Monday, May 2, 2022

Accept Spiritual Desolations with Humility and Patience

Dear Daughters of St. Philip Neri, 

One again we turn to Archbishop L. Martinez to consider one of the realities of the spiritual life that is deeply challenging - the experience of Desolation. He understands that we have preconceived notions about this reality as we do with so many other things. Therefore, in this rather lengthy reflection he seeks to unpack this experience and reveal to us the many facets of spiritual desolation so that we might see them with the eyes of faith.

Such a reality is hard to describe because to experience and pass through desolation we are often incapable of having a good thought or pious affection about it.  We feel our miserable state in an unvarnished way.  We cannot romanticize or idealize it. We feel we have perhaps been deceiving ourselves all along and what we perceived to be virtue was a best a mere shadow and that disappeared in the bright light of the Truth that the trial exposes.

Throughout such times we must have patience as we find ourselves in the hands of the Divine Physician, allowing Him to operate upon us. It is this patience that is itself perfected as we, at times, must endure month or even years of darkness and helplessness of soul.

We feel and say to ourselves at such times: "I do not love."  Of course, we are mistaken for love like any other virtue needs purification and this takes place by passing through the crucible of desolation. Prayer offers no consolation but one learns that they must go to it not to please oneself but God.  Martinez tells us: "the one thing God asks of us is that we do not hinder Him. And in order that we do not impede Him, He gives us a spiritual anesthetic — that is, desolation, since it is a kind of paralysis of the spirit which renders us helpless." That we do not hinder Him! What faith is required at those moments - trusting that God knows what He is about. We must come to understand that in the spiritual life that we do not come to perfection by gradually making our way up a mountain or through the constant practice of virtue.  God Himself alone can save us and raise us up!

Thus, Martinez concludes, we must choose - transformation and the desolation through which it comes about or "dragging out our life in a common mediocrity."  He calls us to a humble boldness in the face of the cross of desolation: "Let us open our arms to it, then, and salute it with the same cry as the Church uses: `Hail, O Cross, our only hope!' In this way, by reason of all that has been said concerning spiritual afflictions, this truth is once more established: God’s ways are not our ways."

Another advantage of spiritual dryness is that it produces a deep and true humility in us. When we hear a sermon on humility, or read a spiritual treatise, or meditate seriously, we come to the conclusion that we are very miserable beings. But this conviction is no more than theoretical. When we are told that there are torrid regions in Africa, and that the temperature is oppressive, and that traveling is difficult and painful in those desert areas, we form some idea of those torrid climates. But what a difference there is in hearing about all this and in going there and suffering from the heat and feeling all its effects in our body!  

The same thing occurs with humility. To be given theoretical knowledge of our misery is quite different from feeling it, coming in contact with it, and knowing it by experience. And in desolations, we feel our helplessness and misery in such a way that when we have thus perceived it, we never forget it.  

When peace returns to souls that have passed through desolation, and when our Lord pours out special graces upon them, they receive them with gratitude and love, but they do not raise their head. They are mindful of their misery; it remains pressed upon them to such an extent that there is no fear that they will become proud over divine favors. This is true because in time of trial, we feel our misery; in that period, we know by experience that we are not capable of a good thought. When we read about this in St. Paul, we are inclined to think that it is an exaggeration of the saint. But no; desolation shows us truly that we are incapable of having a good thought or a pious affection; and thus we understand the truth of what the apostle says.  

Ordinarily we give vent to sentiments like this: “If love is to our soul what air is to our lungs, what can be easier than to love our Lord?” But in time of trial, we are not capable of making an act of love, no matter how hard we wish to. Then there is so much dissipation of mind that even the most insignificant thing distracts, no matter how serious our nature may be: the slightest noise, a fly that swirls around, the opening of a door, a person passing by — anything whatever distracts us as though we were children. Is not this to feel our own miserable state?  

Furthermore, with desolation come struggles and temptations; and the worst feelings well up in our heart. At such a time, the soul thinks, “My life has been a deception. I thought I had achieved some virtue; I thought I knew how to pray. But I have accomplished nothing. All is a deception. For me, all is lost.” Is not this to realize our miserable condition? What a difference between describing it and feeling it! In this way, desolations exercise us in the life of faith; they detach us from the spiritual gifts of God, and they produce in us a deep understanding of ourselves, a great fund of humility. Are not these great advantages enough for us to come to an appreciation of desolation? How could we ever obtain them by means of consolations in that pleasant and easy life we dreamed of?  So let us be reconciled to trials, for they are a most important factor in the spiritual life: they have their beauty, they are fruitful, and they possess incomparable advantages. Ordinarily, we should not pray for them, because perhaps this would be asking amiss, but we surely should accept them with gratitude when God sends them to us.  

    Practice patience in times of desolation  

Spiritual dryness also exercises us in another important virtue: patience. Whoever has felt desolation knows to what an extent it makes us practice this virtue. Patience is of three types: patience with God, with ourselves, and with our neighbor. Of these three classes of patience, the first two are the hardest and precisely the ones that are exercised in time of trial. In it, our Lord is the one who immolates us, and we need much patience so that we may submit to being treated as He wills with us. And much patience with ourselves is also needed to remain faithful and firm in a period of desolation.  

It is no little advantage to us to be exercised in patience in this way, for sacred Scripture says that patience produces a perfect work: “My brethren, count it all joy when you shall fall into diverse temptations; knowing that the trying of your faith worketh patience. And patience hath a perfect work.” All this is applied in a special way to desolation, which is one of the greatest trials we can undergo.  And in the Beatitudes that our Lord teaches us in the Sermon on the Mount, the eighth, which is the consummation and the epitome of all the others, is the beatitude of patience. Hence, patience, which is nothing else than tenacious perseverance in good, is what takes us to the height of perfection, the supreme happiness of earth and the prelude to the blessedness of Heaven.  

