It’s a fact: rare, not to say non-existent, are the studies that bring the Blessed Marie de l’Incarnation close to her [spiritual] Mother, Saint Teresa.
This first approach is revealing: what separates these two great Carmelites — such as social status, nationality, temperament, epoch — is of little importance beside what unites them.
[In Saint Teresa are found the] same experience of divine possession, the same primacy of active charity, the same apostolic zeal, the same love of the Church, the same desire for union with God, the same grace of intimacy with Him, the same contemplation of Christ’s sufferings, the same abandonment to God, which appear in the blessed Marie de l’Incarnation, at once [both] a rich personality and a true daughter of Saint Teresa — [indeed,] heiress of her spirit.
« IN THE FOOTSTEPS OF OUR HOLY MOTHER, LIKE A DAUGHTER FOLLOWING HER MOTHER » ASV, Riti, 2236, fo. 734. With regard to the volumes relating to the beatification process (held in the Vatican Archives) for the sake of simplicity only the volume numbers will be quoted in the remainder of the text, followed by the folio numbers.
or : Sister Mary of the Incarnation, one of St. Teresa’s beloved daughters
Conference by Sister Anne Thérèse, OCD.
In this month of October 2005, which marks the closure of the fourth centenary of the introduction of St. Teresa’s Order into France by Madame Acarie, it seems appropriate to consider the Teresian aspects of her life, that is, to examine the influence of St. Teresa on Madame Acarie.
At first glance, all that the two women appear to have in common is the fact that they were both holy Discalced Carmelites, so greatly did their lives differ!
TERESA entered the convent at the age of twenty, without feeling any attraction for the life and forcing herself to do so.
From the age of fourteen, BARBE AVRILLOT was interiorly drawn to the service of the poor, a vocation strongly opposed by her family, with the result that she agreed to be married at the age of sixteen and a half.
As a nun, TERESA vegetated for almost twenty years, torn in her religious life between God and worldly pastimes.
As a wife and mother living in the midst of society, MADAME ACARIE had, at the age of twenty-three, a life-changing experience of God. She made rapid spiritual progress and would progress even further, through her exceptional fidelity to grace.
On her director’s orders, TERESA would leave behind an impressive quantity of spiritual writings.
Out of humility, MADAME ACARIE would burn what she had written and, after her death, disputes within the Carmelite Order in France would result in the disappearance of the greater part of her correspondence and other minor spiritual writings.
TERESA received the grace of a mystical wound in her heart, which she describes in great detail. Painters and engravers down the years would have a predilection for depicting this event, ensuring that it is one of the best-known incidents in her life.
As a young woman, about twenty-seven years old, MADAME ACARIE received the grace of stigmatisation on her heart, head and hands; but she kept it a secret and imposed silence on her confessors during her lifetime. We must emphasise that her stigmata were just as invisible as St. Teresa’s transverberated heart. Present-day scholarly studiesSee especially Imbert – Gourbeyre, Antoine: La stigmatisation, ed. Joachim Bouflet, 1996. (Originally published 1894). suggest that Madame Acarie was the first Frenchwoman to be an authentic recipient of the stigmata. But who can say?
TERESA figures in history as the Great Reformer of the Carmelite Order, a portrayal which, we venture to say, completely ignores the significant assistance towards the realisation of her project given by the Bishop of Avila (Don Alvaro de Mendoza), St. Peter of Alcantara, Doña Guiomar de Ulloa, various members of her family and numerous associates in the religious life.
MADAME ACARIE is hardly known, either in France or within the Carmelite Order.
Her outstanding role as the foundress of the Carmelite Order in France and, in consequence, as the person chiefly responsible for the spread of the Order in Europe, has been almost erased from memory, to the advantage of her co-workers, eminent persons, it is true, but persons who had received their commission from Madame Acarie herself.
At the age of forty-seven, TERESA made her entry into public life, as it were, with the establishment of her first reformed monastery in 1562.
