When, for the widow of Pierre Acarie, came the moment so longed for since childhood to embrace monastic life (1614), it must be admitted, at the Carmel of Amiens where she made profession, as at that of Pontoise where her holy life comes to an end, the cloister has nothing to teach the one who arrives to her very “blessed”.
In both monasteries, the humble Sister Marie of the Incarnation will be the most obedient, the most erased. Although very attached to her vocation as Sister Laye, she accepted, at the request of her prioress, to accompany the sisters spiritually, in particular the novices. His holy death, after weeks of suffering, will leave the community as saddened as it is edified.
Madame Acarie : some aspects of her life in Carmel.
Mère Marie Thérèse Favier OCD, Pontoise Carmel,
Mère Marie Thérèse died in 1998 at the age of 102.
"I have not come in order to wear a white veil, but to occupy the lowest place"Mère Marie de Jésus Acarie, Riti 2236 – 533v
After nine years spent in Flanders, Mère Marie du Saint Sacrement (Mademoiselle Saint Leu) was recalled to France in view of other foundations.Orléans, Reims. Before going to Pontoise, the convent where she had made her profession, she had to spend several weeks in the monastery in Amiens. How great was her joy, then, to see Madame Acarie, whom she had left behind as a lay person in 1605. She was to meet her again as a Carmelite nun who had already been eighteen months professed. “Since I had already known her in the world as such a perfect and virtuous person”; she testified at the Beatification Process,” and leading such a holy and extraordinary life, I assured myself that I would see a great increase in the grace of her rare virtues, brought about by her changed state of life, and this, in fact, is what I found. So I discovered that Blessed Mary was so simple, humble, and lowly in this state of life and in everything that she did; and that with regard to herself, she seemed obliged to hide herself away in places where she would be invisible, as if she were nobody.
Because I knew her capabilities and her virtues, what she had been in the world, and what the Order, and individual people – myself in particular – owed her, I was in such a state of astonishment and admiration that I threw myself on my knees to welcome her; this filled her with so much confusion that it seemed that she would be completely overwhelmed. And the Sub-Prioress of the convent, (her eldest daughter) made me get to my feet as quickly as I could, saying that it upset [her mother] and that in order to make her happy it was necessary to treat her according to her state in life”Mère Marie du St Sacrement de St-Leu, Riti 2236 – 193v-194r.
Mère Marie du Saint Sacrement was touched, and who would not be, by the humble lay sister’s attitude. It was all the more touching because she disclosed little of her inner feelings. “To adopt the spirit of her state in life, a spirit of humility, littleness, submission to everyone, without any rights, of no significance and obedient in everything;Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 694v” this was the programme which Madame Acarie, now Sister Mary of the Incarnation, set herself on the day of her clothing.
“To be the least of all” was not an empty phrase on Blessed Mary’s lips. This was how she regarded herself and how she wished to be thought of by others: “If I could ask God for any grace on this earth” she said, “it would be that He would be pleased to grant me the grace of treading the path of scorn taken by His Son, of appearing base in my own eyes and base in the eyes of others.”Mère Frannçoise de Jésus de Fleury, Riti 2235 – 359v
“Base in her own eyes”, to such an extent that she was often heard speaking of herself as proud and incorrigible, whereas those around her never grew weary of admiring her outstanding virtue.
“Base in the eyes of others”. She failed in this. The lower she abased herself, the higher the Lord exalted her; a radiant, supernatural beauty enhanced her natural good looks, especially at the time of prayer. Her raptures and ecstasies could not pass unnoticed, in spite of her efforts to hide them, and this was a matter of great embarrassment for the humble lay sister.
She had no sooner come out of the raptures, which were an almost daily occurrence, than she happily busied herself with her duties as a lay sister.
As a kitchen maid, “she considered herself fortunate to be able to blow on the fire, tend a pan on the fire or add seasoning to the cooking”Sœur Marguerite de St Joseph Langlois, Riti 2235 – 775r… and peel the vegetables. “It did you good to see her there, in the morning, after she had received Communion, getting everything ready for the midday meal with such fervour and such joy on her face, helping in every way that she could, cutting the bread and preparing the soup.Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 694r“ “I still have strong arms,”888- Sœur Anne de St Laurent de St Lieu, Riti 2236 – 68v she would say, full of joy at being able to use her last remaining strength in the service of the community. Everything led her to God. “When she was preparing the green vegetables, she never tired of praising Him, turning the leaves this way and that, in admiration of His Providence. In the same way, when she saw flowers and fruit, little flies and ants, she blessed God, with an expression of great joy and fervour.”Sœur Marguerite de St Joseph Langlois, Riti 2235 – 762r-v She obtained permission to wash the “escuelles” 10 every day; she worked in haste so that her companions, the white-veiled sisters, could go to recreation in good time. Those who were on the rota with Mary of the Incarnation for “escuelle duty”Plats et bols en terre cuite. looked forward to their turn as a grace; for in this case, as in the least of her actions “it was not so much what she did as the [interior] spirit with which she did it”Mère Agnès de Jésus des Lyons, Riti 2236 – 25v which filled her sisters with admiration.