To pass months and years with dryness of spirit, with helplessness of soul, with turbulence of passions, in continual darkness, and still to remain generously faithful to God: this is something heroic that greatly pleases our Lord and effects the perfect work in our souls. We cannot arrive at perfection if we do not pass through tribulations.  

    Desolations refine your love  

There are still other and more important advantages than the foregoing ones. Desolations refine the love that is within us. When dryness comes to us, we immediately believe we are losing love, since, with our narrow outlook, we reason as follows: “I do not feel that I love. Therefore, I do not love.” And then we yearn for the days of consolation when we fancied that the sun of love truly lighted up the heaven of our soul. And if desolation grows stronger, we arrive at the stage where we perceive, not only that we do not feel love, but also that we are annoyed and disgusted by all spiritual things. How are we going to believe that we love when our heart is agitated by such feelings?  

But we are mistaken. Love, like gold, needs purification, and this is what is going on within us. A thing is said to be pure when it contains no admixture of any other thing. That is pure water which is not mixed with anything else, which contains nothing that is foreign to the nature of water. That is pure love which contains no foreign element. And that foreign element can be nothing else than self-love. To purify love, then, is to remove from it all self-love. Various methods are used to purify substances: some are passed through a filter, others are distilled, and still others, such as gold, are purified by fire. Love is purified by making it pass through the crucible of desolation.  

In times of consolation, when we go to prayer with pleasure, when we place ourselves immediately in the presence of God, and when everything goes smoothly, there is no question about our seeking Him and about our giving pleasure to Him. But we cannot deny that we also are going to give pleasure to ourselves. It is so sweet to be with Jesus in the hours of consolation. Such is the delight suffusing our soul that we could spend hours in His presence, most assuredly because we love Him, but also because we are receiving delight. That love is not entirely pure.  

In times of trial, a soul who is faithful to God makes the same prayer as when he is enjoying consolation. Why does he do so? Does he go to it to seek self? Or what does he seek if he encounters nothing? The soul well knows that the prayer period is a time of torture, and yet he goes to it, as St. Lawrence went to the grill, in order that the fire of desolation might consume him. His only reason for going could be to please God. He is like St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, who did not worry about her dryness in prayer, considering that she did not go to it to please herself, but only God. Behold the purity of love that is achieved only in affliction.  

    Spiritual dryness allows God to transform your soul  

But all this is nothing more than the surface. There is a divine richness in spiritual dryness that produces a marvelous transformation in the soul. St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus tells us of it in her autobiography, but with such ingenuousness that she disconcerts us, and we do not suspect that she encloses so profound a teaching in such simple words.  

A case in point is that in which the saint tells us that she did not grow alarmed when she drowsed after Holy Communion, since she reflected that children are just as pleasing to their parents when they are asleep as when they are awake. Moreover, as she adds, doctors induce sleep in their patients for certain operations. How true it is that in the spiritual order, there are certain operations for which it is necessary to anesthetize souls! Why is it necessary to give an anesthetic to sick people? Without doubt, it is in order that they may not suffer, but above everything else, it is so that they may not cause trouble.  

There are people of great endurance who would be able to undergo an operation without an anesthetic. Nevertheless the surgeon anesthetizes them, since every movement of a patient, even though involuntary, can ruin certain very delicate operations.  

Similarly there are operations in the supernatural order in which we work with our Lord and cooperate with Him in them. But there are others of a very intimate nature in which the one thing He asks of us is that we do not hinder Him. And in order that we do not impede Him, He gives us a spiritual anesthetic — that is, desolation, since it is a kind of paralysis of the spirit which renders us helpless.  

In time of spiritual dryness, souls often think as follows: “I go to prayer, and I do nothing, absolutely nothing.” The soul does nothing, but God does a great deal, although the soul may not be aware of His secret and mysterious operations. But when the period of trial passes, we find that we are different. Without our knowing how or when, a profound change was wrought in us: our love is more solid; our virtue has become stronger. According to the familiar expression, we have come out of the trial “as new.” What does it matter that those afflictions may endure for years on end, if finally the soul emerges as new, fit to be united with God and to realize fully the role it was destined to fill on earth?  

Desolation, then, is the indispensable means whereby the soul attains its transformation in Jesus, the supreme goal and the perfection of holiness.  

We think, perhaps, that transformation in Jesus is something that we can achieve with God’s help. But no. Simply having God’s help is not sufficient. God alone can accomplish it, and the only help that we can give Him is to allow Him a free hand, not to impede Him.  

We could conceive that the method for transforming us in Jesus would be this: the Gospel has left us a perfect representation of Jesus, precise indications of His moral makeup; hence, I need do nothing more than continue imitating Him little by little. I have so many years to become meek, so many to become humble, so many to become obedient, and so on. Thus, I need only continue imitating Him, virtue by virtue, availing myself of ascetical helps such as the particular examination, meditation, and spiritual reading.  When, in this way, after much time and labor, I have copied the lineaments of Jesus, I shall be but a sketch, an outline; I shall possess something similar to Him, but I shall not be that living representation that is necessary for transformation. Transformation requires that God Himself come to work in the soul and, so to speak, make us anew. Hence in Ezekiel, God says that He will take away from us our stony heart and give us a new heart and a new spirit.  

Do not think that these are hyperboles, divine exaggerations. On the contrary, the reality goes much beyond symbols. Truly, when a soul has been transformed, it has a new way of seeing, feeling, and operating. Hence, this transformation cannot be achieved by our poor human efforts. God must come and work in the deepest recesses of our being, and, in order that we may not hinder Him, He anesthetizes us by means of spiritual desolation. Therefore, when a soul has passed through the great trials of the spiritual life, it stands on the threshold of union, of transformation in Jesus.  

We appreciate, then, the value of spiritual affliction. It will be painful and hard, but it is of the utmost value and altogether necessary for arriving at sanctity. I know of only one exception: the Blessed Virgin. Since she was perfect from the moment of her Immaculate Conception, she had no need of desolations to attain sanctity. Nevertheless, no one has suffered more terrible afflictions than she did in the years of her exile after the death and Ascension of her Son.  

