II. 4. A CHOSEN VESSEL OF DIVINE WISDOM Sr. Marie-Aimée de Jésus of the Carmel of the Avenue de Saxe in Paris, 1839-1874
“A page from the great book of God’s mercy” is what Sister Marie- Aimée called her life. This life is very simple in its external course, but has an inner richness that can only be hinted at in a short biography. Those who would like to know more about it must refer to her own writings.(50)
A delicate face of angelic purity and spirituality, big, soft, and deeply penetrating eyes which have knowledge of the supernatural world as well as of their natural home this is Dorothea Quoniam, who in Carmel received the name of Marie-Aimée de Jésus.This name tells the secret of her life: “loved by Jesus” with an overwhelming, jealous love that laid total claim to her from her very first day. Her birthplace, a thatched hut in the Normandy village of Le Rozel, matches in poverty the stall in Bethlehem. A day laborer, her father works as a gardener, but is unable, even with all his diligence, to protect his own from the direst need. He is deeply religious and loves his wife and children with a tender and reverent love. Her mother had merely learned to read and write, but she is completely knowledgeable about the saints and raises her children with such heavenly wisdom that her daughter sees in her a likeness to the Blessed Virgin.
Dorothea is born on January 14. In the year of her birth, 1839, this day happened to be the feast of the Holy Name of Jesus. She was so weak at birth that emergency baptism had to be administered. Thereafter she recovered health and vitality. The name of Jesus was the first word that the lips of the child learned to form. Her mother’s stories made her more at home in heaven than on earth. Inexhaustible were the mother’s stories, insatiable the child’s desire to hear. At four years of age, the little one hears from her mother’s mouth the words: the Almighty.They captivate her. As usual, she wants to withdraw to a lonely place to reflect on what she has heard. But she is held fast at the threshold of the hut as if by an invisible force. Raising her eyes to heaven, she constantly repeats interiorly “the Almighty.” Then she looks at herself and says, “How little I am!” She herself recounts:
And suddenly the Spirit of my dearly Beloved raised me to the incorruptible heights, not only once, but several times, all the way to the Almighty, the one God in three Persons. The Holy Spirit, like an eagle mother, held me, this little eagle child, in the claws of its love, so that I could stand the intense glow of the Sun of Righteousness and remain in the presence of the Father in whom the Son appeared to me; so that I was able to bear the excess of happiness and splendor, as I learned that I was destined to become the bride of my Lord me, a poor, fragile creature if I consented. I consented and became engaged to my Beloved.(51)
This was not the dream of an active imagination. It was the decisive event of her life. From then on, she saw herself as the bride of the Lord, as God’s exclusive property. She was soon to discover that she was engaged to the Crucified. Even in these tender years of childhood the chain of suffering began that would not end until her death. Necessity forced her father to move his entire family to Paris in compliance with his brother’s kind offer to help support them there more effectively. Instead of the open countryside, her home is now an attic on the eighth floor of an apartment building. They took off Dorothea’s country garb and made her into a little Parisienne. The child’s sensitive heart suffered greatly. But the others adjusted without complaining. So she bore her pain silently, too. Soon there were to come even severer tests. Yet the best thing she possessed went with her: Jesus, who speaks to her in her heart, and her mother in whom she senses the presence of the Lord himself. She is the confidante of her interior life. Yet there are some things, especially the acutest suffering, that no one knows but the heavenly Bridegroom. The child already knows how to keep the secret of the King, and the mother is in awe of this. She guesses much without it being said. The treasure with which heaven has entrusted her is completely clear to her. She does her best to support the work of grace in this elect soul.