At the age of forty-eight, MADAMA ACARIE, who had been widowed for less than three months, embraced the religious life after having taken a hand in the founding of the first French Carmels. She entered the Carmel of Amiens in 1614, assuming the hidden life of a lay sister.
TERESA spent forty-seven years in religion, during which she experienced all the stages of the spiritual life.
MARY OF THE INCARNATION spent but four years in the religious state, having already reached the pinnacle of her own spiritual life.
Many other differences between the two women could be emphasised; for example, when TERESA was a child, she was blessed with a very loving family, whereas BARBE appears to have lived in a Christian home that was somewhat lacking in human warmth, to say the least, when one considers the harsh treatment meted out by her mother.
Although she suffered much ill-health, TERESA did not experience the same infirmities as BARBE, who from the age of thirty-three had to walk most of the time with the aid of potences (T-shaped walking-sticks).
But the two women, motivated by the same passionate love for Christ and His Church, were destined to meet and to develop a mutual understanding. It was Mother Teresa who took the initiative.
Although there is proof that Madame Acarie had already heard of her, See the lecture by Christian Renoux :Madame Acarie lit Thérèse d’Avila given to the Association of Friends of Madame Acarie, Oct. 7, 2001.their first real encounter was through her reading of St. Teresa’s works, recently translated into French and published in Paris. What a disappointment theye were! Madame Acarie had suffered greatly from the mystical experiences God had bestowed on her, in the constant fear that she was the victim of demonic influences. She had prayed fervently that the spectacular visible effects of these graces would diminish or even disappear. She was dismayed to see all this and even more described in detail and published in Mother Teresa’s Life and her book The Interior Castle. But Teresa was waiting for her opportunity. “One day, in the course of the year 1601, Madame Acarie was on her way from her house to hear Holy Mass in St. Anthony’s Chapel, when it seemed that all at once she had a vision of the glory attributed to Blessed Mother Teresa on account of her virtues, and from that moment on she gave great honour to that saint, although she had until then experienced difficulty with the visions and revelations described in her Life and had an extreme aversion to them.” (Deposition of Father Coton, 2233, fo.64).
Here we have the indispensable precondition for Madame Acarie’s wholehearted acceptance of the mission from God that Teresa would shortly afterwards confide to her.
Having become acquainted with the sufferings of the Church in France, TERESA of Avila had defined the purpose of the Carmel of St. Joseph which she had founded: it was to be prayer and penance for the sanctification of the clergy and the conversion of heretics.
Affected by the same sufferings of the Church in France, MADAME ACARIE and her circle sought ways of re-Christianising that country at the deepest level. For her part, Madame Acarie set herself to the tasks at hand: long periods of prayer, frequent reception of the Sacraments, mortification, but also care of the sick, help for the needy, protection of unborn children, reconciliation of husbands and wives who had serious marital problems, rescue of women from prostitution, shelter for orphans. She was all things to all people, the little no less than the great, having a particular concern for the abbeys and convents that were attempting reforms following the disarray caused by the Wars of Religion, and supplying the needs of priests who had material or spiritual necessities, etc.
It is in this context that Mother Teresa’s intervention and her words can be understood. We know that she appeared to MADAME ACARIE on two separate occasions (with an interval of several months) asking her to do everything possible to bring her Order to France: “Just as I enriched Spain with this renowned Order [the Reformed Carmelite Order] so do you, who are bringing piety back to France, endeavour to let the country experience this benefit.” (2236, fo. 330 r.)
Madame Acarie would devote all her energy and experience to the completion of her mission and she took pains to have its authenticity checked by theologians at every stage. This is how she became the co-worker of the great Saint who worked from beyond the grave for the fulfilment of their mutual desire, the salvation of France. But Teresa’s consideration did not end there. She wanted to make the co-worker in question into one of her daughters and sisters!
