints of every age, as Gerard Manley Hopkins put it, "lost, all lost in wonder."

In the Crucible of Love

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Stability Amidst Life's Chances and Changes

One of the most encouraging things about the lifelong journey of Mectilde de Bar is that she was often obliged to leave one place for another, to begin afresh, and to adapt to new circumstances. Again and again she experienced change, keeping always her heart fixed where true joys are found: in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar, as in the heavenly sanctuary not made by hands. For me, Mother Mectilde is the model of what the Church asks in the Collect of the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost:

Deus, qui fidelium mentes unius efficis voluntatis, da populis tuis id amare quod praecipis, id desiderare quod promittis: ut inter mundanas varietates ibi nostra fixa sint corda, ubi vera sunt gaudia.
O God, who makest the minds of the faithful to be of one will, grant to Thy people to love that which Thou commandest and desire that which Thou dost promise; that so, among the changing things of this world, our hearts may be set where true joys are to be found.

Trust and Perseverance

In times of social upheaval and unrest, as in times of upheaval and unrest in the Church, such as I lived through in the 1960s and 70s, the ideal of monastic stability is often shattered against the jagged rocks of reality. Happily, God calls a man, not to an ideal, but to utter trust in Him and to humble perseverance in the face of things as they are -- imperfect, gritty, and disappointing -- even if this means beginning afresh over and over again. For me, Catherine Mectilde de Bar is a model of just this. God can and does, in fact, use such paradoxical and disconcerting circumstances as a crucible in which he hammers out something something new, something purified, something conceived in the infinite love and wisdom of His Heart.

The Humble and Costly Yes

There are those, who judging the twists and turns of another's life, through the lens of their own experience and prejudices, see only discontinuity where God sees, rather, the continuity of a humble and costly "yes," repeated again and again, to the unfolding of His plan. For the one engaged in such a circuitous and unconventional journey, there will be the subtle but cruel humiliations of the raised eyebrow, the sceptical glance, the condescending smirk, and the whispered (or not so whispered) inference. Religious types can be pitiless when it comes to such things.

Naysayers and Friends

By God's providence, Mother Mectilde was surrounded, not only by critics and naysayers, but also by supportive and faithful friends who believed in her vocation and made sacrifices in order for her work, Our Lord's work, to prosper. Thus, when it became clear that, because of the lack of space at the house in the rue du Bac, the little community had to relocate once again, this time to a rented house belonging to Madame de Rochefort in the rue Férou, close to the church of Saint-Sulpice. There, on 12 March 1654, the Father Prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Dom Roussel, who, by this time had nuanced his opinion of Mother Mectilde's community, established the monastic enclosure.

Memorable Day

On the same day, the mother of Louis XIV, Anne of Austria herself, arrived at the new monastery with an imposing retinue of courtiers. She directed Dom Roussel to afix the cross to the wall above the door of the house, and established it officially as a royal foundation. Dom Roussel blessed the bell, the oratory, and the regular places. During a Solemn Mass, a Carmelite of Les Billettes, one Père Léon, preacher to the Queen, delivered the sermon. At the end of Holy Mass, the Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance.

The Amende Honorable

That afternoon, la musique du Roi, Louis XIV"s own musicians, presented their homage to Jesus Christ, the Eucharistic King enthroned upon the altar. Then, before Benediction of the Most Blessed Sacrament, Anne of Austria advanced to the middle of the choir, knelt in adoration, and with a cord about her neck and a burning taper in her hand, read the Amende Honorable, or act of reparation, composed by Mother Mectilde. As the Queen gave utterance to Mother Mectilde's prayer, it was the voice of France that reached the ears of God, making reparation for the countless offenses, sacrileges, and outrages perpetrated against the Sacred Host.

The Painting

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Philippe de Champaigne (1602-1674) immortalized the solemn scene in the painting reproduced above. Looking at it from left to right, we see two gentleman courtiers, finely dressed. The one whose face is in shadow is whispering a comment to the other, while he points to the altar. His companion is listening to him, but appears more recollected and moved. His head is bowed; his face bears an expression of sweetness and compunction. I wonder how this moment affected his life thereafter. Kneeling in front of the gentlemen are two ladies in waiting; they too appear awed by what is taking place. They have to take their cue from the Queen. There are six Benedictines, each one with the cord that symbolizes identification with the Suffering Servant about her neck, and a burning candle, the symbol of readiness and love, in her hand.

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Anne of Austria

Anne of Austria has removed her crown and placed it on the cushion at her feet, leaving her bareheaded. She too wears the cord about her neck, and carries the burning candle, a sign of her self-offering in adoration and in reparation. For all her royal finery, her face reveals an inward simplicity of soul. One senses that she is a good woman.

Face to Face

Mother Mectilde is the figure next to the Queen. In Mother Mectilde's features, there is gentle majesty. Her whole being appears drawn to the altar, to the monstrance, to the Eucharistic Face of the Son of God. Of all the faces depicted in the painting, that of Mother Mectilde is, I think, the most expressive. The little nun crouching next to the altar represents l'anéantissement, en-nothingment, profound humility in the presence of the Divine Majesty.

Our principal application in prayer must be to hold ourselves before the greatness and supreme majesty of God in the Most Holy Sacrament, with the most profound respect, with total confidence and abandonment, with submission, accepting simply all the dispositions of Divine Providence, each one according to her degree of grace, either by making acts [of prayer] or in some other way. (M. Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement)

To be continued.

All that paradise loves and adores

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Difficulties

Mother Mectilde and her community now found themselves under the authority of Dom Placide Roussel, the prior of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. From all accounts, Dom Roussel was anything but placid, in spite of his name. A Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, Dom Roussel was a difficult man: legalistic, pessimistic, stubborn, and authoritarian. He had the talent of seeing difficulties where no one else could see them. More than once, Mother Mectilde and the Countess de Châteauvieux returned completely discouraged from a meeting with Dom Roussel. To a friend, Mother Mectilde wrote, "We were to see the Reverend Father Prior who, as much as possible, turns everything upside down."

Dom Roussel required that Mectilde puchase land to build a future monastery and that she collect a large sum of money to assure the upkeep of a community of five. His exigences blocked the establishment of the monastery at every turn.

Dom Roussel Relents

Mectilde held her peace; she prayed, did penance, and waited. On 24 March, 1653, in response to an intervention by Madame de Châteauvieux, the dreaded Dom Roussel surprised Mother Mectilde by sending her a message authorizing exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament for the following day, the feast of the Annunciation. Benefactors of the monastery had previously provided a chalice, patien, monstrance, and thurible, so that all would be in readiness once the long-awaited permission came.

The First Solemn Exposition

On the feast of the Annunciation, then, 25 March 1653, Holy Mass was sung in the Oratory of the house, and the Most Blessed Sacrament was exposed in the monstrance. Alerted at the last minute, a considerable number of the faithful attended the celebration. During Holy Mass, Mother Mectilde saw the Most Holy Virgin Mary, clothed in the raiment of an abbess, and holding the crosier in her hand. Our Lady presented the nascent community to Jesus the Host, as victims offered to His Eucharistic love. Even today, the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament consider this feast of the Annunciation 1653 as the first solemnity of perpetual adoration of the Institute.

Mother Mectilde wrote to Madame de Châteauvieux, "All that paradise loves and adores, I now possess, thanks to you."

To be continued.

On the Solemnity of Thursday

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For a long time I have wanted to translate this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar entitled "On the Solemnity of Thursday." In it, she pours out her soul in a torrent of amazement and thanksgiving and adoration. She sets forth why, in her particular Benedictine observance, Thursday is celebrated as a weekly return to the Cenacle where Our Lord instituted the Sacrament of His Love, and as a weekly festival of Corpus Christi. Catherine-Mectilde de Bar is, without any doubt, the most Eucharistic soul in what was a Eucharistic century par excellence, and a century of saints surpassing all others, le grand siècle, the great century of France's mystic invasion, and the full flowering of the Council of Trent's renewal of the Church in holiness.


O Precious Day!

Thursday: one can name it the day of the magnificences and profusions of divine love. It is on this day that Jesus Christ unfurls all the grandeurs of His munificence and gives to men the most incomprehensible proof of His charity, by instituting the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist. O precious day! Day that we shall never know how to celebrate enough! Holy day, happy day, of which every instant must be infinitely precious to us who have the honour of being wholly consecrated to this august mystery.

Thursday: a Day of Pascha

For the victims* of the Holy Sacrament, Thursday must be a day of Pascha, a day of solemnity and of rejoicing. This day is so abundant in graces that one can say that it exhausts all that Our Lord Jesus Christ is and can do. What more can He do after the institution of the divine Eucharist? What is there that is not [contained] in this august mystery?

*The Meaning of Victim in the Writings of Mother Mectilde
The word victim frightens some people; it exercises an unhealthy attraction over others; and for still others has an unplesasantly melodramatic ring about it. When Mother Mectilde de Bar uses the word victim, what exactly does she mean?
First of all, she uses it as the proper title of those who are vowed to adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament under the Rule of Saint Benedict in her Institute. While others, she says, may enter religious life to save their own souls and gain eternal glory in heaven, the Benedictine of the Most Holy Sacrament must so forget herself, and even the needs of her own soul, that she sacrifices all self-interest and enters the monastery for one reason only: to adore and glorify the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, and to make up by this sacrifice of all spiritual self-interest for those who never adore Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love or, even worse, offend Him by unspeakable sins of irreverence and sacrilege.
Secondly, she uses the word victim in the same way the texts of the sacred liturgy use it. I could cite here any number of Secrets and Postcommunions from both the Temporal and Sanctoral Masses. A victim is a living being made over to God alone in so radical and irrevocable way that she no longer has any life outside of life in God, for God, and by God. The liturgical use of the term victim makes it very clear that this is the ordinary state of anyone who receives Holy Communion consciously and devoutly. By being at-oned [joined] to the Divine Victim, the Lamb of God, one becomes a single victim with Him, that is, an offering made over to the Father in a holocaust of love.
Thirdly, she uses the word to express the profound communion of the soul with Our Lord in the Sacrament of His Love, where He is forever the Christus passus, Christ in the very act of His immolation and self-offering to the Father. Our Lord present in the tabernacle is not there in a state of suspended animation or divine inertia; He is present in the Most Blessed Sacrament as He is in the sanctuary of Heaven: the pure victim, the holy victim, the spotless victim, offered at every moment to the Father, in the Holy Spirit. One who adores the Blessed Sacrament will be, sooner or later, drawn into a mystic participation in the victimhood of the Lamb.

Sunday and Thursday

Sunday is held in singular veneration among all christians, because it is dedicated and consecrated in a special manner to the Most Holy Trinity. One author has said that so abundant in blessings is this day that all creatures participate in them, each according to his nature and capacity. If this is so of Sunday, what then must be said of Thursday? The same God whom we adore on Sunday in Himself, gives Himself entirely to us on Thursday. Thursday is the day of God's great communications to His creatures. Oh! who is not ravished by the infinite goodness of the King of kings! He gives us all that He has, all that He is, all -- without reservation.

The Excessive Charity of God

Jesus, says Saint John, having loved his own, loved them to the end. And, in effect, what greater mark of love could He give them than to institute the Holy Eucharist? How great is the marvel that He works for us on this day, and who shall be able to understand it? It is here that all must remain in the silence of admiration. A God makes himself our food! O astonishing prodigy! What are all the miracles worked by Jesus Christ during the course of his earthly life in comparison to this one? What a spectacle! What bounty! What charity! A God who gives Himself to us! O love! He who with three fingers sustains the universe is held by the priest. He who commands all of nature obeys a being who is nothing. He who is all-powerful makes Himself so dependent that he is in the power of His creatures; they carry Him, they bring Him wherever they choose. This is too much. Your charity, my Saviour, goes even to excess! O incomprehensible miracle! Mystery forever inconceivable! No, the thought of man would not know how to attain it.

Man Can Love, Man Can Adore

Man cannot understand; but man can love, man can adore. We, especially, who by a special favour see the Most Holy Sacrament exposed on our altars every Thursday,** with what fervour should we not be animated? The solemnity of Thursday must be or us a solemnity forever new; it must also set our hearts ablaze with a love that is new. Let us not settle for drawing people to the feet of Jesus the Host by the outward worship that we render Him more particularly on this day. Let us redouble our readiness to attend to His holy presence. Let the whole Community, if possible, remain in adoration to recognize the gift that the Eternal Father has made to the world in Jesus Christ, His Son, in this God whose love constrains Him to stay among men even unto the consummation of the ages.

**As I have written elsewhere, adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament must not be confused with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament. Among the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament, exposition was limited to Thursdays and the following feasts: Christmas, Circumcision, Epiphany, Easter, Pentecost, Annunciation, Assumption, Saint Benedict on 21 March and on 11 July, and Saint Scholastica. On all the other days the perpetual adoration was carried out before the closed tabernacle.

Paradise on Earth

In the Eucharist, our adorable Saviour has a love that surpasses all other loves; His heart is open to all as a wellspring abounding in graces and in mercies. How hard one would have to be not to be touched by so excessive a kindness, not to be burned by this most ardent charity! How obliged we are to Jesus Christ for having readily willed to set, in this way, Paradise on earth! A God makes Himself captive for us! He is in our new arks like a prisoner in his jail cell! How happy we are to possess in this way our most lovable Saviour in the Most Holy Sacrament, since we have in this august mystery the One whom the angels and the saints love and adore in heaven, the One who is the object of their eternal beatitude. What marvels! Can one contemplate them without falling into an eternal ravishment? Oh! the prodigious invention of divine charity! What is it, my God, what is the creature that You fill it so with the abundance of your graces? Man is but a nothing, and you are not satisfied with having created him, redeemed him, shed even the last drop of your blood for him, dying for his salvation. You yourself still give yourself to him . . . O ineffable grace! O inestimable gift!

Thanksgiving

If we but had a little faith, what meditations, what sublime contemplations would the sight of a God giving Himself to man not inspire us! But no, we are blind and know not how to appreciate so great a happiness; we are insensible and Jesus the Host does not touch us; we are so miserable that the least trifle occupies us entirely, and we remain closed to heaven's most precious graces, to the infinite benefits of our God. Have we ever duly given thanks for the ineffable gift of the Eucharist? What thanksgivings have we made for it? Alas!, one must say in groaning that the greater number of men never even think of Jesus present among them.

Of All Marvels the Most Prodigious

A God -- greatness, power, richness itself -- reduces Himself to nothing for us in the Host, and we think no more of it than one would of something commonplace and ordinary. O stupidity! Oh, the ingratitude of men! One does not think of Jesus Christ in the Eucharist and, yet, is this not this of all mysteries the most divine, of all marvels the most prodigious, the most inconceivable? What has one said of this divine mystery up until the present that in any way approaches the reality of it? What are the most learned men's discourses next to what is in truth? No, no, there is not a tongue that would know how to express the grandeurs, the riches hidden in our tabernacles. It is an abyss impenetrable to the human spirit. You Yourself, O God, reveal to some privileged soul the secret of this mystery, and put your spirit within her, that she might speak of it worthily for, in truth, we know nothing of it.

