Mother Mectilde de Bar gave one of her most important conferences on the vigil of the Epiphany, 1694. She would have been eighty years old at the time; this conference reflects, then, her thought in its maturity. Although Mother Mectilde is addressing her own daughters, her message speaks to the heart of anyone called by God to a life of adoration.
Mystery Events of Christ
In this text, Mother Mectilde makes some very noteworthy remarks. First of all, she affirms that the Most Holy Eucharist contains all the mysteries of Christ or, if you will, Christ in all His mysteries. The mysteries of Christ are theandric events, that is to say that they correspond to Christ’s twofold nature, divine and human. Insofar as they are human, the events of Christ’s life are subject to the passing flow of time in history; they took place at a given moment in a given place, but insofar as they are divine, these same events transcend time and space, remaining ever present and actual in the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar. The mystery–events of Christ contained in the Most Holy Eucharist are eternally present to the Father and, in time, are perpetually available to the Church, to whom it is given to apply their fruits sacramentally for the forgiveness of sins and for the growth in holiness of the faithful. Thus do we see, in the mosaic above, Saint John Chrysostom adoring the Christ Child present on the altar in the Sacred Mysteries.
Theology Shaped by the Liturgy
Mother Mectilde’s theological thought is strongly related to her experience of the sacred liturgy and, notably, to the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. In this conference one can perceive clearly the influence of the Preface of the Mass and of the Sanctus. Mother Mectilde relates the grandeur of the eschatological liturgy in all its perfection to the vocation of those whom God has chosen to adore Him in spirit and in truth here below.
Immolation of the Victim
Mother Mectilde further relates adoration to the immolation of the victim made over to God in sacrifice. Sacrifice is, in fact, the supreme expression of adoration. One cannot adore in spirit and in truth while witholding something of oneself from God. One’s whole self must be surrendered in a sacrificial holocaust in order for one’s adoration to be what God would have it be. For this reason did the Father give us the sacrifice of the Son — the pure Victim, the holy Victim, the spotless Victim (as the Roman Canon puts it) — as the pattern of adoration to be reproduced in all who belong to Him, and this by the power of the Holy Ghost.
Spontaneously, Mother Mectilde breaks into prayer in the middle of her conference. In this she follows a long monastic tradition, exemplified notably by Saint Bernard, in which the speaker quite naturally addresses God, even while addressing men.
Adoration: God’s Gift
There is an almost humourous realism in Mother Mectilde’s comparison of one attempting to adore God worthily with the buzzing flight of little flies who can only go so high without falling exhausted to the ground. (Anyone who has had to sweep up dead flies from a window ledge or elsewhere, knows exactly what she is talking about. I have seen flies exhaust themselves trying to escape through a window.) Adoration in spirit and in truth is, before all else, a grace that God gives us before being something that we can give God.
Doing on Earth What We Will Do in Heaven
A life of adoration here below is a foretaste of heaven. One who adores perpetually in this life, who adores with every breath and every heartbeat, is doing already what he will do eternally in heaven. Here one adores in the darkness of faith; there it will be in the light of glory.
In conclusion, Mother Mectilde wisely counsels against seeking extraordinary sensible manifestations of God’s will, subject to illusion and to deception. Instead, she invites her Benedictines to incline the ear of their heart to the quiet inward inspiration of the Holy Ghost and to respond to the voice of Christ who speaks in silence, saying, “Adore Me in spirit and in truth.”
Mother Mectilde de Bar
— Epiphany 1694
The Invisible Star of Grace
Tomorrow we shall celebrate the feast of the Epiphany, which signifies the manifestation of Jesus to the holy Magi Kings, who sought Him in the manger of Bethlehem to offer Him their respect and their adoration. This feast must bring us a special devotion because it corresponds more than any other to the spirit of our vocation which deputes us to adore the same Christ Jesus, whom the Magi adored, in the august Sacrament of the Altar, the mystery that contains within itself all the other mysteries of His holy life. For this reason, you can adore there [in the Most Holy Sacrament] the little Child of the manger; you can adore Him together with the Holy Kings and you can say even as they did, “We have seen his star in the east, and are come to adore him” (Matthew 2:2). The call to to the Institute [of Perpetual Adoration of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar] was your star, and even though you did not see a visible star, as the Magi did, you have had nonetheless the interior inspiration of grace, which is by far more secure than outward signs.
God Has Chosen Us
You have, then, seen His star, and you have come to adore Him. But what duration and extent must such adoration have? Every instant of our life, and with all our being. We are called . . . of Perpetual Adoration. Oh, let us not bear so beautiful a name in vain; let us not be illusory adorers, let us correspond with all our capacity to this calling and to God’s choice of us to adore Him continually. Has He need of us for this, poor and miserable creatures [that we are] who can do nothing good of ourselves unless we be moved by His grace? Has He not millions of angels and heavenly spirits who ceaselessly render Him perfect adoration even in our churches, which are altogether full of them? Although we do not see them, this is the truth. All the same, He has chosen us and wants us to have the privilege of adoring Him as they do, and of being His perpetual adorers. We must, in a holy manner, glory in so lofty a vocation! But to carry out such a vocation, it is not enough to spend an hour or some in His presence in choir.
