The Fifth Conference
O God, who for the glory of thy Majesty and the salvation of mankind, didst constitute thine Only–Begotten Son as the eternal High Priest, mercifully grant that we whom he has chosen to be the ministers and stewards of His Holy Mysteries may ever remain steadfast in the fulfilment of the ministry entrusted unto us. Through the same Christ our Lord. Amen.
The Rediscovery of God the Father
Blessed Columba Marmion ranks first among the four luminous figures raised up by the Holy Ghost at the dawn of the last century to point to God the Father. Who were the other three? The twenty–four year old Doctor of the Church, Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face (1873–1897); a twenty–six year old Carmelite dazzled by her personal discovery of the Epistles of Saint Paul, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity (1880–1906); and a pleasure–loving French adventurer who died a martyred hermit in the Sahara, Blessed Charles of Jesus (1858–1916). I should like to say something about the rediscovery of God the Father launched by Saint Thérèse, Blessed Elisabeth of the Trinity, and Blessed Charles de Foucauld, but that, alas, will have to be the subject of another conversation.
Conventional devotionalism had collapsed the Three Divine Persons into an indistinct «Bon Dieu». Most Catholics addressed their prayers to God the Son, but the image of the Son was fuzzy and out of focus because the Father and the Holy Ghost had, in effect, been marginalised. There was little reference to God the Father; the paternity of God remained for many something vague and unreal. Blessed Marmion writes, «In practice, there are souls that do not act as the adopted children of the Eternal Father. It would seem as if their condition of children of God had only a nominal value for them».
The Holy Ghost
As for the Holy Ghost, where He was known, He was sometimes called «The Forgotten Paraclete». Abbot Marmion often preached on the Holy Ghost, quoting in his introductory remarks, the saying of certain disciples at Ephesus: « We have not so much as heard whether there be a Holy Ghost » (Acts 19:2). The Irish Holy Ghost Father, Edward Leen (1885–1944), author of what was, at the time, a ground–breaking book on the Holy Ghost, was deeply indebted to Abbot Marmion, having been among the first readers of Christ the Life of the Soul, Christ in His Mysteries, and Christ the Ideal of the Monk.
Need for a Great Trinitarian Revival
Nineteenth century Catholic piety had, at the popular grass–roots level, suffered a kind of Trinitarian eclipse. People of faith looked, of course, to the Sacred Heart, to the Most Blessed Sacrament, to the Mother of God, the Saints, and the Angels but, in some way, the Divine Persons of the Most Holy Trinity had faded from focus. There was, in fact, at the beginning of the last century, urgent need of a great Trinitarian revival.
You will ask the question, «How did such a state of things come to be?» It was the result of a long disaffection from the liturgy, the Sacred Scriptures, and the Fathers of the Church. The sorely needed great Trinitarian revival could only come about by a return to the liturgy, or better, in the words of Pope Pius X, to «active participation in the most holy mysteries and in the public and solemn prayer of the Church».
Dom Marmion himself wrote in May 1917:
The divorce between the soul and the prayer of the Church that happened in the 16th century had for result not only the isolation of the soul in her relations with God (as with the Protestants who intend on treating with God without the Pope, without the Church), but it also produced a great ignorance of the ecclesiastical cycle, of the feasts, of the spirit of the mysteries of Jesus Christ and, finally, isolation and separation from this life of the Church that is the channel established by Christ to communicate His life and His grace to His spouse.
Through the Liturgy
Joseph Aloysius Marmion became, as a Benedictine monk of Maredsous, a man of the liturgy and, because he became a man of the liturgy; through the liturgy he became a man steeped in the Word of God, particularly in the Psalms, the Gospels, and Saint Paul. Through the liturgy he became conversant with the Fathers of the Church, speaking their language and savouring their penetrating intelligence of the Scriptures.
Almost imperceptibly, Dom Columba Marmion’s daily experience of the liturgy began to illumine the mysteries of the faith, drawing him into the life of the Three Divine Persons, not as a mere spectator contemplating from without, but as a participant standing with the Son, in the place of the Son, under the gaze of the Father and in the embrace of the Holy Spirit.
For Blessed Marmion, the liturgy led souls directly into the bosom of the Father, mystically fulfilling the priestly prayer of Christ on the night before He suffered: «Father, I will that where I am, they also whom thou hast given me may be with me» (John 17:24).