But there is this difference: she did not need those desolations for her sanctification, although through them she grew in holiness. By them, in union with her Son, she procured graces for us and fulfilled her role of co-redeemer and mother of all men.  

We must make our choice: either we choose transformation, and then we also accept the desolation without which it cannot be arrived at; or we refuse desolation, and then we must also reject transformation and thus give ourselves over to dragging out our life in a common mediocrity.  

Desolation is a cross, but one of the most precious, one of the most divine. It is not wrought by the hand of men, but by God Himself. It is a work of the Holy Spirit. The trial, therefore, is made in accordance with the measure of each soul, perfectly fitted to its circumstances, requirements, and mission, and to the degree of perfection to which God has destined it. Hence, trial possesses an eminently sanctifying power.  

Let us open our arms to it, then, and salute it with the same cry as the Church uses: “Hail, O Cross, our only hope!” In this way, by reason of all that has been said concerning spiritual afflictions, this truth is once more established: God’s ways are not our ways.

Archbishop Luiz Martinez

Worshipping the Hidden God

Tuesday, April 12, 2022

God comes to you in your lowliness

At the heart of Martinez's reflection is Jesus words: "He who humbles himself will be exalted."  What is extraordinary is how Martinez unpacks this for us and its meaning for the realities of our day to day life.  Our life in Christ involves divine paradoxes that are not only unfamiliar to many of the faithful but disconcerting.  We are called to share in the very life of God, to make a continual ascent into union with Him.  Yet, the path of the ascent is not what we think or imagine.  To ascend is, in this world, to descend.  It is downward mobility, the same that we see in Christ from the Incarnation, through the Cross and the descent into Hades, that we are called to imitate in order to be lifted and raised up. 

At first we are willing to embrace this wisdom and the path of humility within the confines of reason and human sensibilities.  Yet, Martinez tells us, we reach a point when the restricted limits of human reason and the willingness of the human spirit are confounded.  We can grow dismayed when we realize that we ascend only by descending perpetually and that we must never weary of this downward movement.  It turns out that only the grace of God can sound the depths of the abyss of our lowliness. While we are ever drawing nearer to the sweetness of our hopes, our experience of our lowliness grows ever deeper.  Thus, Martinez tells us: "Do not forget this: if we raise ourselves upward, God flees from us; if we humble ourselves, He comes down to us." 

What offers comfort in this is the knowledge that our miserableness, while painful, "exerts and irresistible attraction" upon God! "Whither shall the infinite ocean of Goodness pour itself except into the immense abyss of our nothingness?"  When shall we recognize and gain confidence that our miserableness "makes us strong against God?"  When we bow down before our Lord, He bows down into the abyss of our lowliness and we come to know the embrace of His mercy.

There are divine paradoxes in the spiritual life that disconcert not only worldlings, but even pious souls when they are not well instructed, especially with that instruction of the Holy Spirit which is never lacking to souls of goodwill and of which Sacred Scripture says, “Blessed is the man whom Thou shalt instruct, O Lord: and shalt teach him out of Thy law.”  In this [reflection] I am going to speak on one of the most important and utterly fundamental of these paradoxes.  The spiritual life is indubitably a continual ascent, since perfection consists in union with God, and God stands above all creation. To arrive at God, we must ascend, but the paradox that I emphasize lies in this: that the secret of ascending is to descend. St. Augustine, in his inimitable style, thus explains this paradox: “Consider, O brethren, this great marvel. God is on high: reach up to Him, and He flees from you; lower yourself before Him, and He comes down to you.” St. John of the Cross picturesquely teaches the same in the title page of his book The Ascent of Mount Carmel, from which I take only these lines: “In order to come to be all, desire in all things to be nothing.”  And what is the basis of the marvelous “Little Way” taught to souls in modern times by St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus except a simple, sweet, and profound way of descending in order that the soul may be lifted up by the divine power of the very arms of Jesus?  All this and much more that could be quoted is simply a commentary on these words of our Lord: “Everyone that exalteth himself shall be humbled; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” This teaching is clear and well known, but it is commonly forgotten in practice, not only by reason of the obstacles that the passions always place in the way when we try to live in conformity to the divine teachings, but also because souls are troubled by this divine paradox, even in their very judgments.  There is, indeed, a natural tendency to judge of divine things by human standards. To this St. Thomas Aquinas attributes our defections from good, for, he says, “Man wishes to measure divine things according to the reasons of sensible things.” This explains the basis of these paradoxes and the frequent difficulties of souls, even when they know the doctrine.  This descending in order to ascend, which is the foundation of humility, appears natural and human in its first stages; and therefore Jules Lemaitre was able to say, “Humility is not only the most religious but also the most philosophical of the virtues. To resign oneself to be only the little that one is, and to fear to pass the limits of this little — is not that the consummation of wisdom?”  But Christian humility, particularly in its highest perfection, excels philosophical humility as Heaven does the earth. And if, at first, the lowliness of humility finds quarter in the narrow confines of human reason, little by little it overflows such restricted limits and confounds the human spirit.

