Miguel de la Fuente (1574-1626) O.Carm. Priest
Miguel de la Fuente was born March 2, 1573 in Valdelaguna Spain, about thirty miles from Madrid. He was one of at least 5 children. His parents, Francisco and Caterina were known for their deep faith put into practice, particularly in caring for orphans and widows. The priority in their house was the practice of their Catholic faith. Miguel was an alter server in the parish.
When Miguel was about sixteen, he went to Madrid to study at the Jesuit school. At the age of twenty he entered the novitiate of the Carmelite Order in Valdermoro where his brother was sub-prior. He most likely studied the Institution of the First Monks which at that time was believed to be the primitive Rule of the Order, preceding the actual Rule of St. Albert. Years later, in 1619, he composed a historical compendium of Mary’s Carmel, and he borrowed many elements from this book, especially relating to the Carmel’s historical development in the Church.
Miguel was professed on May 29, 1594 and went to the University of Salamanca to continue his theological studies in preparation for ordination. He was ordained a priest in 1597 at the age of 24. Upon completion of his studies at the University (about 6 years of study), he was assigned to the Carmel in Valladolid as visiting teacher of theology and master of students. After a few years, he was sent to Avila as formator.
He eventually was transferred to the ancient house of San Pablo de la Moraleja, probably the first Carmelite foundation in Castile, where he served as pastor. Here he was able to commit himself to the contemplative life and to serve the poor. He didn’t stay at San Pablo long though, but he was so loved by the people, there was an official protest when he was transferred to Segovia.
In Segovia he was master of novices and became involved with the lay movement which he organized into a ‘congregation’ and for which he wrote the bylaws. Here too, he was committed to be of service to his neighbor, and another protest ensued a few years later when he was transferred to Toldeo where he spent the rest of his life.
Toledo at the time had sixty friars, ten or twelve of which were students, and Fr. Miguel was to take over the novitiate there. His goal was to make the students into men of deep prayer. The main components being the Person of Jesus Christ, the practice of the presence of God, silence and solitude, and devotion for the Blessed Virgin Mary.
He strove to share his spirituality by his witness; especially in showing kindness towards the sick and weak, and this witness proved to be the best teaching. A whole generation of young Carmelites who passed through his novitiate for ten years proved to be an outstanding spiritual force in Spanish Carmel for years afterwards.
In Toledo, as in the other Carmels where Fr. Miguel was, he was an especially effective spiritual director, graced with the gift of discernment of souls; not just to his fellow friars, but for all souls intent on a more serious spiritual life. One such person was Bl. Mary of Jesus, who testified at his beautification process: “His virtue and perfection were greater than what people said about him. In sharing spiritual matters with him… he was able to inspire souls, provide them with light and set them on the correct path towards God”
A favorite subject of meditation for Fr. Miguel was the Passion of the Lord. Beginning with Monday, he outlined 7 phases of the Passion and corresponding virtues to be practiced: The prayer in the Garden and humility; The imprisonment of Jesus and repentance; The flogging at the pillar and patience; The crowning with thorns and meekness; The crucifixion and death of Christ and obedience; The taking down from the cross and love for Jesus Christ; and The resurrection of Christ and hope.
He eventually published a well-known book “Book of the Three Lives of Man, Corporal, Rational and Spiritual”. In the first, Corporal stage, the main concern is to rid oneself of sin and the habits of sin by uprooting the unruly interior inclinations that lead to one’s downfall. This purgative way is marked by a commitment to prayer in the form of the daily offering, the practice of the presence of God during the day, and an examination of conscience in the evening. He urges the use of the imagination in one’s openness to God; Mondays look at God as Creator; Tuesdays as Judge; Wednesday as King; Thursdays as Spouse; Fridays as Creator; Saturdays as Savior.
The second, Rational stage, concentrates on the interior rational person. This illuminative way is characterized by an ever deepening conformity to Christ Jesus who becomes the center of one’s life, affections, and aspirations.
The final, Spiritual stage, Fr. Miguel characterizes a spiritual, intimate life known for its recollection, quiet, silence, solitude, fervent aspirations. With these, the soul is enflamed and burns with the love of God. In this stage, aspirations reach their highest form; God is experienced as the center of one’s being.
“O immense Love, embrace me in your fire.
My one Good, penetrate my interior being.
Unspeakable Delight, take your delight in me.
Let the force of your love completely overwhelm me.
Bind me to yourself with unbreakable bonds.
Whether alive or dead, I will be yours completely”
Fr. Miguel was also dedicated to the lay persons who belonged to the Carmelite Third Order. His book, “Rule and way of life of the men and women tertiaries of Our Lady of Mount Carmel” (Toledo, 1615) turned out to be a milestone in the development of the Third order’s charism in Carmel. Prior to this time, the ideal of tertiaries were to live in the world but as much as possible imitating the life style of the friars and nuns. At the beginning of the 17th century, several authors including Fr. Miguel, began to question this approach. Fr. Miguel believed the Third Order was not meant only for consecrated women, but also for men and for the married. Each tertiary was to take the vow of chastity according to one’s state in life. This approach was to prevail in the Carmelite Order especially under the leadership of Prior General Theodore Stratius.
At the beatification process many tertiaries witnessed to his heroic holiness. Rather than urging the imitation of cloistered life in the world, Fr. Miguel’s Rule for them urged a spirit of prayer, concentrated in several periods of formal prayer.
Throughout his life, the celebration of the Eucharist was at the center of his spiritual way. He understood that such a sublime Mystery demanded assiduous and constant preparation. He could spend three hours preparing for the celebration of Mass. He was known for his desire that the Divine Office be celebrated well and fervently. For him, progress in the spiritual life can be measured by progress in prayer.
Following the teaching of St. John of the Cross, whom Miguel de la Fuente deeply appreciated, he teaches that the most intimate of unions with the Lord Jesus comes in no other way than by a deepening of the effectiveness of the theological virtues. The intelligence is raised to unsuspected heights by faith, the memory by hope and the will by charity.
He was known as someone who cherished recollection to the extent that he seemed to alternate between his cell and chapel. His daily apostolic activities meant that he prayed during the night hours, preferable from ten to four in the morning. He would spend the time before the Blessed Sacrament, either kneeling or standing, lost in contemplation. He was also admired for his life of mortification. He was content with bread and water, a little broth, or a plate of soup. He usually slept on the ground, on boards or a well-worn mattress.
In the middle of August 1625, at the age of fifty-three, Fr. Miguel fell gravely ill while on mission to establish a Carmelite Confraternity in Villarejo de Salvanes. He returned immediately to Toledo and stayed there about a month until his doctor took him into his home where he was taken care of by the Doctor’s sister, a Carmelite tertiary. The last three months of his life, he was assailed by sufferings of all kinds, the worst of which were doubts about the faith. Finally after having celebrated the last rites, his nephew (with the same name) commended his uncle’s soul to the Lord. Fr. Miguel held a crucifix in his hands; an appropriate symbol of his lifelong devotion for the Passion of Christ which he had shared with innumerable souls. He died without apparent agony, closing his eyes at 12:30pm on November 27, 1625.
The cause for his beatification was finished on the diocesan level within ten years of his death. The cause never progressed though which is a mystery that not even the most expert of researchers have been able to explain.