Spiritual portrait of Madame Acarie by St Francis of Sales

Spiritual portrait of Madame Acarie by St Francis of Sales

St. Francis de Sales (1567 -1622) was Madame Acarie’s confessor for a few months in 1602.
He noticed that:

  • She was exceptionally gifted in every way,
  • Her interior life permeated all her activities, as a wife, mother or “in the world” (in the best sense),
  • She was extremely reticent with regard to the graces she received,
  • She was extremely humble and had a great love of the truth.

Words of St. Francis de Sales :

  • He said to the Prioress of Orleans Carmel (Madame Acarie’s eldest daughter): “I never think of your blessed mother without experiencing some personal benefit!”
  • Singing Madame Acarie’s praises, as he did on many occasions, he remarked: “I never regarded her as my penitent, but as a vessel consecrated for the Holy Spirit’s use.”
  • He said, “I love and admire that holy woman.”

St. Francis de Sales’ spiritual friendship with Madame Acarie (second part)

by Sister Anne Thérèse, OCD.

St. Francis de Sales was not very appreciative of that portrait of Madame Acarie… It is my proposal, then, to make an excursion, as it were, through his sayings and writings, and to reveal the spiritual portrait which he himself made of her.

It is true that Francis de Sales did not speak of Madame Acarie in a comprehensive or consistent way ! Through his correspondence, his spiritual conferences and some thoughts revealed in confidence to certain individuals, he leads us to share his admiration for this influential woman, emphasising those aspects of her spiritual make-up which had had the greatest effect on him, that is to say :

  • Her complete discretion with regard to the graces which she received,
  • Her open admission of what she considered to be her spiritual wretchedness,
  • The particular nature of her sacramental confessions.

And finally, we shall see that in his opinion, all the gifts of the Holy Spirit had been lavished on her ; this resulted in an intense spiritual life. We shall dwell on only one aspect of that life, something which Francis de Sales considered to be an absolute duty : the praise of God. We shall observe, by way of conclusion that Francis de Sales had no hesitation in seeing Madame Acarie as a true saint, from the time of her death and even during her lifetime !

The method I shall adopt is as follows : the sayings of Francis de Sales (which are generally very brief) will be prefaced, clarified or emphasised by quotations from Madame Acarie or her close associates, in the case when the latter made their depositions very shortly after her death (that is, between 1618 and 1621 and consequently before the death of St. Francis at the end of 1622 and the publication of the first biographies of the saint in 1624.)
I hope to show in this way that by the essential similarity of his testimony to theirs, Francis would authenticate what had already been written and said about Madame Acarie immediately after her death (The dates of some later depositions are given as they occur in the text, or in the notes.)

St. Francis de Sales’ admiration for Madame Acarie.

In a letter dated September 1620 to Madame Acarie’s eldest daughter, who was Prioress of the Carmel in Orleans, Francis wrote : “Can I be so bold as to speak to you in confidence ? I NEVER THINK OF YOUR BLESSED NOTHER WITHOUT EXPERIENCING SOME SPIRITUAL BENEFIT.”Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. XIX, p. 343.

This sentence on its own justifies the title of my talk : THE SPIRITUAL FRIENDSHIP of Francis with Madame Acarie. This is in fact the sign by which St. Teresa of Avila recognises “true” spiritual friendship : the remembrance of the object of one’s affection causes one to progress in the love of God…Cf. Chemin de perfection, ch. 4 à 7. (See The Way of Perfection, Chapters 4-7) So Francis de Sales writes : “I never think of your blessed mother without experiencing some spiritual benefit  !”

In a letter to Michel de Marillac, dated April 1621, Francis de Sales also writes :

“I was told that someone has written a biography of her and that it has been published… Oh, what benefit she will bestow even on lay persons, if that period of her existence when she was in the world has been properly described… I have a love for that holy woman which is full of reverence, and I experience a great need to awaken frequently in my soul the pious affections that the sight of her and her most holy conversation formerly aroused in me, when for a period of six months I was to all intents and purposes, her habitual confessor…”Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. XX, p. 47.

He also wrote to an unnamed individual, several months later (between June and August 1611) : “Oh what a great mistake I made in not deriving spiritual benefit from her most holy conversation ! For she would willingly have revealed to me all that went on in her soul, but the infinite respect which I bore her prevented me from asking her any questions”Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. XX, p. 116..

