Madame Acarie’s contemporaries emphasized the extent to which her life was totally unified in God. She lived immersed in the Divine Reality, in self-oblivion and in a perpetual exchange between contemplation and action, since, as Dom Sans, General of the Cistercian congregation of the "Feuillants", wrote: "Even though spending time with God is an activity that is more noble, more divine and sweeter to the soul than spending time for God, nevertheless, we have when necessary to take our leave of God and descend to earthly affairs, still for God’s true service. I call that : leaving God for God."
As an accomplished mystic, she radiated the love of God all around her: she "freed souls from their illusions and transformed them interiorly, so that there was hardly anyone who, having visited her, left without being affected in a most extraordinary way."
Madame Acarie’s mystical experience and its influence
Lecture by Dominic Tronc
There was a time when I knew very little about Madame Acarie, except in her role as the person who introduced the Carmelite Order to France; so I am delighted that the Association of Friends of Madame Acarie has asked me to give this lecture. This has been an opportunity for me to make contact with someone for whom I now have a great deal of admiration. I thank the Association for having made the depositions for the Informative Process available to me. Those who had the onerous task of transcribing these documents have done a service that is of immense value to us all.The extracts from the transcribed documents – which as a whole contain a million and a half characters – are quoted under the name of the witness, often accompanied by the number of the folio or the page in the corresponding ms. It is easy to locate the quotations in context by using a file that contains most of the documents, for example, Témoignages Acarie.doc. We have retained the archaic style, confining ourselves to modernising the spelling in many cases and adding punctuation. See also the following sources, which are readily available: the Communications (lectures) to the Association of Friends of Madame Acarie [AAA}; P. Bonnichon, Madame Acarie, une petite voie à l’aube du grand siècle (Toulouse, Carmel Vivant, 2002); Madame Acarie, Écrits spirituels, introduced by Bernard Sesé (Arfuyen, 2004) etc.
I shall begin by giving a brief outline of Madame Acarie’s life, concentrating, not on her role in history, but simply on personal details. I shall go on to consider various themes, as I try to define what she was really like as a person, because my interest is centred on making a tentative study of the experience proper to the mystical life, without diminishing its importance or subjecting it to rigorous psychological analysis; in other words, I shall respect that experience.
Barbe Avrillot was born in Paris in 1566, during the Wars of Religion. She was six years old at the time of the Massacre of Saint Bartholomew. She wished to become a nun at the Hôtel Dieu, but she was married off at sixteen to Pierre Acarie, who was aged twenty-two or twenty-three. She led an agreeable existence; the two were in love and her mother-in-law was fond of her. Between the ages of eighteen and twenty-six she gave birth to six children. She must have taken very good care of them, with the help of her servant Andrée Levoix, because they all survived to adulthood. They were brought up very strictly, learning early in life to be generous and to have a horror of telling lies. ‘La belle Acarie’ liked to enjoy herself; she read the novels of Amadis de Gaule and was very put out if she met anyone who was more beautiful than she.
When she was twenty-one or twenty-two she read the following maxim : “Trop est avare à qui Dieu ne suffit” (“He is truly a miser for whom God does not suffice”). The words came as a shock that made her turn her attention to the interior life. She would be subject until the day she died to profoundly mystical states, in which she thought she would “die of sweetness.” Although the fact that these states were visible to others was a cause of shame to her, she was unable to conceal them; she was left dumb, “out of her senses”. Her doctors did not know what to make of it; they prescribed blood-letting and the treatment completely exhausted her. She was terrified that she was deluding herself, all the more because during that period in history fear of the Devil was widespread. The spiritual crises and conversion experiences of her contemporaries (in which fear had a part to play) are evidence of this; take, for example, the young Francis de Sales and the mystics Benet of Canfield, Augustine Baker and Marie des Vallées. Fortunately, Father Benet of Canfield recognized the grace operating within her.