Several months later, in July 1602, when the plan to bring the Reformed Carmelite Order to France had been approved by her associates, MADAME ACARIE went to Lorraine. While she was at prayer in the Basilica of St. Nicholas de Port, TERESA of AVILA appeared to her a second time, on this occasion to reveal to her her future life as a Carmelite nun. In perfect conformity with the teaching given to her first Spanish daughters (“Humility is the foundation…This whole building [referring either to a person or a religious order] has humility as its foundation…Thus, Sisters, that you might build on good foundations, strive to be the least and slaves of all.” (Interior Castle, Ch. 7, paras.4,8)All the quotations from St. Teresa are from the Collected works, tr. Kieran Kavanaugh and Otilio Rodriguez, (Washington: ICS, 1980 – ). TERESA told MADAME ACARIE, without mincing her words, that she would enter Carmel as a lay sister. The thought had never entered Madame Acarie’s head, but she accepted, after a brief but intense interior struggle, even before she left the Basilica.
Having sent her on a mission and revealed her future state in life, Teresa’s care for Madame Acarie continued to be clearly shown, with regard both to her exterior trials and her periods of ill-health.
Here are some examples :
The year 1603 saw MADAME ACARIE shoulder the major part of the overwhelming task of overseeing and financing the construction of the first Carmel in Paris, in the Faubourg S. Jacques. She was ridiculed by many people, who thought it madness to squander such large sums of money on yet another convent, and one that had been authorised neither by Rome nor by the Carmelite Order.
At the same time, she was involved in a lawsuit over the supposed misappropriation of an inheritance, a lawsuit brought against her by the parents of a young girl whom she had advised to enter the Abbey of Charmes.
MADAME ACARIE foresaw that “ all these persons’ schemes could only result in giving grave scandal to those whose minds would be filled with worldly reasoning… deduced from these actions against piety. (The lawyer representing these individuals, having seen such an attractive piece of business come his way, was preparing to heap abuse on Blessed Mary, and to include in his speech for the prosecution an account of all her activities, especially her transfer of the nuns from Spain). She tried by every possible means to soften the hearts of these embittered and deluded individuals…but since they were obsessed with their own point of view, they were incapable of following her reasoning…At last, when the situation seemed utterly desperate, Our Holy Mother Teresa appeared to her and assured her that the girl’s parents would come to an agreement without the case being brought to court; and so it turned out, several days later, contrary to everyone’s expectations.” (2236 fo 97 –98r.)
Later on, about three years after she entered religious life, MADAME ACARIE was struck down by a very serious illness. A remarkable account of this has been left to us by a relative, Marie Tudert (the widow of Jean Séguier) who was looking after her. Just when the doctors had given up all hope of a cure, “a great multitude of devout persons, who had heard the rumour of her imminent death, came in haste to throw themselves on their knees at her bedside and to ask her to bless them; she humbly refused, saying that she was incapable of doing so. She asked me to order everyone out of the room, and after having received various medical comforts from my hands, she asked me to give her St. Teresa’s mantle.The mantle was brought from Spain by the Mother Foundresses and preserved by the community of the first Carmel in Paris (the present-day Carmel of Clamart). We put it under her head like a pillow. She immediately fell asleep on it, in a very peaceful slumber, and when she awoke, she did not know where she had been. She said she had never slept so soundly in all her life and she felt so reinvigorated and such a different person that it seemed impossible that she could have been so ill.” (2235 fo.562 – 563).
Conscious of the special love Mother Teresa had for her, MADAME ACARIE promised to give her particular honour. A good opportunity to show her gratitude and the depth of her feelings now arose.
TERESA’s beatification by Pope Paul V took place in Rome on April 24, 1614. We do not know the exact day when the Carmel in Amiens made a solemn commemoration of the beatification (Rome’s first official recognition of the holiness of the great Foundress of the Discalced Carmelite Order).