The same regret was expressed three years later (on May 25, 1618), by Père Coton, who was noteworthy at the time for having been the confessor of King Henri IV and subsequently of King Louise XIII : “One of the great debts I owe to God is on account of His having allowed me to become acquainted with such a person, to be often in her company and to have familiar conversation with her. And if there is any matter in which I feel that I am at fault, it is that I have not procured the benefit from this which I could and should have done.”Archivos Secretos Vaticanos (ASV), proceso de beatificación, Riti 2233, f° 64v.
In September 1619, Père Sans, another well-known person at the time, succeeded in giving a more detailed description of Madame Acarie’s influence, which we can already infer from the regrets expressed by Francis de Sales and Père Coton :

“Her words gave light to people’s understanding, she set hearts on fire, she freed souls from error and changed interior lives, so that there was scarcely anyone who went to see her who did not return having been touched in an extraordinary way by God. I can truthfully say that I was hardly ever in her company without feeling in an extraordinary manner, the indefinable presence of God in my heart, and without receiving some new enlightenment of grace.”ASV, PB, Riti 2233-71v.

In a word, those who met her had the same experience as the disciples at Emmaus. “Did not our hearts burn within us when she was talking to us ?.”André Duval, La Vie admirable de sœur Marie de l’Incarnation, religieuse converse, París, Lecoffre, 1893, p. 359. Esta edición es fiel a la de 1621.

Some aspects of Madame Acarie’s spiritual character.

Francis noted her complete discretion with regard to the graces she received.

Père Jean de Saint Francois was very desirous to know more about Madame Acarie from the lips of Francis de Sales himself. He tells us :

“A few months before Francis de Sales’s death I asked him if he had some more particular knowledge of the extraordinary graces which God bestowed on this holy woman. He firmly replied that he had not. Because, he said, when he first encountered this holy woman, she impressed on his soul such a great respect for her virtue, that he was never so bold as to question her about her inner experiences, and had not wished to know anything about her interior life other than those things which she had wished to relate of her own accord… We already knew this from one of his letters. For, he said, she spoke more readily about her faults than about her graces.”Dom Jean de Saint François, Vie du bienheureux Messire François de Sales, París, Jean de Heuqueville, 1624, p. 163.

Yes, she spoke more readily about her faults than about her graces. There were many people who discovered this for themselves, to the extent that they had to admit that they knew hardly anything about the graces which she had received, but had simply suspected their existence.
Père Duval, who was constantly in her company for more than twenty years, said as much : “As to the visions and revelations which occurred during her ecstasies, it was impossible to know anything about them, although she had experienced significant ones… She called them ’spiritual views’ rather than ’visions’, making use of simple everyday words so as to denigrate and diminish the great and Divine operations within her.”Duval, op. cit., p. 515.

Père Binet, the Jesuit Provincial, another outstanding figure of the times, was likewise of the opinion that “her deep and solidly-based humility was the veil which covered the Holy of Holies in her soul, where God took a singular delight… the wisest among us knew scarcely anything about this, because of the unbelievable care which she took to conceal the eminent graces which God granted to her unceasingly…”Duval, op. cit. p. 555 et PB, Riti 2233-65v.

Mère Agnes de Jesus, one of the first Prioresses of Pontoise, who was with Blessed Mary as her nurse in her last illness, was of the same mind. She tells us that “Her great humility, of the rarest kind, enabled her to hide her virtues as much as possible; she revealed as little as she could, and that was virtue of the common sort, since in all her actions she took great care that nothing more than this was apparent.”Duval, op. cit., p. 559.

Following the testimonies of two priests and a religious, let us now listen to one from a lay person, the Councillor of state, M. Gaulthier, who himself was also constantly in her company for almost twenty years. “I have seen her several times going along in a coach as if she was in ecstasy, concealing it by saying that she was asleep or drowsy, keeping the secret of her interior devotion as hidden as it was possible for her to do”PB, Riti 2233-77r..

She did this so well that Abbé Bremond, in his “Histoire littêraire du sentiment religieux en France” (“Literary history of religious thought in France”) was able to write “Of all the great mystics, I know none who were more reticent than Madame Acarie, and that, I think, is the most original feature of her wonderful story.”Henri Brémond, Histoire littéraire du sentiment religieux en France, Bloud et Gay, París, 1923, T II, p. 233.

