Bl Mary of the Incarnation
Feast Day: 18th April
“What is the secret of such striking continuity amidst all the upheavals in French society and all the dramatic events that occurred in her own life? This society woman who became a Carmelite had made a straightforward and radical surrender to God. She never doubted His presence within her, nor His assistance. She believed that a life of union with God was accompanied by the practice of the virtues and that the highest states of prayer were compatible with a very ordinary human existence. From the moment she received a sign from God, this woman of faith and fidelity began to follow a spiritual path based on simplicity and confidence.” (Fr Raymond Cote OCD)
Sickness, family problems (involving her husband, her children and her elderly father), financial setbacks and labours of every kind, endured with courage and a spirit of self-denial, made her life one long Way of the Cross which she bore with great humility and fortitude. She is a wonderful example of living holiness in a world full of trials, both for men and women.
Barbara Avrillot was born in Paris in 1566, to a family of the higher bourgeois of Paris society. She was educated with the Poor Clares of the Abbey of Longchamp and acquired there a great love for life in the cloister. She however was not to enter the cloister just yet although she had a vocation. She married Pierre Acarie in 1584 out of obedience to her parents. He was a man of wealth and good standing who was also a fervent Catholic. She bore him 6 children and was a model wife and mother.
Her husband was a member of the Catholic League which after the death of Henry III of France opposed the succession of Henry of Navarre, a Hugenot, to the French throne. He was involved in the resistance in Paris and partly responsible for the subsequent famine which resulted from the siege of Paris. The league was dissolved and Acarie was exiled from Paris. Mme Acarie suffered greatly, having to deal with her husbands business affairs and the many creditors who preyed on her childrens’ fortunes. She was also in great physical pain throughout as the result of a riding accident. Despite the difficulty of this time for her, she was well known for her great charity and for giving relief to many who were suffering in Paris at the time.
Along with her great reputation for virtue and her supernatural gifts (the gift of healing, the gift of prophecy, of predicting certain events in the future, of reading hearts and of discerning spirits), she was a friend to all, the poor and lowly and the distinguished devout of Paris, among them Mme de Meihnelay, Madame Jourdain and Madame de Breaute who all became Carmelites. She also counted St Vincent de Paul and St Frances de Sales who was her spiritual director for a time, amongst her friends.
At the age of twenty-seven, she received the stigmata, the grace of physical conformity to the Suffering Christ. She is the first Frenchwoman the authenticity of whose stigmata (although invisible) have been attested by eminent persons.
“On fast days, Fridays, Saturdays and the days of Lent, she experienced intense pain in her feet, her hands, her side and her head and she was overwhelmed by a deep and ecstatic communion with the Person of Jesus, which left her as it were absorbed in God, for several hours at a stretch. She confided in Père Coton, the Jesuit, and Cardinal de Berulle about this matter. The pains were of a spiritual nature; they ceased in the same way that they began, and once they ceased, she felt nothing more.” (Identification with Christ’s Passion in the life of Madame Acarie, the first recognised French stigmatic by Frère Ephrem Yon, Prior of La Croix sur Ourcq.)
He continues to say of her suffering: “She does not experience suffering pure and simple, turned in on herself, but suffering which unites her with the suffering of the Lord for the sins of the world and for her own sins. She shares in the Lord’s desire to bring salvation; His will to save sinners and His self-offering to the Father for this purpose.”
In 1601 she was introduced to the Life of St Teresa of Avila and was greatly moved by her life. Shortly after this, she had a vision of St Teresa herself, who informed her that God wished to use her as the instrument to bring Carmel to France. She wisely sought counsel and in time began the work with the help of many distinguished friends. St Frances the Sales was the one who wrote to the pope to obtain authorization and Pope Clement VIII granted the Bull of instituation on the 23rd of November 1603. The following year some Spanish Carmelites took up residence at the Carmel of Rue St Jacques. The Carmel spread throughout France rapidly from here and by the death of Mme Acarie there were 14 Carmels in Frances.
Mme Acarie was instrumental in the introduction of 2 further orders into France, the Oratorians and the Ursulines. In November 1611 she assisted at the mass of the installation of the Oratory of France with St Vincent de Paul. The Ursulines were introduced to France to address the vocations of girls who were not called to Carmel. She decided that they should be better employed in the education of girls and for that reason brought the Ursuline Order to Paris so that they could serve as teachers.
On the death of her husband in 1613, relieved of her spousal duties, she settled her affairs and entered the poorest of the French Carmels in Amiens as a lay-sister, taking the religious name Marie of the Incarnation. Her three daughters had previously entered Carmel and one of them, Margaret of the Blessed Sacrament, was sub-prioress of the foundation in Amiens. In 1616 she was moved to the Carmelite convent in Pontoise, where she eventually died.
Many miracles were recorded following her death and her own son, Pierre Acarie, deeply impressed by these astonishing events, requested the opening of an enquiry which might lead to her beatification.
The enquiry, which ended in 1632, did not come under consideration in Rome until the end of the eighteenth century. Her beatification was celebrated at St. Peter’s in Rome on June 5, 1791.
She was beatified on the 24th of April 1791 by Pope Pius VI.
Her feastday is the 18th of April.