“In the Hands of the Living God” – fragments of chapter 4 of the book entitled “In the silence of Mary- the life of Mother Mary of Jesus Carmelite Prioress and Foundress 1851-1942”. In this chapter we shall follow Sister’s Mary of Jesus spiritual development and growing intimacy with God – described mostly in her own words.
It is not without hesitation that one approaches the task of describing Sister Mary of Jesus’ life during the reminder of her years in Paris. To reveal God’s secret intimacies with a soul is always, in some sort, to violate a sanctuary. Nevertheless, without some knowledge of these years and of the development of her interior life, the story would be incomplete, for they have an indispensable light to throw upon all that succeeded them. References has already been made to the account which she wrote for her English confessor, under obedience. It is a brief and unadorned document that leaves much untold. In addition, there are other fragmentary papers which, at his request, she had collected together and copied for him, and which supplement the outline she had given in her account. Some are no more than mere jottings, tantalizing in their brevity and incompleteness. Some are letters, often not addressed and unfinished, mostly, it is clear, to a priest, though it is not certain whether Pere Matignon or M. Dambers is here in question, and perhaps both may have been. This collection, copied for her by Sister Mary of St Joseph, for the latter was completely in her confidence, mercifully escaped the destruction which Mother Mary of Jesus made of the rest of her papers before her death, and thus survived to betray for posterity the secrets she guarded so well during her lifetime. The story falls more or less naturally into three distinct phases. The first includes the eighteen months from her entry to her Profession; the second extends from that point until 1876, and the third covers her remaining years in Paris and her first in England. Although they necessarily overlap to some extent and there is continuity in all three, it will be clearer to treat of them separately.
(i) APRIL 1872 – SEPTEMBER 1873
Her postulancy was comparatively peaceful, interiorly as well as exteriorly. ‘My prayer’ she says, ‘was always more or less a sort of sorrowful contemplation in the presence of God, being purified and broken yet drawn to Him by his look and His love. To remain passive under His action, not only during my two hours of prayer, but always, was my way, my life, my tendency.My prayer was, therefore, to go out of myself to find God when He did not Himself bring about this separation by drawing the whole life of my soul towards Himself. My soul’s part was either to tend towards this by an active contemplation and a look of love towards God, or else to suffer in silence and complete spiritual incapacity under His gaze. Although my soul still could not find God, prayer was its whole life, its strength and its support’.
Only twice was this silence broken. The first occasion was during the first Vespers of Pentecost when ‘the Holy Spirit entered my soul in a substantial way, invading it, with no sensible feeling but in a wholly spiritual way, by a presence that was as real as it was unknown to my soul.’ The second was considerably less consoling. ‘Before a relic of StJohn of the Cross, I had a very painful but clear view of the future. It was shown to me that soon my soul’s suffering would steadily increase, as would its darkness, that the Sisters would turn against me, and that I would find myself with a Mother Prioress who did not understand me at all. The same light that showed these things urged me to accept them; my soul consented without any resistance and yielded itself up to God with all its strength of will; my nature shuddered, as did everything sensitive in my heart or soul’.
No sooner was she in the Habit than part of this prediction began to be fulfilled. She writes simply: ‘It pleased the infinite mercy of God for my soul to raise many storms in the attitude of the community. With the exception of my Mother Prioress and perhaps two or three Sisters, the general attitude underwent a sudden and extraordinary change’. No precise details are known of this trial, though Sister Mary of St Joseph used to refer to it in very general terms later on, and to hold up as an example to her novices the humility and fidelity with which Sister Mary of Jesus had passed through it. The year preceding Profession is often one of those periods of which St Teresa writes that ‘the soul will certainly suffer great trials at this time, especially if the devil sees that its character and habits are such that it is ready to make further progress: all the powers of hell will combine to drive it back again’. (Interior Castle – 2nd Mansion, Ch.i, 4th Mansion Ch.iii). In the case of Sister Mary of Jesus the storm was marked by its unusual duration, extent and intensity, in that it lasted for the whole year of her novitiate and affected the majority of the community simultaneously. Under the circumstances, an exclamation of Pere Matignon’s (he was extraodinary confessor of the community at that time) that ‘hell seemed to be openly let loose against her’ had some justification. There must have been acute suffering on both sides, and it says much for the supernatural spirit of the community that they were not defeated by it, but in spite of everything did finally receive Sister Mary of Jesus for her Profession. …she writes that the suffering was intense. On the other hand, her sensitive nature felt distrust of the Sisters keenly, and their sudden unwillingness to receive her permanently into their number. She had been surrounded by love and confidence all her life, had never known even misunderstanding, and could not help suffering under it now. She realized that this experience had its work to do, for she writes once: ‘There have been moments in my very small Religious life when much criticism has done me real good. It was the precious accessory of the interior suffering and humbled me exteriorly while God did His work’. On the other hand, any suffering of sensitive nature was far outweighed by the deeper pain of soul. ‘My soul saw in it all simple justice, the result of my conduct; never for a moment had I any thought that people might be severe or waning to try me. On the contrary, this was my thought: “What must I be in reality before God, since creatures who see next to nothing find so much evil in me. What must I be to You, my God, Who, knowing everything, must surely find me worthier still to blame” ‘.
to be continued…