Soon an early apostolate begins. At six years of age Dorothea was entrusted to the Sisters of Charity (Vincentians) at St. Roch’s parish as a day pupil. The richness of her interior life insists on being communicated. During free time she knows how to talk about Jesus and Mary in a charming way. Her little companions gather around her and never tire of listening to her. She also has other friends whom she tries to win for God. When Mrs. Quoniam goes down the street with her little daughter, she notices that all kinds of people, big and small, greet the child with marks of love and respect. These are the poor people to whom she has given left-over morsels and has at the same time fed on heavenly doctrine. A burning zeal for God’s honor fills the little bride of God. She carefully watches the behavior of the people, is happy when they honor the Lord, full of pain when they do not. A sense of dread fills her when she encounters people who live in sin. A burning desire to go into the wilderness or to suffer martyrdom grips her. Yet soon she has something else to wish for as well. She hears that the Mother of God died of love. This she wants, too, and she will never not stop asking to die of love.
Anyone zealous for God’s honor will inevitably summon an embittered adversary to the arena: the enemy of all goodness from the beginning. He inflicts on Dorothea nocturnal fears and bodily assaults. He tries to get her to blaspheme God. She suffers unspeakably, but remains faithful. Added to these and other interior sufferings is the bitter poverty. The family no longer has the basic necessities. It must accept the help of good-hearted friends and public assistance. The hands of the child that so enjoyed giving gifts must open to receive them. The bride of the humble Savior learns to bear all kinds of humiliation. But all the support is insufficient. Parents and siblings are ravaged by their destitution. Two little siblings die soon after birth.(52)An older brother, a child of grace like Dorothea, pined away and died the death of a saint. The mother drags on as long as she possibly can. But she senses that the end is near. She teaches the child to carry out all the tasks of the little household, shows her how to do what is necessary. Dorothea is nine and one-half years old when she leaves school to oversee the household and care for her mother. Finally, her father also has to stop working. The physician says that the child will certainly collapse under the weight of caring for both of them. After a heartbreaking farewell, the fatally ill man is taken to a hospital. Mother and child are bound together most intimately during these days of illness. An interior pronouncement gives Dorothea certainty of the imminent death of the people she loves the most. She proposes that her mother receive the last sacraments and with her consent makes all the arrangements. During the celebration, the relatives are torn with pain, but the sick woman is filled with heavenly bliss. As the end drew near, she had the good relatives who had done so much for the family summoned. It was late in the evening. Aunt and uncle lovingly insisted that the exhausted little one go to bed. The mother made this last sacrifice. Nor would she allow the child to be awakened when the last moment came. All she did was to raise herself once more with her last strength to look over to the other bed. Dorothea was always convinced that her mother blessed her in this last moment as she had promised earlier. When the child awakened, the mother had been dead for an hour. It was the morning of January 9, 1850.
Here ends the story of her childhood. It gives off the gentle fragrance of medieval legends. The recounting of the death of her mother is reminiscent of one of the loveliest poems of German romanticism: the story of beautiful Els of Laurenburg in Clemens Brentano’s “Chronika eines fahrenden Schülers” [Chronicles of an Itinerant Scholar]. However, here there is no legend or poem, but actual events full of fruitful seeds for the future.
The devoted relatives and a number of family friends would gladly have adopted the lovable child. However, her mother had decided something else. According to her wish, the child was to be raised in the orphanage of the Sisters of Charity, protected by the sanctuary from the dangers of the world. Dorothea was not placed with her former teachers at St. Roch’s Parish, but into a different house designated for children who were not very well and needed care. This was another wound to her loving heart. Four weeks later her father died and soon thereafter her little sister. Her oldest brother, who was still alive, had already caused his mother much concern. He was very talented and won all hearts, but in a secular environment lost his own faith. When he became fatally ill at the age of eighteen, his sister feared for his eternal salvation. Her prayers and her loving influence led to his reconciliation with God. During his last days he no longer wanted to see anyone except a priest and her, whom he called his angel. When he closed his eyes, her last earthly tie was severed. Jesus had taken everything from his bride; she was to find her entire happiness in him, and the graces which he poured over her in her quiet “Nazareth” were superabundant. On September 8, 1851, she had the joy, so long desired, of receiving her first Holy Communion. She was like the deer that has found water, like a child in the arms of its mother. Even twenty years later her companions recalled her angelic recollection, her seraphic devotion on Communion days. In no way could the working of grace in this elect creature remain hidden from those around her, even though no one was initiated into the secrets of her interior life.
