Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, true priest

This and previous articles were first published by the Benedictine Monks of Sainte Joseph de Clairval in France. I have found the articles in their newsletter very interesting and inspiring. With the permission granted me by Père Jacques, I present for your edification random selections from past and present issues.

 

Please visit the web site of Abbaye Sainte Joseph de Clairval to view some of the beautiful work of these sons of Saint Benedict.

 

This article is about the Patron Saint of Priests, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, a very humble and devoted priest. He is a beautiful example of the true priesthood. As Roman Catholics, we must remember to pray for our priests every day. Their trials and temptations are great and they need our prayers to overcome these constant battles in order to be the priest they have been called to be. So, remember them always in your prayers.

 

This article is from February 2, 1997

 

On the evening of February 19, 1818, after having covered on foot the thirty kilometers separating Ecully from the village of Ars (near Lyons), Jean-Marie Vianney, a young priest, asked a young shepherd the way to his new parish. The latter set the stranger on the right path, and heard this word of thanks: “My little friend, you have shown me the way to Ars; I will show you the way to Heaven.”

 

“Let us thank God for the saints that have marked the history of France” (John Paul II, September 25, 1996). Isn’t it the mission of the saints to show the way to Heaven? Saint Benedict tells us in the Prologue to his Rule: Let us gird our flanks with the faith and the practice of good works; under the guidance of the Gospel, let us gfo forth in the ways of the Lord, so that we may finally merit seeing Him who called us to His kingdom. But if we wish to live in the palace of this kingdom, we must reach it by good works, without which we will not reach it.”

 

Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, one of the flames that lights our way, helps us, by his example, to act according to our Christian vocations.

 

A Little Shepherd Under The Terror

 

  1. The Terror. In Lyons, in the square called les Terreaux, the guillotine was always busy. The churches were closed up. On the streets, only the bases of the calvary scenes remained: Men came to Lyons and struck down the crosses. But among the true faithful, the sanctuary of hearts remained inviolate. Jean-Marie Vianney, born in 1786, spent his early years in this revolutionary climate.

 

He carefully guarded a little statue of the Blessed Virgin, even taking it to the fields in a pocket in his shirt. He placed it inn the trunk of an old tree, covered it with mosses, branches and flowers and then, on his knees in the grass said his Rosary. The banks of the creek had replaced the unused church where no one prayed anymore. Other shepherds kept their flocks in the surrounding area. They were not Jeanvianneyalways good company; but jean-Marie couldn’t stop them from coming to him. And that’s how, without thinking about it, he became an apostle. Catechist for his comrades, he retold what he himself had heard in the silence of the night, and taught the prayers that he had learned from his mother. A priestly vocation had just hatched: In the depths of his soul he had heard the follow me (Matt. 8:22) which, on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, drew Peter, Andrew. James and John to follow Jesus.

 

At the age of 19, he began his studies as a seminarian. Alas! He found Latin grammar quite dull. The young man had a finely honed repartee: people loved to hear him speak, but studies were difficult for him; when he had a pen in his hands, he became slow and embarrassed. In the major seminary of Lyons, his efforts seemed fruitless. It was very difficult for him when, at the end of five or six months, the directors, thinking that he could not succeed, asked him to withdraw. Many of his fellow seminarians were very troubled to see him leave the seminary. Deeply troubled himself, he confided in Providence. After a long and hard-working wait, his spiritual director presented him to one of the vicars general, Mr. Courbon, who governed the archdiocese of Lyons.

 

He asked: “Is Mr. Vianney pious? Is he devoted to the Blessed Virgin? Does he know how to say his Rosary?” – “Yes, he is the model of piety,” – “A model of piety! Well then, I call him. The grace of God will do the rest…. The Church does not only need smart priests, but also and above all pious priests.” Mr. Courbon was quite insured. By the grace of God and dedicated work, Jean-Marie Vianney made real progress in his studies. During the canonical examination leading to the priesthood, the examiner questioned him for more than an hour on the most difficult points concerning moral theology. His clear and precise answers were entirely satisfactory. All of his life the holy Curé (cure is the French word for a parish pastor) would attach great importance to the knowledge of sound doctrine. He prepared his sermons with care. In order to sustain his knowledge, he would study on winter evening.

 

Obsession With The Salvation Of Souls

 

A way to the priesthood was now open to Mr. Vianney who received Holy Orders on August 13, 1815. God sent His Son into the world so that the world might be saved by Him (cf. John 3:17). The mission of priest is precisely to make this work of salvation present and effective everywhere in the world. That is why the Curé of Ars could say: “Without the priest, the death and Passion of Our Lord would be useless. It is the priest who continues the work of the Redemption on earth.”

 

In the image of the Good Shepherd, he spent his life searching for lost lambs in order to lead them back to the fold. One day he said, “Misfortune to a priest who remains silent when he sees God outraged and souls wandering away!” He was particularly attracted to the conversion of sinners. His weeping over lost souls was heartbreaking: “Even if the Good Lord were not so good, but He is so good!… Save your poor soul!… It is bad to lose a soul that has cost Our Lord so much! What harm has He done to you that you treat Him this way?” One day he gave a memorable teaching on the last judgment, repeating several times on the subject of the damned: “Cursed by God!… Cursed by God!… What misfortune, what misfortune!” They were no longer words but sobs that brought tears to all those who were present.

 

As much as he could, he made himself available to offer the pardon of God to repentant souls. He surely was horrified by evil: “By sin we chase the Good Lord from our souls, we scorn the Good Lord, we crucify Him, we defy His justice, we sadden His paternal heart, we steal from Him adoration and homage which are due only to Him…. Sin casts frightening shadows into out mind that block the eyes of the soul; it obscures the faith like thick fog hides the sun from our eyes…. It prevents us from going to Heaven. Oh! Sin is a great evil!” That is why he spent a lot of time administering the Sacrament of Penance, the ordinary means for again finding the state of grace and the friendship of the Lord.

 

A Besieged Confessional

 

It has been said, “The great miracle of the Curé of Ars was his confessional besieged night and day.” The saint spent three quarters of his existence in this confined space: From November to March, he spent no less than 11 to 12 hours there every day, and during good weather from 16 to 18 hours. In winter, when his frozen cracked fingers were too numb, he burned as best he could a bit of newspaper to warm them up. As for his feet, in his own words, “From All Saints to Easter, I don’t feel them!” His feet were so numb that, when he took his stockings off in the evening, he would sometimes peel off the skin of his heels at the same time. But what did these small sufferings matter to him when, in order to save souls, he was ready for anything.

 

He was in the habit of saying, “To really have one’s sins washed away, one must really make a good confession!” – “Make a good confession.” First of all, that means that it is necessary to prepare oneself by a serious examination of conscience. Pope John Paul II reminds us, “Confession must be complete in the sense that it mentions all Mortal sins…. Today, many people come to the Sacrament of Penance not entirely acknowledging all their mortal sins and sometimes come into conflict with the priest confessor, who, following his duty, questions them in order to arrive at a complete and necessary description of sins, as if he were taking an unjustified intrusion into the sanctuary of the conscience. I hope and pray for those unenlightened faithful that they understand that the rule according to which we require the precise and exhaustive enumeration of sins, according to the best abilities of one’s memory, is not a weight which is arbitrarily imposed upon them, but a means of liberation and of serenity” (Letter to the Grand Penitentiary, Cardinal William Baum, March 22, 1996)

 

“Sin ties man to his shameful bonds.” The holy Curé taught. According to the words of Our Lord: Whoever commiteth sin is the servant of sin (john 8:34). Indeed, sin leads to sin; it generates vice and darkens the conscience (cf. Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1865). Sacramental absolution, received eith the necessary disposition, leads the soul to true interior freedom and gives it the force necessary to conquer bad habits. It is beautiful to think that we have a sacrament that cures the wounds of our soul!” exclaimed Saint Jean-Marie Vianney. He also said, “In the Sacrament of Penance, God shows us and shares with us His mercy even unto infinity…. You have been my candle at night; early in the morning it burned out. Where is it? It no longer exists, it is gone; in the same way, the sins for which one has received absolution no longer exist; they are gone.”