Her companionship was so attractive that everyone wanted to have her next to themselves at recreation. There, as always, she sought out the lowest, most inconvenient place so as to give the advantage to her sisters.
She showed unfailing charity towards the sick sisters, spending almost entire days with some of them, although she was herself seriously ill, and she would very gently remonstrate with an invalid, if the latter would not allow her to help her, saying,
“You show a lack of love for me by refusing me this consolation !”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 664r-v
When she was saying goodbye to the nuns in Longchamp in 1614 she had told them “I am leaving you in order to serve the servants of God and His Holy Mother”.Sœur Denise Coste Blanche, Riti 2233 – 61r / Mère Marie du St Sacrement de St Leu, Riti 2236 – 193v As a lay sister, she brought the Divine plan to fruition; she would be faithful to the will of the Most High to the last and she would love “her vocation as a lay sister dearly.”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 694r
On one occasion, made all the more touching by the circumstances, she showed yet again the uncompromising tenderness of her maternal heart; for life in the enclosure elevates the most legitimate feelings and renders them supernatural, without suppressing them. It happened in Amiens. Having fallen dangerously ill during her noviciate, Blessed Mary had just received the Last Sacraments. The doctor had gone away, shaking his head and giving her no more than an hour to live. Her eldest daughter, Marie de Jesus, “was close to her, on her knees” between the beds, weeping and praying. Blessed Mary turned to her and, seeing her tears, said with great tenderness, “Ah, you are weeping; is this the way to show that you love me ? Are you grieved at my good fortune ?” “For she could not anyone weeping,” the narrator continues, “but the object [we would say ’the sight’] caused tears to flow in abundance, however hard one tried to restrain them.”Idem, Riti 2235 – 672v
In the world, an express order from Dom Beaucousin had been necessary for Madame Acarie to accept the spiritual direction of individuals who wished to place themselves under her guidance. When she was in religion, a similar order placed her under obedience, against her will, to undertake the direction of the novices. “A lay sister” she used to say, “should listen and keep silent rather than speak and be listened to.”André Duval, Riti 2236 – 358r
Her direction would be gentle but firm. Blessed Mary wanted novices who were open and at ease in their spiritual life; but she also wanted them to be generous, and little by little, she accustomed them to being detached. She taught them to be patient with themselves, and did not approve of those who wanted to be perfect straight away. “Go one step at a time,”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 677r with confidence and humility; that was her advice. Then she taught them to be aware of the subtle movements of self-love, that pride “which is like a can of worms inside us” ; to do everything as well as possible in its own time; to sing well in choir; to be very fervent in prayer ; to eat well in the refectory ; to be very light-hearted and to enjoy themselves to the full at recreation".Idem, Riti 2235 – 717r / Mère Marie de St Joseph Fournier, Riti 2236 – 144r
In her instructions to the novices, Blessed Mary would most often give a commentary on a small book which had been a great help to her, the Spiritual Combat, and it was noticeable that she rarely got beyond the third chapter, the one which deals with “confidence in God”Mère Françoise de Jésus de Fleury, Riti 2235 – 331r. This cherished idea of confidence, which was at the heart of her spiritual life, became the theme of her most fervent exhortations.