Probably she was subject to occasional enmity and misunderstanding, but her imperturbable gentleness and goodness overcame all obstacles. She had a most beneficial influence on her companions, for which the nuns could not give enough thanks. In all secrecy, the Lord himself formed her soul. Unnoticed by those watchful of her, she practiced the severest acts of self-denial, so that all the loving concern for her fragile health was to no avail. By tender reproaches and finally by forbidding her Communion, the Savior led her back from a short time of vanity and distraction. Then when he again invited her to the eucharistic meal, he took possession of her heart anew and locked it forever against everything other than himself. Occasionally, he revealed himself to her in human form and each time corresponding to her age, so that he seemed to grow up with her. When she was nineteen, her relatives wanted to arrange her future. One day they introduced a young man to her, and, after an opening conversation, let her know that he came as a suitor. Dorothea said not a word. She only smiled, but this smile was of a kind that made the poor fellow lower his eyes, blush, and wish that he had never come. The Lord had revealed himself beside this young man “in the full radiance of his virginal beauty” and said, “Compare!” At the same time, a smile of divine irony played about his lips and evoked its reflection in the face of his bride. The first attempt of this kind was rejected, and she knew how to refuse all thereafter with calm firmness. She had already known when she moved to her “Nazareth,” that her aim was the “desert” of Carmel. But she had to await the Lord’s hour.
In 1857 it appeared as though her hopes could soon be fulfilled. It had turned out to be very inconvenient for the orphans to be separated in two homes in different parts of the city. Therefore, it was decided to combine them and house them in another building. On this occasion, most of the sisters were transferred and many pupils left. It was a large, painful break-up. Dorothea’s relatives now wanted to take her with them, too; and she hoped this would make it easier for her to gain admittance to the Order. Then she was asked to move into the new house. It was expected that the merging of both groups of pupils would involve great difficulties. Dorothea was to be an angel of peace in bridging the differences. She consented and silently made the sacrifice of seeing the fulfillment of her longing postponed indefinitely. The superior, Sr. Eugénie Michelin, received her with love and gratitude. She had heard many good things about the young lady, but soon saw even her expectations surpassed. Dorothea worked under the direction of the saintly young Sr. Louise Rousseille. Both were soon united in heart and soul. However, Sr. Louise died but one year later. Her young companion had to finish the work of reconciliation alone. Here, too, the irresistible influence of her personality succeeded, and even more, perhaps, her prayer and suffering.
Up to then she was unacquainted with any mystical writings. Nor was she conscious of the extraordinary graces she had received. She assumed that such things happened to everyone. Since no one spoke of them, she thought this was something that was supposed to be kept secret, and was herself silent, even in the confessional. Then a biography of Holy Mother Teresa came into her hands. The saint’s concern over deception aroused in her the fear of being prey to the Prince of Lies. But Holy Mother [Teresa] also showed her where to find help: talking with an enlightened man of the spirit. She began to plead constantly that a qualified priest be sent to her. Her prayer was heard when an experienced religious priest came to hold a retreat for the pupils. Dorothea opened herself to him and was completely freed of her fears, and also strengthened in her vocation to Carmel.
3. The Desert
Dorothea’s call to Carmel had already occurred when she was a child. Once when she began to take pleasure in frivolous things and endanger her interior life, her mother gave her a book that contained a short biography of Holy Mother Teresa. She found herself reflected in it word for word. “This child, upon whom God had bestowed so many graces, who loved good books and religious conversations, so longed for martyrdom, and, since she could not have this, placed her hope in the life of a hermit was that not I?”(53)But she also saw her own image in Teresa’s involvement with frivolous friends and the consequent cooling of her ardor. Teresa finds herself again during her education in a monastery “I am that child from this moment on. Teresa is steadfast in doing good and consecrates herself to Jesus in the Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. This is the way opening before me. This is my way to heaven…. Teresa lives and dies holy. I also want to live and die holy.”