During the siege of Paris by Henry IV she devoted herself to caring for the sick and wounded as well as feeding victims of famine.
Numerous trials followed. She bore them with great courage. Her deeply religious husband joined the Catholic League and was taken prisoner in 1594, when Henry IV entered Paris. Their house was seized; Barbe and her six children were left destitute. Her extraordinary patience in adversity then became evident. The Carmelite Marie of Jesus relates how her mother was forced to ask for money from a relativeMarie of Jesus (Acarie), 539. :
She fell on her knees and begged her to do her the favour of at least lending her five sols in order to procure some bread, demonstrating her need and pointing out her responsibility to her children, hoping that this would soften her [relative’s] heart; but, on the contrary, she refused her request with harsh words, telling her that she should apprentice her children – the eldest was about nine years old – to some cobbler or shoe-mender, and she sent her away forthwith without giving her a single sol.
Sister Marie likewise testified to her mother’s calm behaviour in times of trialIbid, 538. :
One day, as she was having a meal, the bailiffs came into the house and seized everything, even the dishes on the table, down to the plate in front of her. She remained completely calm while this was happening. She told us that she felt intense joy on seeing herself reduced to such a state of poverty…
She suffered a very serious accident; when returning from visiting her husband, who had been given permission to live nearer Paris. She was thrown from her horse, which dragged her along the road for a considerable distance, with the result that her thigh-bone was broken in three places. From then on, she would walk with crutches. Two further falls succeeded the first, leaving her permanently disabled.
In 1599 she obtained a pardon for her husband from Henry IV and their mansion in the Rue des Juifs was restored to them. It became a centre of Catholic spirituality; amongst its most regular visitors were Cardinal de Bérulle and Francis de Sales. The latter confided to Father John of St. Francis :
…that when he was in the presence of that holy person, [i.e.,Barbe], she impressed on his soul such great respect for her virtue [ in the sense of the Latin virtus] that he could never be so bold as to ask anything about her interior life…
At thirty-two, Madame Acarie was as beautiful, joyful and agreeable as ever. She was involved in numerous projects, such as the rehabilitation of fallen women.
Her first contact, at thirty-five, with the writings of St. Teresa – they had been translated in 1601 – did not fill her with enthusiasm; there were too many visions! But the Saint showed herself to her interiorly in two ‘visions’ that occurred seven or eight months apart. (Barbe does not use such a term, but calls them ‘vues de l’esprit’, “spiritual sightings’).Sister Anne-Therese, L’amitié spirituelle de François de Sales…lecture to the AAA on April 14, 2002, quotes Father Duval, “Although she had important visions and revelations during her ecstasies, nothing is known about them. She called them vues de l’esprit, ‘spiritual sightings’ rather than ‘visions.’ “ The project of bringing the nuns of the reformed branch of the Carmelite Order to France was taking shape. The future young Carmelites placed themselves under her direction, meeting at her house in the Rue des Juifs. Work on the first monastery in Paris began in 1603 and was directed and financed by Barbe, with the help of M. de Marillac. The Spanish sisters finally arrived on October 15, 1604, after their famous journey from Madrid to Paris. The second monastery was opened in Pontoise in January, 1605. Barbe had connections with many of the subsequent foundations.
Pierre died in November 1613. In accordance with St. Teresa’s wishes, Barbe entered Amiens Carmel in February 1614 as a lay sister, at the age of forty-eight. She worked in the kitchen. Mary of the Incarnation would be compared to Brother Laurence of the Resurrection : “ Both of them were assigned to work that was considered menial at the time […] Both suffered from a severe physical handicap; Laurence had a wooden leg and Madame Acarie used potences (crutches) to compensate for her lameness.“The Church, by receiving the Word of God in faith, becomes herself a mother.” (Lumen gentium, Ch. 8, para. 64). “ She could not be Prioress, as the Carmelite Sisters had wished, and the new Prioress who was imposed on them ruled with a rod of iron. She forbade her to give spiritual direction to the other sisters, and did not tell them in advance about this prohibition…At last, in December 1616, Blessed Mary was transferred to Pontoise, where she could give spiritual direction to the novices on the theme ‘Peace is everything.’ She was, however, fundamentally opposed to anything resembling servitude and the conflict resulting from the vow to Jesus and Mary, as required by Cardinal de Bérulle, was particularly painful for her.