MADAME ACARIE had been clothed in the Carmelite habit two or three weeks previously and was now known as Sister MARY OF THE INCARNATION. She showed such enthusiasm and took such pains to prepare for the celebration and to adorn the chapel that the other Sisters were astonished. (See 2235 fo.444).
“When the celebration of Our Holy Mother Teresa’s beatification took place in the convent, she worked for a long time in advance, from morning till night and sometimes during the night…on fire with such devotion, and with such a beautiful expression on her pure face, that just to look at her would raise your spirits. She would say to us, Come, let us work with a will; we are doing this for Our Holy Mother, and she would apply herself to finding new ways of doing things, for she had such a wide-ranging mind that she could turn her hand to anything.” (2235 fo.679 –680).
In spite of this, according to another witness “In the year that she was beatified, Our Holy Mother Teresa appeared to Blessed Mary, who was in choir in Amiens. She severely reproached her for having had for a period a low opinion of both [Teresa] herself and her writings!” (2236 fo.149r).
All the supernatural manifestations with which Teresa surrounded MADAME ACARIE, Sister MARY OF THE INCARNATION, are but the exterior signs of a deep spiritual intimacy, a real affinity in the way that they understood and lived life in God and life in Carmel.
An exhaustive comparison is beyond the limits of this paper and the capabilities of its author.
It suffices to compare some of their writings for the reader to appreciate their fundamental similarity, expressed, in Madame Acarie’s case, in a way that reveals her unique personality and experience, far removed from any unconscious imitation, in spite of her thoroughgoing knowledge of the life and teaching of the Reformer of the Carmelite Order.
The same experience of the Divine Indwelling :
At the very centre of Carmelite spirituality we discover a God Who is close to humanity, a God Who is so close because He is within us. It is the awareness of this presence that is the basis of the whole thrust of contemplative prayer, an infinite progression towards the God Who is at the centre of our soul. Our two saints experienced this and testified to it.
TERESA writes :
“I don’t find anything comparable to the magnificent beauty of a soul and its marvellous capacity…But we seldom consider the precious things that can be found in this soul, or who dwells within it, or its high value…Consequently, little effort is made to preserve its beauty.” (First Dwelling Places, Ch. 1, paras. 1 – 2).
“In my opinion, if I had understood as I do now, that in this little palace of my soul dwelt so great a King, I would not have left Him alone so often. I would have remained with Him…” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 28, para.11).
And MADAME ACARIE writes :
“Reflect, O my soul, on another blessing, and recognize that your inner self has such great capacity that no creature is sufficient to satisfy the least of its desires.” (Vrais Exercices, p. 74).Translated from her Écrits spirituels,compiled by Bernard Sésé, Arfuyen, 2004.
“Nothing, I say, can live within you or abide in you but the simplicity and purity of the Most Holy Trinity, for God exists more intimately in the purest part of your spirit than in the most secret parts of your inner self.” (Vrais Exercices, p. 71).
The same primacy accorded to charity in Carmelite life :
Carmel is love at the heart of the Church :
TERESA writes :
“here in our religious life the Lord asks of us only two things, love of His Majesty and love of our neighbour…The most certain sign, in my opinion, as to whether or not we are observing these two laws, is whether we observe well the love of neighbour. We cannot know whether we love God…but we can know whether we love our neighbour. And be certain that the more advanced you see you are in love for your neighbour, the more advanced you will be in the love of God.” (Fifth Dwelling Places, Ch. 3, paras. 7,8).
Whereas MADAME ACARIE addresses the following words to Pierre de Bérulle when he is attempting to obtain nuns from Spain :
“In the name of Our Lord Jesus Christ, choose shining examples of that virtue of charity whose true light never fails, those who are warm-hearted and full of love, those who are deeply sensitive to the needs of their neighbours…Take good care to discover whether the women you want to bring [to France] really possess this virtue of charity.” (Letter 2, p.95).