 

The Sacrament of Reconciliation with God brings true “spiritual resurrection,” a restitution of divine friendship. One of its secondary fruits is joy of the soul and peace of mind. There were many penitents in Ars who experienced it. One of them, an old non-believer who hadn’t been to confession for more than thirty years, admitted that after acknowledging his faults he felt “an indefinable well-being.” The goodness of the saint towards sinners did not have a weak side to it. Before giving absolution, he required sufficient signs of conversion. Two things were absolutely necessary: First of all, contrition, that is, “the sorrow for having sinned, resting on supernatural motives, for sin violates charity towards God, the supreme Being, it caused the sufferings of the Redeemer and causes us the loss of eternal happiness,” (John Paul II, ibid.). One day, the holy priest answered a poorly prepared penitent this way: “Your firm commitment to sin no more is also just as necessary.” It is also obvious that the confession of sins must include the serious intention of not committing sin in the future. If this disposition of the soul were lacking, there is in reality no repentance,” (John Paul II, ibid). The intention not to sin any more implies the will to put in place the appropriate means and, if necessary, to renounce certain behaviors. In this regard, the Curé of Ars showed a firmness in the face of criticism, as when he required his penitents abandon dancing and indecent dress.

 

Confidence In Grace

 

“The intention of not committing sin should be founded on the Divine Grace that the Lord never denies to those who do what is in their power to live right. We expect from the Divine Bounty, because of the promises and merits of Jesus Christ, eternal life and the graces necessary to obtain it,” (John Paul II, ibid.). The holy Curé encouraged his penitents to delve into the sources of grace: “There are two things that help unite oneself with Our Lord and to accomplish one’s salvation: prayer and sacraments.” With grace everything is possible and even easy.

 

Above all, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney wished to lead his faithful to Eucharistic Communion. To receive Communion is to receive Christ Himself and to heighten our union with Him. It supposes a state of grace; “Anyone who desires to receive Christ in Eucharistic Communion must be in the state of grace. Anyone aware of having sinned mortally must not receive Communion without having received absolution in the Sacrament of Penance” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1415). To souls that were well disposed and desirous of making progress, the Curé of Ars, contrary to the custom of his time, recommended frequent Communion: “The food of the soul is the Body and Blood of a God! Oh what beautiful nourishment! The soul can only nourish itself with God! Only God can fill it! Only God can satisfy its hunger! The soul must absolutely have God! Therefore go to Communion, go to Jesus with love and confidence!” The holy Curé had made the Eucharist the center of his own life. We know the place that the Mass held in every day of his life, with what care he prepared himself to celebrate it. He also encouraged frequent visits to the Blessed Sacrament, and loved to tell the following anecdote: “In this parish there was a man who had been dead for some years. He went to the church in the morning to say his prayers before going into the fields, and he left his pick at the door and forgot himself before God. A neighbor, who worked near the same place and was in the habit of taking notice of him, was surprised by his absence one day. On his way back, he thought about going into the church, thinking that he might find him there. Indeed, he did. He asked him. ‘What have you been doing for such a long time?’ The man answered, ‘I look at the Good Lord, and the Good Lord looks at me.’ ”

 

My Oldest Love

 

While leading souls to the Eucharist, the holy Curé led souls to the Blessed Virgin, the Mother of mercy and the Refuge of sinners. He passed numerous hours in prayer at the foot of her altar. In his catechetical teachings, preaching, conversations, he spoke of her out of the abundance of his heart: “The Most Blessed Virgin places herself between us and her Son. The greater sinners we are, the more is her tenderness and compassion for us. The child who makes his mother cry most, is the one most dear to her heart. Doesn’t a mother run most quickly to the weakest and the most exposed? In a hospital, doesn’t a doctor give more of his attention to the sickest patients?” One day he confided to Catherine Lassagne, one of his spiritual daughters: “I loved her [the Virgin] even before I knew her; she is my oldest love!” The Most Blessed Virgin is the light of our dark days. On December 8, 1854, Pope Pius IX defined the dogma of the Immaculate Conception. Despite his fatigue, the Curé of Ars insisted on chanting the Holy Mass himself. In the afternoon, after vespers, all the parish went in a procession to the Brothers’ school where he blessed a statue of the Immaculate Virgin set up in the garden and for which he had donated the money. That evening, in the village, they illuminated the bell tower, the walls of the church and the façades of houses. This feast was truly one of the most beautiful days of his life. Almost in his seventies, he appeared about twenty years younger. Never was a child happier to see the triumph of his mother: “What good fortune, what good fortune! I always thought that this ray of lustre was lacking in the Catholic truths. It was an omission which could not remain in our religion.”

 

“I Will Rest In Paradise”

 

In his love for souls, Saint Jean-Marie Vianney did not forget the poor. He founded a home for abandoned girls, which he called: “Providence.” This home took in fifty or sixty girls from twelve to eighteen years of age. Coming from every area, penniless, they spent an indefinite amount of time there and then were placed on farms in the country. During their stay, they learned too know, love and serve God. They formed a family, in which the oldest set the example, advised and taught the youngest. It was not an ordinary institution, but rather an emanation of the holiness of the founder. Resources, life, spirit and guidance came from him.

 

But these souls were not saved without a lot of suffering. Contradictions, crosses, struggles, ambushes, came from everywhere to the holy Curé, both men and the “Grappin” (nickname which was normally used to designate the devil). His life was a combat against the forces of evil. To sustain himself, the only resources he had were patience, prayer and fasting, which sometimes went beyond the limits of human prudence. He developed the virtue of meekness to the point that it was believed that he had no passion and was incapable of losing his temper. Nevertheless, those who were closest to him and saw him the most frequently remarked soon enough that he had a lively imagination and character. Among the surprising proofs of his patience, the story is told of a man from Ars who went to the presbytery to heap insults on him: the Curé received him, listened to him without saying a word, then accompanied him to the door and gave him a nice send off before taking his leave. The sacrifice was so costly to him that he went up to his room and had to go to bed. His body was covered with a rash on account of the effort he had made to master himself….

 

The saint owed this heroic patience to his love for Jesus Christ. Our Lord was his life, his heaven, his present and future, and the adorable Eucharist was the only thing that could possibly quench the thirst that consumed him. He often tearfully cried out, “O Jesus, to know You is to love You…. If we knew how much Our Lord loved us, we would die of delight! I do not believe that there are hearts haerd enough not to love when they see how much they are loved…. Charity is so beautiful! It flows from the Heart of Jesus, which is all love…. The only good fortune we have on earth is to love God and know that God loves us…”

 

Coming to the end of his life, of which we have only touched on a few areas, the holy Curé ardently aspired to Heaven. One day he said, “We will see Him! We will see Him!… O, my brothers! Have you ever thought about it? We will see God! We will really see Him! We will see Him as He is… face to face!… we will see Him! We will see Him!!!” Like the worker who has indeed fulfilled his task, he departed to see God and rest in paradise on August 4, 1859.

 

“The Church does not look on its heritage as the treasure of a bygone past, but as a powerful inspiration in order to proceed on the pilgrimage of the faith, on paths that are always new” (John Paul II, Reims, September 22, 1996). The life of the Curé of Ars is a treasure for the Church. ‘Saint Jean-Marie Vianney, you had in your life such great zeal for the salvation of souls and unlimited love for poor sinners, increase in us the spirit of sacrifice and prepare us a place in Heaven, so that we might contemplate God with you for eternity.’

 

That is what we ask in our prayers for you, for those who are dear to you and for all your dearly departed.

 

Dom Antoine Marie, osb

 

 

As mention at the beginning of this article, pray for our priests and for vocations.

 

Prayer to the Holy Curé of Ars

 

O Holy Curé of Ars, you dedicated your life

to sinners in the ministry of reconciliation.