She became very ill; here again, her patience was all-embracing. Her daughter tells how :
When she was ill, her virtue was more apparent than at any other time. I never saw her make any impatient movement by way of complaint and, as I was always in her room and used to sleep there, I would hear her getting up on her own in the night and singing hymns to God, so that no complaint on account of the great pain in her broken leg should escape her lips.Marguerite of the Blessed Sacrament, 426.
During her last illness, Agnes of Jesus (des Lyons)
… noticed that the said Sister Mary of the Incarnation went for twenty-two days and nights without any sleep, yet she remained so peaceful and so united to God that she would sometimes say during the night, “Oh my God, my strength has failed me; be Thou my strength.”Agnes of Jesus (des Lyons) 52 (riti 2233).
Barbe Acarie, now Mary of the Incarnation, lay sister, died on Easter Wednesday, 1618.
* * *
She probably destroyed all her writings herself. Nothing remains but fifteen letters, a short work entitled Vrais exercices and, lastly, her sayings quoted in the depositions, in particular by Father Coton, Andre Duval and others, hence the importance of the depositions. I am now going to examine various themes drawn from these. Clearly, I am in no way claiming to make an exhaustive study of her mystical life.
Firstly, the theme of ‘God.’ Madame Acarie was familiar with Teresa’s Interior Castle which had been recently translated, Actes du colloque de Lyon (Proceedings of conference held in Lyons, 25-25 September, 1997), (Cerf).and with the tradition of Flemish and Rhineland spirituality. We know that Dom Beaucousin, (her spiritual director) and his companions had translated the writings of Ruysbroeck and The Gospel Pearl.” The Minim Brother Antoine Étienne, who was translating the works of Tauler, was also one of Madame Acarie’s visitors. We are dealing here with a tradition of offering oneself to God in complete nakedness of spirit. Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament relates :
I once asked Blessed Mary to describe the practice of the presence of God. She replied that the only way she knew was to keep God constantly in view, always turning towards Him, with shame and confusion at our own condition. She considered that being in the presence of God was the state of the blessed in Heaven, who are ceaselessly united with God and keep their minds fixed on Him without any deviation, and that human beings in the state of original justice behaved in the same upright manner…and that the remedy for us is to do the same, by turning continually towards God and away from ourselves, through our own humiliation, shame and confusion.Mother Marie of the Blessed Sacrament (de St Leu), 217.
But the initiative belongs to God alone :
Ah, my Well-Beloved! If you wish me to look at You, You must first of all look at me.Andre Duval, La vie admirable…, Paris, 1893, p. 353.
…Father Duval tells us. She has not left any description of her mystical states; everything we know is derived from witnesses who observed her when she was at prayer :
Her face was radiant; it was so utterly beautiful that it inspired devotion and respect at the same time.Marie of St. Joseph (Castellet), 398. There are many similar depositions.
The place I occupied in choir during the offices and periods of silent prayer was very close to her. I can say openly that the very sight of her drew me into a state of recollection. She never made any movement, and would remain like that for hours on end. Her cheeks were often very flushed and she had a beautiful expression on her face…Seguier, 830.
She would become completely unconscious of her surroundings :
One day, after Holy Communion, when she was in silent prayer near the grille in the infirmary, in front of the Precious Body of Our Lord, I called to her twice and, seeing that she made no reply, I tugged at her, to make her take something for her infirmity. She was as deaf to my appeals as if she were dead. Seeing her in this state, I made bold to look at her more closely. She appeared completely withdrawn and dead to the world, her eyes and mouth closed, her hands joined beneath her scapular. She continued like this for the space of an hour, without taking breath or changing position.Marie of St. Ursula (Amiens), 447.