Francis de Sales also noted her spontaneous and emphatic admission of her faults.
M. Gaulthier’s deposition ended thus : ” She kept the secret of her interior devotion as hidden as she could, NEVER SPEAKING OF ANYTHING BUT HER IMPERFECTIONS”PB, Riti 2233-77r. We can verify this by reading one of Madame Acarie’s letters to a spiritual father or a superior  !
Only a handful of the many letters which she wrote have come down to us. One of them, which is preserved in the Carmel in Clamart, is of relevance to our subject. It is in all likelihood addressed to M. de Berulle, a supposition supported by the heading, “My most dear Cousin” and the final note, “since I am writing under obedience” (Berulle was one of the three Superiors General of the Carmelite Order in France). This letter must date from the years when she was a religious. (1614 – 1618) This is confirmed by an attentive reading.

"M.T.Ch. C. (which could stand for Montre’s cher cousin). “What can I say to you, except that my innumerable acts of ingratitude have so often separated me from that divine and living presence [of God]; and that often, without my realising it, I find myself completely alienated in a way that makes me act hastily according to my own sense [i.e. personal judgement], deprived of any interior spirit, aware of my faults after they have been committed, and not anticipating them as I should, so as to prevent myself falling into them. I am guilty of several other excesses such as superficiality, inconstancy, useless effort and timewasting, my nature being occupied with trifles and ignoring what is important, even to the extent of contradicting the good resolutions which I had previously made; I find myself so weak in this respect, that it is pitiable to [see] my wretchedness, for sometimes I am unable to overcome the least obstacle; and all this evil comes upon me, my God, because I have not had the sense to make good use of your graces. Inattention and distractions often separate me from that Divine Presence and familiar converse with you, my Saviour; and this occurs because of my innumerable acts of ingratitude. At other times, I find myself so stupefied and subjected to my body that my spirit is obscured and has less liberty to raise itself to God. But matters are much worse when I go more deeply within myself, and I can see that there are no actions or works that I have undertaken, even out of obedience, where I have not failed God miserably, and where I have not sought my own advantage, even though this was not my original intention. O my God, I confess to You that each day I discover within myself new attachments which I had not perceived before. As for my silent prayer, I often make it with such great carelessness that it is deplorable. My lack of devotion sometimes makes me cut it short, under the pretext of reverence or charity. At other times, I am good for nothing; I waste time; this happens when my spirit is not detached, and here I recognise how little love I have for God. O Infinite Goodness, if I were faithful to You and served You more lovingly, I would not be in this state; I feel this all the more because I believe, my God, that the chief object of contemplation is to be comformed to Your Divine Will, not to enjoy consolations or spiritual savours or emotions or to satisfy ourselves, but because of what God is asking of us, and to practise virtue; thereby to suffer fatigue of body and mind in times of aridity; to be humbled by those natural occurrences such as distractions, feelings of uselessness, disorderly and irrational thoughts; and to make good use of all the other dispositions of the soul. Alas ! Can it be possible, my God, for me to believe these truths and to be so bad at putting them into practice? The interior reproaches that I experience are almost without intermission, and I languish because of my separation from that Divine and living presence; that is the source of all my misfortune. That is why I beseech you, in the name of God, and out of the depths of His infinite mercy, to obtain from Him that I shall never more be separated from His Divine presence; and I shall pray to Him on your behalf. Pardon me, because I am writing under obedience, and please burn this rambling letter.”

As you can see for yourselves, the depositions quoted previously were in no way exaggerated, and St. Francis de Sales was quite right in saying that she was more willing to speak about her faults than about her graces.

The profound influence of Madame Acarie’s confessions on Francis de Sales
Far from going along with certain of our contemporaries, who would see the above letter only as an expression of morbid guilt feelings, Père Binet, one of her confessors, saw it as a proof of great love :

“She had such a close relationship with God that, on committing the slightest fault, she experienced reproaches of the most insistent kind within her heart.”PB, Riti 2233-67r, n° 16.
“Although she said hardly anything in confession… her heart was so pierced with grief and her tears were so abundant that she could scarcely speakPB, Riti 2233-67r, n° 15..”
“She spoke openly about her faults;” adds Père Duval, “as she saw them, without belittling or disguising them in any way, and she was so exacting in this respect that she confessed even minor imperfections which were not sins; to such an extent that there was often no matter in her confession which required absolution.”Duval, op. cit., p. 479.