The same apostolic zeal and the same love for the Church :
In The Way of Perfection, when TERESA is giving an account of her first foundation, she reveals the extent to which her love of God led her to feel compassion for His Church and especially for the Church in France, confronted with heresy :
“At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France, and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused and how much this miserable sect was growing. The news distressed me greatly and, as though I could do something…I cried to the Lord and begged Him that I might remedy so much evil…Since we would all be occupied in prayer for those who are defenders of the Church…we could help as much as possible this Lord of mine…This is why he has gathered you together here. This is your vocation. These must be the business matters you’re engaged in. These must be the things you desire, the things you weep about; these must be the object of your petitions.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 1, paras 2 and 5).
MADAME ACARIE was pained, just as Teresa was, by the misfortunes befalling the Church in her time; she had in addition a special affection for England, where Catholics were currently being persecuted :
“She was deeply affected by the calamities and wants suffered by Holy Church and…felt compassion for England. When she heard of any disruption caused by the heretics, her face would become completely drained of colour and she would show how much this had affected her by her tears, and she would say, This concerns us, so we must pray, and she encouraged us to pray for that intention, teaching us even more by her example than by her exhortations…She told us that, when she was on her way to her parish church of St. Gervais each Sunday morning, she found it very distasteful to see the heretics being dragged along in their carriages to hear their miserable preachers. This was sufficient reason for her to spend time in prayer for their conversion and she did so with incomparable zeal and devotion.” (2236, 147 r – v).
The same desire for union with God :
Their psychological and spiritual equilibrium ensured that they endeavoured to journey towards God by ordinary ways, following a path devoid of all those extraordinary phenomena that can be an abundant source of illusion for so many.
Having, on her confessor’s orders, written an account of the most elevated mystical states that God had bestowed on her, TERESA admits :
“True union can very well be reached with God’s help, if we make the effort to obtain it by keeping our wills fixed only on that which is God’s will.” (Fifth Dwelling Places, Ch. 3, para.3).
“There is no reason to doubt the possibility of this…true union with the will of God. This union with God’s will is the union I have desired all my life; it is the union I ask the Lord for always, and the one that is clearest and safest.” (Fifth Dwelling Places, Ch. 3, para.5).
As if echoing this, MADAME ACARIE writes to her daughter Marie (then a Carmelite in Amiens) :
“For it is to Him (God) that we must be united, making a strenuous effort to withdraw from all that can hinder this union of which Our Holy Mother speaks so well in her book The Interior Castle, in the chapter where she says that every soul which lives a religious life can arrive at this intimate union of our wills with the will of God. I ask you to beseech Him insistently to grant us [i.e., me] this and, assisted by His grace, we shall do the same for you.” (Letter 11, p.124).
The same grace of intimate union with God :
Their realisation of living in God’s presence was so strong that the help of a book at the time of prayer became superfluous, (although we know that in their humility both of them made sure to have spiritual reading to hand during their periods of silent prayer).
In her Life TERESA tells us :
“When they forbade the reading of many books in the vernacular, I felt that prohibition very much, because reading some of them was an enjoyment for me, and I could no longer do so since only the Latin editions were allowed. The Lord said to me: Don’t be sad, for I shall give you a living book. I was unable to understand why this was said to me, since I had not yet experienced any visions. Afterward, within only a few days, I understood very clearly, because I received so much to think about and such recollection in the presence of what I saw, and the Lord showed so much love for me by teaching me in many ways, that I had very little or almost no need for books. His Majesty had become the true book in which I saw the truths. Blessed be such a book that leaves what must be read and done so impressed that you cannot forget!” (Life, Ch. 26, para. 5).
Although in the case of MADAME ACARIE circumstances were different, her confessor, Father Duval, could say the following :
“Raised by the Supreme Goodness to advanced stages of contemplation, Madame Acarie no longer had any need of books. The All-Powerful and Most High God, source of truth and unquenchable light, was the book with which she was most familiar, one where she could read in the midst of darkness more clearly than others could in the full mid-day sun. For her, he was the shining torch going before her on every step of her way and preceding every one of her actions.” (Duval,2236,363v.)
