I have translated some helpful excerpts from Catherine Mectilde de Bar’s correspondence with her dear friend and sometime spiritual director, the saintly layman Jean de Bernières (1602–1659), one of the outstanding mystical figures of the 17th century.
Here, Mother Mectilde writes to Jean de Bernières from the monastery of Notre–Dame de Bon Secours in Caen, whither she was sent to rescue the poorly formed community from the spiritual chaos into which they had declined.
My present disposition keeps me in peace in the midst of the things that come up against me, my soul subjects itself to whatever way Our Lord will be pleased to dispose of things. I enter a bit into my little prayer and a thought tells me that I must not fret over events, anymore than over the scant progress that all these good religious have made, but I must raise myself to God over all these things and apply myself to Him as if I were delivered of the burden that I bear.
Here again, Mother Mectilde writes to Jean de Bernières, describing her own state of soul. I suspect that not a few readers will find her words comforting. One recognizes that Mother Mectilde is, in fact, a precursor of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, whose birthday happens to be today.
Our Lord leads me amidst darkness and poverty; I no longer know what He will make of me. No more do I know anything. No more do I taste anything. No more do I see anything, except that one must lose oneself, and even then I know not by what means I shall lose myself. All I can do is remain at peace in abandoning myself to the divine leading without turning back.
Jean de Bernières writes to Mother Mectilde about death to self. He hits the nail on the head in describing the ego–driven capacity for finding everywhere food to fatten one’s self–absorption.
Oh, how rare it is to die as one should. We always want to be some thing, and everywhere one finds food for our self–love. Nothing is so unbearable to the human spirit as to see that one is not held in esteem, that one counts for nothing at all, that one is neither sought after nor considered.
This is one of my favourite sayings of Mother Mectilde, and I should like to see it on bookmark, or even writ large on the wall of my cell.
Oh, what a great secret it is to be alone with God alone and to allow him to go about his work.
It was fashionable in 17th century France to cultivate the art of spiritual direction. Mother Mectilde explains why she feels that she doesn’t need a director “who would be after her week after week.” Like Saint Thérèse, she is a little soul who wants only to be a prey to God’s good pleasure.
And so, as I didn’t ascribe much credit to my own thoughts, and as I based myself on nothing apart from God’s good pleasure alone, to which I am, it seems to me, intimately abandoned, I believed that I had no need of being attached to a director, that is, to a director who would be after me every week, because I would never know how to bind myself to notice all my thoughts and my operations. I am not so delicate, I mean not like these souls of shimmerings and light; I am a poor sinner who leaves herself as a prey to God’s good pleasure within and without. My peace is great and my joy intimate without, however, it seems to me, attachments, because I am wholly given to all the designs and the orders of the conduct of God. Be I in light, be I in darkness, be I in fervour, be I in misery, be I raised up or cast down, it seems to me that I am equal to it all; God, being unchanging, He is enough.