Such was indeed the experience of Francis de Sales during the time that he was Madame Acarie’s confessor. And this made such an impression on him that, after Madame Acarie’s death, he returned to the subject on three occasions, mentioning her by name : in 1618 in the fifteenth of the Vrais entretiens spirituelsŒuvres, edición de Annecy, T. VI, p. 284. ; in June 1619, in a letter to Angélique Arnauld, at that time Abbess of Maubuisson ; Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. XVII, p. 390. and finally, forty-eight hours before his own death, on December 26, 1622, in the course of the last conference which he gave to the Visitation Sisters in Lyons Œuvres , edici ón de Annecy, T. VI, pp. 434-435.. Here is an extract :

“The question is asked whether during the examination [of conscience] it is necessary to distinguish venial sins from imperfections. There is no doubt… my dear daughters, that it is very good to do this, for those who are capable of it. But out of two hundred persons, there are not two who know how to go about it; even the most saintly people are very much hindered in the practice; and for this reason, people bring a host of unresolved difficulties and imperfections to the confessional, and this often results in a problem for their confessors, who have to discern whether there is sin, and consequently matter requiring absolution. Shall I tell you, in this connection, what happened to me one day when I was hearing Blessed Sister Mary of the Incarnation’s confession, while she was still in the world? After I had heard her confession on two or three occasions, she accused herself to me of several imperfections; and when she had finished speaking, I told her that I could not give her absolution because there was nothing requiring absolution amongst the things of which she had accused herself; this greatly astonished her, because she had never made the distinction between sin and imperfection. In view of this, I made her confess in addition, some sin, which she had committed in the past – a practice which you yourselves follow. She thanked me for the understanding which I had given her concerning something of which she had previously been unaware. You see how difficult this is, for although this person was very enlightened, she had nevertheless remained in ignorance of this for so long.”

It was St. Francis de Sales who himself said “This person was very enlightened…” and he ended by saying “This did not prevent this great servant of God from being a saint.” So was it really “ignorance” in Madame Acarie’s case? Everything about her behaviour shows her to be so mature, so adult, so clear-sighted ! Is it not rather that Francis de Sales was a theologian, who was familiar with, and had the duty of applying sacramental discipline? Madame Acarie, on the other hand, was a woman in love with God; she was on a completely different plane  !
“Considering how freely the Holy Spirit communicated with her,” Pére Coton wrote, “and with how little fidelity (these are her own words) she corresponded interiorly with His actions, she clearly saw herself as the most imperfect individual on this earth, and she told us that this was so evident to her that the whole world could not have persuaded her to the contrary."PB, Riti 2233-63r, 22 mai 1618.

The Holy Spirit in Madame Acarie.

This is what Pére Coton has just described. The theologians, and St. John of the Cross in particular, state that the more a soul is invaded by the Divine Light, the more the Holy Spirit takes possession of it and the more clearly it sees even the least of its failures to love, and deplores them… Now, the presence of the Holy Spirit in Madame Acarie was as evident to her contemporaries as her own conviction that she was a great sinner.

Père Sans speaks endlessly about this subject, as we can see from these few quotations :

“Blessed Mary was so great by reason of her natural capacity and her outstanding graces and had received the Holy Spirit, who guided and possessed her, in such abundance that St. Jerome himself would have sung her praises, as he sang the praises of St. Paul.”PB, Riti 2233-68r, septembre 1619.
“It is true that she possessed the Holy Spirit in abundant measure, and that many saints, whom we consider to be great in the Church Triumphant, did not in the Church Militant [here below] have more, or even perhaps as much purity and perfection as she.”PB, Riti 2233-72r, septembre 1619.

“So much grace did she receive in advance* of her needs, such anointing by the unction of the Holy Spirit, and she was so recollected in God that she dwelt in Him and had the almost continual sight or feeling of His presence”PB, Riti 2233-72r, septembre 1619

Only “those who possessed the Spirit of God, the spirit which she possessed, and who were often in her company were able to give a proper estimate of her holiness and virtue.”PB, Riti 2233-67v, mai 1618. (Approximate transcription.)

There is no doubt that Francis de Sales was one of the latter. It was he who had already related the following anecdote to the Carmelites of Pontoise. Along with Père Beaucousin, the Prior of the Paris Charterhouse, he was taking part in the “meetings being held for the establishment of our Order in France. Placing his finger on the lips of a person who had indicated that he wished to raise a good number of objections, Père Beaucousin said : Let us listen to what will be said to us by that person whose words are from the Holy Spirit. (He meant our blessed sister) She made known her thoughts on the subject and they were accepted.”2236-160v, déposition en 1632.
But it remained for Francis de Sales himself to pay to Madame Acarie, even when she had not yet attained her full human and spiritual stature, the finest tribute it is possible to give to a Christian in this life :

“I DID NOT CONSIDER HER AS ONE OF MY PENTITENTS BUT AS A VESSEL WHICH THE HOLY SPIRIT HAD CONSECRATED FOR HIS OWN USE.”Dom Jean de Saint François, op. cit., p. 164.