Dorothea confided her decision to her mother at that time and found delighted agreement. She never wavered in it. After the long years of waiting, the fulfillment now seemed near, since her task in the orphanage was finished. The grateful superiors wanted to place no further hindrance in the path of the beloved child. But now difficulties from another side arose. Originally, Dorothea had thought only of the first Parisian Carmel. It was the only one she knew. It was near the orphanage on West Street and was often visited by the sisters with their pupils. But on a longer walk one day, they turned in at the Carmel on the Avenue de Saxe. Upon stepping over the threshold, the future Carmelite perceived she was then about seventeen years old these words within her: “This is where I want you.” The impression was so strong that she asked her superior for permission to call on the prioress of this Carmel. She was received with friendliness and encouraged to return. But her youth, her fragile health, and lack of means aroused the concern of the older sisters so that her admission was delayed for a long time. It was suggested that she choose another order. But that was out of the question for her. “I need Carmel…with its perfection and way of perfection, Carmel with its purity, its apostolate, its martyrdom; Carmel with its special love for the sacred humanity of our Lord and its veneration of the Blessed Virgin without being restricted to one of her states or mysteries.”(54)
She had tried to get to know the main orders thoroughly.
Each has its letter and its spirit, but I want the one that unites a rigorous letter with the spirit of love. Each has its goal, but I want the goal of supporting the church and converting sinners. Each has its principal means, but I want that of prayer. Each has its advantages, but I want that of solitude. Each has its fame, but I humbly pass by the one famed for its learning, reverently bow before the one known for its silence. I strike my breast when I pass the one famed for its penance, am enthusiastic about the one known for its poverty. However, I rush toward the one that has above all glories the incomparable glory of love….(55)
Nor could Dorothea consider any other Carmel than that which seemed to be stubbornly closed to her. God’s will was too clear to her. And her trust was finally rewarded. A newly elected prioress, Mother Sophie of St. Elijah, remembered her and invited her anew. Her faithful maternal protector, the superior, Sr. Eugénie Michelin, became her indefatigable ally. The latter’s intelligence finally triumphed over the opposition of the all-too-loving uncle and thereby secured a small dowry. On August 27, 1859, the feast of the Transverberation of the Heart of Holy Mother Teresa, she was permitted to escort her ward into Carmel. It was at exactly the time that the Lord had given to his faithful bride a year earlier.
The house that accepted the young postulant had an excellent spirit. Most of the sisters had been formed by the valiant foundress, Camille of the Child of Jesus [de Soyecourt]. Mother Sophie was a true mother, as good as she was firm, full of understanding and with a reverence for extraordinary graces, even though she herself was not led on this path. The novice mistress, Isabelle of the Nativity, was an exemplary religious, but her exaggerated fearfulness prevented her from reaching this extraordinary soul. Dorothea could not be open with her, and soon even had to bear her giving credence to malicious slander [against Dorothea]. Her interior life, her intimate relationship with the Lord, remained completely hidden from everyone. He placed only one director at her side with whom she could be open about everything without reserve. This director too, had already been promised her before her entrance. He was the extraordinary confessor to the monastery, Fr. Gamard, S.J. He was very soon clear about the specially graced child that was being entrusted to him, and stood faithfully by her side through all the trials of her thorny ascent.
Life in the monastery suited her deepest inclinations, especially the seven hours of service in the choir every day, the solitude, and the silence. Another sister once saw her standing listening in her cell with the door open during the midday silence. Later she asked her what she had been doing there. She answered that she had been listening to the silence. She wrote down for this sister what it had told her. So originated the wonderfully deep little paper about the twelve levels of silence.(56)
Before her clothing, concern was again raised about her fragile health. But she finally received admission anyway. At the celebration on February 15, 1860, the respect that this young orphan enjoyed in the widest circles became evident. Not only did the faithful sisters and companions from the orphanage participate, but also people of every standing who had come to know her there. The happy bride would gladly have had the whole world participate for the greater honor of her divine bridegroom.