…It often happened that when the witness went to help the aforesaid Sister Mary of the Incarnation to undress and get into bed, and the witness had lit the fire to warm her and had taken off her veil before undressing her, the said Sister Mary would fall into an ecstasy that often lasted until midnight, whereas it was only ten o’clock in the evening when they went to prepare her for bed; so that the witness was obliged to replace her veil and put out the fire until she had returned to her senses. During these ecstasies, the witness noticed that the said Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s face was far more beautiful than usual; it was very flushed.Marguerite of St. Joseph, 59.
She was, however, ashamed that her mystical states were visible and she disguised them as much as she was able :
She would rub her hands and arms to prevent the loss of consciousness and the raptures that she would have experienced almost continuously, had she not taken these measures to prevent them…Marie of the Blessed Sacrament (de St. Leu), 184; there are many similar depositions, including that of Marie of St. Joseph (Fournier), 103.
These visitations and Divine assaults came upon her with such force that she would sometimes utter loud cries, as if her heart would burst asunder, then, to disguise what was taking place, she would blame it on her thigh, saying that from time to time it caused her to feel the most acute pain.Father Étienne Binet, 65.
These “immersions” became a unified experience in which contemplation and action were inseparable :
During that time, and for many years previously, she would look without seeing anything, listen without hearing anything and reply without being aware of her responses, carrying out all these actions in and with God, so that afterwards she had no recollection of her behaviour; for her actions had been done without her reflecting on them, or turning aside from God’s presence and operation; nevertheless, her behaviour was such that one could not detect anything abnormal about it, or notice any difference in the way she spoke to others; one was aware only of her gentleness and modesty, her facial expression exuding holiness and the effectiveness and secret energy of her words, which pierced the hearts and illumined the minds of those who were speaking to her in a wholly admirable way. This interior disposition of her soul in relation to God resulted in her being in ecstasy without appearing to be.Father Pierre Coton, 62.
Her impassioned speech and lapses of memory were other signs of her continuous state of contemplative prayer :
She would often say to me how surprised she was that others set so much store by her words, given that so often she was not aware of what she was saying, or at least had given no thought to it. (Father Étienne Binet).The remaining depositions will be followed by the names of the relevant witnesses.
She told me on one occasion that, when God gave her these lights in prayer, once she had communicated them to those for whom they were intended, she could remember nothing more about them. (Father Pierre Coton).
The reason was that she wished to speak and act only under the impulse of grace :
On several occasions, when she had the opportunity to act or be involved in something, I saw that she would not undertake anything or utter a word unless she felt moved to do so by God. I asked her about various matters of importance and begged her to give me her considered opinion. She replied, “Mother, I can say nothing about such and such a question; God has not given me anything to tell you, and I must not speak on my own initiative.” (Deposition of Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
So she said very little when she was in community :
She never spoke in community about the things of God; she would merely listen, without putting forward any opinion. Sometimes, when Our Mother asked what she thought about something, she would reply, “We have heard such and such being said about it,” revealing nothing of herself; and she would express this in very few words, but they greatly edified us; her humble silence taught us more than speech would have done. It was impossible for us to hold a conversation with her without becoming recollected. (Marie of St. Joseph – Castellet).A similar deposition shows the interdependence so often evident in depositions taken in community: “She would never speak in community, where she took great delight in the things of God. She would merely listen, without making any observation; and if Our Mother asked her opinion on the matters under discussion, she would reply, disguising the fact that these were her own thoughts, “We have heard people say so and so,” and she would say only a few words. This greatly edified the sisters who were listening to her and her humble silence taught us more than her words would have done. We could not hold a conversation with her without becoming recollected and realizing that we were far from being as humble as she was.” (Marie of St. Ursula – Amiens).