  • In the spiritual life, you must continue to descend  

In the spiritual life, souls humble themselves with more or less effort, yet ever retaining the conviction that they must become little.  But when they descend to a certain depth, they become dismayed and grow weary of descending. It seems to them that they are being deceived and that the time has now come for them to ascend, because they are not aware that, in the way of spirituality, one ascends only by descending, and that, to arrive at the summit, the soul must never weary of going downward.  Let this “never” be well understood, for, just as in the beginnings of the purgative way, so also in the heights of the unitive, the one and only secret for ascending is to descend. With the light of God, the soul makes steady progress in seeing its own misery and in sinking down into it; and with each new illumination, it seems that its eyes have arrived at the base of its nothingness. But our miserableness has no bottom, and only the grace of God can sound the profound depths of that abyss; for us, new revelations of our nothingness always remain, even though we may live a long time and receive torrents of light from God.  We can always descend lower. We can always sink deeper in our misery. And to the measure that we descend, we ascend, because thus we come nearer to God, for one can see God better from below, and thereby more sweetly enjoy His caresses and more intimately experience the charm of His divine presence.  But in the depth of our soul, there always remains the tendency to measure divine things by our human standard.  Hence, with each new revelation of our misery, our confusion increases, and we would gladly close our eyes in order not to see — just as certain sick people do not wish to know of their illness because they feel that not to know it is not to have it, as though the knowledge of one’s malady were not in itself the beginning of a serious cure.  For this reason souls become dismayed at temptations, desolations, aridities, faults — in a word, at everything that gives them the impression they are falling lower. They wish to ascend, because they desire to arrive at the summit, because they burn to be united with God. Therefore, in perceiving that they are apparently descending under the impact of temptations, the weight of their faults, and the void in their souls caused by desolations, they grow confused and grieve because they forget the divine paradoxes of the spiritual life.  Fortunately God does not always heed our protests and our cries of anguish. Instead He pours out upon us those precious graces, even though they may be bitter, which involve temptations, aridities, and even faults, as a mother, despite the wailing and the protests of her child, firmly applies the painful remedy that will give him health.  Someday we shall understand that among the greatest graces God has given us in our life are precisely those disconcerting ones which make us think that God is abandoning us, when, on the contrary, He is attracting us; those which cause us to judge that we are falling away from our ideal, when, on the contrary, we are drawing nearer to the sweet goal of our hopes.  O souls eager for perfection, do not weary of humbling yourselves. Have no fear of whatever plunges you into the depth of your misery!  We do not depart from God by lowering ourselves; we do so only by exalting ourselves. “Reach up to Him, and He flees from you; lower yourself before Him, and He comes down to you.” Do not forget this: if we raise ourselves upward, God flees from us; if we humble ourselves, He comes down to us.  

  • Humility attracts God’s mercy  

It seems to me that God, in His own way, feels the dizziness of the abyss. Our miserableness, when it is acknowledged and accepted by us, exerts an irresistible attraction on Him. What, save misery alone, can attract mercy? What, save emptiness, can appeal to plenitude? Whither shall the infinite ocean of Goodness pour itself except into the immense abyss of our nothingness?  “I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes.” These words of Abraham, “whereas I am dust and ashes,” ring in my ears as the cause and the reason of the daring of the Patriarch. “I will speak to my Lord, whereas I am dust and ashes”: Behold the one and only reason, powerful and all-embracing, that we can adduce before God to speak to Him, to petition Him, in order to press Him for the fulfillment of our most daring desires. And that foundation possesses something of the infinite, seeing that it embraces, as it were, even infinity. I am dust and ashes; for that reason, I place no bounds in my petition for mercy; for that reason, I have confidence; for that reason, I have hope; for that reason, I dare to ask the Lord even for “the kiss of His mouth,” as the spouse in the Canticle of Canticles.  When shall we be convinced that our miserableness makes us “strong against God”? When shall we take cognizance of the fact that to plunge ourselves into our nothingness is the assured means to attract God?  When, in our eagerness for God, we desire to possess Him, let us not urge our purity or our virtues or our merits to oblige Him to come to our hearts; for either we do not have these things, or we have received them from Him. Let us show Him what is properly our own, the unspeakable misery of our being. Let us lower ourselves deeper into the depths of our nothingness. Then the Lord will feel the dizziness caused by the abyss, and He will plunge Himself into the limitless void with the impetuous force of His mercy and His goodness.  We must not think that this secret for drawing down God is the unique property of the beginnings of the spiritual life. No, it applies to all of it. Thanks be to God, our misery has no limits, and thus it can never exhaust infinite mercy.  On the peak of a unique perfection stood the Immaculate Virgin Mary, and in her inspired canticle, she attributes the marvels that the Omnipotent effected in her to a glance that the Lord gave. Do we know at what? It was her humility: “Because He hath regarded the humility of His handmaid.”  The mystery of the union of God with the soul takes place in the depths of the abyss — in the mutual self-abasement of God and the creature. “Love must always be humble,” says Louise Margaret Claret de la Touche.  She is right. Love is by nature humble; humility is one of its innate characteristics. For love is forgetful of self; it is a bowing down before the Beloved. And when there is question of divine love that takes place between nothingness and the All, it is utter self-abasement; it is adoration.

Archbishop Luiz M. Martinez 

Worshipping a Hidden God

Biographical Note:

Luis M. Martinez  (1881-1956)  

“A diamond of multiple facets” is what a close, lifelong friend of Archbishop Luis Martinez called this philosopher, theologian, educator, sacred orator, writer, poet, and director of souls. “But,” continues his friend, “there is perhaps one aspect that has remained in shadow until now, in spite of the fact that it is the most important: it is the interior man, his spiritual life, his intimate relationship with God; in a word, it is the mystic. . . .”113  Luis Maria Martinez was born in Michoacán, Mexico, in 1881, entered the Seminary of Morelia in 1891, and was ordained a priest in 1904. He served the Church in numerous positions, including rector of the seminary and canon of the cathedral in Morelia, apostolic administrator for the diocese of Chilapa, Titular Bishop of Anemurio, Auxiliary Bishop of Morelia, and finally Archbishop of Mexico City.  Among his works, Archbishop Martinez encouraged the construction of a new building for the seminary, presided over a diocesan synod to respond to the needs of the time, and gave momentum to the restoration of the cathedral.  Perhaps more important than his accomplishments in his own archdiocese, though, was his contribution to the return of peace and harmony to the entire Mexican Church after the persecution by the administration of Plutarco Calles and his successors. This contribution was due in part to his action as Archbishop and to his dispositions of bonhomie and moderation, which served to win him the favor of influential leaders.  Although involved in the administration of his diocese and in the turbulent events of his time, Archbishop Martinez led a deeply spiritual interior life, which is manifested eloquently in his many, diverse writings. With a poetic beauty of expression, his words continue to reveal the marvelous work of God’s grace in the soul, and to teach and inspire today’s Christians to receive and increase that grace and to bear abundant fruit in the joyful service of God.