May your prayer obtain for us today priests

filled with the mercy of the Lord Jesus, and

may these priests rekindle in the world the

true ideal of the priesthood and of the

Sacrament of Reconciliation. May they dedicate

themselves as you did to the preaching of the

Word, and shower the merciful blessings of God

on all who come close to them. Amen.

 

Helping Hand
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The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

The Carmelite Martyrs of Compiegne

 

taken from the Caramel Clarion March – April issue of 2004

by Father Phelim, OCD

 

 

Carmelite foundation

 

The community of Carmelite nuns at Compiegne had been established and 1641.  It was a daughter house of the monastery of Amiens.  The community flourished and was renowned for its fervor and fidelity to the spirit of saint Teresa of Avila.  The continued to enjoy the affection and the sting of the French court and so, a century and a half later it became an object of hatred to the leaders of the French revolution.  As the revolution progressed the nuns had no illusions about the danger of their situation.  Their dynamic and discerning prioress, Sr. Theresa of St. Augustine, read the signs of the times accurately and was inspired to prepare her community for the supreme sacrifice, should the need arise.  In 1792 the community of 21 nuns offered themselves to God as a holocaust “to placate the anger of God, so that divine peace brought on earth by His Beloved Son would return to the church and to the state.” Two years later sixteen members of the Compiegne community gave their lives for God and country.

 

The Revolution

 

With the fall of the battle on July 14, 1789 the French revolution began. The new assembly showed its anti-religious bias by proclaiming the vows taken by a religious was null and void. The nuns, however, continued to live their religious life and refused to abandon the religious habit. Not so their parish priest, who abandoned his parish and took a civil appointment under the new regime. The nuns were providentially cared for spiritually by the Abbe Courouble and later, when he was sent into exile; the Abbe de la Marche S.J. took over complete responsibility for the community.

 

Riots and Orgies

 

Rumors of riots and orgies taking place in Paris continued to reach the nuns at Compiegne. In a 1790 they were visited by the newly appointed members of the local government who inspected the monastery and its accounts as well as interviewing each of the nuns. The Directory of the Compiegne district reported that there was a fifteen choir religious, three lay sisters and two extern and sisters serving the monastery. Later on the 5th August these a gentleman presented themselves again and insisted on being admitted to the enclosure.  In the community room they interviewed each sister separately while soldiers kept a guard outside. The nuns were offered full freedom from their ‘so called vows’ with a suitable pension should they wish to leave the continent. They one and all refused this offer. Next day a formal document was sent to the district Directory signed by each nun stating that they all wished to live and die has professed Carmelite nuns.

 

A Time of Trial

 

Mother Teresa, the Prioress, undertook at this time a regime of personal penance and of prayer in preparation for the trials, which lay ahead. She was helped and encouraged by Fr. De La Marche, her spiritual guide. During the 1791 she endured great trials and a darkness of soul, which gave away in time to deep peace and inner joy. It was then, at Easter 1792 that she communicated her inspiration to the community, of offering themselves as a holocaust to God; to appease His anger, obtain peace for the church and salvation for France.  The nuns, after prayer and reflection came to their prioress and ask that they be allowed to make an offering of their lives with hers. From then they were conscious that their lives were no longer their own.

 

Looking Ahead

 

Hearing of the eviction of many religious from their monasteries Mother Teresa decided to make preparations for a similar emergency at Compiegne. She rented rooms in friendly houses and paid for them in advance. She also obtained secular outfits for the nuns in case they were obliged to discard the religious dress. These precautions were taken none too soon, as on September 12, 1792 local officials systematically searched the house and took whatever valuables they could find. On September 14th the property was confiscated and the nuns forced to adopt secular dress.

 

Four Groups

 

With the apartments rented in four houses the community divided into four separate groups. The Prioress took charge of the first group and Mother Henriette de Croissy headed the second. Sr. St. Louis and Sr. Mary of the Incarnation took charge of the third and fourth groups respectively. Every effort was made to remain faithful to the Carmelite way of life. Individuals were appointed to look after cooking, laundry and shopping.

 

Civil Registration

 

When the nuns were safely installed they each went to the local town hall to register their names and apply for the pension, which they had been assured, would be paid them by the state. The official who met them there was none other than their former parish priest, now a state employee. He was quite upset on seeing them and secretly gave them the keys of the parish church of which he was still the civil custodian, so they might be able to have Mass. Soon they were left without a chaplain. Fr. Courouble refused to take the oath of allegiance to the national assembly and was given 24 hours to leave the country. He made his way to Belgium and continued his priestly ministry at Brussels.

 

A New Chaplain

 

God provided the community however with the new chaplain in the person of Fr. de la Marche S.J. Dressed in disguise he would meet the nuns secretly at the parish church and offered Holy Mass for them. That Mass, more than anything else prepared them for their personal sacrifice in union with the Crucified Saviour. The Blessed Sacrament was also reserved whenever possible in the house where Mother Teresa lodged, through the kind offices of Fr. de la Marche. One of the sisters, an invalid at the time of the eviction, died in October, 1792. Two others became ill and had to depart to be taken care of by relatives who lived some distance away. It was then possible to vacate one house and regroup in the remaining three.

 

Sr. Mary of the Incarnation

 

Contact with Paris and with the nuns relatives and friends were maintained by Sr. Mary of the Incarnation. She was the daughter of the Prince de Conty and a relative of the King. While her father wished her to take her place at court she opted for the Carmelite way of life and was professed and 1786. She went frequently to Paris and operated under various assumed names. It was she who was able to procure secretly, materials for habits and mantles required by the nuns and used at the time of the execution. Sr. Mary made a trip to Paris early and 1794 and continued her activities outside Compiegne for some months.

 

Mother Teresa in Paris

 

In June, 1794 Mother Teresa of St. Augustine went to Paris at the request of her mother who had finalized her preparations to seek refuge in Switzerland.  During this visit to Paris the Prioress witnessed the full horror of the executions.  She saw the tumbrels pass by carrying victims to their death. She remarked to Mary of the Incarnation:  “How happy I would be to think that I would have the joy of going thus to eternity.” Sr. Mary, for her part, shuddered at the prospect and said so quite openly.  When she bade her mother farewell, Mother Teresa of St. Augustine set out for Compiegne, but Mary of the Incarnation decided not to accompany her.  She went instead to complete some business at the estate of her father near Paris.  Later she wrote to say that she planned to travel with her family to Doubs, but the letter was intercepted and the civil authorities got on her track.

 

The Arrest

 

When Mother Teresa returned from Paris she found that the soldiers were waiting to arrest her and her community. It would seem that they had been carefully watched for some time and betrayed by a government agent. Once arrested the nuns were brought under security to Compiegne prison. Their food was meager and poor quality and they were generally ill treated. On July 12th they were told to be ready to get into carriages that were to bring them to Paris. The carriages proved to be mere carts and the floors were covered with dirty straw. They traveled in discomfort all day and all night and on the evening of the thirteenth, which was a Sunday, they reached Paris.

 

In Prison and Again

 

In Paris the group was imprisoned in the Conciergerie, nicknamed the ‘Morque’, since no one remained there for long. The aged Sr. Charlotte, unable to descend from the cart was roughly handled by attendants and fell heavily to the ground. After lying for some time motionless on the ground she was helped to her feet, her face all covered with blood. Turning to the attendants she assured them that she bore them no ill will and would indeed pray for them. As July 14th was a national holiday, no cases were tried. After spending two nights in the Conciergerie the nuns were put on trial on the morning of the seventeenth and condemned to be executed a few hours later.

 

The Trial

 

During their trial the nuns refused with dignity the charges that they were spies, trying to overthrow the government and working in collusion with a foreign power. At the end of the proceedings the judge condemned each sister to death. When pressed by Mother Henriette, a former Prioress, for what reasons they were to die; the judge shouted, “You are to die because you insist on remaining in your convent in spite of the liberty we gave you to abandon all such nonsense.” The aged nun replied, “Thank you, gentlemen, that is all I wished to hear.” Then turning to the Prioress she said, “We have now heard the true reason for our arrest and condemnation. It is because of our religious beliefs that we are to die. We all wished to hear such a statement. Our eternal praise and thanks to Him who has prepared us for the road to Calvary.

