Then and Now
Catherine–Mectilde de Bar (1614 –1698) lived in times no less troubled and troubling than our own. The life of the Church in her day was marked by worldliness; lust for power; shameful compromises with Mammon; scandals among the clergy and in cloisters; desecrations of the Most Blessed Sacrament; and not a little dabbling in the occult. At the same time, the Church was blossoming prodigiously; a true spiritual springtime followed the Council of Trent. Immense graces were in evidence everywhere: the reform of priestly life; zeal for missionary labours; the institution of good seminaries; the reform of ancient Orders; the foundation of new ones; and underlying it all, a wonderful application to prayer by people in every state of life.
Monasteries have always been listening posts. One might imagine that, given the monastic enclosure — a real and effective separation from the world — and the investment of so many hours of the day in divine worship, work, study, and solitary prayer, little of what generates controversy in the wider Church would impinge upon the silence of the cloister. Not so, not so. Clergy and layfolk alike learned centuries ago that monks are good listeners. Although we monks have neither television nor newspapers, although we have rigorous norms with regard to the use of the internet, and exercise discretion and prudence in such things as reading blogs and frequenting the hubs of the “Catholic” internet, we often find ourselves in the awkward position of being well informed! What then? We choose silence over discourse, prayer over debate, and praise and adoration over what the psalmist calls, “the contradiction of tongues” (Psalm 30:21). Still we “hear tell of wars, and rumours of war” (Matthew 24:6) even within the Church. What is our response? In one of her letters, Mother Mectilde offers sound counsel:
Be careful about judging. Do not be polluted through the sins of another. Those whom we think sometimes are buried in sin, are perhaps already moved by God and completely converted. I cannot bear that a soul who has professed that she loves Jesus Christ be occupied in thinking about her neighbor. Your mind must observe a very strict silence on this point. “Do not judge and you will not be judged,” says Our Lord. Esteem your neighbor the way God does. Do not elevate creatures and do not belittle them. Maintain prudence and a very great silence based on charity, since this is the sign of the Spirit of God in a soul. Because if prudence is lacking, the soul is without guidance. Jesus says, “Be simple as doves and prudent as serpents.”In matters which concern your neighbor, you must be very restrained about speaking. (Mother Mectilde of the Blessed Sacrament, 1614 –1698)
I shall write again of what, at least as I understand such things, is the most appropriate and fruitful response to the controversies, dissensions, and polarisations that fill the Church with noise. In the meantime, I shall hold fast to the wise counsel of Mother Mectilde, and repeat the words of the psalmist:
Make thy face to shine upon thy servant; save me in thy mercy.
Let me not be confounded, O Lord, for I have called upon thee.
Let the wicked be ashamed, and be brought down to hell.
Let deceitful lips be made dumb. Which speak iniquity against the just, with pride and abuse.
O how great is the multitude of thy sweetness, O Lord, which thou hast hidden for them that fear thee!
Which thou hast wrought for them that hope in thee, in the sight of the sons of men.
Thou shalt hide them in the secret of thy face, from the disturbance of men.
Thou shalt protect them in thy tabernacle from the contradiction of tongues.
Blessed be the Lord, for he hath shewn his wonderful mercy to me in a fortified city.