Blessed in so many ways, both became even more keenly aware of their wretchedness and both experienced the same reaction :
Whereas TERESA exclaims : “May You be blessed, my Lord, that from such filthy mud as I, You make water so clear that it can be served at Your table! May You be praised, O Joy of the Angels, for having desired to raise up a worm so vile!” (Life, Ch. 19, para.2).
It is said that MADAME ACARIE “often had these words on her lips :
I am a worm and no man, the butt of men and the laughing-stock of the people.” c2236-91v)
She said of herself: “When I consider myself, I see that I am so wretched…you could trample on me as if I were a little worm, without my making any protest.” (2235,fo.698).
The same contemplation of Christ’s sufferings :
All the saints and masters of the spiritual life have meditated at length on the Passion, that Passion which proves to us with what love Christ Jesus has loved us !
TERESA advises her daughters time and again :
“Fix your eyes on the Crucified and everything will become small for you.” (Seventh Mansions,Ch. 4, para.8)
We often find Sister MARY OF THE INCARNATION taking the same approach :
“ The sisters here would find her very often in her cell, kissing the feet of Jesus crucified with great devotion…[and saying] Ah, what can we say on seeing such a sight as this. How can it be possible for us not to desire with all our hearts to suffer contempt, when we see God reduced to such an extremity?” (2235, 336v).
In TERESA’s case, this involved not only looking at Christ but imitating Him :
“Take up that cross, daughters…pay no attention to what they say to you…In stumbling, in falling with your Spouse, do not withdraw from the cross or abandon it. Consider…how much greater His trials are than those trials you suffer.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 26, para.7).
As for MADAME ACARIE, she never evaded the numerous crosses that came her way on her journey through life, including those final crosses related to the future development of the Carmelite Order.
Shortly before her death in Pontoise,”I remember that I found her on one occasion bathed in tears, kneeling before the crucifix [in her cell]. She was at the time undergoing one of the most grievous afflictions in her life. See how we behave,[ she said to me]. We are quite content to look at Our Lord on the Cross and we do not want to carry it ourselves, and while on this subject she said several things to me concerning the contempt [suffered by] the Son of God.” (2236, 106)
The same passage from Scripture would on occasions inspire each of them in a different way. Both women would lovingly contemplate Christ in the Garden of Olives, but whereas TERESA was sensitive to Christ’s “loneliness” and tried to keep Him company : “This is the method of prayer I then used…I strove to represent Christ within me, and it did me greater good – in my opinion – to represent Him in those scenes where I saw Him more alone…The scene of His prayer in the garden, especially, was a comfort to me. I strove to be His companion there…I thought of the sweat and agony He had undergone in that place.” (Life, Ch. 9, para.4)
the thought that remained uppermost in MARY OF THE INCARNATION’s mind was that of Christ accompanied and consoled by the angel, so as to draw from this incident a lesson in humility. One of her companions in the religious life recalled in her deposition: “She had a special devotion to the Agony Our Lord endured in the garden of Olives and she would often say to us, See the extremity to which the Son of God is reduced, in being consoled by one of His creatures and we, poor, weak and wretched as we are, are ashamed to reveal our weakness and wretchedness and to accept help from created beings.