If Thou but Knew the Gift of God

No, no, we do not know what the Eucharist is. We believe in this mystery, but it is with a faith that is languishing and unrefined; we are content to believe in the presence of Jesus Christ on the altar, without deepening anything, without penetrating ourselves through with the wonders that He works there. What is this, then, O my God, what is this great Sacrament, so incomprehensible, so admirable, so miraculous? What is Jesus the Host, and what does He do when He descends into His creature, when He loses Himself in her by Holy Communion? O my soul, if thou but knew the gift of God! Si scires donum Dei! If thou but understood something of this mystery of faith, mysterium fidei! If thou but knew the One who hides Himself, who buries Himself, who annihilates Himself in thee? I thou couldst but plumb the depths of His love! Wouldst thou be able to live a single instant without giving thyself to Him? A God who visits us, a God who gives Himself to us; He comes to raise us up from our woes and to deliver us from the tyranny of sin, and we do not die of love for Him? Ah, I pray You, lift the veil that conceals You from our eyes; let the torch of faith illumine us, that we might penetrate all that You are, all that You do for us on the altar and in our hearts.

A God Who Wants to Be Our Happiness

Let us try to recognize the excess of divine charity, and let this be the measure of our gratitude and of our love. What shall we give to God to pay Him for giving HImself to us? Let us not search outside of ourselves; it ourselves that He asks for, it is our love that He purchases with His own. He gives Himself to us only so that we might give ourselves to Him. He asks for ourselves, not that we should be His happiness, but that He should be ours; because the felicity of the creature is found only in the possession of God. Oh! Far too greedy is the soul for whom Jesus Christ is not enough! All of us, let us find our contentment in Him and leave to Him all the rest! He wants to be our unique possession, to the exclusion of ourselves and of all that is created. My God, what more can we desire after having received You in our hearts? In giving Yourself to us, do You not give all things with Yourself? No, no, the Holy Sacrament alone is enough for a true victim*; she finds all in Him; she has no need of anything else to sanctify herself, to perfect herself; for her, all is contained in the sacred Eucharistic Bread. Jesus Christ sacrificed in all her science, all her love, all her treasure. She finds in Him the lights and the knowledge she needs.

The Wisdom of the Father Remains in Silence

Let us draw near to Him and we shall be enlightened! Accedite ad eum et illuminamini. Jesus Christ, silent in the Host, carries out, as He did during HIs mortal life, the office of Master and of Doctor. A saint said that the cross was, as it were, a pulpit for this Man-God. One can say the same thing of our tabernacles: the different states that he there assumes are so many lessons that He is giving us: He wants us to live by His eucharistic life, His life sacrificed, His life annihilated, His life of absolute death to all created things. Let us deepen this divine mystery; we shall see that the Author of Life is there in a state of death, that the Wisdom of the Father remains in silence, that Infinite Beng encloses Himself in an imperceptible particle, that the Sovereign and All-Powerful obeys a weak mortal.

Let Your Sanctity Purify Us

Truly, it is in the Holy Eucharist that Jesus Christ is, according to the language of Scripture, the hidden God, the self-emptied God. . . . And what reduces him to this profound exinanition? Why, but little satisfied with having become a mortal man capable of suffering, does He make Himself, in this way, His creature's most ordinary food? Always the same answer: Jesus Christ has loved us. When will it be given us to render love for love? Let us love, O my sisters, let us love without delay this lovable Saviour who hides the brightness of His glory that we might have a way to draw near to Him, who empties Himself of His grandeurs to honour His Father in our place, who ceaselessly sacrifices Himself to deflect from our heads the rigors of divine justice. Let us employ all our care to adore Him well; let us put all our glory in rendering Him the homage that we owe Him. Really let us be victims, according to the commitment we have made. Are we not very happy that God has chosen us to belong to Him in so particular a manner, and to keep Him company in His sacred mystery? For whom does He put Himself more specially in the Host, if not for us? One can say that Jesus Christ Himself produced us at the altar for Himself; because the Work He accomplished in establishing this Institute immolate us and sacrifices us altogether to His self-emptied greatness in the adorable Eucharist. Let us deepen the holiness of this Work and, seized with astonishment at the sight of our unworthiness, we shall cry out in transport: "O God, is it possible that you willed to suffer such poor and wretched creatures in Your temple and in the place of Your perpetual adorations?" Let us cast overselves low, let us empty ourselves out, in considering God's bounties for us. O my Saviour! Let Your sanctity purify us! Let it render us worthy of adoring eternally Your divine Sacrament! Let us live henceforth only to glorify you, as so many hosts consecrated to Your august Majesty, and who, consequently, have no right at all over themselves!

Victimhood: Identification with Jesus Christ

By the vow of victimhood, in no way do we belong any more to ourselves; Jesus Christ claims all His rights over us. Our life, our movements, our thoughts, our operations both inward and outward, all belongs to Him; we are, in a word, daughters of the Holy Sacrament. How august and mysterious this name is! We are daughters of the Holy Sacrament, that is to say that we must be altogether entered and passed over into Jesus Christ, with crosses for our heritage with Him, with disgraces, humiliations, rejections, contradictions, sufferings, temptations, and whatsoever crucifies our nature. There is all our portion, there our heritage. We would be mistaken to expect anything else; we cannot be victims without the sword, without the cord, without torment, without sorrow, without death.

The Cross

Associated to Jesus Christ in HIs quality of pledge for sinners, let us ever have before our eyes the obligations that this title confers and let us not forget that we are victims of the divine justice. By our profession, we only began our sacrifice; it must be consummated and brought to its final perfection. For that crosses are needed, agonies, and annihilations. Let us, then, run towards all that crucifies our nature. This is the example given us by Jesus Christ. This is what He expects of us. This is what we engaged ourselves to do in entering the Institute. Without crosses we would not truly be daughters of the Holy Sacrament; without crosses, Jesus Christ would not be able to take His delights in us. He gave Himself and still gives Himself to us entirely. He wills that, in the same way, we should give ourselves entirely to Him to become victim-hosts of His justice.

Participation in the Passion of Christ

By the sacrifice of ourselves, we shall yet arrive at establishing the life of Jesus Christ in us. This is His desire: He wills that we should live for Him as He lives for His Father, and so be able, all of us, to say with the Apostle: I live, no longer I, but it is Jesus Christ who lives in me. In this way, God will be uniquely and sovereignly glorified in us, for time and for eternity. Live no longer, then, except for our Victim; let us convert ourselves totally in Him ; He expects this of our fidelity, and we owe it to our precious title of daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us work at renouncing ourselves, at mortification and, as Saint Paul says, let us accomplish in us what is lacking to the passion of Jesus Christ.

Strength from His Weakness

To strengthen our weakness, have recourse to Our Lord. Let us raise up our courage and our confidence: Jesus Christ suffers and dies for us; let us draw our strength from His weakness, and our life from His death. Pray Him to come into us, to show that He is our God and our absolute Sovereign. In spite of all the opposition and the repugnances of our nature, let Him bring us entirely into subjection to His empire, to His power, and to His laws. Let us make to Him as perfect a sacrifice of ourselves as He desires.

Emptying-Out of Self in His Presence

When we are before the Most Holy Sacrament, we must not be content merely to adore Him with lip-service; we need to lower ourselves into a profound emptying out of self, and recognize that we are nothing, that we are less than nothing and, in this disposition, offer to the spotless Lamb who immolates Himself for the salvation of the world not only a sacrifice of adoration and of thanksgiving, but again a sacrifice of submission, of abandonment, and of consecration. Let us adhere to His divine will, detach ourselves from creatures, and renounce all human consolation, so as to life in Jesus only and only for Jesus.

At the Feet of Our Divine Master

We must never lose sight of our holy tabernacles: it is there that we find our strength and our virtue. If human infirmity and affairs allowed, we should pass our whole life at the feet of our divine Master; at least let us go there as often as possible, and quit so many futile occupations that rob us of precious time claimed for what we owe the love of a God.

To Live with Jesus

Far from us be disgust, negligence, and frivolity. Alas! Is it possible that it should be burdensome for us to converse with our Sovereign Lord? Where is one better than close to one's Father, to one's Spouse, to one's all? To live with Jesus, is this not to begin to live on earth the life that we are called to live in heaven? Ah! Can we say that we have faith if we complain of the length of time that we spend before the Most Holy Sacrament?

Imitate the Saints

What, however, does one see in the world, and perhaps even among us? Poor creatures, fragile nothings, worms of the earth to whom it costs to spend a half hour with the King of heaven and of earth. People consecrate days and nights to vain conversations, to futile entertainments, and always find too long the moments given to a God who forgets Himself for love of us. O heavens, be astonished! My Saviour, pardon them, or they know not what they do. Happy, says the Prophet, are those who dwell in Your house, O Lord, and who praise you unceasingly. The saints understand this truth; also, how many there are who spent their days and nights with God, and who complained all the same of the rapid passage of time. So do the saints act and think, because they are quickened by a lively faith: let us have their faith, and we will think and act as they did.

Pure Faith

All Christians ought to be in perpetual adoration before the Son of God in the Sacrament of the Altar. It is to make up for their coldness and indifference that the Institute was established. Let us carry out fervently so glorious a function and make of the altar our delights. Let our spirit and our body be bound thereto like two victims under the mastery of a pure and simple faith. If we are without taste for it, without light, without sensible consolation, we can, by the obscurity of our senses, render homage to this God who is hidden and brought to nothing. Let us abide before Him with patience, humility, and abandonment. Always it is for us a great honour to be able to keep watch with Jesus Christ.

Reparation

If nearly all Christians are ungrateful towards this mystery of love, we, at least, will not be and we will recognize the gift of God. One can say that the Eternal Father gives us, in our Institute, all that is most august of what He has; that He makes us the depositors and guardians of His most precious treasures. He gives us His divine Son, in whom He has placed all His good pleasure. This infinite gift, He gave first of all to men, and they failed to recognize it. He sought souls who would know how to appreciate its value, and He chose us. May Jesus find abundantly in us the glory and the delight that others refuse Him elsewhere! May we, by our ardour, worthily repair for the coldness and impiety of so many others. Weep without ceasing over their ingratitude, and ask our heavenly Father to take pity on those who profane His divine Son. Even if the humiliations He endures in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Eucharist had occurred but one time, we should want to groan all our life long to make reparation for them. They are renewed every day; yes, every day, and in an infinity of places, Jesus Christ is the object of the most cutting outrages, of the most horrible sacrileges. What shall we do at the sight of so many crimes? My God, we ought to die of sorrow.. Ah, at least, I will consecrate to You the rest of my life to repair, as best I can, Your glory, and to obtain of You that these cruel indignities to which You are exposed, at last come to an end.

Humble and Contrite of Heart Before Him

We must be ready at all times to die for the interests of Jesus the Host, and as we would never have the courage to sustain His interests at the price of our own blood if we do not begin to sustain them by death to ourselves, let us hold ourselves like victims always ready and die ceaselessly to ourselves in all the occasions of sacrifice that present themselves. Let us begin by repairing in us the glory of our Saviour by establishing His reign within us, and let us abandon ourselves to the justice of God so that He may make of us true daughters of the Holy Sacrament. Let us keep ourselves from putting obstacles in the way of His designs, and that we might begin to enter into them, let us break our hearts with a sincere contrition at the sight of our past infidelities, and cast ourselves into a profound abasement before the infinite Majesty of God.

Fidelity to the Vocation

All our life, let us thank Him for having chosen us to consecrate us to His Son in so special a manner. Let us not forget the obligations that this favour imposes, and let us fear that our grace be taken away from us to pass into more faithful hands.

Before the altar, let us often examine if we are corresponding to our vocation. What a sad thing it would be if the Institute were to come to nothing by our fault and if Our Lord were deprived of the glory that He rightly expects of us.

Humility

Let us make haste to enter into the usages of the precious quality of victimhood by a great simplicity of spirit, by a perfect obedience of heart and, above all, by a profound humility. Without humility, all our reparations would be no more than illusions.

Vigilance

Since Our Lord has made the Institute for us, since He has entrusted it to us, and since its progress and perfection depend on us, let us keep watch and pray. Take care lest we profane it rather than sanctify it. An exact account will be required of all our failings, of the graces of which we will have drawn no profit, and also of those which were destined for us, and of which we made ourselves unworthy. The account will be faithful, the judgment rigorous: think of that.

All things work together unto good

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Navigating the Avenues of Ecclesiastical Jurisdiction

One does not found a monastery without obtaining ecclesiastical authorization. Monasteries come to birth, and develop, and thrive within the Body of Christ, that is the Catholic Church. At the time of Mectilde de Bar, the avenues of ecclesiastical jurisdiction were exceedingly complex. Given that Mectilde and her little community were living in the territory of the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés in Paris, she needed, first of all, to secure the permission of the abbot of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, the natural son of Henri IV, who was the Duke of Verneuil, the bishop of Metz.

The Request Refused

The Abbot-Duke was utterly opposed to the foundation of new monasteries. Paris, he argued, was already cluttered with too many cloisters vying for economic support. He had promised the Queen Regent, Anne of Austria, that he would forbid the foundation of new monasteries in his territory. Already, for lack of resources, six ancient communities under his authority had ceased to exist. In vain did the Countess of Châteauvieux beg the Queen to make an exception; the Queen remained inflexible.

A Vow in Time of Crisis

Divine Providence was at work, all the same. "We know that to them that love God, all things work together unto good, to such as, according to his purpose, are called to be saints." (Romans 8:28) France was in complete turmoil. Forces in rebellion against the crown were gaining ground. The court was obliged to flee to Compiègne. The Queen Regent learned, to her dismay, that the rebellion had spread from Paris and Bordeaux to Orléans and Angers. In desperation she turned to the Abbé Picoté, a priest of Saint-Sulpice, and beseeched him to make whatever vow he thought necessary to obtain from God the return of peace, order, and stability to France.

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The Queen's Vow: Adoration and Reparation

The good priest, knowing absolutely nothing of Mother Mectilde's proposed foundation, vowed that if tranquillity were restored to France, the Queen would found a house of religious vowed to adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament in reparation for the outrages committed against the Sacred Body of Christ. The Abbé Picoté, in all likelihood, had heard that the consecrated Host was, more than once, trampled under foot by soldiers, and even fed to their horses. Miraculously, no sooner was the vow made in the name of the Queen, than the whole situation changed. On 21 October 1652, Louis XIV entered Paris in triumph. The revolt was over; peace returned.

The Royal Yes

In the meantime, the Abbé Picoté learned of Mother Mectilde's project. Struck by the affinity between the vow he had made in the name of the Queen and the foundation that Mother Mectilde desired to undertake, he spoke of it to the Queen on 8 December 1652 while the latter was in retreat at the Benedictine abbey of Val-de-Grâce. The graces of the retreat must have been in operation because he found the Queen well disposed. In execution of her vow, the Queen ordered the Duke of Verneuil to authorize the foundation in his territory of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. The Duke-Abbot immediately entrusted the whole affair to his Vicar General, Dom Roussel, a Benedictine of the Congregation of Saint-Maur, and the prior of Saint Germain-des-Prés.