 

The Way to Calvary

 

After their condemnation the sisters calmly expressed their joy and desire to offer their lives in union with the great sacrifice of Calvary. As they were led away from the dock one of the Sisters grew faint and stumbled because the group had been without food for many hours. A friend in the crowd procured them a drink of hot chocolate and sustained by this nourishment they returned with radiant faces to the dungeon to await execution. There they spent the time in prayer and in singing the Divine praises. There is a story that on the July 16th, the Feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, one of the sisters calmly asked a fellow prisoner with more freedom for something on which to write. Then using charred twigs she composed a song of jubilee and petition to Carmel’s Queen in anticipation of martyrdom and adapted it to the melody of the Marseillaise.

 

Preparing to Die

 

In the interval between their condemnation and execution the nuns asked for a pail of hot water to wash their soiled clothes. They doffed their civilian garb and put on their religious habits, which were made so as to facilitate the work of the executioner. They did this in order to give witness to their religious profession. Here mention must be made of a group of Benedictine sisters who met the Carmelites in prison after their condemnation to death. They were later to testify to the faith and fervor of the Carmelites in their last hours. Later when the Benedictines were told to remove their religious habits they protested that they had brought no other clothing. To comply with the prison order they were given the garments discarded by the Carmelites, subsequently they were released through diplomatic negotiations and brought their prison garments with them as souvenirs. They are still preserved as precious relics in the Benedictine convent of Stanbrook.

 

To the Guillotine

 

With a roll of drums, the cart bearing the condemned nuns to execution emerged from the prison courtyard. It was the last cart in the cortege. Along the route the nuns were heartened to see among the onlookers their faithful and devoted chaplain Fr. de la Marche. As he raised his hand in blessing Mother Teresa intoned the Miserere and the nuns took up the chant. After the Miserere the prayers for the recommendation of the dying were recited together with other hymns and prayers. These included the Te Deum and the Salve Regina. Finally as the cortege turned into the Barriere de Vincennes (the modern Place de la Nation) where the platform with the guillotine was erected, the Veni Creator was intoned.

 

The Final Scene

 

In the hush that had fallen on the onlookers beside the guillotine the only voices to be heard were those of the praying nuns. Fr. de la Marche later related how one of the nuns remembered that she had not finished the Office of the day and said to Mother Teresa, “Have no worry,” the latter replied, “we shall recite the Office together when we get to heaven.” At the foot of the scaffold the nuns in turn knelt before their Prioress and asked her permission to die. They kissed her scapular and a little statue of Our Lady she held out to each one as they renewed their vows for the last time on earth. As they awaited there turn to be executed they chanted the Laudate Dominum, the Salve Regina and the Magnificat.

 

Willing Victims

 

The soldiers had no need to help Constance, the novice, up the steps of the scaffold, for she ran up the steps like a young bride eager to meet her bridegroom. She placed her head willingly on the block and was the first to die a martyr’s death. The two eldest sisters aged seventy-nine and seventy-eight had to be helped on to the scaffold. They thanked their executioners for their help and assured them of their prayers when they came into the presence of the Lord.

 

The Prioress was given the option of being the last to die. After she had encouraged each of her community and received their vows she knelt down and renewed her religious profession in a clear voice, kissed the statue of Our Lady as the others had done and handed it for safe keeping to a friend who years later returned it to the French Carmelites. With the heroic courage of the mother of the Macchabees she then mounted the scaffold chanting the Salve Regina until her voice was silenced on earth and began the eternal canticle in heaven. It was around 8 pm on a dark dull evening and soon the place was hushed in silence as darkness fell over Paris.

 

A Sign from Heaven

 

Later that evening the brother of one of the martyrs, Sr. Anne Pelleras, a notary, returned home. As he entered the dark hall he noticed a light shining on the wall, a light that followed him up the stairway. As he entered the room where his wife awaited him she asked what was the light that surrounded him. He turned round to see a bright globe that faded gradually. The next day, when he heard of the execution of his sister, he realized that she had been permitted to give this sign of her entry into glory.

 

The Roll of Honor

 

From existing documents and from the precious testimony of the three nuns who escaped martyrdom we can make an authentic list of the sixteen martyrs with their religious in the world:

 

Sr. Teresa of St. Augustine, Prioress (Lidoine)

Sr. St. Louis (Brideau)

Sr. Anne Marie (Piedcourt)

Sr. Charlotte (Thouret)

Sr. Euphrasia (Brard)

Sr. Henriette (de Croissy)

Sr. Teresa (Hanisset)

Sr. Teresa (Trezel)

Sr. Julia Louise (Neuville)

Sr. M. Henriette (Pelleras)

Sr. Constance (Meunier)

Sr. Mary (Roussel)

Sr. St. Martha (Dufour)

Sr. St Francis de Xavier (Verelot)

Sr. Catherine (Soiron)

Sr. Teresa (Soiron)

 

Burial

 

The bodies of the sixteen martyrs, along with their heads, were taken by carts during the night and thrown into the common pit in the Garden of Picpus, a former Franciscan monastery. Here with thousands of others, the martyrs of Compiegne found their last resting place. Later the area was surrounded by a wall and became the cemetery of Picpus. In time it was bought by a company formed by the relatives of the victims and handed back to the Church. Today marble plaques there carry the names of illustrious and noble families but none more glorious than the sixteen blessed women of Compiegne.

 

Escapee and Witness

 

When Sr. Mary of the Incarnation reached Doubs with her family she had no passport and found the frontiers blocked. It had taken her a month to make the long journey. She retraced her steps and arrived back at Besanson where she overheard in a small hotel where she stayed that her sixteen colleagues had been executed. She was still being sought after because of her royal connections and she sought refuge in the lower regions of the French Alps. Later on, when peace was restored, she returned to France and sought hospitality with the Carmelite nuns at Sens, but was never reinstated as a member of the community. She lived on until 1836 and her Memoirs plus the testimony of the other sisters who escaped death provided Fr. Bruno, O.C.D, the French Carmelite, with authentic documentary evidence which he used to the full in his book entitled Le sang Carmel, ou la veritable passion des seize Carmelites de Compiegne. (Paris 1954)

 

Unexpected Publicity

 

It is of interest to note that St. Therese of Lisieux helped with great zeal to prepare for the centenary celebration for the martyrs in 1894 when the Carmel of Lisieux supplied special decorations for the liturgical events. Madame Catez, mother of Elizabeth of the Trinity, of the Dijon Carmel, was present in Rome when Pope St. Pius X beatified the martyrs of Compiegne on May 13, 1906. Their feast has since been celebrated by the whole Carmelite Order and by the Archdiocese of Paris on the 17th, the day of their entry into glory.

 

More recently the sixteen blessed martyrs have attained unexpected publicity due to the literary work of Gertrude Von Le Fort (1931) in her novel entitled Song on the Scaffold. Gertrude was of Huguenot extraction, a close friend of Edith Stein and like her a convert to Catholicism. It is a pity that this novel departs considerably from historical truth and at times gravely distorts the true facts as Fr. Bruno is at pains to demonstrate.

 

The work of fiction however inspired Fr. R. Bruckberger to produce a film on the subject. In 1937 he entrusted the writing of the dialogue to the well-known writer George Bernanos. Ten years later Bernanos (1947-48) composed a literary work that death prevented him from perfecting. This work, Les Dialogues des Carmelites, met with enormous success when published in 1949.

 

New Developments

 

Because of the success of the work of Bernanos, it was soon adapted by A. Beguin for theater and when staged encountered unexpected success. In 1957 Les Dialogues des Carmelites was set to music bt Francis Poulence and produced in La Scala, Milan, thus further extending the work of Bernanos. Finally in 1959 Fr. Bruckberger was able to realize his dream of putting the work on screen under the direction of Philip Agostini. Thus, in quite an unforeseen way, the epic story of the sixteen martyred daughters of St. Teresa was made kown to the whole world.