It is her humility, in response to the greatness of God and His gifts, that is Madame Acarie’s special characteristic; it is, moreover, the special characteristic of the Carmelite Order, as poverty is of the Franciscan. It is the virtue Anne of Jesus wished to emphasise when, on the day that the first Frenchwomen took the veil, she gave priority to two individuals, the humble Andrée Levoix and Madame Acarie at her side; by a happy inspiration, she held back the other postulants and their companions, who had been ahead of them in the solemn procession preceding the ceremony. The Carmelite mystics were often lay sisters or lay brothers, for example, Anne of St. Bartholomew and Madame Acarie and, at a later date, Laurence of the Resurrection and John of St. Samson, who belonged to the reform known as the ‘Reform of Touraine.’
In Madame Acarie’s case, humility was not simply a moral virtue; it was a consequence of her mystical experience. Human nature stands naked in the light of the Divine Countenance, and the mystic’s one desire is to disappear in order to make way for God.
I have heard her declare that if there is the slightest impurity in the union of the soul with God, then it is clouded over like a mirror is clouded if one breathes on it, and the effect is as immediately obvious. (Father Pierre Coton).
A striking image drives the point home :
She used to say that if a king put a great quantity of valuables and precious stones into a cooking-pot and then had them taken out of it, the cooking-pot would be neither richer [nor poorer] because of what he had done; and it is the same with us. (Marie of the Blessed Sacrament – de St. Leu).
She urged her companions to practise humility as a response to the greatness of God, but such humility is radically different from the faintheartedness that makes one lax or timid :J.H.Houdret, Madame Acarie, un abîme d’humilité, lecture to the AAA, November 5, 2000.
On one occasion, when we were with her in her cell, she began to speak to us about humility, how it always keeps one on the path of duty, how it makes one feel one’s nothingness and littleness, that one is incapable of anything, a nobody, and other things of the same kind. She became so emotionally involved in what she was saying, that when she spoke about the profound self-abasement of a person who truly knows herself, she bent low, suiting the action to the word and the colour drained from her face. As I was standing close to her, I was watching her attentively, without saying a single word to her. I was thinking to myself, with a slight feeling of distaste for what she was saying, “But anyone who was like that all the time would be quite lacking in courage and would never undertake anything!” The thought had scarcely occurred to me […] when she jumped up from her chair and, once on her feet, her beautiful face flushed with emotion, she looked at me and said, with great feeling, “Oh! Someone who is humble is always strong, always courageous, always ready to undertake great things, but for God’s sake, not for her own, because she expects nothing from herself and everything from God. Her confidence in God enables her to do great things.”Sister Marie of the Blessed Sacrament (de Marillac), Pontoise. A.P. witness 102, folio 727.
In her opinion, grace automatically led to the humility that results from ruthless clearsightedness with regard to oneself :
One day, a devout person was […] talking to her about her interior life, her spiritual inclinations and her prayer. When Blessed Mary of the Incarnation had heard all this person wanted to say – and it was expressed in terms that were in no way pleasing to her – she told the person that she was unable to comprehend all she was saying, since she did not have sufficient intelligence to understand the terms she was using, and she continued, “Come, now, let us talk about your interior life, since this is what you want to discuss. As for me, my interior life means seeing the extent of my pride and the unmortified passions within me.” (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
Her admirable humility was especially remarkable; if she saw individuals who, after receiving some singular grace,were unfaithful to the practice of humility, it was almost intolerable for her to hear it said that they had received graces of this kind; one could go into much greater detail on this subject. (Jacques Gallement).