To be continued.

The Call to Adoration

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Gamelin's painting depicts a vestal virgin being punished for some infidelity. Curiously, it was a painting of this type that caused Catherine-Mectilde de Bar to ask why there was no monastery in the Church dedicated to tending the perpetual fires of adoration and love before the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

On the Move Again

It became evident that Mother Mectilde's little community would have to find a house better adapted to monastic observance than their somewhat makeshift lodgings in the hospice of Le Bon Ami in the rue du Bac. Several offers came her way, among them were a priory at Vire in Normandy; a convent in Paris that would amalgamate all the homeless and wandering religious of the capital; a succursal of Port Royal in the suburb of Saint-Marcel. Mother Mectilde refused all of these, in particular the sucursal of Port Royal. She would have nothing to do with the Jansenists. The gentlemen of Port Royal, miffed by her refusal, cut off all donations to Mother Mectilde's community.

The Idea of Perpetual Adoration

While all of this was going on, one Abbé Gontier, treasurer of the Sainte-Chapelle of Dijon and vicar general of Langres, proposed to Mother Mectilde that she should establish perpetual adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament in her monastery. This worthy priest had, of his own initiative, established in all the parishes of his diocese the recitation of an act of honourable amendment -- we would say, reparation -- every Thursday. This amende honorable read by a priest, kneeling before the monstrance, and holding a lighted taper in his hand. Mother Mectilde found the idea attractive. Elements of the practice were later incorporated into the ritual of the Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament. Mother Mectilde proposed the practice to a group of noble ladies, all friends of hers who, influenced by Monsieur de Bernières, saw in the project a means of keeping Mother Mectilde in Paris.

A Strange Painting and Its Effect

Then something very curious happened. One day when Mectilde was visiting her friend, Madame de Boves, she noticed a painting that depicted ancient pagans rendering homage to an idol set upon an altar. A pagan priest surrounded by priestesses knelt in adoration, holding lighted candles in their hands. A sacred fire was burning in the background, tended by vestal virgins. In the distance torturers were punishing the negligent virgins. However bizarre one may find all this, the Spirit of God used it to touch Mother Mectilde's heart. A short while before this incident, a priest had said to her, "Rejoice, because God intends to use you to accomplish something very great for the honour of the Most Holy Sacrament. Prepare yourself. God revealed this to me during Holy Mass."

Idolators Will Rise Up to Judge Us

As Mectilde contemplated the strange painting, the prophetic words of the priest came back to her. She began to think, "By means of this idolatrous work of art, God is inciting me to an assiduous presence before the tabernacle, that he might be adored at all hours of the day and night." Turning to the Marquise de Boves, she said, "Madame, the idolators will one day rise up to condemn us, for we Christians show such little respect for the Blessed Sacrament in our churches. Alas! Shall we not do for our God what the pagans did for their false gods? Why, in the house where God continually dwells, is He not continually adored? Why do not virgins here on earth sing unceasingly the canticle of the Angels before His altars? Why do the sentinels of Israel not keep watch, by day and by night, before the throne of the New Solomon of the New Law?"

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Gaston de Renty, A Holy Layman
Born 1611 at the castle of Béni, Diocese of Bayeux in Normandy; died 24 April, 1649. The only son of Charles, Baron de Renty, and Elisabeth de Pastoureau, Gaston studied at the Collège de Navarre in Paris, with the Jesuits at Caen, and finished at the age of seventeen at the College of the Nobles in Paris. He wrote several treatises on mathematics in which he excelled. The reading of the Imitation of Christ aroused the desire to become a Carthusian, but obeying the wish of his parents, he married. In 1638 he abandoned public life and devoted himself to the service of the needy and suffering. Struck by the ignorance, in religious matters, of the travellers who found a night's rest at the Hospital of St. Gervaise in Paris, he gave them catechetical instructions and induced others to do likewise. In the course of his charitable works he made the acquaintance of Henry Michael Buch (b. 1590 in the Duchy of Luxembourg; d. 9 June, 1666 at Paris; surnamed der gute Heinrich) and induced him to found a congregation of shoemakers and tailors, Frères Cordonniers. They worked honestly at their trade, divided their earnings with the poor and performed special acts of devotion prescribed by the pastor of St. Paul's. The statutes were approved by the Archbishop of Paris, John Francis de Gondi. After his death, Renty's body was brought to Citri in the Diocese of Soissons. When the coffin was opened nine years later his body was found intact The bishop ordered it placed in a marble tomb behind the high altar. Throughout his career at court, in the army, and in politics he merited the esteem of all, and took an active part in public good works. (Catholic Encyclopedia)

Prophecies and Visions

Mother Mectilde, in pronouncing these words, was not unaware of the predictions made by a number of mystics known to her. Barbe, a poor maidservant of Compiègne, directed by none other than the great Father de Condren, had prophesied: "There will come a time in which there will be religious totally dedicated to the adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament." Monsieur Gaston de Renty, one of the outstanding spiritual figures of Normany had said, "Very soon there will be an institute of religious wholly dedicated to the worship of the Most Holy Sacrament. They will be chosen souls." And, in Paris itself. Marie de Gournay, a wine merchant's wife, had a vision in which she saw the future monastery, and heard the words, "Behold the work of my servant Catherine."

God Provides Funding

Mother Mectilde's reflection on the painting so struck Madame de Boves, a woman already animated by a fervent Eucharistic piety, that she resolved to do all in her power to promote the foundation of a monastery of perpetual adoration. Together with the Countess of Châteauvieux, and Madames Cessac and Mangot, she raised a total of 31,000 pounds for the establishment of a monastery of reformed Benedictines in which, "ceaselessly, by day and by night, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar would be adored to make reparation, insofar as possible, for the lack of respect, indifference, profanations, sacrileges, and offenses committed against this most adorable Sacrament."

A Charism, A Mission

These Benedictine adorers would, further, beg God to take pity on France, to grant peace in its borders, and to protect the King. Their mission would be to make up for the failure of so many souls to show reverence for the Most Holy Sacrament, either by ignorance or malice. They would adore Jesus Christ truly present in the Sacrament of His Love for the sake of those who do not adore, or refuse to adore, or never thinking of pausing in adoration before Him.

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It is significant that for Mother Mectilde and indeed for the Church of her time, Eucharistic adoration was not synonymous with exposition of the Most Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance. Exposition was reserved for special occasions, marked by a festive solemnity and by a loving display of artistry and beauty in homage to the Eucharistic King. The practice of exposition on Thursdays transformed every Thursday into a weekly feast of Corpus Christi. On ordinary days, the perpetual adoration was carried out before the closed tabernacle, mindful of the words of the prophet Isaias, Vere tu es Deus absconditus, Deus Salvator; "Truly Thou art a hidden God, O God our Saviour." (Isaias 45:15)

The new monastery would bind itself to the celebration of the Mass and Office of the Most Blessed Sacrament (that of the feast of Corpus Christi) every Thursday, and to exposition of the Blessed Sacrament in the monstrance until the end of Vespers on Thursday as well. A touching detail: in addition to the oil lamp burning before the Most Holy Sacrament, they promised to keep a lamp burning before the image of the Blessed Virgin Mary every Saturday.

Thus did the form and spirit of the new monastery begin to emerge from the hearts of Mother Mectilde and her friends: to adore and make reparation for the indifference of so many Christians to the Sacrament of Our Lord's Love. Mother Mectilde promised to execute the project within two years' time.

To be continued.

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An anonymous painting of the Battle of the Fronde at the Faubourg-Saint-Antoine by the Walls of the Bastille.

Civil Unrest and Poverty

Paris, in 1651, was in turmoil. The famous battle of the Faubourg Saint-Antoine (July 2, 1652) led to the victory of the royalists over the princes and nobles, but then took a strange turn when the indomitable Grande Mademoiselle, had the gates of Paris opened to Condé's army, and fired from the Bastille on those fighting on the side of Louis XIV. The poor Benedictines living in the "hospice" called Le Bon Ami (the former house of prostitution) in the faubourg Saint-Germain had started selling off their furniture and household effects in order to survive. They had not so much as a bale of hay on which to sleep, and practically nothing to eat. The future was very dim indeed.

Temptation to Flee

Mother Mectilde was, at this time, thinking of withdrawing completely from what seemed to her an impossible situation. (Having lived through a number of impossible situations myself, I understand well her temptation to take flight.) She seriously considered exiling herself in the south of France to live as a hermit in the mountainous wilds of Sainte-Baume, the region that, according to tradition, was the place of Saint Mary Magdalene's long solitary penitence.

A Word in the Night

On Easter night 1651, an interior voice spoke to Mother Mectilde, saying, "Renounce, adore, and submit to my designs". In the grace of this word, she gave up her project of living as a hermit and, in pure faith, embraced the mysterious plan of God.

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Mother Mectilde and Abba Arsenius

I cannot help but compare this word spoken to Mother Mectilde with a similar word given to Abba Arsenius: Fuge, tace, quiesce, "Flee, be silent, be at rest." Mectilde is told to flee from her own projects, desires, and fears. She is told to adore God, perfect and loving in all His designs. Finally, she is told to submit, that is, to bow low beneath the Hand of God, cleaving to His Will with an unconditional and irrevocable "Yes".

The three words that Mother Mectilde heard spoken in her soul contain all that is necessary for one to be happy in this life and in the next. Would that I had the wisdom to repeat them to myself every time I experience temptation, fear, disappointment, or darkness: "Renounce, adore, and submit." These three words, in effect, go to the heart of what has been called the Mectildian-Benedictine charism. More on that later.

Give Us This Day Our Daily Bread

The day came when there was no bread in the house. With her community around her, Mother Mectilde knelt down to say the Our Father. An instant later, who should arrive at the house but Monsieur de Margeuil, physician to Mother Mectilde's compatriot, the Duchess of Orléans, Margeurite de Lorraine. De Margueil, appalled by the destitute conditions he discovered, appealed to the Duchess of Lorraine for help. Without delay, a group of charitable noble ladies arrived in a flurry, bringing relief: the Marquise de Boves, the Marquise de Cessac, Madame Mangot, the Présidente de Hercé, and Marie de la Guesle, the Countess of Châteauvieux, who would become Mother Mectilde's closest spiritual friend.

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A Friendship

The indefectible friendship that grew up between the enclosed Benedictine and the grand lady of the world bore fruit in a remarkable correspondence. The Countess treasured Mectilde's letters to her, and gathered them into a volume that she called her "breviary". Happily, the so-called "breviary" of letters was copied, and has survived to the present. It represents, on the part of Mother Mectilde, a remarkably astute and demanding ministry of spiritual direction. The relationship between Mother Mectilde and Marie de la Guesle resembles, in many ways, that between Saint Teresa of Avila and her friend, the Duchess of Alba.

Providence

Father Bonnefonds, the Jesuit who had originally found the house at Saint-Maur-des-Fossés, took it upon himself to preach an eloquent appeal to benefit the Benedictines. As a result, he was able to present Mother Mectilde with a tidy sum. Then, the Bishop of Babylon, who lived quite nearby, spoke of the fledgling monastery to the parishioners of Saint-Sulpice, who responded generously to his request for help. With all of this, the financial situation of the monastery turned around, and its material future was assured.

To be continued.

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The photo shows the interior of the Abbey Church of Saint-Germain-des-Prés, Paris. It was on the territory of the abbey that Mother Mectilde de Bar found a home for her community in a former house of prostitution in 1651.

Called to Caen

Just when Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde thought she was about to enjoy a respite of stability at Saint-Maur in Paris with her little group of Benedictine refugees from Lorraine, she was asked to take on yet another formidable task. The Benedictine community of Notre-Dame-du-Bon-Secours in Caen was in crisis. The six choir nuns and two lay sisters who composed the community were, to put it plainly, an ignorant lot. The prioress forbade all reading, and judged that one's crucifix could take the place of books. The community was severely dysfunctional.

A Three Year Interval

The secular patron of this sorry monastery, Madame the Marquise of Mouÿ, insisted that Mother Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde accept a three-year term as prioress to restore balance, and peace, and order to the community in Caen; in exchange, she promised financial support for the restoration of the monastery in Rambervillers, to which Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde still belonged by virtue of her Benedictine profession. Mother Bernardine, the prioress of Rambervillers, agreed to the arrangement, provided that Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde give in writing a promise not to forsake the monastery of her profession. When Mother Mectilde (as she was often called, leaving off the first part of her name) arrived at Caen, she found a community that was divided and hostile. With firmness, and with an extraordinary gentleness, she succeeded in winning over even the most recalcitrant old ladies among them. After three years, they did not want to let her go.

Return to Rambervillers and Flight to Paris

On 28 August 1650, Mectilde returned to Rambervillers, the monastery of her profession, hoping to disappear, at last, into the silence and hiddenness of an ordinary Benedictine life. Thanks to the generous financial support of the Marquise de Mouÿ, the house at Rambervillers was flourishing but, before long, the region around it again became a battlefield. The situation was worse than when the Swedes invaded. On 1 March 1651, Mother Mectilde, together with four young Sisters, left for Saint-Maur-des-Fossés in Paris, while six senior nuns remained at Ramerbervillers with Mother Bernardine.

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Adoration in a Former House of Prostitution

Mectilde arrived in Paris to find it in the midst of the revolt of the Fronde, and the complexities of the Franco-Spanish War. Louis XIV was on the throne, and the detested Cardinal Mazarin (see image) was his chief minister. Given the civil unrest in the capital, there was no way she and her charges could make their way to Saint-Maur-des-Fossés. They stopped to hear Holy Mass at Saint-Nicholas-des-Champs. There, Madame Butin, a pious parishioner recognized them as religious and offered them hospitality in her own home. A few days later, Mother Mectilde learned that the community of Saint-Maur-des-Fossés had taken refuge in a "hospice" in the rue du Bac of the faubourg Saint-Germain, and joined them there. This "hospice" was nothing other than . . . a former house of prostitution. It was in this house that the Institute of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament would be born. How like God!

To be continued.

In a Life That Is All Hidden

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Saint Teresa: La Madre

Saint Teresa of Jesus, mystic, teacher of prayer, reformer, and Doctor of the Church, has, without any doubt, set the benchmark for measuring the influence of holy women in the life of the Church. People do not, for example, find it at all odd that La Madre, as she is widely known, should be the primary reference for men who embrace life in any of the reformed expressions of Carmel that claim her as their inspiration and teacher. I have often heard Carmelite friars speak enthusiastically of Saint Teresa as their "holy mother." So well known was Saint Teresa in the 17th century that Bossuet, "the eagle of Meaux", found no better way of describing Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, the intrepid mystic of Tours and of Québec, than to call her "the Teresa of the New World".

Dyed-in-the-Wool Benedictine

Is Saint Teresa the only woman at whose feet men are permitted to sit as disciples at the feet of a master? Is she so unique in the annals of holiness that, as far as men are concerned, a vast chasm separates her from all other mystics and doctors of her sex? My own veneration for Saint Teresa is immense. I would consider it a wondrous blessing to sit at her feet and be numbered among her spiritual progeny . . . but God had another idea for me. He called me to the Benedictine way of life. Ever since Blessed Abbot Marmion introduced me to the Benedictine ideal of holiness, in the middle of the madness of the 60s, I have experienced, over and over again, that it suits me better than any other school of Christian life.