 

Epilogue

 

It is worth noting that within ten days of the execution of the Carmelites many of those who sat in judgment on them and had them condemned to death were themselves brought before a tribunakl and sentenced to death. On July 28th, the head of Robespierre rolled beneath the knife of the guillotine. Others like Foquier and Tinville met a similar fate in due course amid cries of “down with the tyrants, down with the murderers”

 

By the end of August the reign of the guillotine had come to an end. Can we doubt that the brave women of Compiegne had a hand in it? There is nobody so much alive as a dead saint. The death of the Carmelite community, which was so pointless, was by no means futile or in vain. Their victory is the victory of love over hatred. As Mother Teresa of St. Augustine was wont to say: “Love will al;ways be victorious. The one who loves can do everything.” The events which took place on July 17th, showed once again the insuperable power of the love of Christ.

 

Special Note: A beautiful, heart-rending detailed account of the events of the sixteen Carmelite martyrs can be acquired through this Link. The title of the book is To Quell the Terror. I have read this book and it is most excellent.

 

Helping Hand

 

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The Nightmare Begins . . .

The Nightmare Begins . . .

The teaching of the Roman Catholic Church on the subject of ‘Abortion” has been on the minds of many Catholics and non-Catholics, particularly over the past 35 years. Some find it abhorrent, as does Our Father in Heaven, and some say,”eh, whatever”.

The Church teaches that ‘life’ is precious from the moment of conception to the last breath. To do anything to end that life is wrong and a grave sin… “Thou shalt not kill” (Ex:20:13). The Church also teaches us that the practice of a homosexual life style is wrong. “For this cause, God delivered them up to shameful affections. For their women have changed the natural use into that use which is against nature. And, in like manner, the men also, leaving the natural use of the women, have burned in their lusts, one towards another: men with men, working that which is filthy and receiving in themselves the recompense which was due to their error… Who, having known the justice of God, did not understand that they who do such things, are worthy of death: and not only they that do them, but they also that consent to them that do them” (Rom 1:26-27, 32).

Did you notice in that excerpt that the punishment for such behavior is death, and that it is wrong to consent to such behavior? This does not mean death in the flesh but the soul. The souls of those who practice or encourage homosexuality and those who perform or aid in abortions risk the very loss of their souls for all eternity.

We have a situation where many Catholics, practicing or not, voted for Barak Obama to be leader of this country. He has promised Planned Parenthood to sign into law FOCA and many other bills that will allow abortion on demand, taxpayer funding of abortions, no parental consent and the list goes on. My question here is: Are these Catholics and non-Catholics that voted for Obama partners in crime, ie; the murder of innocent babies… unborn American citizens?

The nightmare has only begun and there is going to be such an outcry because our rights as Catholics (and other faiths), as citizens of the United States are going be systematically taken away. There will be a “gag order” imposed on us. We won’t be able to teach or preach the truth about abortion and homosexuality in our churches, parochial schools, or in our own homes. It will be considered a hate crime. Those who have the courage to continue to teach this wrong from right will be sent to jail. Jails are already over-crowded. Where are they going to house them? How will they be treated? The record will show they are guilty of hate crimes.

We can’t allow this to happen. But I fear it just may come to that. I hope and pray we will have the courage to stand up and defend our faith no matter what the cost. I hope and pray the Holy Father will rise up and declare a Holy War against those who would try to take away our freedom to teach our children what is right in the eyes of God. I don’t want the government to tell me what I can think, say or pray. Venders of porn are time and again crying out “freedom of speech” in order to sell their filthy wares. Why should we be stifled when speaking the truth? Are we to become a nation of lies? We shall see!

 

Helping Hand
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Do They Even Realize What They’ve Done?

Do They Even Realize What They’ve Done?

In the wake of our recent election has it dawned on the Catholics who voted for Barak Obama what they have done, and, what they may have unleashed?

President-elect Obama promised the Planned Parenthood Organization that he would, as president, sign into law the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA). This was public knowledge and not hidden from any prospective voters. Catholics had to have heard it in the news and online or in emails from those fighting against it.

Catholic voters for Obama seemed to have been voting their pocketbooks and not what was right according to the teachings of the Church. I guess, when it comes to finances, the killing of innocent American citizens doesn’t matter as much as those involved in war or street crime or some other form of violence.

In case there are some who do not know what is going to happen should Obama sign this into law, let me list what it entails.
FOCA will nullify more than 550 federal and state laws such as:

1. The Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003.
2. The Hyde Amendment restricting taxpayer funding for abortions.
3. Restrictions on abortions at military hospitals.
4. Restrictions on insurance coverage for abortions for government emplyees.
5. Informed consent laws.
6. Parental consent laws.
7. Health and safety regulations for abortion clinics.
8. Requirements that only licensed physicians commit abortions.
9. Bans on abortions after viability:

don’t be fooled by the exception first laid down in the companion case to Roe, Doe v Bolton. Doe said that third trimester abortions could not be performed except to protect the “health” of the mother. It then went on to use the World Health Organization’s definition of “health” to include …all factors , including emotional, psychological, economic, and estological circumstances…. This is, and was, abortion on demand up to the day of birth.

10. Limits on public funding for “elective” abortions (as in, “Gosh, I have a vacation planned”, or “Stretch marks will cause me stress”).
11. Legal protection for Catholics and other religiously affiliated hospitals, who while providing health care to millions of the poor and uninsured, refuse to allow abortions within their facilities, nor refer for abortions.

FOCA would also increase abortions as much as 125,000 per year on top of those already committed as a Consequence of Roe v. Wade… “49,551,703” total abortions since 1973 in the United States alone
There’s even more fallout. It will include complete outlawing of anti-abortion protests or the provision of alternatives to abortion. States rights will be a thing of the past. Don’t think your State will be exempt. FOCA will take precedent over all state laws. Other issues such as opposition to homosexuality, will be brought along under the same usurpation of states rights.

Our Christian homeschoolers and churches will also be in the crosshairs because teaching or preaching against abortion will be considered a “HATE CRIME”. Can you believe that? Teaching what is right will become a crime? What could be a greater hate crime than the murder of innocent children? Our rights as Roman Catholics and American citizens are going to flushed down the toilet. It sickens me to the core!

Many Catholics voted for Obama because they wanted our military personnel to come home from Iraq, as we all do. Consider the number of casualties suffered by our armed soldiers to the number of abortions. Our sons and daughters will be home from Iraq when the time is right. Those aborted babies will never come home. Those who join the military are aware of the risks. Unborn children, conceived under any circumstance, are innocent and unaware that they are an inconvenience to anyone. They are God’s children, His creation, and deserve to live as much as you or I.

FOCA is the liberal left’s all out declaration of war against God and His Catholic Church! Get on your knees, Catholics, and pray this heinous Act does not get signed into law. The Church Militant must rise and fight for what is truly right! If you voted for Obama, go to confession and truly repent and then pray like you’ve never prayed before!

And for the love of God, stop trying to come off like you’re so much smarter than Catholics who knew better than to vote for the democrats new messiah!

Helping Hand
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Elizabeth of the Trinity and Saint Paul

Elizabeth of the Trinity and Saint Paul

Carmel Clarion September-October 2004

Eight days after her entrance into Carmel, Elizabeth was filling out a form in which among other things she was asked what her favorite book was. Curiously she answered, “The soul of Christ. In it I discovered all the secrets of the Father who is in heaven.” (NI 12) This is such a beautiful affirmation of how she passed her life in the Dijon Carmel. To read that hidden book was not a question of several moments of interior recollection, of seeking material silence in a corner, she had to learn to read that book through life itself. For this teachers were necessary who would teach her to read her favorite book and she found in the letters of St. Paul one of the best ways of doing this.