This perceptiveness led to a balanced realism :
I was talking to her one day about a person who was in the habit of saying that some of her faults were the result of temptation; she was a person who preferred words to works…Blessed Mary merely said to me, “What do you expect, Mother?.. To have the least measure of love for God, [such persons] will have to rid themselves of eight times that amount of their own self-love.” (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
This clearsightedness was matched by complete honesty :
Blessed Mary’s purity of intention and honesty in her relationship with God were such that she would not have carried out the smallest action had she thought it was not pleasing to God; and she directed her intention in such a way that she seemed incapable of doing anything unless it was with the aim of serving God. (Marie of the Blessed Sacrament – de St. Leu).
She found it unbearable that anyone should spare a thought for her, however slight :
It happened once that one of her domestic servants was taken ill and it crossed her mind that she ought to take good care of him because he had an invaluable role in the smooth running of her household. Just as she was giving him some broth, she felt herself being interiorly rebuked for having entertained such a thought and for having wanted to combine the interests of her own household with the charitable works in which she was accustomed to give her all. This affected her so deeply that she wept bitter tears… (Marie of St. Joseph – Castellet).
She brought the same integrity to the education of her children, carried out,
…without ever mentioning religion. Lying, however trivial the lies might be, was one of the faults for which she had the greatest aversion. She would never forgive us for having told a lie, even about the smallest matter. She would often say to all of us children, “If you turn the whole house upside down, I will gladly forgive you if you own up when asked; but the smallest lie I will never pardon.” (Marie of Jesus – Acarie).
Such constant immersion in grace combined with perfect clearsightedness enabled her to take on the spiritual direction of her sisters in religion. The Sisters had much to say about her perceptiveness :
The light she was given to know a person’s interior state and to discern their motives was so abundant that there were times when we could only say in reply to her, “Yes, that’s true,” and admit to everything she had said. On one occasion, before she became a nun, she came into the convent, and when I was speaking to her in private, she said, “I was once talking to someone and told her such a thing,” By doing this, she made me realize I had many faults of which I was totally unaware, and although she always talked to us as if she were referring to another person, I would respond, both aloud and in my heart, “Yes, it’s true, it really is.” (Anne of St. Laurence – de St. Leu).
Just as St. John of the Cross was in the habit of doing :
She used to copy out passages from the Gospels and the Epistles of St. Paul on little slips of paper and give them to us as remedies and teachings applicable to the needs she discerned in our souls. (Seguier)
This was how she was able to respond to spiritual needs in what seemed almost a miraculous way :
It happened that our late Sister Magdalene of the Cross – she was the first sister to be professed in this convent – could not stand the sight of herself, because of her extraordinary state of spiritual darkness. It seemed to her that her conscience had ceased to function, that God had abandoned her and that He had deprived her of every grace. She thought that our Blessed Sister would be able to give her some relief from her suffering and she went to look for her in her cell. She found her there; she was writing. When she had finished, without waiting for Sister Magdalene to speak, she put the piece of paper on which she had just written something into her hand, and Sister Magdalene found on it a very clear description of her interior state and what she should do to come through her difficulties. She, and all the others who saw the slip of paper, were in a continual state of amazement. (Marie of St. Ursula – Amiens).
Wherever she went, she would become responsible for spiritual direction, against her will, however, and observing at the same time the most exact obedience to her superiors. Sister Marie of St. Ursula relates what happened one evening in the infirmary in Amiens, when Madame Acarie was in ecstasy :
Our Mother Prioress, (it was Mother Isabel of Jesus Christ at the time), came in and gave her a thorough scolding for not having had a helping of broth. Force of obedience made her come round immediately from the rapture that had seized her and, quickly getting up from her chair, she took he crutches and went over to Our Mother so humbly that one would have said she was a poor criminal begging for pardon; while she was doing this, she began to eat her broth; and when Our Mother asked her what had taken place in her soul, she replied, “Alas! Mother, what a poor creature I am!” Our Mother said in reply, “How can you say such a thing? The Sister here was looking at you; she called to you and tugged at you but you didn’t respond.” (Marie of St. Ursula – Amiens).