The Benedictine Way

There is no doubt that grace builds on nature. A natural predisposition to the full liturgical life made me take to Benedictine life with a certain ease and, sometimes, with positive delight. The same natural predisposition has caused me terrible sufferings over the years, especially in the endemic liturgical chaos that I experienced as a violence done to my soul. For all of that, I never ceased experiencing the enchantment produced by an antiphon, by a psalm, a responsory, or a collect. The givenness of the liturgy is a masterpiece of divine craftsmanship. The Holy Ghost infuses every detail with a freshness and grace that is hidden from the learned and the clever, but disclosed to little souls, to the man who trudges into choir day after day, knowing, in faith, that there Christ waits for him, and that there, the prayer of Christ will fill his soul.

Enter Henri Brémond

Only when I was nineteen years old did I meet the great lady who would, in these later years of my life, become my own Teresa of Avila. Like Saint Teresa, Mectilde de Bar is a mystic, a teacher of prayer, and a reformer. She is not a Doctor of the Church, but she certainly has the makings of one. It was Henri Brémond (31 July 1865 - 17 August 1933) -- say what you will about him, I know that he had a dodgy side -- who, in his monumental 11 volume Histoire litteraire du sentiment religieux en France depuis la fin des guerres de religion jusqu'a nos jours introduced me to Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement. I was blessed to have a Benedictine spiritual mentor, Dom R.C., who supplied me with one volume after another of Brémond's master work. Being nineteen, and having a youthful appetite for reading, I made my way through all 11 volumes, poring over them well past my bedtime. Something about Mectilde de Bar struck a chord deep inside my own soul. Little did I suspect then that the chord would continue resounding even into the sixth decade of my life.

Who is Mectilde de Bar?

So who is Catherine (Mectilde) de Bar (1614-1698), and why would I want to sit at her feet? Why do I call her the Benedictine Teresa of Avila? Her God-seeking journey, though consistent, was torturous, and marked by danger, exile, illness, poverty, and uncertainties on all sides. At the tender age of nineteen she entered the monastery chosen for her by her father; a house of the Annonciades, religious of The Ten Pleasures (or Virtues) of the Blessed Virgin Mary, situated at Bruyères, in the diocese of Toul.

Taught by Our Lady

As a novice, Catherine, who, as an Annonciade had received the name, soeur Saint-Jean-l'Évangéliste, suffered a devastating season of dryness in prayer and interior desolation. She turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, saying, "I don't know how to pray, nor do I know where to turn to learn how. If thou thyself wilt not deign to become my teacher, just as, up until now, thou hast been my mother, I am lost." Our Blessed Lady heard her request, so much so that years later, Mectilde was able to write: "I can assure you that all that I know I learned from the Most Holy Virgin; she has always been my teacher, and, in all the situations in which I have found myself during my life, she has never failed to instruct me in my duties."

Refugees

The Thirty Years War (1618-1648) was raging at the time, pitting France against the House of Austria. When Swedish soldiers, many of them fanatical Lutherans fighting for the French, invaded Lorraine, they had no scruples about sacking churches and desecrating the Most Blessed Sacrament. After the Swedes, notoriously undisciplined French mercenary soldiers tore through Lorraine, completing the utter devastation of the country. One of these was a former suitor of Catherine de Bar. Donning masculine attire, Catherine and a companion, also disguised as a man, fled. A farmer hid them under bales of hay loaded on his cart. When Catherine's pursuer, alerted to her escape, pierced the bales with his sword, not one thrust touched Catherine and her companion. They had prayed continuously to the Blessed Virgin to protect them.

Benedictine Hospitality

By this time, the whole community of Annonciades was obliged to abandon the monastery of Bruyères. They elected 20 year old Mother Saint-Jean-l'Evangéliste superior of the group and, in search of safety and quiet, moved from one place to another until, in the end, they accepted the invitation of the Benedictines of Rambervillers to take refuge with them. These Benedictines had embraced the observance of Dom Didier de la Cour (1550-1623), founder of the reformed Congregation of Saints Vanne and Hydulphe. The Annonciades lived alongside the Benedictines for a year (1638-1639) during which Catherine de Bar discovered the Rule of Saint Benedict.

Profession as a Benedictine

After placing her five Annonciades in houses of their Order, Mother Saint-Jean was clothed in the Benedictine habit on 2 July 1639, receiving the name Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde. On the feast of the Translation of Saint Benedict, 11 July 1640, 25 year old Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde made her monastic profession. The Franciscan Friars Minor, charged with the oversight of the Annonciades, bitterly contested the validity of this Benedictine profession. Not until 1660 did a rescript of Pope Alexander VII settle the question by recognizing Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde as a proper Benedictine, owing no allegiance to the Friars Minor.

Montmartre

The Duchy of Lorraine, already ravaged by war, now fell to famine and plague. Saint Vincent de Paul, moved by so much suffering, sent a group of ten Lazarists to Lorraine to help the poorest of the poor. Learning of the plight of the itinerant Benedictines, Saint Vincent had them brought safely to Paris, where, on the evening of 29 August 1641, Mademoiselle Legras (Saint Louise de Marillac (August 12, 1591--March 15, 1660) received the exhausted travelers into her own home. The next day, Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde and her companion climbed to the summit of Montmartre where Lady Abbess de Beauvilliers was waiting to welcome them into the great Benedictine abbey that, at the time, covered la butte, close to the site of the present Basilica of the Sacred Heart.

Normandy and Holy Gentlemen Friends

An opportunity to reconstitute her community in Normandy became the occasion for Catherine to meet some of the greatest spiritual figures of 17th century France's mystical invasion: Saint John Eudes, Monsieur de Renty, and Monsieur de Bernières were among them. Normandy was, however, but another halt in the journey. In June 1643, Mother Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde, together with her companion, Bernardine de la Conception, returned to Paris, hoping to find there, a place that the whole community from Lorraine might finally call home.

Chrysostom of Saint Lô Makes HIs Prophecy

In Paris, Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde met the famous Father Chrysostom of Saint-Lô, provincial of the Franciscans of the Third Order Regular in France. Catherine wrote an account of her soul for Father Chrysostom. He was to be her spiritual guide until his death three years later in 1646. Father Chrysostom taught a contemplative prayer that was the pure abandonment of the soul to the action of the Divine Bridegroom. There was, however, nothing of the quietist about him; he enjoined Catherine to practise silence, withdrawal from the world, hiddenness, annihilation of self, abjection, obedience, and love of the cross. He imposed frightening practices of penance on Catherine: no more than three hours of sleep, the discipline, hair shirt, and a girdle of iron set about with points. Concerning Catherine de Sainte-Mectilde, Father Chrysostom made this astonishing prophecy: "God, by a most special providence, obliges you to honour the Blessed Sacrament with a particular devotion. It is in this sacrament that Our Lord Jesus Christ lives and shall live until the consummation of the ages in a life that is all hidden." Father Chrysostom authorized Catherine to receive Holy Communion daily, something extremely rare at the time.

To be continued.


Maria, Abbatissa Nostra

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Apart from the photos of the statue at Tre Fontane in Rome (Trappist Monks), of the icon of the Mother of God, Abbess of Mount Athos, and of our own icon of Our Mother of Perpetual Succour, the statues of Our Lady shown here are found in monasteries of the Benedettine dell'Adorazione Perpetua del Santissimo Sacramento in Italy.

Our Lady, Our Abbess, Our Queen

Writing in an essay in the book Priez sans cesse - 300 ans de prière, (Desclée de Brouwer, Editeur, Paris, 1953, p. 177), Dom Jean Leclercq, O.S.B. demonstrates that a Benedictine devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary, under the title of Abbess, was not uncommon in the Middle Ages. Originating in monasteries of the Cluniac obedience, devotion to the Blessed Virgin as Abbess was also not unknown among the 17th century Benedictine monks of the Congregation of Saint-Maur.

At Tre Fontane

Not surprisingly, the same devotion made its way into the hearts and cloisters of of the Cistercians. When, in 1975, I visited the Trappist monks at the Abbey of Tre Fontane in Rome, I was struck by a statue of the Mother of God enthroned in the reading cloister.

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The Blessed Virgin is depicted seated, dressed in the white cuculla of the Cistercians and wearing the abbatial insignia of the ring and pectoral cross. In her right hand she holds the keys of the monastery, and in her left the crosier or pastoral staff used by abbots and abbesses. The inscription below the statue reads: In me omnis spes, "In me is all hope." How many generations of monks and laybrothers in need of hope paused before this statue to entrust themselves to the Mother of Jesus, their heavenly Abbess and Queen?

Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration

Mother Mectilde de Bar, familiar to the readers of Vultus Christi, as the foundress of the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration, and the "Teresa of Avila" of the Benedictine Order, renounced the abbatial title for herself and all her successors in perpetuity, and attributed that title and its duties to the Mother of God alone.

The 28 May 1654, M. Mectilde de Bar wrote to M. Dorothée Heurelle:

In myself I find nothing whatsoever that is capable of giving me joy, except for one thing that has given me great satisfaction. It is that I have had a statue of Our made. She is much taller than I, holding her Child on her right arm, and holding a crosier in her left hand, to signify she is the generalissima of the Order of Saint Benedict, and the most worthy Abbess, Mother, and Superior of this little house of the Holy Sacrament. It was brought to us on Saturday, the vigil of Pentecost. I must admit that her arrival sent a thrill of joy and consolation through me, and seeing my holy Mistress take possession of her domain and of this very little convent. She is not yet altogether finished, because she must still be gilded and made perfectly beautiful, and after she is perfectly complete, we shall have her blessed, and then placed on a throne prepared to this effect in the middle of our choir between the stall of our Mother Subprioress and mine. She is admired, and certainly she is beautiful, and consoles me extremely.

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The Image of Our Lady Abbess

On 22 August 1654, Mother Mectilde proclaimed the Blessed Virgin Mary the only abbess and perpetual superior of the Institute. Delegated by the prior of Saint-Germain, the Abbé Picoté blessed the statue of Our Lady. The next day, Mother Mectilde placed Our Lady's image in all the regular places -- choir, chapter, refectory, dormitory -- so that she might, in some way, preside at all the community exercises. She want Our Lady's feasts to be celebrated brilliantly, and prescribed special prayers to the glory of her Most Pure Heart and Immaculate Conception.

Thus, was Our Lady forever chosen, named, and recognized as the most worthy and most eminent mother, abbess, and superior in chief of the first fledgling monastery of the Most Holy Sacrament. The Benedictines of the Most Holy Sacrament renew the abbatial election of the Mother of God, and entrust themselves to her every year on August 15th or 22nd.

Abbess and Queen of the Holy Mountain

Is this devotion more of a feminine thing? Hardly. The monks of Mount Athos, where no woman ever sets foot, practice the same devotion as their Western brethren, but to an even higher degree. The all-holy Mother of God is acknowledged, venerated, and praised as the Abbess of the Holy Mountain. She is the only woman allowed on Mount Athos because it is her garden, and her domain.

Prophecy of the Mother of God

Saint Gregory Palamas, in his Life of Saint Peter the Athonite (+681) relates that, while living virtually alone on the Holy Mountain as a hermit, he had a vision of the Mother of God telling Saint Nicholas of her love for the place:

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"The time will come," said the Mother of God," when, from every direction, it will be filled with a multitude of monks.... If those monks shall labor for God with all their hearts and faithfully keep His commandments, I will vouchsafe them great gifts on the great day of my Son. And, while even here on earth, they will receive great aid from me. I shall lighten their afflictions and labors. I will be for the monks an invincible ally, invisibly guiding and guarding them, a healer, a source nourishing them, and make it possible for them, with but scant means, to have sufficiency for life."

Abbess of the Holy Mountain

For over a thousand years, the monks of Mount Athos have experienced the truth of these words. Not merely in name only, but in reality and in the life of each monk, the all-holy Mother of God is honoured as Abbess and Sovereign Lady of the Holy Mountain. The monks of Mount Athos invoke the Holy Mother of God by a whole litany of titles. Our Lady is the archetype of monasticism. She is the paradigm of Christian holiness; the Abbess of the Holy Mountain; and the monk's sure guide to the Kingdom of Heaven. The Mother of God is everywhere present on Mount Athos by means of the holy icons through which she reveals herself as a most solicitous Abbess and communicates with her monks.

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And at Silverstream Priory

Lest we, the least of Our Lady's sons, be found lacking in the same kind of filial devotion to her, our own little monastery, like so many others in past times and places, elected the Blessed Virgin Mary Abbess of Silverstream on August 15th.

Kneeling before the Blessed Sacrament, after Vespers on the feast of the Assumption, I pronounced the solemn act of election by which our monastery entered into a new and deeper relationship with Our Blessed Lady. Here, for your meditation, is the text of the prayer. It is modeled after the act that Mother Mectilde de Bar pronounced in Paris on 22 August 1654.

Act of Election and Consecration to Our Lady, Abbess

I, an unworthy son of Saint Benedict,
holding the first place in this monastery
established for the adoration and glory
of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar,
humbly prostrate before the Throne of the Divine Majesty,
in the radiance of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and in the warmth of the fire that burns in His Most Sacred Heart,
do confess and declare,
in the name of the community such as it is at this time,
and such as it shall be in time to come,
that the Most Holy Virgin Mary, Mother of God,
is forever elected, named, and recognized
as the ever-worthy, glorious,
and sovereign Lady and Abbess of this monastery,
that is, of all the monasteries dedicated to her,
the most fragile and the most in need of the care and attention
of her maternal Heart.

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With profound humility and confidence,
I beg her, in her most tender pity
to take this struggling and vulnerable infant monastery
under her singular care and special protection,
and to obtain for me
and for the souls in my care
the incomparable grace of the Divine Friendship
of the blessed fruit of her womb, Jesus,
in fidelity to the Rule of Saint Benedict
and the charism of adoration, reparation, and charity for priests,
which has been bestowed upon us
by the Father of lights from whom descends every good gift,
and has been recognized by the Holy Catholic Church
in the persons of our Lords, the Most Reverend Bishops of Tulsa and of Meath,
and in whose heart we desire to live and to die.

I further offer to the maternal Heart
of the same sovereign Lady and Abbess
all who have assisted this little monastery
by their presence, their labour, their prayers,
and their material support,
asking her to extend the veil of her holy protection
and perpetual help over them and over their families,
their loved ones, their homes, and their places of work and business.

Receive us, then, all-holy and merciful Mother of Jesus Christ,
as thy servants and as sons of thine own household.
Make thou full use of thy rights and of thy power over us,
and over the temporal and spiritual affairs of this house,
lest thine own honour be mocked,
and thy house looked upon with scorn,
and thy sons derided.

We accept and avow that Thou art our sovereign Lady,
our Abbess, and our Queen,
and by this act pronounced today in view of thy Divine Son,
of the choirs of angels,
of Saint Joseph, Saint John, our father Saint Benedict,
and of all the saints,
we bind ourselves to depend upon thee,
and look to thee for all things.