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Led by the Sweet Attractions of Grace: From Nothingness to Eternal Love

Once again Mother Mectilde engages the Countess about the ever present struggle that we have as human beings - our tendency toward pride.  The Countess' faith and love of God have grown and it is for this reason that Mother can press her into the deeper recesses of the heart without the fear of undermining such gains.  The Countess must allow herself to recognize and embrace her nothingness before God even as she grows closer to Him. To the modern ear and sensibilities this may seem an unnecessary negation of self-esteem. However, the "nothingness- -of-being" caused by sin is far worse and disastrous for the soul. God reveals this holy truth to her not to punish her but to free her. The nothingness of humility allows him to lift a soul up to experience its true dignity in Him. There is a deep joy that emerges as a fruit of this type of humility: "
Oh! My child, the lovely enchantment of being absorbed in one’s nothingness! Blessed is the soul who allows herself to be lovingly led to it by the sweet attractions of grace." However, the Countess must be wise at her own costs. She must allow God to leave her (if necessary for the balance of her life), in the vision of her corruption and impurity as long as He sees fit to bring about the destruction of all pride. It is a rare thing to find a soul willing to live in the truth and who allows God to tear down the edifice of its vanity. Yet, despite the great costs, walking such a path offers everything. "O blessed loss, O saving loss! May we be lost in this way, my child, where we can find nothing except God! Oh! If you knew that sovereign happiness, you would wish to suffer a thousand deaths to have it."

DO NOT BE SURPRISED TO SEE SO MUCH MISERY AND corruption in yourself. After you will have really understood by experience what you are and what you would be if grace did not sustain you, it will be necessary to not be occupied with yourself and, to begin to be detached from everything you are in order to remain closely united to God. However, you must still for a long time experience the depth of your own misery. You must be really convinced about the truth of the nothingness of your being. 


You know the nothingness of your being through the presence of God, about which I spoke to you yesterday; this shows God operating in all things and all things subsisting in Him. The light of faith shows you that it is only He who is in truth. He said it to the great St. Catherine of Siena in these same terms, when she lovingly asked Him to tell her who He was. “I am the One who is and you are the one who is not,” He said. Oh, the holy truth pronounced by the lips of Jesus! Listen to this and profit from it. Here, then, is the nothingness of being. 


But the nothingness of sin is much worse. The former is not opposed to God, but the latter fights Him as much as it can. And its malignity is so great that it is powerless and unable to have any being in good or virtue. The first nothingness regards our soul’s being, but the nothing of sin regards the being of grace—and destroys it. Oh! Cursed and abominable nothingness! The first keeps us in the view of non-being. It is simple and is a truth that does not shame us, in a certain way; but sin’s nothingness always humiliates and embarrasses us. 


When a creature leaves its nothingness in order to commit a sin, it falls into a double nothingness which makes it infinitely more incapable of the simple nothingness which is not resistant to Do. And it is a great cause of humiliation for the soul to see itself capable by its own malice of such a great disorder. 


YOUR LETTER FROM TODAY GAVE ME GREAT CAUSE FOR blessing God, seeing the insights He gives you about your depth of misery and nothingness. Regard this light as a very high grace, because it is infinitely more useful to you than to work miracles and be full of ecstasies and revelations. Oh! My child, the lovely enchantment of being absorbed in one’s nothingness! Blessed is the soul who allows herself to be lovingly led to it by the sweet attractions of grace. 


No, no, my child. You are not acting more impurely than in the past, rather, you have much more understanding, and you see a bit better the depth of your corruption and weakness, and your inability to do anything worthy of Jesus. Remain in this condition as long as it pleases Our Lord to keep you there and experience the impurity of your ground. But really experience its malice and horror, so that you can never forget it. Become learned in self-knowledge through your own experience. Be wise at your own cost, that is, be humble through the destruction of your pride. 


Oh! How great was your blindness when hidden vanity and self-regard persuaded you to make an account of your life in order to have it admired! Without a doubt your thoughts are different now and your feelings have taken a very different direction. What would you say not if you were asked to write your life? Oh! My child, you must confess that until now your lights have been darkness and when you believed yourself to be very righteous, you were very sinful before God. I compare you to the Pharisee in the Gospel who had so much esteem for his works that to make their excellence known, he blamed the poor publican, saying that he was not like him. Alas! My child, how long did you think and perhaps believe in your heart that you did better than so-and-so? How much did you prefer yourself to your neighbor? 


My child, receive the lesson that I give you today, and do not forget it. Here it is in brief: You will be more to the degree that you want to be less. “Do not be anything at all and you will be everything in fullness.” 


Remember this little lesson well; it is short but efficacious. And so that it has its effects, love to be nothing in everything you do. Be glad that Our Lord grants you the mercy of pulling you from the darkness of your ignorance and that He causes you to see and feel your continual dependence on His goodness, and how you can do nothing without His very particular help. This truth is important and fundamental for our spiritual edifice. 


Our natural bent toward elevation, that is, to our own excellence and to vanity, requires Our Lord to keep us a long time, and sometimes our whole life, in the awareness of and in sentiments about our lowliness. Although we feel, by a too evident experience, the abyss of our miserable corruption, and our conscience reproaches us at every moment for our impurities and infidelities, we are so attached to our self-regard that we cannot bear to be condemned or insulted. We are sufficiently convinced that we do nothing which is worthy; however, we admit and we have a hidden satisfaction when someone approves of what we do. We are abominable before God and often we say this about ourselves; but in encounters where we must endure a little scorn, it kills us. 