(Francis de Sales uses the word “Vaisseau” which has lost the general meaning of “container” in modern French. [Tr] He speaks elsewhere of the “vaisseaux” (vessels) of the widow of Sarepta.” Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. IV, p. 122. – TAD, Livre II, ch. XI. or of a “vessel of porcelain filled with liquid."Œuvres, edición de Annecy, T. III, p. 84. – IVD, 2ª parte, capítulo. VIII.)
I DID NOT CONSIDER HER AS ONE OF MY PENITENTS, someone whom I help, advise and lead in the ways of the Lord, BUT AS A SACRED VESSEL, consecrated FOR THE USE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT, that is to say at one and the same time, the fullness of the Holy Spirit, the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit – “The Spirit of God dwells within you,” St. Paul says to the Corinthians, (1 Cor. 3, 16) – and a chosen instrument for the service and use of the Holy Spirit in His activity in the world  !

The highly refined spiritual perception of Francis de Sales penetrated to the core of Madame Acarie’s existence, the source of her burning love of God and limitless devotion to her neighbour. Everything is summed up in the phrase “A vessel consecrated by the Holy Spirit for His own use” and all the subsequent biographies of Madame Acarie would, in one way or another, try to spell this out.

Pére Duval, her first biographer, had already written some excellent passages on the action of the Holy Spirit in Madame Acarie’s soul, passages dealing with the gifts of knowledge, counsel, piety etc… He was unable to mention everything ! So let us pause to consider one of the characteristics of Madame Acarie’s prayer which has remained largely unnoticed, but which must have delighted Francis de Sales. “To praise and glorify God for His mercy” he says, “is an action which every person is obliged to perform and from which no-one is exempt. It is impossible to deny the duty incumbent on each one of us to praise God for the benefits He bestows on us.”Œuvres, edición de Annecy, T. IX, p. 329. This is in conformity with Holy Scripture.

Did not St. Paul write (Eph. 1, 14) “The promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.” [RSV translation]. Now Madame Acarie was a person who was full of praise and thanksgiving  !

The prayer or praise and thankgiving.

Having received requests to help various individuals with their prayer, she passed on, in writing, a prayer of her own. Some extracts are given here; they are intentionally long ones, in order to emphasise that when Madame Acarie considered herself, she saw herself as a very great sinner, and when she considered God, she could not find words enough to bless and praise Him.

“O my God, if only I could be transformed, so as to contain within myself all the hearts and affections of the saints, in order to praise and thank you worthily as you deserve, since you are worthy of it.
I give You infinite thanks, my sweet Jesus, for the exceeding love which You showed me when you descended from Heaven to earth, and deigned for my sake to be wrapped in swaddling clothes, and to be laid in a crib, a manger intended for beasts…Les Vrays Exercices de la bienheureuse sœur Marie de l’Incarnation composéz par elle-même. Très propres à toutes les âmes qui désirent ensuyvre sa bonne vie. (V.E.), Denis Moreau, Paris 1623, folio 13v. (A résumé of the life of Christ follows.)
“I give you, O Lord, ten thousand praises, ten thousand acts of thanksgiving, ten thousand blessings, (The original French says “fifteen thousand” but “ten thousand” is the usual formula for “an unlimited number” in English) (Tr.) because it has pleased You to create me in Your own image and likeness, to embellish and enrich me with Your resemblance, to grant me the gift of reason and to make me capable of eternal life.”V.E., op. cit., folios 29v-30r.
“Grant me the grace, therefore, my beloved Lord, to love You through the merits of Your holy Mother… of all the choirs of angels… of all the Saints and of all the elect, so that I may praise, love and embrace You with all my heart; this is what I desire, what I search for, what I beg and expect to obtain, offering You all my actions and intentions for this purpose.”V.E., op. cit., folio 33v.

She wished to unite the whole of humanity to this act of thanksgiving, in a vision of the Church which is typical of the period :
“My most sweet Jesus… convert sinners, subdue heretics and schismatics under the yoke of truth, enlighten the pagans who do not know of your existence so that gathered together in the one Church they may all praise and glorify You.”V.E. op. cit., folio 21v.

She wished to unite herself in the same fashion to the thanksgiving of the saints in Heaven :
“I turn to you, all you saints in Paradise and all you blessed angelic spirits, and I beg you to show me your favour, to aid and assist me by your holy prayers,… so that, thanks to you, I may please my Beloved and be a person entirely after His own heart, praising and glorifying Him here below, as you do in Heaven.”V.E. op. cit., folio 21r.