We renew into thy hands the sacred vows of our baptism,
and those of monastic profession,
asking thee to fashion us into true adorers of the Eucharistic Face of Jesus,
and consolers of His Eucharistic Heart.

O Holy Mother of God,
we beseech thee with all the humility possible
to take upon thyself the office to which we elect thee today,
and to rule over, protect, and provide for this house
and those who dwell herein now
and in the days to come.

This is the irrevocable, binding, and unanimous desire of thy sons,
in testimony of which, we sign this present act
on the 15th day of August 2012
enjoinIng that it be kept in this monastery in perpetuity
and renewed every year
on the festival of thy glorious Assumption into heaven,
or during the octave thereof. Amen.

Letter to a Novice Oblate X

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Painting by John Everett Millais


On the Call to Perpetual Adoration

My dear sons and daughters,

I think that you will find the following page from In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest, helpful. I know how much each one of you long to spend time with Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and I know that this desire of yours often appears to conflict with your duties at home, in the family, and at work. In the words below, Our Lord assures us that in order to adore Him perpetually it is not necessary to be, at every minute, kneeling before the altar. The essence of perpetual adoration is perpetual adhesion to the Will of God in the real circumstances of your life, and this, as an expression of love.

Cling to the Will of God

Even here in the monastery it is not possible to dedicate to actual adoration of the Most Blessed Sacrament all the time that I would want to give to it. We are, in reality, living in a construction site. There are a hundred different things soliciting my attention and clamouring for my presence. I take comfort in knowing that my desire to adore Our Lord is as good as the act of abiding before His Real Presence, provided that I am clinging to His Will, and in all things, trying to respond to His Love with love.

To Adore Is to Adhere

Mother Mectilde de Bar used to say that to adore always is to adhere always to the Will of the Father. This, my dear Novice Oblates, can be done anywhere: in the kitchen, on the ranch, in the laundry, or in the classroom. There is no place that cannot become a sanctuary of perpetual adoration, provided that we remain united by faith, hope, and love to the Most Holy Trinity present in the secret of our souls.

With my loving blessing,
Father Prior

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You are always in My presence,
and when your heart is directed towards My Heart,
there is no distance between us.
My Sacramental Presence, though unique, substantial, and real,
is not the only form of My presence.
It is not possible for you to remain at every moment of the day
close to me in the Sacrament of My Love and before my altar,
but it is possible for you to adore Me at every moment
in the inner sanctuary of your soul
where I am also present
together with My Father and with the Holy Spirit.

Adhere to My will at every moment,
and you will be adoring Me at every moment.
I understand the complexities and circumstances of your life.
Be with Me by desiring to be with Me.
The desire never to leave My Sacramental Presence is,
in effect, as precious in my sight
as if you were physically before Me,
adoring Me, loving Me, listening to Me, speaking to Me.

Learn . . . how to adore Me perpetually
without forsaking the things that require your attention.
I am present intimately and in the secret sanctuary of the soul
to all who desire to be with Me,
to all who seek My Face
and all who desire to rest upon My Heart.

Give me your inability to carry out all that you propose to do,
and I will receive your incapacity
and change it, by My love,
into an offering more pleasing than the successful accomplishment
of what you propose to do.

Trust Me with your weaknesses.
Give Me your inability to do even what I have inspired you to do.
Your poverty, your infirmity, even your inconstancy
is no obstacle to My work in your soul,
provided that you abandon all to Me
with complete confidence in My merciful love.

Do what you can do reasonably,
and what you cannot do, give Me as well.
I am pleased with the offering of the one
as much as I am pleased by the offering of the other.

Let these words comfort you.
Know that I am not a taskmaster, but a friend,
and the most loving and welcoming of friends.
What friend would greet the one he loves with a reproach
rather than with a tender welcome.

Yes, I have called you to a life of adoration and of reparation,
but I call you also to humility,
to the little way of spiritual childhood,
and to a boundless trust in My mercy.
Adore Me, then, in the Sacrament of My Love as much as you can,
and when you are unable to do this,
adore Me in the meeting place with Me
that is your infirmity, your weakness, and the needs of the present moment.

To love Me is to adore Me,
and to adore Me is to love Me.
Love Me at every moment and you will adore Me at every moment.
Adore Me ceaselessly in the sanctuary of your soul
and know that your adoration there glorifies Me in the Sacrament of My Love
and in the glory of heaven,
where, one day, I will unite Myself to you forever.

From In Sinu Iesu, The Journal of a Priest

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It has been a while since last I posted a text of our Benedictine Teresa of Avila, Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698). While Mectilde de Bar has much in common with the great Spanish Madre -- a plucky zeal for monastic reform, courage in making new foundations, and the sublimest mystical graces -- she also has much in common with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, the 24 year old Doctor of the Church. Consider, for example, this text from a conference given in 1662 by Mother Mectilde for the 2nd Sunday after Pascha.

Oh . . . what happiness to know Jesus Christ! This knowledge is acquired not by the elevation of our thoughts; some souls use these as wings to fly aloft to God, thinking that by doing this they will lay hold of Him.
No, no! We must, if we would grow strong, remain like little birds, tender and weak, in the nest of our nothingness. Believe in the the gift of divine love that will warm up the heart and make our wings robust to take our flight towards God. One must do like the phoenix, who finds life in his death.

Mother Mectilde's doctrine announces that of Saint Thérèse. We ascend to God not by dint of ascetical exploits or abstruse theological meditations, but by the humility that attracts the condescending and merciful love of God.

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Mother Mectilde de Bar preached this exhortation to her community assembled in Chapter one Ash Wednesday. A true Benedictine, she puts her finger on pride, identifying it as "the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes." Pride is the satanic sin par excellence because the prideful man claims for himself the sovereign lordship that belongs to God alone. The only remedy for pride is to have one's heart broken and humbled. Fortunately for us, God so arranges our lives that we are given opportunities to suffer broken hearts and to be humbled, and this over and over again, until at last we concede that God is God and we are not.

From Pride to Contrition
Pride is the source of all our faults and even of all our misfortunes. So as to destroy it, today the Holy Church reminds us that we are but dust and ashes. Without doubt we will receive from this holy ceremony wonderful effects for our souls, if we bring to it the necessary dispositions and believe that it is God who is saying to us that are but dust and ashes, an abominable nullity of sin; that by pride we have raised ourselves up and put ourselves on the very throne of God; that we have made His graces useless and ourselves, with our sins, abominable in His presence. All of this must make us enter into a disposition of true penitence, which really consists in having a contrite and humbled heart.

Again, being a true Benedictine, Mother Mectilde does not go in for major corporal penances and exploits of asceticism. In most souls such things do little more than foment spiritual pride and rash judgment of others. Far better to ask God to break and humble one's heart.

Useless Penitential Exploits
Even if they may contribute something, fasting, disciplines, and instruments of penance do not really make us penitent. It very often happens that in practicing these things without the requisite dispositions they are worth nothing to us. It is necessary then to present a heart that is truly contrite and humbled to God.

Here Mother Mectilde has one of her astonishing insights into the Eucharistic Christ. In this world, the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar is His desert. He is the Divine Solitary of the tabernacle. Of course, Our Lord does not suffer a material solitude because under the form of the Sacred Species He is locked in the tabernacle. He suffers rather the solitude of the Lamb charged with the weight of the sins of the world, the solitude of the Expiatory Victim who enters more deeply into the abyss of evil than any other man in history, and who, out of the horror of that abyss, shows the Father His Face: the Face of Obedient Love, the Face of the New Adam. Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictines join Christ there, in the frightful solitude of His priestly mediation. She calls them to a double identification: first, identification with sinners, and second, identification with the sinless Lamb.

Christ in the Desert of the Most Holy Sacrament
We must flee from creatures, withdraw into solitude, and keep a profound silence, and, through these things, enter into the dispositions of Our Lord Jesus Christ. It is not necessary that we should go looking for Him in the deserts of Palestine, where once He withdrew and fasted for forty days. He is solitary in the desert of the Most Holy Sacrament: there He has taken upon Himself the sins of all men, becoming (for our sakes) the penitent of the Eternal Father.

All sin is serious. The sins of consecrated souls, even if, objectively, the matter may be of a lesser gravity, lacerate the Heart of Jesus, which remains, even in glory, divinely, exquisitely sensitive to the coldness, indifference, and cheap betrayals of those whom He has chosen to live in intimacy with Him.

Call to Reparation
Whatever do you think He suffers in this divine Sacrament? My friends, if God granted me the capacity to explain His sufferings, I would show you that He suffers not only from the crimes of sinners, but also that the very smallest imperfection of souls consecrated to Him wounds His Heart. Consider what our obligation is: we must make reparation for so many outrages and become victims (hosties) immolated for all the sins of men.

Humility, says Mother Mectilde, is the remedy for everything. For everything. Humility goes hand in hand with contrition, and both are found in identification and in communion with the Lamb of God who, in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, remains the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim. Some people, misunderstanding the notion of victimhood, think that it is a rare and unusual grace conceded to a few privileged souls. Such is not the teaching of the Church in the Sacred Liturgy. Any one who participates in Holy Mass fully, consciously, and actually, and receives Holy Communion, becomes by that very fact a victim soul. This is, in fact, the object of the Secret of the Votive Mass of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest: "O Lord, may Jesus Christ, our Mediator render these offerings acceptable to Thee, and may He present us with Himself as victims agreeable to Thee."

The Dispositions of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament
Humility is the remedy for everything and, to my mind, one who has a true contrition will never fall again into sin. This is among God's rarest and greatest gifts. It is true that we feel a fleeting sorrow, but to have a true contrition it is needful to give oneself profoundly to Jesus Christ and enter into His dispositions in the Most Holy Sacrament, where are contained wonders capable of occupying our whole life. It is shameful that we live days and hours without being entirely absorbed by it.

Mother Mectilde de Bar
Conference for Ash Wednesday

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I read this text of Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698) during my prayer this morning and knew that I had to translate it. She gave it as a Chapter conference on 17 December 1671.

To illustrate the text, I chose the work of a contemporary of Mother Mectilde, the French sculptor MIchel Anguier (1613-1686). The piece was originally executed for the altar of the church at Val de Grâce in Paris. Today it is in the Church of Saint-Roch just above the tabernacle. Mother Mectilde says it well: "Holy Communion is an extension of the Incarnation." The electric vigil light next to the tabernacle is most unfortunate.

As for the text itself, it is representative of the French School with its interest in the perduring grace of the mysteries of Christ, something masterfully developed by Blessed Abbot Marmion in Christ in His Mysteries. At the same time, by reason of her insight into spiritual childhood and littleness, Mother Mectilde is a forerunner of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face.

It is true that the mystery is past, I recognize it, and that it happened only once, but the grace of the mystery is not, in fact, past for the souls who prepare themselves to give birth to Jesus Christ in their heart. He was born one time in Bethlehem, and he is born every day in us with Holy Communion, which, as the Fathers say, is an extension of the Incarnation.
Do you know why Our Lord did not want to be born in the city of Jerusalem? It is because there all was full of creatures; there was not a single empty house. All was full of business or something other. He preferred to be born in a poor stable, empty and abandoned. This demonstrates to us that, if we want Jesus to abide in us, we must empty ourselves of all things, withour exception. This being done, He will impress in us His spirit, His lifem His inclinations, and in such a soul one will see only Jesus.
Those who have received this grace, will be recognized easily by their docility and simplicity, the companion virtues of holy childhood. Who are the first to come to the Infant Jesus to offer Him homage? Poor folk, shepherds. It is what the Gospel says: "Ye who are little, come unto Me." Only the humble are worthy of learning secrets so divine, hidden from the great ones of the earth, who are precisely the proud. The more a soul is little, the more will God communicate Himself to her. He goes to seek her out in the depth of her nothingness, where He fills her with all Himself.

So as to cleave wholly to Him

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The Feast of Christ the King was instituted by Pope Pius XI in 1925. It was, then, completely unknown to Mother Mectilde de Bar in 17th century France. In preparation for the Feast of Christ the King, I translated part of a letter written by Mother Mectilde on the Vigil of the Ascension, 2 June 1666, to the community of Toul, France.

The Ascension -- like the Epiphany earlier in the liturgical year -- is the great festival of Christ, Lord and King that Mother Mectilde would have celebrated in choir, and pondered before the Blessed Sacrament.

This particular letter reveals Mectilde de Bar's affectionate nature. She was quite willing to speak of the deep things of God to her spiritual daughters, and delighted in engaging them in conversation on the mysteries of divine love. The tone of this one letter speaks volumes about the social climate that prevailed in her monasteries. The love of God was the grand passion of these women. They were not afraid to speak, even in recreation, of the things that matter in life and in death.

For Mother Mectilde, the adventure surpassing all adventures was to forsake all things so as to find oneself with no-thing. He who clings to no-thing is ready to be taken up with Christ into the bosom of the Father, and to be hidden with Christ in the Sacrament of His Love. Here is the text:

My God, my dearest one and all, and more than dear to my heart, what tenderness I feel for all of you, and what ardour for your sanctification! Since the end of recreation on Sunday, I have a quantity of thoughts to communicate to you and precious truths to express to you; but I am sending them all back to the place whence they spring, so that Jesus Himself may imprint them in your inmost hearts, given that I can say to you nothing more, and the distance of places deprives me of the sweet consolation of exchanging with you on this mystery of love, of Jesus raised up even to the throne of His glory.

Pray Him, my daughters, that He might raise Himself up in us, and that He might raise us up even to Himself, that we might, once and for all, let go of the things of earth, that is, of ourselves and of creatures, so as to cleave wholly to Him.

Remember that "He took captives with Himself" (cf. Psalm 67:19). This concerns you, my dear ones: you are His victims, and consequently, His slaves, the captives of His divine love. He must then lead you away with Himself, so that henceforth you will be found no longer on earth. Non quae super terram (Colossians 3:2), but altogether hidden in Jesus in the bosom of the Father in the august Sacrament. There I will look for you always, and I don't want to find you anywhere else. I entreat you to make your dwelling there, living separated, by your affections and your sensibility, from all the rest, so as to have nought and possess nothing outside of Him.

Adoration and Reform

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A Benedictine Teresa of Avila

Mother Catherine Mectilde de Bar (Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement) (1614-1698) was to Benedictine life in the 17th century what Saint Teresa of Avila was for Carmel in the 16th century.

Eucharistic Hermeneutic of the Rule

The Mectildian reform of Benedictine life sprang from a profoundly Eucharistic re-reading of the Rule of Saint Benedict. Dom Joseph Rabory (1870-1916), a Catalonian Benedictine of the Solesmes Congregation, who studied the writings of Mother Mectilde de Bar, considered her "the most profound interpreter and theologian of the Regula Benedicti".

The Monk as Sacrificial Oblation

Mother Mectilde perceived that (1) Benedictine monastic life; (2) the Most Holy Eucharist; and (3) the kenosis (self-emptying) of Christ are intimately united. She affirms that the Rule of Saint Benedict is, of all monastic texts, the one best suited to a Eucharistic existence in which the monk-victim (hostia, sacrificial oblation) offers himself daily as a holocaust.