Someone once told her that she would like to paint a picture of this mysterious event, but she wanted to depict Our Lord in solitude. [Blessed Mary] replied, What! Do you want to do away with the most powerful image, the one where the greatest humility and self-abasement of the Son of God are evident, whenHe appears prostrate in extreme agony and the angel, one of his creatures, is consoling Him! (2235, 724)
Saint Martha :
In the same way, there are noticeable differences in the teaching on SAINT MARTHA given by St. Teresa and Blessed Mary. TERESA uses the saint’s example as an exhortation to humility. “Think of this congregation as the home of St. Martha and that there must be people for every task…let them recall that it is necessary for someone to prepare the meal and let them consider themselves lucky to serve with Martha. Let them consider how true humility consists very much in great readiness to be content with whatever the Lord may want to do with them.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 17, paras. 5 and 6)
Blessed MARY OF THE INCARNATION, on the other hand, having devoted herself entirely to her vocation of lay-sister, sees her as an example of love of God and of neighbour: “She described the affection with which St. Martha served Our Lord and the great love with which she prepared His meal and she said with great emotion, Try to imagine that Our Lord was on earth and we had to prepare His meal; with what love and devotion we would set about it; we ought to see Him in our sisters, then, and serve them as if we were serving Him, with great love and without ever growing weary.” (2235 – 764r)
It is noticeable that there are never in Madame Acarie’s observations any reflections on the “life of perfection” using the example of Martha and Mary, as St. Teresa does so perceptively, although she was very familiar with Teresa’s writings.
Saint TERESA writes; “Martha and Mary must join together in order to show hospitality to the Lord and have Him always present and not host Him badly by failing to give Him something to eat. How would Mary, always seated at His feet, provide Him with food if her sister did not help her? Her food is that in every possible way we draw souls that they may be saved and praise Him always.” (Seventh Dwelling Places,Ch. 4, para.12)
The Marquise de Maignelay, a long-standing friend of Madame Acarie, gives a portrait of her that – without mentioning Martha and Mary – illustrates this life of perfection entirely given to God and to neighbour at the same time. “She was so inseparably united to God by the holy bonds of her love that her heart and thoughts never strayed from Him and the occupations that ordinarily separate us from God through too great an application of our senses to created beings served habitually to raise her mind to God and to unite her with Him in a more intimate and perfect way.” (2236,395)…and further on “I noticed that Blessed Mary’s mind was so firmly fixed on God and it was so easy for her to turn from action to mental prayer that it seemed her life was nothing but continual contemplation, yet full of activity.” (2236, 403v) Thus Martha and Mary were truly combined in one person, as St. Teresa wished.
Madame Acarie had acquired this ease of passing from action to contemplation through her fidelity to the presence of God within her. (See 2235,618). “If she happened to speak of some temporal matter, relating to her own household or that of others, or some question of devotion, and it chanced that someone interrupted her, she would immediately fall silent, and in that instant she would turn to God to such good effect that she would forget what she had just been saying…I can state categorically that I saw this happen several times and it proves the great fidelity with which she always kept her mind occupied with God.” (2236, 514) This deposition by her eldest daughter Marie suggests that, even before she was aware of it, Madame Acarie was following the counsels given by St. Teresa for cultivating union with God: “If you speak, strive to remember that the One with whom you are speaking is present within. If you listen, remember that you are going to hear One who is very close to you when He speaks. In sum, bear in mind that you can, if you want, avoid ever withdrawing from such good company…If you can, practise this recollection often during the day; if not, do so a few times. As you become accustomed to it you will experience the benefit, either sooner or later. Once this recollection is given by the Lord, you will not exchange it for any treasure.” (Way of Perfection, Ch. 29, para.7)
In her great humility, however, Madame Acarie would continue to learn from the woman who is the spiritual Mother of Carmel :
“Towards the end of her life, two or three months before she entered religion, she had more free time for reading, and she liked to read St. Teresa’s Way of Perfection, or the noted on humility by Dom Sans, the Feuillant, or some other [book] on the subject of virtue and she drew profit from it all, for she understood from it all that she was entirely lacking in virtue.” (2236- 813)
The list of similarities between the two holy women could be prolonged; they give the same advice on mental prayer and penance, they share the same love of truthfulness, the same practice of poverty, the same requirement for cleanliness, the same diligence in meditating on the Scriptures, the same attraction for suffering in union with Christ, the same regret, at the approach of death, for not having loved God, and many other similarities, one of the most important being the total surrender of their wills to God, which is the ultimate goal of the spiritual journey; and it is on this spiritual summit that the Vrais Exercices are brought to a close.
