Yet ever thou art at my side

In 1667, Mother Mectilde writes again to Mother Saint–François–de–Paule Charbonnier, who has fallen prey to the torment of scrupulosity. This hard–hitting letter of direction is among Mother Mectilde’s strongest teachings. She does not mince words. In fact, Mother Mectilde deliberately shifts to the use of the first person plural—the “we” of majesty—in order to make it clear that she is speaking in the name of God. Mother Mectilde twice refers to Psalm 72:23. It appears to be a key text for her, as it is for anyone struggling to persevere in the prayer of adoration. Monsignor Knox’s rendering of the context is wonderfully evocative:

What if my mind was full of bitterness, what if I was pierced to the heart? I was all dumbness, I was all ignorance, standing there like a brute beast in thy presence. Yet ever thou art at my side, ever holdest me by my right hand. Thine to guide me with thy counsel, thine to welcome me into glory at last. What else does heaven hold for me, but thyself? What charm for me has earth, here at thy side? What though flesh of mine, heart of mine, should waste away? Still God will be my heart’s stronghold, eternally my inheritance. (Psalm 72:21–26)

To Mother Saint–François–de–Paule [Charbonnier]: Having learned that you continue to be in distress, I thought that I ought to tell you what Our Lord is giving me concerning your dispositions. First of all, I find that you have fallen into a very big self–absorption and focus on yourself […] I tell you, on the part of God, that you are too preoccupied with your miseries, your sins, your wicked deeds, your sacrileges, your damnation, your hell, and your loss of God. Instead of going to death in all things, I see that you have focused on your emptiness, and it terrifies you. You have tried to fix it by making yourself inwardly industrious and, instead of finding relief, in your  powerlessness you have found trouble, and in your poverty you have found hell. You have been racked with distress, and you have kept neither rule nor measure. Your eternal damnation seems to you a certainty. In a word, all is lost: no mercy, no hope of recovery. Add to all this, if you will, all that your mind suggests concerning vice and sin. Have it your way. Be, if you wish, worse than all the devils. This doesn’t frighten me, nor does it surprise me. In all of this, you have but a single sin: you have quitted being nothing in order to be something. You have quitted the state of death in order to get life. You have wished to be something in God and in grace, and you are but a miserable nothing who needs to be forgotten not only by everybody, but even by God Himself, since you believe yourself unworthy of being remembered by Him.

If I were at your side, I would convince you of the truths that I am telling you, but not being able to be there, I beg you to give credence to what my pen is saying. And begin, as soon as you have seen what I have written above, to fall on your knees, and to say with your heart and with your mouth:

My God and my Saviour, Jesus Christ, I ask pardon of You for having wished to be, and for having kept Your grace from reducing me to nothing. I accept all my miseries as a penance, and I renew in Your Spirit the vow that makes me a victim destined for death, stripping me of all the rights that my self–love claims to hold over me, and of all my interests of grace, in time and in eternity. I give You everything, holding nothing back. For myself, I hold onto being nothing in all things and in every place, and this forever, so as to let You be, and let You work in me all that will please You.

After this act, stop your examinations, your self–absorption, your scrutinizing, your fears, your resistances to obedience and to Communion. We order you, in God’s name, to stand there like a brute beast (cf. Ps 72:23) in the loss of everything, and even of your salvation and perfection. It is no more question of all that, but only of remaining in this simple abandonment with so much firmness that, even if you saw hell open to swallow you up, you would not turn aside from your pure abandonment, to save yourself from it.

Now you see to what you must die. And it is this that you want to avoid.  I would scold you readily for resisting, as you do, the merciful conduct of God. Do not allow your human spirit nor your reason to answer back or argue about what we order you to do. Walk with your head bowed beneath the law of the Lord. His grace towards you is too much. Do not be so miserable as to reject it under the pretext that you are offending Him.

I forbid you to amuse yourself by dwelling on your sins and by looking upon your Communions as sacrileges. Lose and annihilate all these self–absorptions and scrutinies in simple abandonment, as I propose it to you. Take no part in anything going on inside you, be it for good or for ill. Leave all of that aside without discussion. God will be the judge of it and He will make of it as He sees fit. And what about yourself? Keep yourself in an eternal nothingness that sees nothing anymore, no longer understanding, and no longer speaking for yourself nor for anyone else.

Let me repeat this for you again: remain like one dead with regard to yourself, and even with regard to God. Be like something that is no longer and that must never be again. And, if you follow faithfully the rule that I give you on the part of God, you will find what you cannot imagine and what, at present, I cannot explain to you. Go on blindly where I am leading you, and believe that, by the grace of God, I know what I am talking about. In obedience, walk securely, and do not stop praying for her who, in Jesus, is all yours. Remember then to stand like a brute beast in the presence of the Lord (cf. Ps 72:23), without thought, without acting, without power. Nothingness has none of these things.

When you start thinking that you are damned, leave all this judgment to God, believing that He will do justice should He send you to hell. Don’t be troubled in the least by this. Leave everything to take your place lower than all of hell and lower than the demons. Nothingness is nothing of all that . . . .


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