There is not a page of Blessed Columba’s writings — shot through as they are with the words of the Fourth Gospel and of Saint Paul — that does not shine with his personal experience of the Most Holy Trinity. What is the essence of his doctrine? I think he sums it up in these words from Christ the Life of the Soul:
Grace here below, glory above; but it is the same God who gives us both and, as I have said, glory is only the unfolding of grace: the Divine Adoption, on earth, is hidden and imperfect, in heaven it is revealed and consummated.
Doctor of Divine Adoption
If, as I hope and pray, Blessed Columba Marmion is one day declared a Doctor of the Church — Ireland’s first Doctor of the Church — it will be, I think, as the Doctor of Divine Adoption. He sees in every baptized soul another «beloved son»; one in whom the Father recognizes, and delights in, the features of the face of His Only–Begotten Son reproduced by the Holy Ghost; one become by grace what Jesus is by nature; one who can address the Father with filial confidence, with boldness, with the full assurance of being heard.
Light on the Three Divine Persons
On 20 January 1906, Dom Columba Marmion received what he calls «a strong interior light» on the Three Divine Persons. This interior illumination on the mystery of the Most Holy Trinity —I have already alluded to it— changed his life. Dom Raymund Thibaut gives Blessed Marmion’s complete text in the chapter on «Graces of Union» in his exhaustive spiritual biography. Allow me to recapitulate it for you somewhat schematically:
A Patre: All things come from the Father. We honour the Father by laying all things, and our very selves before Him in adoration and filial abandonment to His good pleasure. In doing this we become our true selves, our best selves « to the praise of His glory of His grace » (Ephesians 1:6).
Per Filium: The Son is the perfect Image of the Father, the « the brightness of his glory, and the figure of his substance » (Hebrews 1:3). We honour the Son by entering into His filial and priestly obedience to the Father in such wise that it is no longer we who live but Christ who lives in us (cf. Galatians 2:2). Thus does the Father recognize His First–Born Son in us, and us in His First–Born Son, saying of Christ and of each of His members, «This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased» (Matthew 17:5).
In Spiritu: The Holy Ghost, quickens in all whom He has united to Christ, and who belong to Christ as members to their Head, the return ad Patrem. The same Spirit by whom we can say « Jesus is Lord » (1 Corinthians 12:3) so unites us to Him that, through Him, and with Him, and in Him, we can say «Father» and this with the unique filial accents of Jesus’ own prayer to the Father. Such a prayer is always heard because it is uttered in what Blessed Marmion calls the sanctuarium exauditionis, the sanctuary wherein all our requests are heard, that is, the bosom of the Father.
Consecration to the Blessed Trinity
Two years after receiving this «strong interior light» on the Most Holy Trinity, on Christmas Day 1908, Dom Columba Marmion wrote out a personal Consecration to the Blessed Trinity. He was 50 years old at the time. In a letter to his friend, Bishop Vincent Dwyer, he says: «Since I doubled the cape of 50, I often think of eternity». Blessed Columba would live another fifteen years. His Consecration to the Blessed Trinity marked a great passage in his life: it was as if he passed through a door opening onto greater intimacy with the Three Divine Persons.
Every line of his prayer is densely rich with biblical resonances: a compelling example of pietas sacerdotalis. It is at once a personal prayer coming out of real life with its struggles, its dark hours, and its losses; an affective prayer coming out of an exquisitely sensitive heart; and a profoundly theological prayer revealing its author’s love for doctrinal clarity.
Blessed Columba’s Consecration to the Blessed Trinity was the mature fruit of the light received in January 1906. It took two years for the light shed abroad in his heart to come to flower on his lips or, rather, find expression as, pen in hand, he poured out his soul in the presence of God. If I were to attempt a line–by–line commentary on the text of Columba Marmion’s Consecration to the Blessed Trinity, I would find myself speaking far beyond the time allotted for this conference. I should like, nonetheless, to give you some indication of the sources of his prayer, and of its underlying richness.
Blessed Marmion’s Prayer
Eternal Father, prostrate in humble adoration at Thy feet, we consecrate our whole being to the glory of Thy Son Jesus, the Word Incarnate. Thou hast established Him King of our souls; submit to Him our souls, our hearts, our bodies, and may nothing within us move without His orders, without His inspirations. Grant that, united to Him, we may be borne to Thy bosom and consumed in the unity of love.