“Lord…I now surrender all that I have and am to Your holy care and protection, so that in all things and through all things my will may be in conformity with Yours and I bind myself to take willingly from Your most generous hand all that it may please You to send me; whether consolation or affliction, health or sickness, death or life and everything else of that kind; and to that end I renounce my own will in such a manner that I utterly renounce possession of it in any way whatsoever.” (Vrais Exercices, p. 83) These lines written by Madame Acarie are a reminder of the beautiful poem in which Teresa of Avila abandons herself “Into the hands of God” :
Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness…
Delight or distress…
To you I give all,
What do you want of me?"
By way of concluding this short presentation on Teresa’s place in the life of Mary of the Incarnation, we ought to say that the sense of their presence is a grace given to the Carmel of Pontoise, (not as our sole prerogative ; that goes without saying).
Shortly after her death, Sister Mary of the Incarnation, accompanied by St.Teresa, appeared to Mother Agnes of Jesus, the Sub-Prioress, who had been the first novice in Pontoise Carmel. Mother Agnes had the realisation, coming almost as a surprise, that “the two of them were equal in glory.” (Duval, La Vie Admirable,1623, p. 778).
Mother Louise Jourdain, the first professed sister in Pontoise Carmel and Prioress of a Carmel in Burgundy at the time, had a similar vision :
“Shortly after the happy demise of our Blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation, Our Holy Mother appeared to that holy person, Louise Jourdain, bringing with her our blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation; she was following her, with her white veil covering her face, standing in silence behind Our Holy Mother like a daughter following her mother.”
It is a fact that in the Carmel of Pontoise, Teresa of Avila and Mary of the Incarnation would remain united, not only in the hearts of the Sisters but also in the layout of the monastery. It was in 1617 that, following a request by Sister Mary of the Incarnation, a small hermitage was created in an attic and it was dedicated to the person who was as yet only Blessed Mother Teresa; and it was in the only side-chapel in the church, a chapel dedicated to St. Teresa of Avila during the year of her canonisation (1622) that Mary of the Incarnation’s mausoleum, a gift from Marie de Medici in 1626 –27, would be erected. With nothing other than Divine prompting, pilgrims would come in great numbers to her tomb and Mother Jeanne of Jesus (Séguier) remarked that “everyone calls this chapel Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s Chapel but we Carmelite Sisters always call it St. Teresa’s.” (2235 – 876r)
In 1639 this same Mother Jeanne had the small infirmary where Sister Mary of the Incarnation died transformed into an oratory and included in the decoration (which is still in existence) an inscription mentioning several apparitions of St. Teresa at the bedside of Sister Mary as she lay dying, to console and strengthen her.
Finally, there is still in existence in the cloister a fine painting that commemorates the following event. One of Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s last visions on her deathbed was the sight of “Our Lord turning towards Holy Mother Teresa of Jesus and giving her as a reward… for the pains she had suffered in founding the Order, a rose of wondrous beauty.” (Duval, La Vie Admirable, 1623, pp. 415 –416) and the person who made this grace public added by way of comment, “I wonder if it was [Mary of the Incarnation] herself whom the rose represented; she can rightly be called a rose beyond compare on account of the close resemblance between her life and the nature of that flower.” (2236 – 30v)
As for us, we have no hesitation in seeing in Mary of the Incarnation that exquisite rose given by the Lord to St. Teresa of Avila as a symbol and pledge of the many foundations that originated, directly or remotely, from the first Carmel in Paris, fruit of Madame Acarie’s labours.
Sister Anne Thérèse of Jesus
Carmel of Pontoise, – October 15, 2005.