In the School of St. Paul

Elizabeth write in a letter to Fr. Angles, dated June 1905, that she frequently read St. Paul’s letters, which gave her great joy (L30). In those years the Apostle is for Elizabeth her “dear St. Paul” (L239), because what he writes captivates her heart, so much so that she becomes clothed in the pauline language as no one else in the history of spirittuaalaity. She does so to the extent that she can be called “the Carmelite of St. Pau.”

For her, his writings are simple and, at all times, profound (cf. L250) because they were written by a man who has a full and generous heart (L264). In the asame year that we find all those testimonies in her letters concerning the Apostle, Elizabeth prepared for heerself some tables of St. Paul’s letters. This explains the 405 quotes from St. Paul in her letters. Her veneration and love of Paul lasted throughout her entire life. Mother Germaine recalls that she called him the father of her soul. She also recalls another very emotional event. During the first days of November, 1906, Elizabeth, although she could hardly communicate with anyone dictated her farewell letters and only a few days before her death. One she wrote to Dr. Barbier not only thanking im for his care during her illness, but to every one’s surprise she also wrote: “It made me so happy to see you appreciate my dear St. Paul that I am asking you, so as to complete my happiness, to accept as a last goodbye from your litte patient, a last testimony of her affectionate gratitude, the book of those Letters from which my soul has drawn so much strength for the trial” (L340).Without any doubt, the Pauline Letters were that light in which one tries to identify oneself with the soul of Christ; the book which she preferred to read in order to discover the Fathr’s mind, since He chooses us from all eternity, inorder that we can be conformed to the image of his Beloved Son (Rm 8:29) and “appointed to live for the praise of his glory” (Eph 1:12).

Divine Election

It is probable that before a recent birth our thoughts lingered on the mystery of divine election. However, the free election before the crreation of the world is the point of departure for all human existence which is nothing other than a history of the love of God Himself. What for us is difficult, was easy for Elizabeth, who writes to her sister who was about to become a mother for the second time, “Oh, little sister, how He is blessing your little nest, how He loves you in entrusting these two little souls ‘whom He chose in Him before creation that they might be holy and spotless in His presence in love'” (Eph 1:4; 1:227).

Her sister would continue to be a witness as to how far Elizabeth penetrated this mystery, when she read again in “Heaven in Faith” written for her, many quotes from Ruysbroeck’s works, interwoven in Elizabeth’s works, which reflected what she was living (HF 22). It is love which puts spirit into the cold and calculated expression; the election is understood from the excess of love with which God calls us into existence. The excess of love (Eph 2:4) marks the entire spiritual process. Our salvation history has its beginning in that divine election born in His eternal love, from His immense charity which calls us to identify ourselves with His Son. To respond to this call can be born of no other thing than not being conscious of this excessive love with which our existence begins. To work with righteousness one must go beyond mere impression, one must believe in love: “Believe in His love, His excessive love, as St. Paul says” (Eph 2:4; GV 11). If we begin here, we can learn the way to configuration with Christ.

To Be Conformed to the Image of His Son

On her death bed, Elizabeth understood suffering in a way very distinct from how it was usually understood. It is easy to suffer as a fountain of merit and as a means of satisfactiion for one’s personal sin and the sin of the world. With this notiion Elizabeth would have been frustrated. Nobody but she, with such strength and power, could show us how suffering is of value insofar as it enables us to conform ourselves to the image of the beloved Son and this on a twofold level; the assimilation of the image of the Son in the events of daily life; and in that which shows if the communnion has been authentic, our offering unto death and the acceptance of it as the way of fulfilling the will of the Father.

It was not an east task. her “Spiritual Diary” written before her entrance into Carmel is written to her battles and promises. her life was already marked by a climate of expiation for each moment. Nevertheless, her spirit opened itself to a vision more in line with the Gospel. it is Jesus, together with the maternal help of Mary, who uncovered for her the true sense of the immolation of the Cross. Elizbeth’s heart grew in a love which aspired only to share Jesus’ sufferings, because they are the sign of His offering. She desired to attain in her life another great Pauline assertion: “I live, not I, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). “That sacrifice is nothing more than love put into action. ‘(He) who loved me and gave himself for me’ (Gal 2:20)” (L259) – she wrote to Fr. Andrew Chevignard, the young recently ordained priest. For this it was necessary to enter within the sufferings of Jesus and to reach with Him the perfect communnion with the Father’s Beloved. In Christ, our model, we can learn how to live in that openness to the Father’s will. To change it into food (Jn 4:34). Our life will be as a sacrament by which we communicate with God.

It was what she had been discovering in the reading of the Pauline leters in those final years of her life in Carmel. “St. Paul, in his magnificent letters, preached no other thing than this mystery of the charity of Christ.” For the way of surrendered love uncovers the ultimate meaning of human existence: each person is called to be “a praise of glory” (Eph 1:12).

Praise of Glory

On discovering the true meaning of the Apostle’s text, Elizabeth recalls for us that from that moment she embraced that as her vocation. It was near the end of 1905, there wer not many more days left to her on earth, but she already knew that she was able to live her vocation in the desert. Before she had intuited the goal that we are called to be this “praise of glory,” but now she lives it in its fullness. It is the consumation of the life she offered.

No one can doubt that it is the vocation to which we are all called. As she wrote to her sister, Margarite, in her work “Heaven in Faith.” There in poetic form she is going to make known what for her it means to be a “praise of glory”: It is to live in God, to be totally indentified with His will. It is to be a soul of silence that remains like a lyre under the mysterious touch of the Holy Spirit so that He may draw from it divine harmonies by its suffering and offering. It is a soul that gazes on God in faith and simplicity. It is like a crystal through which He can radiate and contemplate all His perfections and His own splendor of the divine life. A “praise of glory” is, finally, a being who is always giving thanks. Each of her acts, her movements, her thoughts, her aspirations, at the same time that they are rooting her more deeply in love, are like an echo of the eternal Sanctus (HF 43).

She will return to record with other words and in another more doctrinal tone what it means to be a “praise of glory” in her “Last Retreat.” She now compares herself with Christ who is the perfect glory of the Father. It is not a question of several meanings, but one word: if one has walked the way of configuration with Christ, he will attain indentification with Him where he will be able to manifest it continually before the Father’s eyes. Identified with Christ, who has uncovered her vocation as a “praise of glory,” she will attain what the Father comes to give her in order to give her her inheritance. The way has already been traveled by Mary, as the first believer, and she now is joined to the Cross, and is offereed to us as a mother. Elizabeth knows that in those moments each o ne should take up his own cross, now that Jesus had returned to the Father, we are in the crucible of salvific suffering that make up for the things that are lacking in the Passion of Christ for His body, the Church (ol 1:24), and the Virgin is still there to tell us and teach us those final songs of His soul, which no one besides her, His Mother, could overhear. (LR 41).

Elizabeth of the trinity bringing to life the pauline doctrine, assimilating its meaning in a living prayer (O My God, Trinity Whom I adore!) will be a witness that the life of a Christian is developed in the key of eternity. It will feel peace, death and resurrection, free of all its miseries. Because every believer will come to affirm: “I live nit I. My Master lives in Me” (Gal 2:20, LR 31).

Helping Hand
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The Marvels of Divine Union in The Last Mansions

The Marvels of Divine Union

in The Last Mansions

 

Taken from the September-October Issue 2006

of the Carmel Clarion

 

by Philip Boyce, OCD

 

Part I.

The thought of describing the marvels of God’s union with the purified soul at the summit of the way of perfection makes even saints, who have experiential knowledge of what they would relate, have their misgivings and express their reluctance. If the experience of the Divine is always beyond the range of words, how much more difficult must it be to convey the crucifying delights and heavenly secrets of that perfect union which is the theme of the Seventh Mansions of The Interior Castle?

 

Even St. Teresa of Jesus expresses her hesitancy despite singular grace she was given of describing the mystery of her unique wealth of mystical favors. She knows very well that she is stammering only something about the many unutterable secrets that are revealed to her and to others, whom God united to himself in a convent of unending love. She therefore feels the need to ask God ‘to move her pen and give her understanding’ (cf. IC 7, 1,1). Indeed, this hesitancy appears at the start of each of the four last Mansions, and from the Fourth onward she asks no more than to be able to say ‘something about the remaining stages in a profitable and comprehensible manner, knowing well that it is impossible to adequately communicate the tidiness and depth of the experience itsel’ (IC 4,1,1).