A harder battle ensued over her admission to profession. The time of testing was lengthened to include Lent of the year 1861. The idea was to see if her health was up to this ordeal. During these weeks, constant visions of suffering consumed her strength, without anyone except Fr. Gamard knowing anything about them. While the Sisters were gathered in chapter, Marie-Aimée saw her mother pleading before the throne of the Most Blessed Trinity for mercy for her child. The decision was obviously on the turn of a blade. The endangered one gathered all her strength and united her prayer with that of her faithful advocate. A moment later her mother turned to her with a radiant smile. Then the vision vanished. The novice mistress came and brought the news that she had been admitted.
The celebration was set for April 18. For the ten-day preparatory retreat, the theme of a Carmelite’s day was set for her. The mistress had no idea of the illuminations that the Holy Spirit would grant to her novice while meditating on this intentionally sober and simple material. On April 10, Jesus showed her his soul in its heavenly beauty in an intellectual vision. On the morning of the day of the profession, he himself instructed her in how he wanted to be loved by her. As the result of this teaching, Marie-Aimée wrote down the following solemn explanation: “Not for all the world do I want the wife of a mortal person to serve me as a model or even surpass me in the love that I must cherish for my Lord Jesus Christ, nor in the demonstrations of love which I owe him. I will be adamant with all of them over this.”(57)At the moment when she took the vows, her physical surroundings vanished before her eyes; she saw the Most Holy Trinity and saw the Son of God bending down to her and taking her as his bride.
Even though those around her were not told about what was going on within the young Carmelite, the consequences of such fullness of grace could not remain hidden. Her entire nature breathed God’s presence. Her life in the Order was formed by the Holy Spirit down to the most insignificant external activities. She was inexhaustible in demonstrating sisterly love, especially where there was a chance of inflaming hearts to a greater love of God. So she could not help but win everyone over. But this did not prevent a difficult trial from befalling her even during the first year of her profession. With the permission of the mother prioress, a young nun had come to her for help on the path to perfection. The frequent conversations brought both of them under suspicion of an inappropriate attraction (for this, also, the Lord had prepared his bride before her entrance into the Order) and led to their being constantly watched, so that they finally had to give up all contact. Great bodily suffering was soon added; this excluded the zealous religious from the beloved community exercises and also kept her from doing external penances. More terrible than all this were the spiritual nights, times of the uttermost darkness and abandonment. But nothing could quench the thirst for suffering of the faithful bride of Christ. She wanted to go the entire way of the Cross with her Lord. The fruit of all these trials was an ever more intimate union, an ever increasing growth into the likeness of Jesus.
4. The Task
In the desert solitude the instrument was forged, hardened in the fire of suffering. It lay ready for action in the hand of the Master. And the Lord did not hesitate to make use of it.
In the year 1863 there appeared the Life of Jesusby Renan. During recreation, Mother Sophie spoke to her daughters of the devastating impact of this book in order to invite their reparation. A number of sisters could not help looking at Sister Marie-Aimée. Her work dropped from her hands, her face became white as a sheet, she began to tremble. She seemed close to fainting. Everyone knew of her fervent love of God. So they understood that her pain must be particularly great. But no one could really fathom what was actually happening in her. From the first days of her life, the Lord had taken possession of her. Jesus Christ, in his divinity and humanity, was the Life of her life, the truest reality that she knew. She saw the divine Bridegroom at her side as she walked through the cloister halls. He awaited her in her cell when she returned to her cherished solitude after obligatory work. He sat at her left side in the empty choir stall during the Divine Office. Now a “new Arius” dared to deny the divinity of Jesus, to stamp him as an ordinary person. Could there be a greater insult? “All for the greater honor of God” was the motto of her life. Now this honor was at stake. In her solitary cell she shed a stream of tears. She felt compelled to undertake some kind of defense. “How,” she cried out, “if I am the bride, can I keep silent? …I cannot speak…, well then, I will write!” She recalled how Moses raised his hands to heaven on the mountain and prayed while the Israelites battled in the valley. But to pray, to suffer, and to weep were not enough for her while bishops and priests engaged in the open battle. “Yes, I will remain on the mountain, but from this peak I will call down, ‘Jesus is the Son of God!’ Yes, I will pray, suffer, shed tears; but after I have prayed, I will write with my blood and my tears, ‘Jesus is the Son of God!'”