In her humility, Madame Acarie had no idea that certain people – and people of no little importance ! – had already placed her in the ranks of the Saints while she was still on earth.

Madame Acarie’s holiness.

This is what Francis de Sales confided to the Carmelites of Pontoise on one of his visits.

“He told us” (it is the Prioress, Marie of St. Joseph who is speaking, but Mére Jeanne said the same thing in different words) “that when he went to see her one day after she had been bled, he soaked a handkerchief in her blood and kept it reverently, as if it were a relic; this shows the esteem which the holy prelate had for Blessed Mary ! And what is even more remarkable is that no-one ever saw him do anything remotely similar for anyone else, although he was acquainted with all the persons who had a reputation for sanctity.”PB, Riti 2236-161r, déposition en 1632.

For Francis de Sales came five times – this is confirmed by Mère Angélique Arnauld – to “make his devotions”, as the current term had it, at Madame Acarie’s tomb. The Sisters recalled some of his sayings, during Blessed Mary’s beatification process. (1632) Here are some of them.

It is still Mère Marie of St. Joseph who is speaking :

“I shall declare as proof of the esteem in which Blessed Mary was held, what we heard from the lips of blessed Francis de Sales, Bishop and Prince of Geneva. One day, he came to this town and this monastery with the express purpose of making his devotions because of the holy remains which are found here. (He told us this himself). He celebrated Holy Mass, and he preached a sermon, saying in his opening remarks, that as he was coming here, he had taken it into his head to present us with a model of a monastic building, similar to the ex-votos which are offered at the tomb of St. Charles in Milan; some people offer [reliquaries?] in the form a head made of silver, some offer castles or other objects. As for himself, his desire had been to offer us a miniature monastery where St. Joseph would be the superior… He continued to speak of this in an excellent fashion, as he is accustomed to do in his sermons. After the sermon, he talked to us, and said some things concerning the virtues of our blessed sister, particularly about her humility…PB, Riti 2236-160r et v. "

By the things he did – that is “obtaining a relic” during Madame Acarie’s lifetime and visiting her tomb on numerous occasions with the desire of giving her honour on a par with that given to the great Saint Charles Borromeo, Francis de Sales gives sufficient proof that she was, in his eyes, truly a saint. He would state this unequivocally, at the end of a sermon preached on March 3, 1622. His subject matter was spiritual poverty :

“In our own times, spiritual poverty has been practised to the letter by two great Saints, a man and a woman; one was able to do so in a concrete manner, the other did so by desire and affection for it. I am speaking of Blessed Francis Xavier, who is about to be canonised on account of his great holiness of life. [The canonisation would in fact take place nine days later] When he lay dying, he lacked a roof over his head and the right kind of food to sustain him (for he died not far from China, in a wretched situation, bereft of all human support.) In the midst of all this, the heart of that great servant of God was flooded with joy at seeing himself reduced to such a condition. When she pondered over this, Blessed Mary of the Incarnation’s opinion was that he had been extremely fortunate; she said she would like to die like Blessed Francis, stripped of all human and even divine, support, being satisfied with the ordinary grace which God gives to all His creatures. And although this GREAT SAINT was not in reality able to die in this state of evangelical poverty, she did so by desire and affection for it." Œuvres , edición de Annecy, T. X, p. 297.

St Francis de Sales must have heard these confidences concerning Blessed Mary’s last moments from the Sisters in Pontoise, when he visited her tomb  !

And now we have finally reached the point which I mentioned earlier in the lecture. Francis de Sales’ straight-forward affirmation of Madame Acarie’s sanctity. Something which he said can serve as a summary of everything we have just been talking about :
“All in all, this holy woman is someone whom I LOVE and ADMIRE.”Œuvres, edición de Annecy, T. XX, p. 48. Carta a M. de Marillac, 24 de abril de 1621.

Such is the portrait which Francis de Sales offers us of his friend, fifteen to twenty years after their unique association, lasting several months, in Paris. It expresses one of those genuine spiritual friendships which Francis de Sales describes as follows, in a letter to Madame Acarie’s eldest daughter : “One of the qualities of the friendships that Heaven bestows on us is that they are everlasting, in the same way that their source never runs dry. They do not depend on the other person’s presence for their growth, neither does absence cause them to weaken or disappear. This is because their foundation is present everywhere, for it is God Himself.”Œuvres, edición de Annecy, T. XIX, p. 343. Carta de septiembre 1620.