“Carmelite Seed-Time” – fragments of the second part of chapter 3 from “In the silence of Mary- the life of Mother Mary of Jesus Carmelite Prioress and Foundress 1851-1942”. In following chapters we will read about Sister Mary of Jesus spiritual formation in Carmel, but first we meet her Prioress, Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity, who contributed a lot to Sister Mary of Jesus formation.
Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity had been Prioress some time before Sister Mary of Jesus knew her, and as the stories of her during the siege and the Commune show her government was firm, supernatural and selfless. When she had been appointed as Mistress of novices, not long after her own Profession, she had written to Father Faber: ‘If only God helps me to draw some souls to give themselves wholly to Him and to tend with all their strength to union with Him, I cannot think of any vocation I should value more’. To another priest, she said: ‘The only thing I can do is to try and keep as close to God as possible, to forget all else and to trust Him’. As Prioress, her way was still the same. Whenever she had to deal with any Sister, either for counsel or correction, she was wont to pray: ‘Now, dear Lord, this is Your affair: make me say just what You wish’. She had but aim: to bring the souls under her care to the fullness of Carmel’s life as soon as might be. She knew the price that has to be paid for the possession of God, but she knew, too, that each soul must be allowed its own time and way of reaching Him. She would suffer no deliberate compromise, no parleying with the enemy, but her mother’s heart was wonderfully quick to sympathize and her love to soften, wherever it was possible, the asperities of the journey.
From the outset, she assessed the potentialities of Sister Mary of Jesus’ soul for the deeps of Carmel’s spirit, and treated her accordingly. Although they were so similar in temperament, and so closely united, it cannot be said that she showed any undue lenience towards the young Sister. One story is very revealing. It happened, once, that Sister Mary of Jesus asked to see her, being at the time in a state of special suffering of soul. A time was arranged, but when it came, the Prioress had been called away. The same thing happened, through no one’s fault, day after day until three weeks had gone by. When finally the young Sister was able to kneel at her Mother’s feet, she said sorrowfully: ‘Oh, Mother, I have been in such suffering!’ Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity looked at her for a minute, and then remarked drily: ‘I see you have changed your contemplation: instead of looking at God you have been looking at yourself’.’ Another small incident conveys the same impression, that the Prioress realized she had to do with a soul whose way was very simple and direct. She was one day scolding Sister Mary of Jesus of some faults, while annother postulant stood by, wearing, it seems, a slightly complacent expression. The Prioress turned to her: ‘Yes’ she said, ‘Sister Mary of Jesus makes mistakes because she forgets herself, but as for you, you never lose sight of yourself sufficiently to make one!’ One remark of the young Sister pleased her greatly. She had been explaining to her, only a few days after her arrival, that the hour of silence in the middle of the day was free time: she could so what she liked. ‘But Mother’ said the postulant, ‘I have no like! Please tell me what you want me to do’.
One would give much to have more details of the external life of Sister Mary of Jesus at this period. The ‘mistakes’ to which references occur here and there seem to have been trivial things on the whole, and lapses of pure inadvertance, as when she availed herself of the permission given her to sing in her cell, but unfortunately chose the hour of silence in which to do so. What constituted a much greater obstacle to her advancement was her inability to open her soul to her Prioress. Natural reserve and the lifelong habit of suffering in silence both made it very difficult for her to speak of what was passing between her soul and God. In any case, it was all so dark and she understood so little of it herself, that all words seemed useless and even false. Nevertheless, Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity warned her, and she knew it to be true, that simplicity and candour with one’s spiritual guides are the only safeguard of the dark ways of the spirit. Shyness, inarticulateness, reserve, must all be treated as so many enemies, and a constant effort must be made at least to try to and explain. There was no forcing of confidence on the part of the Prioress, but a valuable training in the necessity of abandonment into the hands of one’s Superior. In a short time Sister Mary of Jesus was to need this habit even more than most souls do, and would have reason to bless the wisdom that had insisted upon its acquisition thus early in her Religious life. One other trait there was which Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity bequeathed to her spiritual child, the joy of soul which is the result of the complete gift of self to God. If she taught her to suffer, she taught her at the same time how to find true joy. ‘I think your soul is made for it’ she once wrote to her, ‘for a joy which is even stronger for most intimate suffering, a joy which takes its rise, from our view, very clear but very spiritual, of the union of our will to the Divine will we love and adore. If you do not already know it, you will do so one day’. One of Mother Mary of the Blessed Trinity’s first tasks as Mistress of novices had been to welcome to the novitiate the eighteen-year-old Lady Minna Howard, the second child of the fourteenth Duke of Norfolk, who became Sister Mary of St Joseph in Religion, was a penitent of Father Faber, and had been sent to Paris with the same desire that she should return to England as a Carmelite. With her entry, the project of the London Carmel moved a very definitive step nearer realization, for, at the time of her Profession, the bulk of her inheritance, with the consent of the Paris Carmel, was set aside to form a financial basis for the future Foundation.