She picked up a pen and wrote on a little piece of paper, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and God was the Word.” Then a spirit seized her that was not her own, light streamed over her, words formed themselves. In a few moments the paper was covered. She had begun to prove the divinity of Jesus Christ with the words of the holy Scriptures.(58)After a while she paused, frightened. She wanted to burn what she had written, but she could not.
When she told Fr. Gamard about her wish to do battle with Renan, he expressed his astonishment, for he knew that she had no background at all for such an undertaking. She handed him a notebook in which she had written from memory some clarifications on certain questions of the interior life which he had given to her eight days earlier. He himself says about this, “In her writing my thoughts were raised to such heights, my modest speech so transformed, the doctrine presented with such complete exactness, that reading it was like a revelation for me.”(59)Thereafter he was willing to assume that the desire to respond to Renan also came from the Holy Spirit. But before he could tell Marie-Aimée to write, she informed him that she had already started and told him what happened when she did so. She said that not only did overwhelming light flood her, but that also her hand was unusually facile and that it was impossible for her to burn the pages. He told her that in no way must she do so, and forbade her any further efforts. He expressed his willingness to examine the beginnings of her work. She herself was to obtain the permission of the mother prioress for this and was to inform her about what she had already done. Since an examination of the writing aroused great hopes, the young Carmelite received the charge to continue with the work from both Fr. Gamard and the mother prioress. But no one in the house was to know anything about it. Thus, the only time granted her for this was the sisters’ free time. For a long while she had only one hour a day available to work. To this there were added all sorts of other difficulties and distress that should naturally have thwarted success. There were continual new bodily illnesses, interior doubt and disturbances, the lack of understanding by those around her. The burden was increased when Mother Isabelle was elected prioress. She now had to be let in on the secret and give her consent. Fearful as she was, Mother Isabelle did not dare to interrupt a task that had been sanctioned by her predecessor and a highly respected theologian. But she was in constant fear that the young sister could be the victim of a delusion and repeatedly raised new doubts in the already anxious sister. And then Fr. Gamard was called back to Paris and could now only give advice, comfort, and reassurance in infrequent letters. But no hindrance could put a stop to the work which God himself had initiated and commanded.
Marie-Aimée did not give herself a moment’s rest. As soon as the time allowed came, she set to work even if she was dead tired and plagued by pain. And as soon as she picked up her pen, the Spirit came over her. The Lord himself instructed her. He did not want her to consult intellectual works. Without her making any kind of plan, a clear structure appeared that became evident to her only afterwards. The first part treated of the Eternal Word in the bosom of the Father and the Incarnate Word in the womb of Mary; the second about the hidden life of Jesus; the third about his public ministry; the fourth and last about his suffering, his death, and his life in glory. A great many scriptural passages from the Old and New Testaments came to her whenever she needed them. They came to her with their references. Subsequent checks confirmed them to be accurate. Everything was of the greatest theological clarity, sharpness, and exactness. It was the pure doctrine of the church, but written in the language of love. Accordingly, every observation included a presentation of how this mystery affected the loving soul. These comments offered excellent pointers for the interior life. The Lord set special importance on them.