Blessed Marmion addresses the Father; he has learned from the Son how to call God «Father», and the Holy Ghost, at work in his heart, has made the fatherhood of God something real for him. His first impulse is to prostrate himself in adoration. He enters immediately into the priestly prayer of the Son on the night before His passion. Marmion’s whole text must be read in the light of the 17th Chapter of Saint John. He wants, more than anything else, to contribute something —to contribute himself— to the Father’s glorification of the Son. He wants to fulfill, in his own person, and by freely offering himself to the Father, the promise made to Christ in Psalm 2: «The Lord hath said to me: Thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee. Ask of me, and I will give thee the Gentiles for thy inheritance» (Psalm 2:7). He wants the Father to give him to the Son, so that the Son, in turn, might give him back to the Father. Thus does he say, «Grant that, united to Him, we may be borne to Thy bosom and consumed in the unity of love». It is another way of saying, «Father, the hour is come, glorify thy Son, that thy Son may glorify thee» (John 17:1).
O Jesus, unite us to Thee, in Thy life all holy, entirely consecrated to the Father and to souls. Be Thou our justice, our holiness, our redemption, our all. Sanctify us in truth!
The first image that emerges from the second part of the text is the one used by Our Lord in John 15: «Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abide in the vine, so neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine: you the branches: he that abideth in me, and I in him, the same beareth much fruit» (John 15:4–5). Blessed Marmion makes a bold petition for holiness of life, authorized by the priestly prayer of the Son: «For them do I sanctify myself, that they also may be sanctified in truth» (John 17:19). He draws the rest of his petition from Saint Paul: «But of him are you in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, and justice, and sanctification, and redemption» (1 Corinthians 1:30).
O Holy Ghost, love of the Father and the Son, dwell like a burning furnace of love in the centre of our hearts. Bear our thoughts, affections, and actions, like ardent flame, continually heavenwards into the bosom of the Father. May our whole life be a Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto.
The Holy Ghost
The third part of Blessed Marmion’s prayer is positively incendiary; it is incandescent. He implores the Holy Ghost to make him another John the Baptist —Ille erat lucerna ardens et lucens (John 5:35)— a burning and shining light. He prays to be a man inhabited by the Fire of Love. The flames of the Divine Fire leap upward, bearing his holocaust into the heavenly places, into the heavenly sanctuary «where the forerunner Jesus is entered for us, made a high priest for ever according to the order of Melchisedech» (Hebrews 6:20), even into the bosom of the Father. The work of the Holy Ghost, according to Blessed Columba, is to quicken the soul’s return to the bosom of the Father. Ad Patrem, in Spiritu.
He concludes by asking what, in the course of his priestly and monastic life, has become his single desire: to become a living doxology singing, with every fibre of his being what he repeated over a hundred times a day, in choir, at the altar, in the refectory, in Chapter: Gloria Patri, et Filio, et Spiritui Sancto. Blessed Columba Marmion had, by this time in his life, no breath left to spend on himself, no eyes for self–scrutiny, no energy for self–absorption. For Blessed Marmion the Christian life is doxological or, as Father Aidan Nichols puts it, «For Marmion, everything in that life must be interpreted from the standpoint of giving God praise».
O Mary, Mother of Christ, Mother of holy love, fashion us yourself according to the Heart of your Son.
The Blessed Virgin Mary
Blessed Columba concludes his Consecration to the Blessed Trinity with a little petition to the Mother of Christ. He uses three forms of address, first calling her by her given name, Mary. Then he honours her role in the grand divine economy of salvation by calling her Mother of Christ. Finally, he uses a tender title of hers drawn from the liturgy of the Blessed Virgin Mary and from the book of Ecclesiasticus: Ego mater pulchrae dilectionis, «I am the mother of fair love» (Ecclesiasticus 24:24).
Of Mary, the Mother of Christ, the Mother of Fair Love, Blessed Columba asks but one thing: that she fashion him according to the Heart of her Son. The underlying reference is to the words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel: «Learn of me, because I am meek, and humble of heart: and you shall find rest to your souls» (Matthew 11:29). It is fitting that Blessed Columba Marmion’s prayer should end on a note of profound humility, the quintessential Benedictine virtue, and in the Heart of Jesus. Fashioned by Mary according to the Heart of Jesus, having entered deeply into the grace of Divine Adoption, Joseph Aloysius Columba Marmion became, in truth, what he had always sought and desired to become: a man over whom the Father could say, and still says, Hic est filius meus dilectus in quo mihi bene complacui, «This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased» (Matthew 17:5).