It is a very rare thing to see souls who live in truth. We all live, but alas, the great number lead a life of illusion and feed themselves on vanity. We take the shadow for the body and we make what is subordinate the principal thing. Let us mourn our blindness and see how you and I lived in darkness and falsehood up to the present. The soul who does not have an understanding of itself does not have the truth at all. In order to live in truth, we must live in humility, or to put it better, in nothingness. A soul who lives in truth is so abased that it cannot be found, even in the center of hell. It exists no longer and abides in its nothingness, creatures can no longer find it. 


O blessed loss, O saving loss! May we be lost in this way, my child, where we can find nothing except God! Oh! If you knew that sovereign happiness, you would wish to suffer a thousand deaths to have it. Oh! If I were permitted to speak, or rather, if God gave me the ability, I would tell you what you still do not know, but which you will experience some day if you are very faithful to God.

Mother Mectilde de Bar 

The Breviary of Fire 

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Pride and Humility

Our subject matter is clear: Pride and Humility, the opposing vice and virtue that either destroys our dignity through clutching for greatness independently of God or exalts us to the heavens by abandoning ourselves in our poverty into the merciful hands of our Lord. In one we lose ourselves in the darkness of egocentric delusion and in the other we our found by stepping into the Light, letting go of the self in absolute vulnerability.  Mother Mectilde makes it clear to her 
directee that neither of these can be fully understand through intellect but rather through experiencing by faith and love the perfect holiness and goodness of God. 

In a rather pointed fashion, Mectilde tells the Countess that she will find it hard to know and see her pride and its ugliness because she has made it her friend.  Her love of herself and her life has found great satisfaction there.  And the sad truth behind this is that God was reduced to nothing in her. Not seeing Him, she could not possibly see the wretchedness of her soul.  The devil has been very willing to oblige in hiding it from her and so Mother, by God's grace, will seek to show her something of the malice of it and help her to learn to hate it. She must first be shown in full measure how corrupt and abominable she is in Adam, how deplorable and shameful are her traits before she can see the blessing and mercy of being made a daughter of God and spouse of Christ and so adorned with His humility.  She must acknowledge her nothingness and more importantly abandon herself to God's providence and allow Him to draw her day by day to make her completely His. She must have courage; for He will test her desire to deepen it. There must be no delay in her response to His call and she must be driven by an urgent longing for Him; vigilant in keeping the lamp of the desire full and burning brightly. She must "Watch and Pray!"         

LET US SAY A WORD OR TWO ABOUT YOUR letter. I notice in many places in it that you have a great desire to know and be pierced with a horror for the sin of pride, so as to convince your mind of it and have a true opinion of the dreadfulness of its evil. You will understand it in depth only to the extent that you enter by faith and love into esteem for God. You must know God, His holiness, His goodness, and the rest of His divine perfections, to truly fathom the wickedness of pride. Your understanding of this will be more or less according to your understanding of God. I think I already wrote and spoke something to you about the rest that can be said, such as its qualities and its effects. 


If we had one tiny mite of humility, we would not be so blind. What makes you recognize your pride so little is the fact that you were always on its side. You were not opposed to it, and, being in agreement with it, you made it your friend, because the love of yourself found its life and its satisfaction there. You see by experience the wretchedness of the soul who clings to it. 


It is true that I told you that your pride has some resemblance to that of the devil. He is cunning and subtle for his own interests, to satisfy himself, and so on. The secret esteem you have always had for yourself—what is it but an elevation of yourself which placed you on God’s throne, making you esteem creatures? 


Alas! That for so long God was reduced to nothing in you, that He endured humiliations, insults, and rejection! How often you have thought about yourself so as to take pleasure in yourself and in creatures! Oh! How few are the souls who are illumined about these truths! But since He gives you the grace to be in the number of those by whom He wills to be glorified, be submissive to the lights of His Holy Spirit. Surpass yourself. Enter into these truths by faith, and little by little the experience will make you learned. 


As for the essay in which you made the declaration about your whole life, if you think to say something to your disadvantage in reading it, you will demonstrate by it your greatest humiliation and the embarrassment of your pride. 


I feel very well in my soul that yours is not much penetrated with the pride and vanity that has reigned in you up until now. I pray God to grant me the grace and light to be able to show you something about its malice, to oblige you to hate it as you must. 


Other sins have to do with God indirectly, but pride has this evil: it is directed toward the divinity itself. Oh! How terrible it is! I am not at all surprised that God hurled the [bad] angel from paradise to hell and drove Adam from His place of delights where He created him in justice and holiness. I am much more surprised at His divine and incomprehensible mercy which does not condemn me to the abyss. After having received the grace to be a Christian and the lights which accompany it, I am so presumptuous as to raise myself by a detestable pride up to the throne of God. Yes, my daughter, pride is so wicked and so abominable that it chases God from His throne and takes His place in order to be worshipped. 


Oh! My God, but we do not know this abomination! We would have endless horrors from it [if we knew it], and we would choose rather to die a thousand deaths than to commit such a sin and dishonor God so presumptuously. It requires the light of God Himself to understand and be penetrated with this truth, which we are explaining to you. I hope one day it will be given to you abundantly and that you will understand your blindness in depth. Have patience and persevere always in the will where I find you to be all God’s. The rest will not be lacking to you. 


YOU WANT TO KNOW THE ESTEEM I HAVE FOR YOU according to Adam and according to Jesus Christ. According to Adam, my child, I believe you are abomination, sin, and the object of eternal Justice, irretrievably worthy of hell, opposed to God, resistant to God, and most unworthy of God. I know you, according to Adam, to be a true fiend, entirely full of malice, entirely corrupted in impurity, and finally, more abominable than any comparison I can give you. This is the regard I have for you and for your origin from Adam. Here are the excellences, or to put it better, the dreadful traits you have inherited from your first father. See if you have a right or reason to draw any glory from them, and when you examine them thoroughly, if you do not rather have reason to be continually ashamed. However, I am only telling you a little, and I do not say how, in your capacity as a daughter of Adam, you are cursed by God and forever cast out of His holy presence. Our misfortunes according to Adam are shocking and beyond understanding. They are so extensive and so bad that faith produces better understanding than words. 