On July 4, 1865, Marie-Aimée could announce to Fr. Gamard the conclusion of the last part. He found in it very little requiring substantial correction. But its external form appeared to him to require a second revision. The young Carmelite promptly set to it, but after a while her spiritual director himself called for a break. He commissioned her to write an account of the graces God had shown to her. In her hands this report became the story of her life. (Her letters to Fr. Gamard are an adjunct to it, since after his transfer she had to communicate with him in writing.) Thereafter, she was permitted to return to her main work. But even now there was no lack of severe interior and outer trials. A new superior, Abbé le Rebours, had to be let in on the secret and be asked for permission for the work to continue. He granted it and was soon entirely won over to the gifted young religious, but first she had to undergo a painful test. The most thorough study of the Gospels was the basis for the second revision of her work. But this time also the Lord did what was most essential for its success. He initiated his faithful disciple in all the mysteries of his life and suffering by actually letting her experience with him what she was to present. Occasionally, this involved suffering that would have overwhelmed her delicate nature had she not had the extraordinary support of grace to preserve her life for her task. She was only permitted to present Jesus’ eucharistic life very briefly, because this life itself and the participation in it of the soul conformed to God is a hidden life.
After five years of devoted labor, the work was concluded on the feast of Holy Mother Teresa on October 15, 1869. Now Marie-Aimée was permitted to spend the rest of her life entirely with Christ in God in accordance with her deepest inclination. Her public task was fulfilled. Her superiors and the sisters would gladly have had her clarify some things. But she was not to write any more. She even destroyed voluminous notes on the Song of Songs to protect herself from being misunderstood. Nevertheless, many of her thoughts had already been taken up by people who, through misunderstanding them, drew false conclusions and occasioned new attacks.
Since Marie-Aimée had lived “from hand to mouth” when she first wrote her work, her goal as well as its structure had not become completely clear until she had reworked the manuscript. In every chapter the first part is devoted to the demonstration of Christ’s divinity. The second is intended to “lead the soul to imitate Jesus Christ; to commandeer her at the beginning after she has decided to take the path to perfection, and then to lead her to the peak of perfection on the path of pure love by persistent elaboration and simplification,” to make “of her a victim of love….”(60)
What Sister Marie-Aimée was trying to do by these teachings on the interior life was also the fruit of her life itself. From childhood on, she had been an apostle of divine love: with her fellow students, with the pupils at the orphanage, and finally with the other nuns. She witnessed the consummation of Sr. Aloysia Gonzaga. The bond of these two souls had aroused so much disturbance in the monastery and caused them both much suffering and humiliation, but it was desired by the Lord. He illumined his favored bride so that she could help her sister to ascend, gave her the consolation of seeing her die a holy death, and permitted her to effect a quick passage from the place of purification into heavenly glory.
During the war of 1870-71, she was the support of the house by her quiet trust and her imperturbable interior peace. At her suggestion, the monastic family secured the special protection of heaven through a vow, and remained completely intact during the bombardment.
During the last years of her life (1871-1874), she was also entrusted with the formation of the novices. She undertook and carried out her duties in deepest humility, trusting in Jesus alone. Her example itself was powerful in forming souls; her obvious union with God must have been attractive. But she was also an energetic guide. When necessary, she did not shrink from severe, decisive actions. But even then it was clearly evident that she did so out of love, a truly divine love that enveloped the entrusted souls with tireless care. In addition, she possessed supernatural illumination that disclosed the souls to her and let her know exactly what they required, what circumstances they would meet, and how they needed to be prepared for these. One of the novices had already been recommended to her by the Lord when the novice was still a child of twelve years and Marie- Aimée eighteen. Both were still far from Carmel at that time and unknown to each other. But when the postulant presented herself in the speakroom, the young mistress of novices recognized her as one of the souls especially entrusted to her. Soon after the death of her mistress, this novice recorded her impressions, “I saw Sr. Aimée de Jésus for the first time in May of 1871 at the time when I wished to enter Carmel. My impression when the grille was opened was one of deep gratitude to the Lord who had…heard my plea to give me a saintto introduce me to the religious life. The expression on her so completely quiet and pure face, her all-penetrating look, immediately convinced me that she read my soul profoundly, to its depths….” At first a certain shyness kept her from expressing herself verbally. Therefore, she decided to open her heart in writing. “She came to me, looked at me gently, and said a few words. That was all, but how much this look taught me! …(I had) the innermost conviction that my soul was joined to hers, that a saint was taking me as her child, that in her and through her Jesus would now and in the future give himself to his little creature….”
