The Dear Solitude
On March 20, 1654 Mother Mectilde wrote to Jean de Bernières concerning the establishment of the monastery in the rue Férou in Paris. This little excerpt is remarkable. Note the emphasis that Mother Mectilde gives to “the dear solitude” and to “the usages of a more solitary and hidden life.” Mother Mectilde presents the resolve of her little community to live in solitude and hiddenness as way of entering into the mystery of Christ in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, the Mystery of Faith.
The Grace of Hiddenness
Just a week ago I said to my own little community in Chapter:
Something of the poverty, the bleakness, the hiddenness, and the silence of Bethlehem perdures in the mystery of the Sacred Host. As Benedictine Monks of Perpetual Adoration, this goes to the very heart of our vocation. We are not just Benedictines; we are, by a wonderful and utterly gratuitous gift of God, Eucharistic Benedictines, that is, men called not only to tarry in adoration and reparation before the Sacred Host, but also men called to become like the Sacred Host, to become what we contemplate, to imitate what He shows us of Himself, hidden beneath the sacramental veils. The Host is fragile; so are we. The Host is disarmingly humble; so would we be. The Host is the living icon of the poverty of God made man; so we would become poor with Him. The Host is silent; so do we find ourselves cherishing silence over words. The Host is the sacrament of the Divine Hiddenness; so too must we choose hiddenness over ostentation, and obscurity over acclaim. The Host is obedient, remaining where it is placed, not moving of Itself or by Itself, but waiting to be moved; and that is, I think, the very form of our prayer.
The Mystery of Faith
Here are Mother Mectilde’s words:
I can no longer put off asking for news of you and giving you news of us, now that Divine Providence has placed us in the dear solitude where, last Thursday, we began becoming, by the obligations of our establishment, the victims of the Holy Sacrament, and by means of the usages of a more solitary and hidden life in conformity with the adorable mystery of this divine Sacrament. Mysterium Fidei.
A Solitude for Love
Monsieur de Bernières responded:
I received your latest, which gave me great consolation to learn from yourself of the extraordinary care that Divine Providence has had for your establishment, giving you, without doubt a solitude which will serve to consume you in His pure love.
Life and Death in Jesus
He goes on to speak of the outward work of monastic life — the ascetical discipline that is part of everyday life — and sees it in function of the inward work that is the whole reason for separation from the world. He refers to Jésus anéanti, an expression that is singularly difficult to translate. It relates to the kenosis of the Son of God, that is, His self–emptying in the mysteries of the Incarnation, of His Passion, and of His real presence in the Most Holy Eucharist:
This outward work must foster the inward work that Jesus anéanti (brought to nothing) wants to do in you. By His grace, He will bring you to perfect en–nothing–ment, so that He alone will be, and live, and operate in you. I rejoice that your soul desires no life other than the life of Jesus; but may His death also be given you, perfect death to all things.
Victims of Pure Love
Jean de Bernières then develops his insights into the vocation of the new monastery in the rue Férou and of Mother Mectilde herself. He points that the Benedictines of Perpetual Adoration are indeed victims, but victims of pure love. Here again, we encounter, in essence, one of the great intuitions of Saint Thérèse, who offered herself as a victim of God’s merciful love. To be a victim of the Most Holy Sacrament is to make of oneself a consecrated offering to God who, in Christ, has made of Himself a consecrated offering to us. It is the very meaning of Our Lord’s prayer in John 17:19: “And for them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth.” The verb rendered as “sanctify” means, in fact, “to consecrate as a victim” or “to sacrifice,” i.e. to make something or someone sacred by making that thing or person over to God in an irrevocable manner.
In his emphasis on hiddenness, Monsieur de Bernières comes very close to what Saint Thérèse, another child of Normandy, would write two centuries later: “Ah, I desired that, like the face of Jesus, my face be truly hidden that no one on earth would know me.” Jean de Bernières writes:
I am persuaded that the greatness of your vocation and of the institution [founding] of your Community are, without doubt, incomparable, since your are called to be victims of the Holy Sacrament, that is, of pure love, and that you must remain hidden and solitary in the enclosure of your little house, following the example of Our Lord who remains hidden and solitary under the species of the Most Holy Sacrament, leading there a life all of love for men.
In this last excerpt from Jean de Bernières letter to Mother Mectilde I recognize clearly the sublime and humble vocation of those whom Christ has called here to be monks of Silverstream Priory.