Transformation into Christ

Just as the Most Holy Eucharist is the supreme form of the kenosis of Christ utterly humbling Himself under the appearances of bread and wine, so is the monastic life the kenosis of the Christian called to conversio morum, to the self-emptying that gives all the space in oneself to Christ alone.

This is what Mother Mectilde writes in her introduction to the Ceremonial of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament:

Among all the Rules of the Church of God, [the Rule of Saint Benedict] is the one most suited to govern our Holy Institute, because it contains in itself a most lofty perfection and, by means of its austerity, makes you live in death as victims. It makes you sacrificial hosts of peace by means of the simple obedience and the humility that it teaches you, and by means of the divine praises that it enjoins you to sing by day and by night. In this way, and by continual prayer, it will make you become holocausts consumed in the pure flames of Divine Love.

Wait upon Him for everything

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In this letter, written to a religious of Rambervillers in 1643 or 1644, Mother Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement speaks of abandonment to God in times of suffering. She wants her correspondent to understand that life's troubles are spiritually advantageous. Suffering prepares the soul for union with God.

We are in the hands of His omnipotence, without reserve. I have a certain consolation in seeing that your troubles continue. I draw out of them consequences that are very advantageous for your soul, even if they make you suffer much. It is necessary to pass through the crucible of suffering in order to be worthy of the divine union.

Mother Mectilde wants her correspondent to say "Yes" to everything that God wills or permits. She returns to her constant teaching on being brought to nothing. This does not mean the annihilation of the soul created in the image and likeness of God; when she speaks of the annihilation of the soul, she is referring to the loss of one's false self, that ugly self, distorted by sin, that pridefully rears its head in the presence of God, pretending to be something. This is the self that must be put to death. If God Himself is the executioner, so much the better. The job will be done swiftly and thoroughly.

Entrust yourself to God and abandon yourself to His holy action. Consent to all the designs that He has to bring you, by means of these troubles and sufferings, to nothingness. You must be more passive than active in your state. Even if the violence [of these troubles and sufferings] sometimes sweeps you away, the powerful hand of God will one day calm this tempest. Wait upon Him for everything, and lose yourself in the infinite goodness of His that bears with you in the rebellions of nature.

Here is a discourse not often held by modern spiritual directors: "Abandon yourself to Him to be entirely destroyed." Mother Mectilde is speaking here of the passive purification of the soul; that is when God Himself begins to act directly upon the soul to remove the vestiges of pride and impurity that even the noblest human efforts cannot begin to touch. She calls this "the operation of His merciful justice." It is the purification of the soul by the eternal love that, for Saint John of the Cross, is "the living flame of love."

Abandon yourself to Him to be entirely destroyed; even more, I exhort you to contribute to this action by abandoning yourself to every sort of desolation, humbling yourself before His majesty so as to receive the operation of His merciful justice, that purifies you with His eternal love.

Make your way towards ennothingment

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From Mother Mectilde de Bar's Letter 92, my translation:

To receive Holy Communion well, not much is needed in the way of ceremony. It is enough to have purity of heart and humility. If you have this, don't worry about the rest. Of this I can assure you.
All your trouble is that you want to be what God does not want [for you]. If you were faithful, you would, a long time ago already, have become more detached from yourself and more ennothinged* in Jesus Christ.
I will see you, to persuade you that I am telling you the truth, and that you must make your way towards ennothingment. Otherwise, you will always be unhappy.

When I was about sixteen years old, precociously pious, and seeking how best I might follow Our Lord, a wise Vietnamese Trappist monk who, at the time seemed very old to me, used to say in his inimitable accent, "You be humble, brother Mark, and you be happiest man in town."

Now, all these many years later, I hear Mother Mectilde saying the same thing" "You must make your way towards ennothingment. Otherwise you will always be unhappy." Put positively, one might say, "Enter into your own nothingness, and you will find happiness." The psalmist says, "My happiness lies in Thee alone" (Psalm 15:2). This is where adoration begins: in the humble awareness of one's absolute nothingness, and in the offering of all that one is back to God, who is the uncreated Source of all being, and who is all Love, without beginning or end, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

Out of love Thou didst create me
and from Thee alone have I received the gift of being,
and it is to Thee alone
that I desire to give myself back
as a victim, an offering of pure adoration.
Without Thee, I am not,
and I am
only because at every moment
Thou lovest me and keepest me in being
so that I might freely love Thee in return
with all my heart, and all my mind, and all my strength.
I am Thy creature, receiving all from Thee,
and Thou art God without beginning or end,
receiving nothing from Thy creatures
apart from that which they have first received from Thee.

Anything that makes one aware of one's nothingness, anything that demonstrates that one is nothing and that God is all is precious to a soul. This is why Saint Benedict says that the novice is to love humiliations. What is a humiliation if not anything that brings one closer to the realization of one's nothingness in the sight of God?

* And yes, I made up the words "To ennothing oneself" and "ennothingment" to express Mother Mectilde's frequently used s'anéantir and anéantissement -- annientarsi and annientamento in Italian. The English, "to annihilate" and "annihilation" do not give quite the same meaning.

Your wounds are my wounds

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I was so struck by this letter of Mother Mectilde de Bar to a religious of the monastery of Rouen that, after reading it, I had to translate it. Mother Mectilde wrote the letter in 1679.

Guard yourself well, my daughter, from making a tragedy of things. I foresaw that you would have struggles and be attacked harshly, but Our Lord has control of everything and, with His grace, I will help you and I will not abandon you, if you want to be faithful. Don't be afraid of telling me everything that you want; I swear to you and promise you an inviolable secret, I will not disappoint you.
Come to me with simplicity and confidence. Your wounds are my wounds; your sins are my sins; I will suffer from them for both you and me. You know well that I am your mother and that you are my dear little child; believe that I love you tenderly and that I am your sincere friend.
I will hide you in my heart; I will have prayers to God made on your behalf. Your eternal interests will be my interests, and I will tell the Lord that I don't want to go into paradise without you.
Know for certain that, with His grace, I will not abandon you. Hope in His mercy and in the merits of His death and of His Blood. It is of faith that, as soon as a sinner repents with all his heart of having offended God, He welcomes him in His mercy and pardons him all his sins. Take heart, then, suffer your anxieties and your troubles as a penance, but open your heart and have full confidence in me because, in Jesus, I am all yours.
Today I will try to see you. Don't upset yourself: it is enough that you recognize that you are a sinner, and that you would willingly suffer all the pains of hell rather than ever offend so good a God, who is all powerful to pardon you and to forget your sins for ever. He wants to consume them in His blood; in a word, He wants to save you. You must make your way back to God, as to your Good Shepherd; He waits for you, to consume you in His love.

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Today I conclude my translation of Mother Mectilde's introduction to her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict adding again, something in the way of a commentary. I will continue translating other writings of Mother Mectilde, as time permits.

Happy the soul who will be found worthy of making such reparation to the Most Holy Sacrament; happier still if that soul fulfills as she ought the great obligation that makes her guilty of all the profanations of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and consequently, subject to suffer the chastisements and all the pains merited by those who have profaned this Most Holy Sacrament and who will profane it until the end of the ages.
This second obligation requires a state and dispositions that are altogether contrary to the preceding one. If the first [obligation] obliges a "host" to look upon herself as consecrated to the glory of the Most Holy Sacrament, the second obliges her to consider herself as sacrificed for all the profanations of this adorable Mystery. If the first obligation requires that a true reparator give, and do everything, to render to the Most Holy Sacrament the honour which It merits, the second requires that the true reparator lose everything, and suffer all, to expiate the outrages and the indignities that It receives.

Identification With Christ

The Mectildian-Benedictine adorer enters into a two-fold identification with Our Lord Jesus Christ. There is, in a certain sense, an ascending aspect to reparation: the adorer offers himself to Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, in thanksgiving for the divine and life-giving Mysteries of His Body and Blood present in the tabernacles of the world, and in compensation for the love, adoration, praise that never rise, even from the hearts of those in whose midst He dwells sacramentally.

Mystical Substitution

There is also a descending aspect to reparation: the adorer chooses, out of love, to be identified with souls consumed with hatred for the things of God, those who despise the adorable Mystery of Our Lord's Body and Blood, treating it irreverently, profaning it by sacrilegious acts, and offending Our Lord's Eucharistic Heart with cruel mockery. Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictines so enter into the Christ's redemptive love for such sinners that the adorer accepts sufferings, trials, and darkness in their stead, trusting that by this mystical substitution undertaken out of love, at least some of those who despise the Most Holy Sacrament will be converted to Eucharistic love.

If then, a religious of the Holy Sacrament wants to understand the spirit of her vocation, let her hold herself always in a state of victimhood in Our Lord's holy Presence, and if she wants to live in a state of true victimhood, let her, at times, see herself as an object of love and of good pleasure before her Divine Lord, who willingly receives the reparation she makes to His glory and, at other times, see herself as an object of horror and of wrath before her Sovereign Judge, who demands in justice the expiation due Him for so many profanations. Let her, on the one hand, believe herself called to all that is most holy and divine in the spiritual life; and on the other hand, believe herself called to what is most mortifying, most crucifying, and most annihilating in the life of penitence. Finally, let her remain in a state of indifference with regard to the effects of Mercy and Divine Justice, which she is bound her honour equally in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar by virtue of her profession.
Let there be no cross, disdain, suffering, death, or annihilation that she will not embrace with joy out of zeal for Divine Justice, for the expiation of all the sins of profanators of the Most Holy Sacrament; just as there are no virtues, graces, merits, perfections, holiness, blessings, praises, adorations, prayers, and good works, that love and piety would not cause her to seek with ardour for the reparation of the honour and infinite glory, the grandeurs, and the excellences, of the same Holy Sacrament.

Mother Mectilde de Bar's presentation of the vocation of a Benedictine adorer-reparator will shock certain sensibilities, just as the doctrine of Saint Paul, and the hard words of the Gospel once shocked -- and continue to shock -- those to whom they are addressed. They key to the Mectildian-Benedictine vocation is Love. In this, she is closer to Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face than a superficial reading might lead one to believe.

In December 1666, Mother Mectilde wrote to the Benedictine nuns of Rambervilers:

You, very dear mothers, are reparatrices of love, and your reparations must be made in love, because you must make up for sinners and for the wicked, who are without love.

It is only within the optic of love that the Mectildian-Benedictine vocation to adoration and reparation begins to come into focus.

Sayings of Mother Mectilde

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The possession of God for all eternity
is well worth what one must suffer whilst on the way.

One needs perseverance
so as not to be frightened by difficulties.

One must not forget
that one of the greatest secrets of the spiritual life
is that the Holy Spirit is guiding us,
not only with illuminations, consolations, and sweetness,
but also in darkness and interior suffering.
Even more, I say that this way of crucifixion
is the best and the most secure.

Mother Mectilde de Bar (1614-1698)

To adore always

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Continuing alone the lines of my last entry on adoring always and everywhere, I thought it would be useful to translate some pertinent passages from the writings of Mother Mectilde-du-Saint-Sacrement. For Mother Mectilde, the adoration of Our Lord in the Most Blessed Sacrament is not an occasional devotion; it is, rather, the direction given to one's whole life. Adoration is not perpetual because one never leaves one's prie-dieu before the Blessed Sacrament; it is perpetual when one makes the Eucharist the treasure of one's life. "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also." (Matthew 6:21) Mother Mectilde writes:


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Our vow of adoration binds us indispensably to live only from the life of Jesus Christ in this divine Mystery. To observe this vow it is not sufficient to keep one's hours of adoration. It is necessary that our heart love Him and adore Him always, and that in all our actions we remain constantly united to Him. Let us apply ourselves only to loving Him and adoring Him.
You have seen His star and have come to adore Him. But what is the length of this adoration, and how extensive must it be? We must adore in all the movements of our life and in the whole extent of our being. Our adoration must be perpetual, since the same God whom we adore in the Holy Sacrament is continually present to us in every place. We must adore Him in spirit and in truth: in spirit by a holy interior recollection, in truth by acting in such wise that all our exercises become a continual adoration by our fidelity to make ourselves over to God in all that He asks of us, because as soon as we fail in fidelity, we stop adoring.
To adore always it is not necessary to be saying, "My God, I adore Thee." It is enough that we should have a certain interior attention to God present, a profound respect in homage to His greatness, believing that He is in you, just as He is in very truth: the Holy Trinity there making Their abode; the Father there acting and working by His power; the Son by His wisdom; and the Holy Spirit by His goodness. It is, therefore, in the intimate depth of your soul, where the God of majesty abides, that you must adore Him continually.

Mectilde de Bar and Reparation

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I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's introduction to her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict and, once again, adding something in the way of a commentary after each section.

They will be victims to repair by their lively faith, the honour due the real Person of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ that infidels and heretics take away by their blasphemies, by their sacrileges, and by their profanations.
They will be victims of love to repair by their union the respect that sinners have lost for the Holy of Holys when they approach It having affection for their sins, and when they try to unite Jesus Christ to Belial, and Dagon with the Ark in a profaned temple and in a soiled heart.
Finally, they will be victims to repair by their prayer the reverence that libertines and the greater part of Christians refuse or neglect to bring to the Holy Mysteries, at which they assist without a spirit of prayer and without devotion.
Happy the soul who will be found worthy of making such reparation to the Most Holy Sacrament; happier still if that soul fulfills as she ought the great obligation that makes her guilty of all the profanations of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and consequently, subject to suffer the chastisements and all the pains merited by those who have profaned this Most Holy Sacrament and who will profane it until the end of the ages.

A Lively Eucharistic Faith

Mother Mectilde's Benedictine Adorers are characterized by a lively faith in the adorable Sacrament of the Altar. It is by faith that they penetrate beyond the veil of the Sacred Species; it is by faith that they lay hold of the Mystery at once concealed and revealed in the Most Holy Eucharist. Eucharistic faith waxes strong when it is exercised and expressed; Eucharistic faith wanes when the soul becomes listless and indifferent.

Infidels and Heretics

Mother Mectilde's faith made her acutely sensitive to the blasphemies, sacrileges, and profanations perpetrated by the faithless (infidels) and by heretics. Even within the visible Church, there are those who have lost the orthodox faith in the Most Holy Sacrament; even within the visible Church, there are those who hold heretical opinions concerning the adorable Mystery of the Eucharist.

Loss of Faith

Imprudent liturgical reforms -- Mass "facing the people"; Holy Communion given in the hand; the suppression of kneeling at Holy Communion; the use of Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion in ordinary circumstances; the disappearance of the altar rail; the desacralization of the sanctuary, etc. -- all of these things, and the various other liturgical aberrations that have so troubled the peace of the Church over the past fifty years have contributed to a loss of faith in the Most Holy Eucharist. This loss of faith has led, as it always does, to blasphemies, sacrileges, and profanations.

Blasphemies, Sacrileges, and Profanations

During Mother Mectilde's lifetime, the unrest of The Thirty Years War, and the incursions of Protestant soldiers bent on destroying Catholic worship, led to blasphemies, sacrileges, and profanations. In our own day, these same affronts against the Most Holy Sacrament are not infrequently committed within the Church herself, by those who, outwardly at least, are numbered among the faithful.