In virtue of Jesus, however, you are a daughter of God, spouse of Jesus Christ, clothed with Jesus Christ, renewed by His grace. You are a member of His Body and you bear His image and likeness. You are the beloved of the Holy Trinity. 


Your desire to pull down what your pride and vanity built among creatures comes from God; but you must work at it through His Spirit and not your own, otherwise you will only bring about a new corruption. 


To the extent that you will reduce yourself to nothing before God, He will imprint in you the true lights to establish your nothingness. It is not by the effort of your natural mind that you must enter it, but rather in giving and entrusting yourself to God to be led there. 


It is good for you to be more reserved in every way about putting yourself forward. However, you must take care of your household affairs and it would not be a virtue to neglect them. You know what I told you about this. When you are more firmly grounded, you will do better and with more detachment. In the meantime, bear your falls with humility and learn that you whole capacity consists only in being contrary and opposed to God. 


Abandon yourself often to God, above your miseries and weaknesses, and with a loving confidence in His goodness, that He will grant you the grace of drawing you from yourself to be completely His one day. 


Only be faithful to God’s light and attraction, and sacrifice your solitude to Him, since His Providence does not give you the means to have it. You must wait on His good pleasure and, nevertheless, always work. The little you can do with difficulty will always be very beneficial for entering into the path where God wants you. 


Courage! Do not think about the obstacles so much. Say with St. Paul, “I can do all things in the One who strengthens me.” With Jesus Christ you can do everything.


THE ESTEEM I HAVE FOR YOU IS SO GREAT THAT IF I did not view you as a member of Jesus Christ and as a prize of His Blood, you would be unbearable to me. It is not yourself that I esteem in you, but His grace and mercy, which I see shining in a manner beyond words. Beware of neglecting it voluntarily. If you stop, I do not know if you could ever pick yourself up again.


After God has waited a long time at the door of our hearts, He goes away, as we see with that slothful spouse; and when we seek Him, we do not find Him. This is the punishment which is typically applied to our meanness and our negligence, which always delays until another time. Oh! Wretches that we are! Can we vouch for the times? Are they ours to dispose of? Behold our miserable blindness. 


Hodie si vocem Domini audieritis. If today you hear His voice, beware of hardening your heart. Do not delay in giving yourself to God. Be vigilant with regard to His holy attractions. He says in St. Luke that He will come like a thief at the hour when no one expects, to teach us how we must be inwardly attentive to be able to hear His voice and give ourselves to His divine invitations, and so that He does not find us sleeping in the love of self and creatures. Alas! How often we are dozing in that wretched sleep which makes us unable to respond to God. Vigilate et orate. This is the counsel Jesus gives us to deliver us from this sleep of death. 


The disposition you have in regard to the desire you had for death is good, you can make use of it and work in that spirit. 

Mother Mectilde de Bar

The Breviary of Fire

Monday, January 10, 2022


Once again we turn to Mother Mectilde to guide us into the mystery of the life that Christ has made possible for us.  Despite being the means through which our souls are consecrated to the Holy Trinity, baptism and its effects are often neglect when reflecting on the dignity and destiny that is ours in Christ.  God has loved us with an everlasting love and has chosen us, uniquely and individually, for Himself and to share in His Life.  From the moment that we are baptized all that we are and do is connected to God. Our souls are consecrated temples and must not be profaned in the slightest fashion. We must not let anything dull our sensitivity to this high dignity despite the fact that we often our tempted to lower ourselves to the standards of the world that grows more obstinate and hardened in its sensibilities and love for sin.

We must consciously acknowledge and embrace the fact that we are consecrated; dedicated to a divine purpose and path that God has set out before us and leads us along to its final end. Daily we should set before our minds the intentions of our Lord - subordinate all things to them and commit by His grace never to deviate from them.  Indeed, from moment to moment, we must recall this purpose and bind ourselves to the perfection to which it calls us.  No great intelligence is needed but rather faith and love.  Faith will illuminate the path for us and humility will forever keep us rooted in our identity a children born from the womb of Mother Church. Childlike simplicity must shape our actions and the way we look upon one another; never allowing a calculating spirit to emerge in our minds and hearts. Whenever our sin afflicts us we must allow Christ to repair the wound and ask Him to renew within us those holy gifts of baptism - faith, hope and love.

I give myself to Our Lord Jesus Christ to speak to you about holy baptism as I told you I would, corresponding to your desire. 


            Baptism is a consecration of our souls made by Jesus Christ to the Most Holy Trinity. And in order to live according to your Christian obligation, you must live according to the dignity you received in baptism. Now, from all eternity, God looked upon you and chose you to be consecrated to Him through baptism; and at the time of your birth on earth, Jesus Christ made the consecration. You know what this word means, I will not explain it; but I will only tell you that your soul and your whole existence being connected to God through your baptism, you are not your own and you cannot live for yourself. Your soul is a temple dedicated to the three divine Persons and Jesus Christ effected its dedication and sacred anointing with the unction of His grace in baptism. 


            But since physical temples are now no longer used for any profane purpose, rather for sacrifices and oblations which are offered daily to the Most Holy Trinity, likewise your soul must not be profaned by any small sin, or defiled by creatures. You must regard your soul as a consecrated temple; and with this in view, keep it pure and spotless, since it must be the sacred resting place of the divinity. The soul is under obligation to be separated from all the profane uses for which it could employ its faculties. It must remain in constant recollection and in very reverent attention to the greatness that it contains in itself. Oh, if all Christians really understood their high dignity, could they ever lower themselves to the offenses and abominations, if I dared to speak of them, which we see every day? Oh, terrible profanation of the living temples of the Most Holy Trinity! No respect for the divinity who is present holds back these miserable people! What an obligation you have to the goodness of God who gives you the opposite sensibilities and who shows you the greatest mercy by taking you out of your errors, to make you attentive to the dignity of your soul; what an obligation you have to preserve, as much as is possible for you, the purity which it received through baptism, or to try to recover it if through some misfortune you have lost it. 