Her spiritual direction was joyful and thoroughly down to earth :
She made a particular point – this was something she said to the other sisters, too – of obliging the novices to do everything perfectly in its own time; to acquire the habit of singing well when they were in choir, to be very fervent when they were at prayer, to eat heartily in the refectory, to be light-hearted and to enjoy themselves to the full…If she saw someone at recreation who was not as cheerful as she might be, she would give her a kindly look and make a point of addressing some gracious remark to her. (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
She waged war on melancholy in all its forms. (As a spiritual director, she opposed any tendency to despair) :
I remember that on one occasion Blessed Mary met me in the sacristy at the Monastery of the Incarnation in Paris and seeing how sad and utterly downcast I was, she took me on one side and said, “It seems obvious to me that your attitude is quite out of keeping with the life of souls who are dedicated to God, as you wish to be…” She said several other things to me on this subject, speaking so graciously and to such good effect that my sadness immediately evaporated, and I don’t think I’ve suffered a similar fit of melancholy since that time.” (Jean Baptiste).
She was all for joy and freedom :
She told us that she was not pleased if a person’s principal aim was the avoidance of visible faults; this was often the result of pride. It was better to proceed with holy liberty, joy, open-heartedness and candour, because even if one were occasionally guilty of visible faults, this was a most useful method of acquiring humility and becoming more docile and even-tempered. (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
She was optimistic and forward-looking :
She said time and again that our faults are very useful as an alarm-call to our souls, spurring us on to run more swiftly. She told us that our faults should do for our souls what a manure-heap does for the earth; it makes it richer and more fruitful. (Jeanne of Jesus – Seguier).
She was very sensitive to the beauty of nature as a revelation of God :
I would say that all created things raised Blessed Mary’s mind to God. When she went into the garden, flowers, leaves and everything she saw had this effect on her. She would pluck a leaf and show it to us, full of admiration for the power of God. She would sometimes spend the whole period of recreation talking about this leaf and all the other sisters would listen to her as if it were an angel speaking. She usually kept some flowers and leaves of plants and trees in her books, and she would ponder over them from time to time… (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
On the last day of our journey, about nine in the morning, there was a very beautiful sunrise; you would have thought it was spring. Blessed Mary was filled with such enthusiasm at the sight that she began to speak with intense fervour about the Great Sun of Justice that enlightens all humanity and the profound effect it has on souls that are thus enlightened and are in a state of grace. (Marie of the Blessed Sacrament – de St. Leu).
Something that struck her contemporaries was her continual movement back and forth between contemplative prayer and good works, (for, in reality, the two cannot be separated) :
…When she was in church, since she was so enraptured and absorbed in God, with only her rosary in her hand, for the sake of appearances, but not using any vocal prayers, and since she was almost always, wherever she happened to be, interiorly in another world, only the demands of charity could bring her to her senses. Her charity was so outstanding that during this period she converted more than ten thousand individuals. She made herself indebted to those she served; her door was always open to everyone, no matter what hour it was; she affected people so profoundly by her example and her admonishments, that I used to admire her coachmen and her man-servants, indeed, all the members of her family; their moral transformation was greater than if they had spent ten years in religious life. (René Gaultier).
Examples of her kindness towards those of humble birth, whom she treated as equals :
The first time that I went to her home to speak to her about my wish to enter religious life, although I was only a poor young woman of lowly birth, she received me with as much love and kindness as if I had been a person of importance; she devoted as much time as was necessary to me, as calmly as if I were the only one whose needs she had to satisfy. There was even a possibility, I think, that there were persons of quality in the house at the time, and I was not aware of her attending to their needs before mine. (Anne of St. Laurence – de St. Lieu).
My name is Marguerin Goubelet. I’m a stone-cutter. She was very disabled at that time and was on crutches, walking with great difficulty, but she had such a sweet expression that it was very obvious that her disability was something very precious to her. It was a great consolation to me when I had the chance to speak to her because, although she was talking about building construction and other matters of the same kind, she added such a flavour of devotion to whatever subject was under discussion that everything she said was edifying. (Goubelet).