 

Since the new world experienced by the mystics is something of which they have no true likeness or trm of comparison from normal sense perception, they are obliged tio have recourse to symbolic language. They endeavor to describe their experience in analogical terms, using images and symbols which have a power of suggestion beyond that of literal statements. Genuine mystics seem to have an endless store of comparisons, yet they realize that every image is inadequate to their purpose and cannot really convey the divine reality. Having expended entire pages on detailed and ingenious descriptions, as often as not they end by saying that the reality is completely different and far beyond that what they have written. They seem to themselves to speak ‘from the outside’ and to risk betraying the beauty and dignity of what they contemplated. Sometimes their fears go farther, “My words are more of a desecration and a blasphemy than a description” exclaims Bl. Angela of Foligno.

 

For all that, they have written what seems to us to be exceptional, almost inspired, pages about their experiences of the living God. At times they were commanded to do so under obedience, by a confessor or spiritual director, or even by God himself. Their intention in writing their accounts was the welfare of souls and the glory of God.

 

The theme of their disclosure can be summarized in a few words: they speak of the purification and unfolding of divine love in their lives, and of the wonders wrought by God in their souls. Their experience is inevitably one of dying to themselves in order to live for God; a story of surrender and conformity in Christ; an interpersonal communion and donation. The deeper the union and the more overpowering the invasion of God’s light and love, the more the human frame suffers and he more unutterable are the joys and marvels experienced.

 

In order to communicate in words something of the marvels of divine union in the last Mansions, St. Teresa has recourse to the symbolism of marriage with all its suggestive imagery: intimate love, mutual surrender, persevering fidelity, interpersonal communion, indissoluble friendship and unity of hearts. By the end of July 1577, la Madre was at Avila and had completed her account of the first four Mansions as well as a substantial part of the fifth. Then the longest interruption in the composition of the book occurred, a period of between three to four months. When she returned to her task and began the final chapter of the fifth Mansions, she left aside for the moment the allegory of the butterfly, which she had been using, and introduced another ‘comparison’, as she calls it, in order to give a better description of the higher stages of divine union in the last series of Mansions. It is the nuptial imagery which she develops into an allegory. And she claims she cannot find a more adequate image, “You’ve already often heard that God espouses souls spiritually. Blessed be His mercy that wants so much to be humbled! And even though the comparison may be a coarse one, I cannot find another that would better explain what I mean than the sacrament of marriage’ (IC 5,4,3).

 

  1. Marriage Symbolism in the Bible

 

No one can enter into a human being in a relation of love as closely and penetratingly as his creator. It is not surprising then that God made use of the most intimate of unions between two creatures on earth namely, that between husband and wife, in order to present an image, however inadequate, of the eternal fidelity, the tender and ardent love, which binds him to the soul he created and redeemed. He revealed himself to Israel as the one true God. Because of his free and elective love, Abraham and his descendants were a chosen people. The resulting bond of friendship between them in the history of salvation was a sacred covenant. This latter was persistently described by the prophets in terms of nuptial love, as a marriage between Yahweh and the people he had chosen.

 

The earliest prophet who spoke in a significant manner of this theme was Hosea. Through the sad vicissitudes of his own marriage, he came to realize the bitterness caused by a faithless ‘wife of harlotry’ (Hos 1,2). This gave him an insight into the incomprehensible love, tender and persevering, of Yahweh for his people, who were so unfaithful to him and continued to run after false gods and selfish loves. He contemplated the tragedy of God’s unanswered love in the fickle devotion of is own wife. The experience led him to understand more deeply the reality of God’s love, which is not attracted by some good quality in Israel, but his beloved. Rather, by freely loving his chosen people, he makes them worthy of love, even of divine love.

 

In fact, the very word used by Hosea for this love (hesed) is a technical term in covenant or contract language. When applied to Yahweh it signifies his steadfast, tender and invincible love for his people. Used in the context of married love by Hosea, it evokes a close and indissoluble bond of friendship. Thus Yahweh is called the ‘husband’ who for a while repudiates Israel his unfaithful ‘wife’ (cf. Hos 2,2), but who will take her back again and heap spiritual gifts upon her when she abandons her adulterous loves. ”I will betroth you to me for ever; I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love, and in mercy. I will betroth you to me in faithfulness and you shall know the Lord” (Hos 2,19-20).

The marriage imagery of God’s love for his people is developed by later prophets. They draw on it to portray the days of Israel’s fidelity, when she followed Yahweh in the desert, like a devoted and loyal bride (cf. Jer 2,2). They also use it to condemn the later period of infidelity, which in their eyes is equivalent to adultery (cf. Jer 3,1-5); Ezek 16). Isaiah echoes Hosea’s words censuring Israel for its infidelity (cf. Is 1,21), but even nore so pledging God’s personal and steadfast love for his faithful ones. “For your Maker is your husband, the Lord of hosts is his name (.. .) For the Lord has called you like a wife forsaken and grieved in spirit, like a wife of youth when she was cast off” (Is 54,5-6). This love is forgiving and has the fervor of a first love: the little remnant will be the object of God’s care, who will take his joy in her “as the bridegroom rejoices in his bride” (Is 62,5) and will clothe her “with the robe of righteousness” “as a bride adorns herself with her jewels” (Is 61,10).

 

The Song of Songs (or Canticle of Canticles) also celebrates the love of a bride and bridegroom for each other. Scholars disagree about the literal meaning and origin of this sacred text. However, a long-standing Jewish and Christian tradition has interpreted these poems in an allegorical sense as an image of the pure love and mystical union between Yahweh and his chosen people or in the Christian tradition, between Christ and the Church. “Whatever theory of interpretation we adopt,” states the Jerusalem Bible, “we are justified in applying the Song to the mutual love of Christ and his Church or to the union of the individual soul with God. Mystics like St. John of the Cross were wise to use the Song as they did. “Probably no other book of the Old Testament was so richly and willingly commentated and meditated in Christian antiquity, right up to the Middle ages and beyond. The Fathers of the Church perceived its true spiritual meaning, and took its daring words of love to praise the unlimited love of God for is people and his Church. They also extended the symbolism, especially in later centuries, to signify the bond of mystical union between Christ the bridegroom and the individual soul his bride, or in a special way between God and the Blessed Virgin Mary.

 

The New Testament continues this nuptial imagery. It is particularly evident in the writings of St. Paul who appears as the spiritual father of the Corinthian community; prepared by him to be presented to Christ on the day of his coming. “I betrothed you to Christ so as to present you as a pure bridge to her one husband” (2Cor 11,2). The locus classicus however, is in his Letter to the Ephesians, where he draws a parallel between a human marriage and the marriage of Christ to his Church. Christ is presented as the head and husband of the Church for whom he has sanctified himself to make her holy and spotless (cf. Eph 5,21-28).

 

Finally, in the pages of the Book of Revelations (Apocalypse), this same imagery is repeated to portray the union of the triumphant Church with God. The Church in glory is “the bride, the spouse of the Lamb” (Rev 21,9). The final and complete establishment of the kingdom of God will be a marriage union between Christ and those countless saved by his Blood. “Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready” (Rev 19,7).

 

 

  1. St. Teresa’s Use of the Marriage Allegory

 

The nuptial symbolism of love enters systematically in the final Mansions with the advent of a strictly mystical life. Although love is never absent from spiritual growth, its manifestations previous to this point are not so intense and absorbing as to warrant the nuptial imagery. In earlier Teresian writings we do find references to this symbolism, but only in general terms. Thus, she often speaks of Christ as the spouse of the soul, and in one passage of the Way of Perfection, while explaining the familiarity and friendship that a soul of prayer should cultivate with Christ, she urges her daughters to get to know their Spouse and to have that same care for im that any woman in the world would have for her husband (W 22,7). However, the imagery is not developed any further or applied to the spiritual life in a systematic way. As one of the leading modern writers on Teresa states:

 

Only mystical love, therefore, raises the soul’s relations with God to a nuptial level by imitating a process of growth that terminates in the ‘mystical marriage’ (7th Mansions), which is prepared by a pre-nuptial state of mystical betrothal (6th Mansions), which in its turn is preceded by an affective prelude or a kind of loving education imparted by the first mystical state (5th Mansions).