In Spirit and in Truth
Our adoration must be perpetual because the same God whom we adore in the Most Holy Sacrament is always present to us in every place. We must adore Him in spirit and in truth. In spirit, by means of a holy interior recollection; in truth, by acting in such wise that all our observances become a continual adoration, and this by giving ourselves faithfully to God in all that He asks of us, because as soon as we fail in fidelity, we stop adoring.
Our Institute was created uniquely to make perpetual adorers of us. You have been called to this; it is, therefore, up to you to realise its grace and holiness by becoming authentic adorers who adore in spirit and in truth. Yes, such must be your care and diligence in adoring this God of majesty in spirit and in truth, so as to correspond to His choice of you. In spirit, by the certainty of your faith, believing all that He is in Himself, even without understanding it. His divine greatnesses and perfections deserve your homage, your respect, your adoration. In truth, by adoring Him with your whole being, in such wise that there be nothing in you that you do not wish to hand over and sacrifice to Him in order to adore Him as perfectly as possible according to your capacity and with all your heart.
With Our Entire Selves
My God, what an honour Thou hast done us in calling us to adore Thee! Grant us the grace to correspond to this calling. We ask this of Thee through the mediation of Thy most holy Mother, even as we pray her to obtain for us from Thy bounty that we may know how to fulfil faithfully the obligation of adoring Thee — adoring Thee in spirit and in truth — with our entire selves, immolating to Thy greatness all that we are.
Like Poor Little Flies in His Presence
I repeat it to you again, let us consider well the grace that the Lord has bestowed on us: He has chosen us to adore Him always, we who barely know how to think of Him and who are like poor little flies in His presence! When we think that we lifting ourselves up a little to God in contemplation, we fall down right away. The distraction of our spirit and of our imagination, our darknesses, our personal miseries are so great! No matter how much good will we may have, it is impossible for us to maintain always our mind equally raised up to God. Our adorations on earth are but momentary, so to speak, in comparison with the adoration that the angels and the blessed offer God in heaven.
Beginning Eternity’s Occupation Here and Now
Why then, my God, hast Thou chosen us, poor miserable creatures? Art Thou not content with the many holy and perfect adorations that Thou receivest from the angels and saints? And if Thou hadst not enough of these, couldst Thou not create again an infinity of others similar to those whom Thou hast already created, and who would offer Thee adorations worthy of Thy divine majesty? No, my God, Thou didst will that we should share with them the honour of adoring Thee continually, beginning in this world what we will do for all eternity.
He Who Calls Give the Grace to Respond
Oh, once again, how great is this grace! I assure you that only in eternity will you know its greatness! Do not think that I am telling you so many trifles to distract and entertain you. No, no, this is about certain truths that you will know after death. This is about truths of faith: according to the Gospel, God must have adorers who will adore Him in spirit and in truth. It is just as certain that such is your particular vocation. And if it is your vocation, it is also a matter of faith that God has given you the grace for it. It depends, therefore, only on us to make use of it by means of our fidelity.
To adore continually it is not necessary to say, “My God, I adore Thee.” It is enough to tend inwardly to God [who is] present, to maintain a profound respect out of reverence for His greatness, believing that He is in us as He truly is. In fact, the Most Holy Trinity dwells in us: the Father acts and operates there with His power, the Son with His wisdom, and the Holy Ghost with His goodness. It is, therefore, in the intimacy of your soul, where the God of majesty abides, that you must adore Him continually.
Think of Me and I Shall Think of Thee
From time to time, place your hand over your heart, saying to yourself: “God is in me. And He is there not only to sustain my physical life, as in irrational creatures, but He is there acting and operating, to raise me to the highest perfection, if I do not put obstacles in the way of His grace.”
Imagine that He says to you interiorly: “I am always in thee: abide thou in me, think of Me and I shall think of thee, and I will take care of all the rest. Be wholly at my disposal, even as I am at thine; live not apart from Me. As Scripture says, “He who eats of Me will live by Me; He will abide in Me, and I in him” (cf. John 6:58 and 6:57). Happy are those who understand these words and who adore in spirit and in truth the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Ghost! If you wish that we return to the mystery of the Epiphany, happy too are those who adore the Child Jesus in His sacred birth, together with the holy Magi.
The Herod Within
These holy Kings followed, then, the star that was guiding them to so in search of Jesus to adore Him. They go to Jerusalem where Herod was. He, having learned of their design, feigned that he wanted to adore Him, but this was only to take His life and do away with Him.
This, dear ones, is what befalls us every day inwardly. Our self–love is that Herod who looks only to his own interests and not to those of Jesus Christ. Often he feigns wanting to adore Him but, at bottom, He is bent only on destroying His reign and on suffocating the movements of His grace, pushing us at every turn to cling to our passions and to satisfy our senses.