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A Forerunner of Saint Thérèse

The appropriate response should be one of sorrow, of love, of reparation, and of solidarity with the poor souls who offend Our Lord in this way. Mother Mectilde's charism is not to condemn such souls from above, but rather to descend into their spiritual darkness, and to identify with them, choosing solidarity with them, and representing them before the Most Blessed Sacrament. In her solidarity with those who sin against the adorable Mystery of the Eucharist, Mother Mectilde is a forerunner of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, who wrote:

But, Lord, your child knows that you are the Light. She asks you to forgive her unbelieving brethren; she will willingly eat the bread of sorrow for as long as you wish; she will, for love of you, sit at this table where the wretched sinners eat their bitter food and will not leave it until you give the sign. But may she not say in her own name and in the name of her guilty brethren, "O God, be merciful to us sinners! Send us away justified! May all those who have never been illumined by the light of faith see it shine at last! O God, if the table defiled by them must be cleansed by one who loves You, I will gladly stay there alone and eat the bread of sorrow until You are pleased to lead me to your kingdom of light. I ask of you only one favour, that I may never displease You.

What Saint Thérèse expresses in this text, Mother Mectilde sought to express symbolically. Thus do her Benedictine Adorers make reparation before the Blessed Sacrament, kneeling at a column surmounted by a candle in the midst of the choir, with a rope about their necks.

If Thou, O Lord, Wilt Mark Iniquities

Mother Mectilde would have her Adorers make reparation not by standing aloof from sinners, but by identifying with them, and by taking upon themselves whatever sufferings the severe and tender mercy of God permits for the healing of their souls. The Benedictine Adorer making reparation takes his place among sinners and, out of love, is content to remain in their darkness, to eat the coarse bread moistened by tears that is theirs, and to say:

If thou, O Lord, wilt mark iniquities:
Lord, who shall stand it.
For with thee there is merciful forgiveness:
and by reason of thy law, I have waited for thee, O Lord.
My soul hath relied on his word:
My soul hath hoped in the Lord.
From the morning watch even until night,
let Israel hope in the Lord.
Because with the Lord there is mercy:
and with him plentiful redemption.
And he shall redeem Israel
from all his iniquities. (Psalm 129:3-8)


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Today I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's introduction to her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict and, once again, adding something in the way of a commentary after each section.

They will be victims to repair by their purity of intention the worship that wicked priests take away from the Most Holy Sacrament when they make use of this august Sacrament for their own gain, and for a thousand other criminal designs.

Catherine Mectilde de Bar is acutely sensitive to the grandeur of the priesthood and to the frailty of those who bear in their souls its indelible character. She knows that the priest has power over the real and mystical Body of Christ; she also knows that the power of the priest over the Body of Christ can be abused and misused. This tragic reality causes her intense sorrow and compels her to make adoration in reparation for priests, be they wicked, or simply weak.

Mother Mectilde grieves over priests who celebrate Holy Mass hastily, irreverently, carelessly, or without a suitable preparation and thanksgiving. She grieves over priests who offer the Holy Sacrifice having a material interest in mind, that is, the stipend or offering of the faithful. She grieves over priests who ascend the altar in a state of grave sin and, thus, offend Our Lord by their sacrilege.

None of these concerns of Mectilde de Bar, and none of her motives for reparation are limited to 17th century France. They are, in fact, as relevant today as they were four hundred years ago.

Mother Mectilde was a friend and correspondent of Saint John Eudes. She reflects the Norman missionary's understanding of the priesthood, derived from that of Pierre de Bérulle and the other luminaries of the École française. She saw to it that the Feast of Jesus Christ, Eternal High Priest, for which Saint John Eudes composed the Proper Office, was celebrated in the monasteries of her Institute.

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In The Priest, His Dignity and Obligations, Saint John Eudes writes:

The priest is a mediator between God and man, causing the Eternal Father to be known, loved, adored and served, as well as feared, by men. His office is to make known the will of God to men, urging them to be faithful to their every duty. His concern is to be devoted unceasingly to "the things that appertain to God" (Heb. 5, 1).
The priest is one of the chief parts of the Mystical Body of Christ because he occupies the principal parts of that Body, namely, the head, the eyes, the mouth, the tongue and the heart. He is the head with the Chief Shepherd, sharing the right to rule and govern in His place. He is the eyes watching over the other members to enlighten and guide them, and to weep over them when they sin.
The priest is the mouth and the tongue to speak the language of heaven, to utter on all occasions the words of eternity. He is the heart circulating the blood stream of Christ's Precious Blood to quicken and vivify the other members, that their works and functions may be ennobled and perfected.
A holy priest is a saviour and another Christ, taking the Master's place on earth, representing Him,clothed with His authority, acting in His name, adorned with His qualifications, exercising His judgment on earth in the tribunal of penance. He is consecrated to exercise the highest functions Christ ever performed on earth, to continue the work of salvation. In imitation of His Redeemer he gives himself, mind, heart, affections, strength, time, all for God. He is ever ready to sacrifice his very blood and even life itself to procure the salvation of souls, particularly those of his own flock.
He is a god, living and walking on earth; a god by grace and by participation, clothed with the perfections and attributes of God, namely, His divine authority, power, justice, mercy, charity, benignity, purity and holiness. He is a god delegated to carry on God's noblest works, the sacerdotal and pastoral duties, as great Saint Dionysius says: Omnium divinorum divinissimum est cooperari Deo in salutem animarum. "The most divine of all divine things is to cooperate with God in the salvation of souls."
Saint Gregory Nazianzen asserts that the priest is a "God who makes gods," Deus deos efficiens, that is, Christians who are given the name of gods in Sacred Scripture.

Stretching towards Divine Love

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I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's introduction to her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict and, once again, adding something in the way of a commentary after each section.

Here then are the obligations of the religious of the Holy Sacrament: they will be in the state that their vocation requires of them if they have the spirit of prayer, if they stretch toward Divine Love, if they live from faith, if their intention is wholly pure, if all their being is truly consumed with Jesus Christ to the glory of His Father.

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Mother Mectilde enumerates the spiritual qualities needed by one called to a life of Eucharistic adoration and reparation. They are five in number:

1) The spirit of prayer or of "oraison." This is the heart's continual attention to the God; it is an habitual state of recollection. My own experience is that this spirit of prayer is sustained by developing the habit of frequent invocations or aspirations. These are very short prayers, frequently repeated, and aimed like burning arrows at the Heart of God.

2) Being stretched toward Divine Love. Mother Mectilde uses the expression, "tendent à l'amour divin." This is the disposition of one who lives every moment in the grace of the "Sursum corda" of the Mass, It has to do with tending toward Divine Love, that for which the soul was created.

3) If they live from faith. Mother Mectilde's spiritual teaching is austere. It rests upon faith. Hers is not the self-indulgent piety of the spiritual dilettante. It is a steady abiding toward God that is not dependent upon feelings, intellectual understanding, or rewards of any kind.

4) If their intention is wholly pure. This has to do with why one does something. It challenges one to scrutinize the mixed motivations that muddy even the best actions. So long as there is an admixture of self-seeking in the practice of virtue and in fidelity to prayer, it does not proceed from an intention that is wholly pure. One should not become discouraged by Mother Mectilde's radicality. She is presenting complete purity of intention as something that one should desire, something towards which one should tend.

5) If all their being is truly consumed with Jesus to the glory of the Father. For Mectilde de Bar there are no half-measures; there is only the immeasurable measure of Crucified Love. So long as one is holding something back from the holocaust one has not yielded, with Jesus, to the embrace of the Cross, His holocaust of glory to the Father.

The spirit of prayer disposes them to unitive love, to pure faith, and to purity of intention. A lively faith and pure love will make them victims to repair by their immolation the glory of which sorcerers and magicians rob the Son of God, when they so abominably consume consecrated Hosts in casting evil spells and practicing their magic.

Mother Mectilde is ordered and methodical in her presentation. Here she treats of the spirit of prayer, which flowers into pure faith and purity of intention. One cannot have pure faith and purity intention without the spirit of prayer. Prayer, then, is the beginning, the principle, the wellspring out of which all else springs. By pure faith and by loving with a pure intention the adorer makes up for (repairs) the glory denied the Son of God by those who practice satanism, idolatry, and the occult arts. This was written, mind you, in 1697.

There is nothing new about the darker vagaries of The New Age. Sacred Hosts are still stolen, sold, and bought by the practitioners of occult rituals. The disastrous introduction of Holy Communion given in the hand, has, alas made it very easy for those with wicked intentions to obtain Sacred Hosts, or for those with little or no sacramental catechesis to carry them away without consuming them.

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I am continuing my translation of Mother Mectilde's introduction to her Constitutions on the Rule of Saint Benedict, and adding something in the way of a commentary. Today's passage is brief but rich in content.

The Spirit of Prayer

It is this spirit of prayer that will give them the key of the treasures of the knowledge and the glory of God, enclosed and hidden in the Most Holy Sacrament. It will give them entrance to the cellar of the adorable Bridegroom's delicious wine; there they will drink great draughts of it and become inebriated with its sweetnesses and ineffable consolations. This spirit of prayer will give them the prerogative and privilege of all those virgins who follow the Lamb in all the tabernacles wheresoever He is encountered.

Mother Mectilde speaks here of the spirit of prayer. She uses the word "oraison" for prayer, much in the same way as Saint Teresa of Avila uses "oración"; the sense of the word denotes a spirit or predisposition to interior conversation with Our Lord. It has to do with recollection and watchfulness, with a readiness at every moment for what Saint Benedict calls in Chapter 4 of the Holy Rule, "falling to prayer." Saint Benedict's image is that of the law of gravity; he would have his monks fall to prayer, just as an object, once released from a height, naturally falls to the ground. The spirit of "oraison" is also a state of ceaseless attention to God, not by dint of a voluntaristic effort that brings with it fatigue and strain, but by an effect of divine grace and the secret operation of the Holy Ghost. This ceaseless prayer of the heart is a grace that Our Lord is ready to give to souls who seek it. Our Lord would have every Christian "pray always and never lose heart." (Luke 18:1)

Mother Mectilde gives to this state of ceaseless interior prayer a decidedly Eucharistic orientation. It transports the soul to the tabernacles of Our Lord's sacramental presence. Wheresoever the Lamb is present in the Sacrament of His Love, there too are present the virgin souls who follow Him. It is not infrequent that souls called to Eucharistic reparation find themselves drawn to go in spirit before those tabernacles of the world where Our Lord is left unattended, where He is forsaken.

All over the globe there are tabernacles before which no one ever lingers, before which no one ever kneels in adoration, before which no one tarries out of love, and for the sake of the surpassing friendship of Christ. How many tabernacles there are left in the cold solitude of locked churches from one week to the next. Souls called to Eucharistic adoration and reparation will go in spirit before these tabernacles, drawn on by the Holy Ghost, and there will minister mysteriously to the Eucharistic Heart of Jesus so grieved and afflicted by the want of response to His Love.

There are those who claim that a spirituality of reparation is foreign to the spirit of the liturgy. The Improperia (Reproaches) of the Liturgical Synaxis of Good Friday, however, give poignant expression to the grief of the Divine Bridegroom, spurned and forsaken by the souls upon whom He has set His Heart: "O my people, what I have done to you, in what have I offended you? Answer me." One cannot sing, or hear, or meditate the Improperia without being pierced to the heart by a desire to make reparation.

To be continued.

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As time permits, I am continuing to work on translating into English some of the writings of Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement. Here is a little more than half of her Preface to the Constitutions of her Institute. After each section I have added, in italics, a little commentary of my own.

Preface of the Constitutions
The Vocation of the Religious of the Most Holy Sacrament

Professed to the Holiness and Purity of the Son of God

If Saint Bernard could say with truth that religious profession is very lofty in its excellence, that it raises one who makes it above the heavens, and that it makes one parallel to the condition of the angels, one can, in some way, say that this Institute is of a truly divine eminence and that the religious professed to it must be not only graced with a purity and a holiness that are more than heavenly and that make them equal to the angels. For beyond the great advantages that this Institute holds in common with other religious Orders, it gives to those who profess to it an altogether particular elevation; if we must believe that there is no power above the one held by priests, by reason of their [sacramental] character, over the Body and Blood of Jesus in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, we can say of the religious of the Most Holy Sacrament that only the holiness and purity of the Son of God are above that to which their profession engages them.

The traditional comparison of the monastic state with the angelic life was familiar to Mother Mectilde; she acknowledges the suitability of the analogy with regard to other Orders. When it comes to her own Institute, however, she feels held to the highest standard of holiness and purity: that of the Victim Christ, the Hostia Perpetua, in the Sacrament of His Love. All that she contemplates in the Divine Host becomes for her the very pattern of her own life. Her Benedictine Adorers are called not only to contemplate the Mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, but also to become what they contemplate.

A Particular Covenant with the Son of God

Religious Orders, according to Saint Bernard, owe much to the first school of virtue and of holiness that Our Lord held in this world. It is they who most perfectly imitate His first disciples, and their holy exercises are a renewal of the evangelical life, but the religious of the Holy Sacrament seem to enter into an altogether particular covenant with the very Person of the Son of God. They share in His own quality of Host and of Victim and become in Him and through Him veritable reparators of the offenses and irreverences that, in the Most Holy Sacrament, it may befall Him to receive from men.

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Mother Mectilde adheres to the traditional understand of the Vita Apostolica. Apostolic life is the imitation of the first school of holiness, the one constituted by the teaching and companionship of Christ, the Divine Master, in the midst of His chosen ones. Here again she holds herself and her Benedictine Adorers to a higher standard. She calls this higher standard "a particular covenant with the very Person of the Son of God." This covenant signifies an atonement -- a becoming-one-with -- the very Person of the Son of God. Here, Mother Mectilde approaches the traditional Patristic doctrine of theosis or divinization. This union with the Word of God leads, in turn, to a participation in His kenosis, the self-emptying sacrifice of Love Crucified. She understands that there can be no union with Christ, the Immolated Lamb, apart from participation in His victimhood. Thus will her Benedictine Adorers "repair" or "make reparation" for the offenses and irreverences with which indifferent and ungrateful men repay the self-emptying love revealed and present in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar.

Reparation to God

But to live as a host [in the state of a host] and to exercise worthily the function of reparators, it is further necessary that they know that their profession renders them indebted to the Most Holy Sacrament in two things, without which it is impossible that they should ever make perfect reparation to Him.

The first is to give back to Him all the glory taken away from Him in profaning the Most Holy Sacrament.

Essentially, this is to believe for those who do not believe, to hope for those who do not hope, to love for those who do not love, and to adore for those who do not adore. It is, furthermore, to approach the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar with the profound reverence and adoration that is our bounden duty to the Divine Majesty veiled beneath the Sacred Species. It is to surround the Blessed Sacrament with every fitting expression of love, adoration, thanksgiving, praise, and homage. It is to abide before Our Lord's Eucharistic Face by day and by night in union with His ceaseless offering to Father and with His merciful love for poor sinners.