 

It is now possible that St. Teresa is indebted, in her use of this imagery, to St. John of the Cross who makes even more abundant use of it. However, from her own writings it is evident that the proximate basis for her introduction of the nuptial allegory was Solomon’s Song of Songs. In a mystical experience of about the year 1565, the aptness of these inspired words to describe what she herself had been recently undergoing struck her forcefully. This led her to write a commentary on this inspired book of the Old testament. Choosing seven verses from it, she outlined in as many chapters the seven stages of the spiritual journey to complete union of love with God. These pages are a presage of the most developed and systematic treatment of the same theme in The Interior Castle.

 

It seems probable that the first draft of these Meditations on the Song of Songs (or according to Fr. Gracian’s title, Conceptions of the Love of God) was written about the year 1566, and the final one between 1572 and 1575. Although these dates are culled from internal evidence in the text itself, and are only approximate, they would seem to be acceptable. From this chronological collection, one can deduce that it was while the author herself was suffering the violent raptures and painful phenomena of spiritual betrothal that she was consoled and reassured by hearing some verses from the Song of Songs, “through them she understood” she writes, referring to herself, “that her soul was being well guided” (Med 1,66). The experience left her with the inner conviction that a soul in love with its divine Spouse can undergo “swoons, deaths, afflictions, delights and joys with Him” (ibid.).

 

A few years later she gives a doctrinal and systematic exposition of this deepening union in The Interior Castle. In doing so, she merely follows the evolution of her own mystical experiences. As elements of her allegory, she makes use of the normal stages leading to marriage in the social structure of sixteenth-century Spain. They include the initial meetings (vistas) between the two young people in question, by which they come to know and like each other. As these meetings become more numerous, the couple begin to exchange gifts, fall in love and join hands. This leads to engagement or betrothal, and finally to the definitive union in the sacrament of marriage.

 

Applying this imagery to the spiritual and mystical journey, St. Teresa teaches that the ‘meeting’ that Christ has with the soul in the union of the Fifth Mansions increase mutual knowledge and love. The soul learns ‘about the goodness of its Spouse and determines to please him at all costs’. Even one meeting wold be enough to leave the soul ‘more worthy for the joining of hands’. The soul is left “so much in love: tan enamorada” that it is very careful not to refuse God what he is most seeking, its exclusive “affection” (cf. IC 5,4,4).

 

The souls yearnings of love grow deeper and more ardent, and it remains “wounded with love” (IC 6,1,1) in a manner that cannot be cured until uion is complete. The numerous trials, typical of this period, refine and fortify the soul making it more worthy to be a promised bride of the divine king. Mystical betrothal takes place in a rapture that draws the soul out of its senses (IC 6,4,4). Normally, it introduces a period of ecstatic contemplation, violent rapture and painful trances. Life seems an exile, and the soul longs for death. However, in this crucible of suffering love, God protects and fortifies the soul. Since the joining of hands is a natural sign of affection and support, Christ mystically joins hands with his bride, making her understand that “the soul is now His, and that no one should touch it” and that “He will protect it, from the whole world and even from all hell” (IC 6,4,16).

 

The jewels exchanged between them include on the soul’s part, its exclusive lof its Spouse, its zeal in caring for his honor and its avoidance of all that would displease him; and on God’s part, the three precious graces of increased awareness of is grandeur, self-knowledge that induces humility, and sovereign detachment from the things of this world (IC 6,5,10).

 

The tormented period of spiritual betrothal which can last for years, prepares the soul for the grace of complete union with its Spouse. The effect of these excruciating pains and desires is twofold. The first one is the purification and refinement of all its tendencies at a depth beyond the reach of human effort, generous as it may be. The second one is the positive preparation for the definitive mystical espousal with Christ. The soul’s surrender to God, its fidelity and love increase with great intensity. Finally, when the bride is sufficiently prepared and made worthy of her Spouse, she is introduced into the innermost Mansion. She beholds in ecstatic wonderment the life of the Holy Trinity in the deepest abode of her soul, and then one day Jesus gives her his hand, taking her as his bride, and declares that no one will ever separate them again. The spiritual marriage is complete: the two loves have become one living flame, indistinguishable and indissoluble.

 

  • The Union of Spiritual Marriage

 

As a proximate preparation for the union of spiritual marriage the Lord reveals to the soul in its inmost center, direct knowledge or a so-called intellectual vision, the splendors of the indwelling Trinitarian life. The new and deep understanding would seem to be, in one form or another, a necessity at this point, springing from the nature of a close friendship. Those who are true friends have no secrets from each other. As Christ said to his apostles, “No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you” (Jn 15,15). The soul’s friendship with its God has now become so close that in this deepest center the Lord “desires to remove the scales from the soul’s eyes and let it see and understand (. . .) something of the favor He grants it” (Jn 7,1,6).

 

The grace of mystical marriage was conferred on St. Teresa in concomitance with an especially intense imaginative vision of the Sacred Humanity. It occurred while she was at the Convent of the Incarnation, Avila, in November 1572. St. John of the Cross, who had been appointed confessor of that convent six months previously, broke a final host one morning while distributing Holy Communion, in order to provide for two remaining sisters, one of them being St. Teresa. For a moment she thought he might have intended it as a mortification. In an interior locution, Christ immediately assured her that no one would separate them. Then in an imaginative vision, he gave her his right hand and said:

 

Behold this nail, it is a sign you will be My bride from today on. Until now you have not merited this; from now on not only will you look after My honor as being the honor of your Creator, King, and God, but you will look after it as My true bride. My honor is yours, and yours Mine. (Sp Text 31,1).

 

 

St. Teresa’s doctrinal exposition of this state of union is based on her own experience. She is certain that others may receive the same grace in a different manner (IC 7,2,1). In fact, the extraordinary and phenomenal aspect does not belong to the essence of true union. And yet there is a danger (still very real at the present time) of giving more credit to the miraculous and the unusual, than to the ordinariness of solid virtues, self-sacrificing charity, unassuming goodness and conformity of will to God’s good pleasure. Consequently, it is always necessary to differentiate with clarity and decisiveness between the essence of this highest form of union and the adventitious that may or may not accompany it. Fr. Marie-Eugene makes the point convincingly:

 

Confusion between being and appearing, more importance given to the appearing that is brilliant and show, than to the being that is hidden and obscure, these give rise to practical error as to the nature of perfection and the goal to be attained, and may occasion errors in direction from the very beginning of the spiritual life. Souls are thus retarded in the way of perfection or even brought to a definite standstill. The road of the imperfect soul, in the chart of Saint John of the Cross, that ends at an impasse, is indeed the road on which, the soul seeks as an end the goods of heaven, of glory, joy, consolation, security, light, in short, all the goods that accompany union, but are not union, and even hinder one from attaining it, if desired for themselves (I Am a Daughter of the Church 11,569).

 

By means of extraordinary manifestations, a person is given cognizance of and my be able to express more adequately, the inner reality. The unique favors experienced by St. Teresa enabled her to gain an interior perception of the journey she had traveled, and consequently in her spiritual treatise, to map out its progress for other souls. However the essential and indispensable element in perfect union of love is mutual and unconditional surrender, conformity of wills and inner peace in bearing the cross. All this may be rendered more or less communicable human words. On the other hand, it may well remain a hidden and wordless secret.

 

It is important, then, to underline the nature of genuine union at the level of the seventh Mansions, and to determine the true signs of its authenticity.

 

Helping Hand
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