True and Perpetual Adorers
We could continue to consider in the same way all that follows in this mystery, but this would take us too far afield; we would need two hours to speak to you of this, and we haven’t the time. I shall, therefore, stop here, to turn back to telling you that you must be, by your profession and vocation, true and perpetual adorers of Jesus Christ. You must apply yourselves to this, and to this employ your zeal. Your most ardent desire must be that of carrying out perfectly this work of adorers.
Follow the Light of Faith
One or another of you may say to me, “I do not quite feel this great zeal. In no way do I have the feeling of this ardent love that compels me to adore Jesus Christ in the way that you have explained.” That doesn’t matter; it is enough to act by faith, offering Jesus Christ your reverence and your homage. Feelings and consolations are not really necessary; on the contrary, your adoration will be purer and more perfect because the soul who has a living faith and not a sentimental one will rise more purely to God, drawn on, apart from the human senses, to what God is in Himself, in His greatness, holiness, and excellence. Do not then tarry over what your senses allow you to feel and relish; dwell, rather, on that to which faith obliges you, and on what faith makes you believe. Follow this faith, which is light to illumine you and bring you to the knowledge of this God who, with an infinite love, has called you to adore Him ceaselessly.
Adore Me in Spirit and in Truth
God has bestowed this grace upon you, preferring you to so many other holy souls who are more worthy than you and who would carry out this duty better if Our Lord would show them the mercy that He has granted you, and if they were to hear His voice say to them: “Come ye to adore me. Come ye to be my perpetual adorers.” How they would run [to Him]! And you also, if you were to hear these words, would you not all be transported out of yourselves for sheer joy? And even so, He has spoken these words to you in the depths of your heart, by means of the appeal of His grace, more really than if you had heard them by means of a voice’s distinct sound, which could be subject to illusion and to deception. Instead, the movement of His grace and the inspiration of His Spirit within you, by which you have been called to the vocation in which you find yourselves, should give you the assurance that He has spoken these words, and that day after day He repeats them, saying to you at every moment, “Adore Me in spirit and in truth.”
One of the most remarkable characteristics of Mother Mectilde’s teaching is her conviction that all the baptized are called to holiness. This is borne out in her rich correspondence with laymen and laywomen living in the world. She never hesitates to invite them to the same life of victimhood through Jesus, with Jesus, and in Jesus that she presents to her daughters in so compelling a way. The life of perpetual adoration is not for a coterie of elite souls; it belongs to the life of all who, being baptized, are called to become the adorers in spirit and in truth whom the Father seeks.
Tend to It with All your Heart
Oh, what a boon God has given us in choosing us! I shall never be able to repeat it enough. Our hearts must remain immersed in a continual thanksgiving towards this God of goodness. All our care must be to please Him, to serve Him, and to satisfy Him. Given that we owe Him all our very selves, is it not then just that we should give ourselves to Him, continuing faithfully to free ourselves of ourselves and of creatures, so to devote ourselves to Him alone? This is our obligation, this is the perfection to which God calls us. But, for your consolation, I want to say to you that if you have not yet attained this perfection, it is enough that you should tend to it with all your heart. We are not, in fact, bound to be perfect all at once, but — under pain of mortal sin — we are bound to tend to perfection. Indeed, some theologians think this of all Christians. If this is so how few will be those who are saved, given that so few think of this! But let us reflect upon ourselves since we are doubly bound to this by our profession. Let us, then, work seriously to become faithful to what we have promised to God. It is up to us to think on these things and to examine ourselves in consequence.
Here, Mother Mectilde’s teaching corresponds to that of Saint Paul: “Whatever you are about, in word and action alike, invoke always the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, offering your thanks to God the Father through him” (Colossians 3:17). And again this text must be read in the light of Saint Paul’s injunction to the Romans: “And now, brethren, I appeal to you by God’s mercies to offer up your bodies as a living sacrifice, consecrated to God and worthy of his acceptance; this is the worship due from you as rational creatures” (Romans 12:1).
Always and Everywhere
Oh, let us begin seriously to adore Jesus Christ in spirit and in truth, to be true perpetual adorers. Let us adore Him in all places and in all that we do. There is not a single action that can dispense us from this. You will say to me, “What, then, even while eating?” Yes, because you do not eat as animals do, only to satisfy yourselves but, rather, by way of homage and submission to the will of God, to renew your necessary strength and to sacrifice yourselves anew to His majesty. Doing this with these intentions, sanctify this action and others like it that, of themselves, are merely natural. In this way, you will maintain in these [actions] that spirit of adoration that, if you are faithful, will lead you on to the highest holiness, moving you to the perpetual sacrifice of yourselves. This will cause you to die to your passions, to your disordered inclinations and to all that is opposed to your sanctification, making you, at the same time, true victims, ever immolated to His glory and to His honour.