It is the poor who show us how we must behave in the presence of God :
When she went to see the workmen, she would sometimes fall silent, then she would say, “I’m watching these poor fellows, intent on their work. Just look at them; they seem to be shaking with fear in the presence of their master. They make efforts to obey him and to please him, because they are dependent on him for their livelihood”…She told us that she had learnt a most useful lesson when they started building work at Notre Dame des Champs in Paris. She would go there sometimes in a morning with a certain person and on the way they would pass a place she mentioned where men would go to be hired for day-labour. She would see some of them carrying one kind of implement, others another; these men left their homes not knowing who would employ them or what kind of work they would be doing. (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
She set herself to become like the poor :
During her last illness, she used to drink from a feeding-cup made of glass, and someone mentioned that one made of earthenware would be easier to use. I said that it would not be as hygienic, that I disliked earthenware and that I had seen cups of this kind being used by the paupers in the Hôtel Dieu. When she realized that this was the kind that poor people had, she begged insistently to have one, saying that she herself was a poor person. She used it all through her illness because of its poor quality. (Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
Following the example of good Monsieur Brétigny de Quintadanavoine in Seville“Instead of a monastery of poor repentant women who would call him their father, for which he was criticised by his cousin [the cousin had called him ‘the father of whores’!] and the fifty children his aunt had wanted for him, God wished the nuns from more than fifty monasteries…to call him Father…” Compagnot, La vie du Vén. Jean de la Quintanadoine…MS. (18 th. century copy).Clamart, p. 45. she busied herself with works of charity :
It was her great joy to occupy herself with the rehabilitation of fallen women; she assisted them even to the extent of giving them refuge in her own home. She made such an impression on them that they lived lives of exemplary virtue as a result. (Father Jean Sublet de la Guichonnière).
In her dealings with the sick, her requirement that love for others should be perfect filled those around her with admiration :
She was once in the kitchen making some broth for an invalid. She was doing this so eagerly and was taking so much trouble that the sight of her filled the onlookers with devotion. After she had put great effort into making it, she was obliged to make some more because, although she had tasted it several times, it still seemed lacking in flavour…She began to make some more immediately, with the same loving attention…(Anne of St. Laurence – de St. Leu).
She cared for an invalid whose illness revolted everyone :
As soon as Sister Mary of the Incarnation became aware of this, she removed the invalid to a room that was separate from the rest of her house and forbade anyone in her household to go in, without, however, telling them the reason, because she did not want to alarm them. She took sole responsibility for looking after him. She made his bed and dressed his suppurating abscess; it was exuding such malodorous pus that even the invalid himself found the stench unbearable. She fed him and waited on him so attentively that he was completely cured. (Mother Françoise, 322).
This is how she described the union that ought to exist between grace and action :
One should leave everything to Divine Providence as if there were no human means available and work with attention as if there were no Divine Providence…(Marie of St. Joseph – Fournier).
In conclusion, I must point out the extent to which Madame Acarie’s mystical experience involved her whole person; her life was totally unified in God. Her existence was immersed in the Divine reality; she was forgetful of self, moving back and forth between contemplation and action, with action being, in fact, the objective at all times. As Dom Sans, Father General of the Feuillants, expressed it :
Although giving one’s attention to God is a more divine and noble action and more agreeable to the soul than giving one’s attention to other things for God’s sake, nevertheless, when occasion demands, one must come down from the heights and turn one’s attention away from God and towards the things of this world in order to serve this same God. This is known as ‘leaving God for God.’ (Dom Sans of St. Catherine, 69).
Continuously immersed in God, she radiated the love of God all around her, as Dom Sans testifies :
She set hearts on fire; she showed others the error of their ways and changed their interior lives, so that there was hardly anyone who returned from seeing her without having been touched by God in an extraordinary way…Sister Anne Therese, op. cit..