She fought against routine, the attachment to certain devotional practices, which was something which she feared so much on her own account : “It often happens” she said, “that souls become attached to their own tendencies and spiritual exercises and, even though their chains are made of gold, they are still chains, which bind them and prevent them from belonging entirely to God.”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 717r She wanted them to be true Carmelites : “What does it mean to spend one’s life in prayer and in the expectation of the Kingdom of God ?… Every Carmelite must be a second Moses and Elijah; she must always have her hands and her eyes raised to Heaven.”Mère Marie de St Joseph Fournier, Riti 2236 – 94v / Mère Françoise de Jésus de Fleury, Riti 2235 – 325v
She was displeased when their chief preoccupation was with the avoidance of external faults. “That is often the result of pride,” she observed. “It is better to proceed with holy liberty, joy and openness of heart.”Mère Marie de St Joseph Fournier, Riti 2236 – 143r “A religious should wear her heart on her sleeve.”Mère Marie de St Joseph Fournier, Riti 2236 – 142v So she taught them what she had always practised herself, to draw profit from one’s faults. One day in the infirmary in Amiens, Blessed Mary found herself, contrary to her usual state of activity, unoccupied for a short period. Mother Prioress came by; as she approached, Blessed Mary quickly took up her work but immediately accused herself – oh, how humbly! – of not having wanted to be caught out.Sœur Marguerite de St Joseph Foucher, Riti 2235 – 439r “Oh, my sisters, we are only what we are in the sight of God. Why should we wish to put on a show in front of His creatures ?”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 654r
Above all else, she derived “everything relating to the practice of the virtues from the Holy Gospels and the rest of Holy Scripture; it was on these that she endeavoured that the souls she was helping should be grounded”,Mère Jeanne de Jésus Séguier, Riti 2235 – 815r with the aim of bringing them to the contemplation and imitation of Jesus Christ. In her cell, she had a large picture of Christ crucified. “She often interrupted what she was saying and , showing us the crucifix, asked “Now, what can we say ? How can we find anything difficult ? What can we complain about when we see the Son of God reduced to such an extremity ?”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 652v
On the first night of the illness which would last over two months, the Sister who was sitting up with her heard her “singing, very softly, the litanies of Our Lady and the Libera me as it is sung for the dead, with such good heart that her interior joy was clear to see,Sœur Anne de St Laurent de St Lieu, Riti 2236 – 76v” because the day which she so longed for was drawing near. But soon her suffering, both in soul and body, became intense. Nothing disturbed Blessed Mary’s serenity, however; her last weeks could be called “a hymn to Divine Mercy”. “Infinite mercy of God towards His creature… Infinite goodness! What mercy God has shown me !”Mère Agnès de Jésus des Lyons, Riti 2236 – 37v-38r These were the words which were most frequently on her lips. “I want there to be nothing special about my death,” she had replied to the Mother Prioress, who had spoken to her about some extraordinary help from God. “I wish to die abandoned, just as my Saviour died on the Cross: I want no other assistance but that of his grace, which I pray that He will not refuse me.Idem, Riti 2236 – 18v“
Her desire for God was as intense as her sufferings : “Oh come, great Jesus, come, do not delay any longer… When shall we sing the great Alleluia ?… Oh! What sickness, what pain… I can bear it no longer… Lord, bear it for me…Idem, Riti 2236 – 38r, 23v, 46r / Mère Jeanne de Jésus Séguier, Riti 2235 – 867r “
Those who were watching at her bedside experienced no fatigue. Her daughter Marie and Edmond de Messa enjoyed of the same favour during her previous illnesses. They noticed the extraordinary beauty of her face and at the same time a mysterious fire, which seemed to consume her breast. “My heart is burning, burning”Sœur Marie du St Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 734r she said, in that embrace which was consuming her. Did she not have written in her copy of the Constitutions “Desire to be stripped and deprived of everything that exists, for the sake of Our Dear Lord, Jesus Christ” ?St Jean de la Croix, Montée du Carmel, livre I, chapitre 13
On Good Friday April 13, she begged them to carry her into choir. She wished, while adoring the Cross, to thank God for the graces which she had received during her life and to ask Him for further suffering. Her plaintive cry of twenty years ago became ever more acute; “The desire to suffer will be the death of me”.Sœur Marguerite de St Joseph Langlois, Riti 2235 – 795r Those around her, who had been touched by such heroic patience, were touched even more deeply by this new request for suffering, for they did not think it possible for her to suffer more. And the Community recorded her last words as one records a last will and testament.Sœur Marie du st Sacrement de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 735v
In the monastery of Amiens, when Blessed Mary had thought that she was close to death, she had said “It is good to die as a daughter of the Virgin: it is good to die as a Carmelite”.Sœur Françoise de Mère de Dieu Richard, Riti 2235 – 381r
Now she added “In heaven, I shall ask God that the plans of Jesus Christ His Son for all of you will be fully realised”Mère Agnès de Jésus des Lyons, Riti 2236 – 38r
Obedience required that she should give her children one last blessing and, across the miles, Blessed Mary gave them this ultimate pledge of motherly love. “Now they saw a distinct change in her face, which took on an angelic beauty. Her last words were that she was thinking about God”.Idem, Riti 2236 – 48r and as she was receiving Extreme Unction, with admirable gentleness, she breathed her last”. Duval stopped anointing her and said, “She has gone. She is already enjoying the presence of God”.cf sœur Marie du St Sacremnt de Marillac, Riti 2235 – 737r
It was Easter Tuesday, April 18th 1618. At the same moment a group of musicians – no-one knew how or why they were there – were singing the joyful Easter motets, to the accompaniment of many an AlleluiaMère Jeanne de Jésus Séguier, Riti 2235 – 870r For Blessed Mary, the earthly Alleluia was continuing in the Great Alleluia of eternity. Mary of the Incarnation entered her Native Land under “the sign of the Great King”;Mère Marie du St Sacrement de St Leu, Riti 2236 – 196r this was how she liked to describe the chiming of the church bell. The Evening Angelus was ringing out in the monastery :
Regina caeli, laetare, alleluia !
Translated from Carmel, No. 106, December 2002.