5. Consummatum est[“It is Finished”]
While Marie-Aimée was forming young souls for her beloved Lord, he himself completed his work in her soul. Her union with the Incarnate God and the entire Blessed Trinity became ever deeper; and ever more complete, the release from everything earthly. Trials and sufferings of all kinds accompanied all this. Illness and weakness became more and more prevalent. Rumors that spread about the work of the simple Carmelite led to attacks by priestly circles so that finally the judgment of the papal nuncio had to be solicited. The superior, who had appeared so gracious at first, repeatedly initiated strong opposition to her. By his interference he even, for a time, brought things to the point of clouding the understanding she had with her faithful director. Moreover, when she was dying, he put her to a test that greatly dismayed all the sisters. He had offered to administer Extreme Unction to her himself. After she had asked the assembled community for forgiveness as was customary, he commanded her also to ask for forgiveness for the aggravation (scandal) that she had caused. She repeated the words he enunciated for her in complete calm. The distress of the sisters was all the greater because during her last illness even her strongest opponents had become convinced of her holiness. She caught the flu at the beginning of January, 1874, soon after her last retreat. It happened that she was nursed by sisters who earlier had been very much against her. They surrounded her with nothing but love and saw it as a grace to be allowed to do so. Twice they observed that her head was surrounded by light for an extended time and that her expression then resembled that of a three- or four- year-old child.
At this time Mother Isabelle, the former novice mistress, was again prioress. She, too, was now certain of the treasure the house possessed in this invalid. She also felt very much responsible for her work and even directed Marie-Aimée to arrange and edit her handwritten papers on her deathbed. After that distressing incident when Extreme Unction was given, Mother Isabelle asked the superior the reason for his actions. “I wanted to give an example,” he said, “and to show what virtue can do. I myself also wanted to be certain of the kind of spirit that had been leading this nun during her life.” Thereafter the prioress went to the patient and urgently asked her about her spiritual disposition. As an answer Marie-Aimée gave her a piece of paper which bore her writing in pencil and said, “My soul has been in this disposition since my last retreat and during this illness.” She had written in the third person, but it was an account of her own spiritual state intended for Fr. Gamard:
This soul forgets everything; she is like an alien. She no longer petitions for herself, but the Holy Spirit inspires her with prayers which completely correspond to her requirements and are of great perfection…. This soul is at peace. For the most part, she does not dwell on the graces she used to receive and cannot even do so…. If she must write about them, she does so immediately and limits herself to important aspects that especially occur to her and whose communication she sees will serve the glory of God or the salvation of souls…. This soul no longer considers herself superior to others and judges nothing. She disdains herself and esteems others very highly…. She no longer knows hypocrisy, but is as simple as a child…. She desires for herself and in everything only the fulfillment of what pleases God. She desires no more talent, graces, or holiness than God has decided to give to her. Indeed she has an unquenchable thirst for suffering and humiliation, but still she wants only what God wants…. She turns naturally to Jesus as if he alone existed. And since he always answers her, she forgets more and more all that is created and depends on her dearly beloved alone. She is free, nothing disconcerts her. She is ready to obey anyone…. Looking at her failures does not disconcert her, and she seldom notices those of others and always forgives them.
During her last days, her increasing desire for the vision of God, the longing to die of love, was in conflict with her wish to suffer. Having gone the entire way of the cross with the Lord, she now had to share with him the ultimate, abandonment by God. Then came the peace of eternity. On May 4, 1874, about 9 o’clock in the morning, she raised “her eyes to heaven, smiled with an expression of mingled happiness, surprise, and delight, raised herself up as if to soar aloft to him whom she had loved so much, and expired so that no one could perceive her last breath.”(61) What she had once rejoiced about in a hymn of thanks to the Lord was accomplished: “My dearly beloved has taken me from myself to become more his own! I am the prey of his love! He is in me like a fiery torrent, sweeping my soul into the sea of endless love, into God.”
Copyright ICS Publications, used with permission