Mectilde de Bar: October 2012 Archives

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.

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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