Solidarity with Poor Sinners

The second is that the religious of the Holy Sacrament must not only make it their office to give back to Jesus Christ contained in the Sacred Host as much honour as He suffers there from contempt and irreverence, but they must also resolve to satisfy for all the temporal punishment incurred by the guilt of the detestable profaners of His Sacred Body and Precious Blood. Thus do they follow the example of our adorable Saviour, who, in taking our human nature, was not content [only] to restore to God His Father all the glory that sinners had taken away from Him by their crimes, but even more sacrificed Himself and suffered all the chastisements that they would have deserved in terms of rigorous justice.

Those who approach the Most Holy Sacrament unworthily are guilty of sacrilege. "For he that eateth and drinketh unworthily, eateth and drinketh judgment to himself, not discerning the body of the Lord." (1 Corinthians 11:29) The priest who offers the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in a state of grave sin, or irreverently, or hurriedly, or with little regard for the dispositions and attitudes laid down by the Church is guilty of ingratitude, impiety, and often scandal. Where are the souls who will stand in the breach for such priests? Where are the souls pierced through by compunction who will present themselves before the Divine Justice on their behalf? Where are there souls who will say to God, "Forgive, save, and sanctify those who have sinned against the Sacrament of Thy Love, and let me, with Christ the Lamb, suffer whatsoever Thou allowest to befall me, that they turn to Thee, and that Thou mayest draw out of them all of the love and all of the glory that Thou didst have in view in allowing them to approach Thy altars." Mother Mectilde would have her Benedictine Adorers be just such souls.

In the Consuming Fire

This first obligation to honour and to glorify the Most Holy Sacrament, as much as It is despised and profaned by the wicked and by infidels requires of the religious consecrated to It as victims, firstly, an entire and continual consummation of themselves to the glory of Jesus Christ who so often wholly consummates Himself for them; that is to say that they must be like holocausts, which the sacred fire of love for the Most Holy Sacrament must consume totally, and they must be like sacred vessels to be used only at the altar lest they be profaned, or like the lights of the torches used to make the act of reparation (amende honorable), which burn and are consumed only in honour of the Most Holy Sacrament.

In the vocation of the Benedictine Adorer as presented by Mother Mectilde there are no half-measures. There is no place for the lukewarm and for those whose hearts are divided. The Benedict Adorer casts himself into the Furnace of Burning Charity, trusting that in the holocaust of all that he is and has, he will be united to the divinely fruitful Passion of Christ "for His Body, which is the Church." (Colossians 1:24)

Purity of Heart

Secondly, it requires that this consummation appear in their life and in their actions, by an intention that is wholly deiform, which holds them at every moment raised above all the impressions of the senses and of nature, and which transforms them so universally into Jesus Christ veiled beneath the Species, that not only are they always in Him, as He is in them, but they also live and act only in Him, ceaselessly seeing themselves and all things in Him.

Here Mother Mectilde touches upon the purity of heart that, according to Saint John Cassian and the entire monastic tradition, is the aim of every ascetical labour, of detachment from created things, of chastity, and of the single-hearted pursuit of the One Thing Necessary. This purity of heart disposes the Benedictine Adorer to the grace of transformation into Christ, Priest and Victim, who at every moment offers Himself to the Father and draws sinners to His Eucharistic Heart. Christ does in the tabernacle what He does in the sanctuary of heaven; one who seeks Him in the tabernacle were He dwells sacramentally will necessarily be drawn into His heavenly life with the Father and the Holy Ghost.

No Commerce with the Life of the Senses

Thirdly, this intention must be followed by a life of pure faith, having no commerce with the life of the senses and with the reasonings of the human spirit, because the beasts (representing the senses) and the men (representing reason) who would dare to approach the holy mountain where the God of heaven has come to dwell in the cloud of the sacramental Species, meet only with fire, flashes of lightening and peals of thunder, and they will be stoned and crushed beneath the weight of Him who is the mystic cornerstone from which the waters of eternal life flow into us.

Mother Mectilde uses a number of biblical images here to describe what Saint John of the Cross would call the night of the senses and the dark night of the spirit. In order to be united to the Eucharistic Christ one must relinquish all that solicits the senses and appeals to human reasoning. Faced with the fragile whiteness of the Host and nothing else, one is compelled either to flee from the Divine Presence or to remain in adoration, clinging to faith alone and leaning on the experience of the saints of the Church through the ages. One who tries to penetrate or seize the Most Holy Eucharist by dint of imagination and reasoning will meet with a consuming fire that destroys all that is incompatible with the adorable Mystery. In the end, only the adorer who remains in naked faith before the naked Host will be given to drink of the mystic living water promIsed by Christ. "And on the last, and great day of the festivity, Jesus stood and cried, saying: If any man thirst, let him come to me, and drink." (John 7:37)

The Dark Brightness of Faith

One must enter, then, into the darkness of faith and into the cloud of Divine Revelation alone, in imitation of Moses, so as to be able to take joy in the Real Presence and participate in the divine communications of the inaccessible sun of the Divinity hidden in the Most Holy Sacrament; this is why souls who would glorify this august Mystery must consult no other oracles nor borrow any lights apart from those of faith and Divine Revelation, for Divine Revelation alone can make known to them the greatnesses and incomprehensible perfections contained therein.

A legion of pious souls, in effect, run about consulting oracles and borrowing lights apart from those of faith and Divine Revelation. These souls, says Mother Mectilde, are far from the austere path shown us by Moses, a narrow path that passes through the darkness of faith and leads into the cloud of Divine Revelation alone. This is way to joy in the Real Presence. This is the way to the radiance that shines from the Eucharistic Face of Jesus.

Faith Perfected in Unitive Love

This obligation to honour Jesus Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament demands, in the fourth place that the life of pure faith be accompanied by a unitive love so as to make one single thing, so to speak, of the Body, Blood, Soul, and Divinity of Jesus with the religious who are vowed to His glory. In the same way as the bread and wine are transubstantiated into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, and the Holy Species have no other substance than that of the Son of God, so too do they lose their natural being, drawn from the corruption of the old man, to be transformed into the divine being received from the new man, so as to have no other inclinations, no other spirit, no other thoughts, words, or actions than His and those that His grace and his Divine Spirit inspire.

Mother Mectilde's image of unitive love is that of transubstantiation. Three centuries later, Saint Peter Julian Eymard, reflecting on his "vow of personality" will arrive at a similar conclusion. One who, moved by love, adores the Blessed Sacrament and is nourished by It will, ultimately, become one with the One upon whom he has fixed his heart's gaze, the One whose Body and Blood have become his daily bread and drink.

Imitating the Two Cherubim of the Ark

Finally, this obligation requires a life of continual prayer by which, imitating the two cherubim of the Ark, they will at all times hold the face of their spirit and of their heart turned towards this Divine Propitiatory of the New Testament, from which they must receive all their oracles, and from which, they must believe, God speaks most ordinarily and most familiarly to them and makes them understand his Divine Will.

Catherine Mectilde de Bar engages her Benedictine Adorers in a life of ceaseless prayer. Whether actually in the Oratory before the tabernacle, or before the Blessed Sacrament exposed in the monstrance, "whether he is at the Work of God, in the oratory, in the monastery, in the garden, on the road, in the fields or anywhere else, and whether sitting, walking or standing" (Rule of Saint Benedict, Chapter VII), the Benedictine Adorer is turned inwardly towards the Mercy Seat. It is in the presence of the Most Blessed Sacrament that one experiences the fulness of the Divine Hospitality. It is there that one grows in the Friendship of Christ. It is there that He speaks to the soul "face to face as a man is wont to speak to his friend." (Exodus 33:11)

To be continued.

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I dedicate this, my translation of a conference for Pentecost by the Benedictine Mother Mectilde de Bar to my beloved brothers and friends of the Diocese of Tulsa who, today, are being ordained to the Order of the Holy Diaconate by His Excellency, Bishop Edward J. Slattery.

The Holy Spirit is the fruit of the coming of the Son of God into the world,
the fruit of His sufferings and of His labours.
In order for us to receive Him,
it was necessary that the Son of God suffer all His great sorrows;
moreover, had He not asked the Holy Spirit for us,
we would not have received Him.
The Holy Spirit is, therefore, God's Gift to us.
Like a powerful King who seeks among the good things of His kingdom,
what is most precious
to make of it a gift to the person dearest to him,
even so does the Eternal Father.
Possessing nothing greater than His Holy Spirit,
He gives Him to men in recompense for the suffering of His Son.
This festival is, then, most important,
and so the entire Church disposes herself for it
with a very particular devotion.

What then must one do in so as to to receive Him well
and partake of His fruits?
Two things are needed
to know how great a gift is the Holy Spirit
and what is needed to keep Him.
These will be the two points of my instruction
and the subject of your reflection.

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The Holy Spirit is, first of all, the light that illumines us in our darkness;
strength in our weakness;
fire in our coldness.

We know by experience how much we have need of all these things,
since we are so immersed in shadows
that we see not even a single ray of light,
and nearly always we know not
what we are doing and where we are going.

So weak are we
that we are unable to carry out
even those things that we know God expects of us.

So cold are we towards God,
so little fervour do we have
and so low are our feelings.
that we are ashamed of ourselves.
See then how great is our need to receive the Holy Spirit.

But what must we do to keep the Holy Spirit?
Listen to what the Apostle Saint Paul says:
"My brothers, above all else I pray you and recommend
that you be very attentive not to grieve the Holy Spirit." (Eph 4:30)
And how can we grieve Him?
Let us listen to what He Himself says to the Spouse:
"Open to me, my sister,"
"Open to me my sister, my spouse." (Ct 5:2)
The Holy Spirit is always at the door of our heart:
let us be very careful not to shut Him out,
because this grieves Him.

In the little time that remains
we must train ourselves
to have a great will
and ardent desires to receive Him;
this will be how we open the door to Him.

But this is not enough.
It is necessary also to remove the obstacles
that may keep Him for entering.
And how?
By emptying ourselves of the spirit of the world
and of ourselves,
because two things opposed to each other
cannot subsist together;
that is that black can never become so white
as to have nothing of blackness left.

So it is with us.
Our soul will never be so bright
that all the blackness of sin will have gone out of it.
But we must empty ourselves
if we would be filled with the Holy Spirit;
in fact, he who would fill a vessel must empty it first.

And finally,
what must we do to receive the fruits of the Holy Spirit
and have Him abide in us?
Three things.
The first is humility.
Our Lord, in fact, when He was asked on whom
He would make His Spirit rest,
answered, upon one who is humble.

Let us therefore abandon all the thoughts that turn to our own interests,
to our self-love, and to our own judgment;
this is necessary if the we want the Spirit to live in us.

The second thing is a perfect submission to all that He wants of us.

And the third; the one that is highest,
the most excellent, and unfailing,
is abandonment.
If He wills that we be in health or in sickness,
we must will it;
in joy or in sorrow,
in labour or in rest,
in suffering or in enjoyment,
we must will it.

In the end, we must necessarily burn with this fire of the Spirit
in this world here below,
so as not to burn eternally in the fire of hell.

Make your choice: It is God who has said it.
Let us not cease from asking Him [for the Holy Spirit]
also because God says that if a child asks his father for something,
this will never be refused him.

And therefore, it is assured that we will be heard:
and it is this that I wish for you with all my heart.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.

Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (1614-1698)

Madre_Mectilde_5072.jpg

In my conference at ADORATIO 2011 I will be quoting more than once Mother Mectilde du Saint-Sacrement (Catherine de Bar, 1614-1698), the foundress of the Benedictines of the Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament, an Institute that is still flourishing here in Italy. Mother Mectilde is not well known in the English-speaking world. Practically none of her writings have been translated in English.

Saint John of the Cross has nothing on Mother Mectilde: their doctrines are strikingly similar, except that Mother Mectilde's is rooted in the Rule of Saint Benedict with a marked emphasis on the adorable mystery of the Most Holy Eucharist, on the role of the Blessed Virgin Mary, and on the feasts and mysteries of the Liturgical Year.


Inward Emptiness

You must make in yourself a great emptiness of all that is not God, and apply yourself seriously to exclude anything that might be an obstacle to the descent of the divine Paraclete in your hearts.

The Nothing and the All

Let us labour energetically to make Jesus reign in our hearts, and to this end let us annihilate ourselves; it is the only way to make Him the possessor of our hearts.

Pious Fantasy

The interior life is not what one thinks or imagines. It consists not in having beautiful thoughts, nor in saying beautiful words, nor in remaining in a passive kind of prayer without applying one's mind, as if one were in lofty heights. All of this is, more often than not, no more than fantasy.

The interior life is found in the solid practice of mortification, in the love of littleness and in total detachment from oneself and from creatures.

Death to Self in Little Things

If you are entering religious life to belong more to God, enter disposed at every moment to sacrifice. Providence will offer you very frequent occasions for this, without taking into account the things that will happen with the express purpose of putting you to the test. You will not be mortified in big things; the little things are more often the cause of our pain. At times a word will be harder for you to bear, not much is needed to make you suffer.

Expect Unexpected Things

Consider that God alone is, and that what He wants from a victim is that she should abandon herself to Him even to the the complete loss of herself. When we consecrate ourselves to God as victims, I assure you that we don't know what we are doing: if it pleases the Lord to accept our sacrifice, something which will not fail to happen when the soul does this in His Spirit, the soul must resolve to accept unexpected things.

Pure Abandonment

All the nerve of the interior life is in this pure abandonment, which is neither seen, nor intuited, nor felt: it really is a state of death, in which one must resist in spite of nature and the cry of self-love.

Recourse to Mary Most Holy

One day, finding myself in great suffering and having no one to whom I could open my heart, I turned to the Holy Mother of God in these terms: "O Most Holy Virgin, have you brought me here to let me die? Would it not have been better to leave me in the world, given that here I do not find here the means to serve God with more holiness and purity? You see that I do not know to whom I ought to have recourse to teach me my duties, I have no one, and I know neither how to pray nor how to make mental prayer. Be for me, I pray you, a mother and a teacher. Teach me all that I must know."

A Really Bad Monastic Day

Everything tires me, everything bothers me. The most inoffensive words irritate me, and I am finding it hard even to put up with myself. How can I do always the same thing, always at the same hour, in the same way, what enslavement!

Filled Full with Holiness and Love of Christ

Let me know You, O divine Jesus. Lift the veil of our shadows: let the torch of faith make me penetrate the holiness and the love contained in Your holy mysteries, and let my soul be penetrated by these to the point that no creature may be able to occupy it.

Mystical Death

It is necessary to lose all, this I see well, but my interior nature seeks to rest at least the tips of my feet so as to catch a breath. Oh, how rare it is, this total death! It is necessary to die and to be buried in Him who triumphs and is glorified in the death of His creatures. It is necessary that I die even to helpful things, to the light and to all that would be to me even the slightest support.

Eucharistic Prayer

They speak to me often of prayer, but I never hear anyone speak of the Most Holy Sacrament. Is there perhaps another mean to attain to God other than the Holy Eucharist? Is not the Holy Eucharist God Himself?

Pride

Pride is the source of all our faults and also of all our misfortunes.

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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