            Therefore, consider your soul not only as something sacred, but as something consecrated: that is, as something which is not its own, being dedicated. And all the uses you make of yourself which are not relate to God are profane uses; you dishonor the divinity in you and profane His holy temple. Understand this truth properly and henceforth do not allow your soul or its faculties to be used for the sake of creatures, your senses, or your self-love. God alone must reign in His temple; and if you serve creatures, may it be for His pure love; may the temple of your soul receive continual sacrifices, immolations, victims presented to God in an odor of sweetness. This is what your soul must serve, and not be a den of thieves, as Our Lord says in the Gospel, or a place of trade, or admit anything unworthy of His greatness, for fear of obliging His Majesty to take up a whip again to drive them out and to deprive you of His holy presence on account of the lack of respect you have for Him. 


            It is necessary that you conceive anew the intentions of Jesus in your baptism. What I will tell you contains one part, since you see that His plan was to relate you entirely to His Father’s glory, to adopt you as His child, to associate you with Jesus Christ so as to share in the eternal inheritance. In short, to unite you so much to Christ that your life might be nothing but a continuation of His life. 


            Here are Jesus’s intentions in your baptism and you are obliged to enter into them through love and submission, and never deviate from them. 


            If a child at his baptism were capable of understanding what Jesus does in him, how He consecrates him and dedicates him to the glory of the Most Holy Trinity, and this child united himself to the intentions of Jesus Christ in the baptism and consented to all His plans without turning aside through sin, he would have no need to renew His intentions. For the renewal is only to make up for the many ruptures of intention, straying after creatures, and returns to ourselves through self-love, such that we can say quite boldly that our life is nothing but sin and corruption through the continual inclination that we have toward creatures. This is the reason that obliges a soul who desires to be God’s to renew it, not only once a year, but at every moment, if she were able, since we are so inclined to the uncleanness of our senses that we are polluted at every moment.


            It is true that we are very wretched because of Adam our first father, but we have a worthy reparator in Jesus Christ. Baptism restores us to favor and makes us children of God and brothers of Jesus Christ, as it says in Scripture. What we have to do is properly understand our Christian obligation and bind ourselves to its perfection. 


            There is no need of great intelligence to be holy, but it requires true faith and much love. We see few learned people who are truly spiritual. St. Paul wanted to know nothing but Jesus Christ and Him crucified. You know your obligations and the dignity of your Christian state well enough; you must live in conformity with that knowledge, and practice great fidelity and purity of life, since the grace you received in baptism obliges you to this. 


            Live like Jesus Christ, since through baptism you are clothed with Him. Do not think that by the power of reasoning in your mind you can really understand Jesus Christ: He is not known in this way. A deep humility of heart and a great submission of mind do more than knowledge. Faith is the true light of the Christian soul. It is a torch which was given to you in baptism in order to illumine your whole life, and to show you the knowledge and doctrine of Jesus Christ, learned in the practice of humility, simplicity, and so on. 


            Our Lord says in the Gospel, “If you can believe, you will be saved.” He does not say “if you can see,” but “if you can believe,” in order to teach us that our path in Christianity is a path of faith, and the one who believes is able to receive the grace of baptism. Also, in the rites of baptism, the Credo is said by our godfathers and godmothers in our name. They say it for us and we say it in them, since they are our guarantee. When we have the use of reason, we are bound to confirm and ratify our belief through acts of faith, since our godfathers and godmothers are pledged for us only until that time. 


            Thus, let us renew our faith every day in order to make up for our insufficiency and inability in that state of infancy. Let us ask Jesus Christ to repair all those times and the time we spend every day in an infinite number of things opposed to our Christian grace. Comprehend, then, what we are telling you. 


            Faith is absolutely necessary in order to be a Christian. You have no obligation to understand the depth of our holy mysteries, or the infinite grandeurs of God, or the secret workings of Jesus Christ, but you are required to believe them and submit to them. 


            Three things are given in baptism in virtue of the three divine Persons: first, faith; second, hope; third, charity. Faith is appropriated to the Father, hope to the Son, and charity to the Holy Spirit. With these three gifts, which are infused into you at baptism, you are capable of entering into the highest sanctity and perfection. What is it that makes saints? Faith, hope, and charity. 


            Faith establishes the soul in the knowledge of God and of Jesus Christ and His holy mysteries, not by human arguments, but by a simple belief in the truths which are revealed to us in Sacred Scripture and by the Church. We submit our judgement to this without wanting to examine these things minutely and by submission we reverence them and bind ourselves to the grace they contain, our minds being completely subject to them. 


            Hope causes us to remain firm in the faith and gives us a full trust in God through Jesus Christ, remaining confident by the truth of His holy words. Hope detaches us from earthly things and makes us long for those which are eternal, which we await, as St. Paul says. 


            Charity unites us to God and makes us one with Him. It makes us love divine things, binds us to the cross, and separates us from creatures and ourselves, in order to transform us into Jesus Christ. 


            Thus, see if in baptism you have not been endowed with divine powers and heavenly gifts, without the use of which you cannot be saved. If you complain of your weakness in combating your enemies, here are the weapons Jesus Christ gives you in baptism, which are both offensive and defensive: you have only to make use of them. See what St. Paul said about this. 


            Accordingly, to make use of the grace of your baptism, you must practice these three virtues; they are called the theological virtues because they have God as their immediate object. From this moment begin to practice them and you will see that they will produce very good results in you. 

Mother Mectilde de Bar

Breviary of Fire