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Mystical Union with Mary by Marie of Saint Therese

Stephen Lowell, O.Carm.

Even after the departure from the hermitages of Mount Carmel, there are found in our Order traces of the eremitic life. Indeed, mention is made of Carmelite recluses in several authoritative works. But perhaps the best known of these is Marie Petyt, who was probably the greatest of the Dutch mystics of the seventeenth century.

Born in the Southern-Netherlands in 1623, Marie Petyt was a girl of very pliant personality. She experienced periods of sincere religious ardor, and yet at other times she was entranced with the attractions of the world: beautiful clothes, dances, romantic novels, etc. But Providence made use even of her worldliness. For the turning point in her life took place during a pilgrimage in 1639 which Marie had undertaken with the questionable motive " that Our Lady might make her nice and graceful ”, Grace touched her and she understood the vanity of the world, and it was then she conceived the desire of becoming a religious.

Two years later she was admitted to the monastery of the Regular Canonesses of Saint Augustine, at Ghent. But her goal had not yet been attained. Having been a novice for only five months, Marie was dismissed because of an eye ailment which prevented her from reading. Instead of returning to her home, however, she took up residence in Ghent at the house of the Beguines, a group of pious laywomen living in community but without vows. Desiring still more solitude and silence than this house could afford, Marie Petyt persuaded a Carmelite father to act as her spiritual director. With a companion, she took the vows of the Third Order of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, receiving the name of Marie of Saint Therese.

Within a few years their Carmelite confessor was transferred to another city; and in 1646 they chose as their spiritual director another Carmelite, Father Michael of Saint Augustine, author of several mystical works and one of the guiding lights of the Reform of Touraine in the Belgian Province of the Order. It was under his stable and purposeful direction that Marie Petyt of Saint Therese reached the highest peaks of the mystical life. Father Michael seems to have understood immediately the possibilities as well as the dangers for this generous, affective soul; and he instructed her accordingly.

Finally, in 1657, Marie moved to a small house attached to the Carmelite church in Malines, Belgium. Here, according to a manner of life proposed by Michalel of Saint Augustine and approved by the General of the Order, Marie lived as a recluse, observing in its entirety the primitive Rule of Carmel.

Under obedience to Father Michael, Marie began writing, in 1668, her autobiography, which we may consider as a kind of mystical diary. Herein can be followed the development of her spiritual life. These notes are of exceeding interest and even of importance to the knowledge of the mystical life; for they are reflections of the mystic herself, each written only a short time after the mystical experience to which it refers.

All the writings of Marie of Saint Therese point to the practical consequence that the soul should be free not only from all sensible images and activities, which are an impediment to the union of the spirit with God, but even from the love and thoughts of any creature if not in direct relation to God. Only in this way will that condition be created under which God can work in the soul. „

It was in 1668 especially that she wrote her reflections concerning mystical union with Our Lady. These notes are probably the best of all that has been written on this point; and they were adapted by Michael of Saint Augustine in his famous treatise on the Marian life. For Marie of Saint Therese the Marian life begins with the constant consideration of the virtues of Our Lady. Contemplating the virtues of Mary, she becomes conscious of the source of those virtues, namely the union of Our Lady with God Himself. And from the moment of that realization Our Lady is for her the great contemplative, the mistress of the whole life of prayer, and the means by which she is prepared for the mystical marriage.

Marie, Petyt of Saint Therese died in 1677 on the feast of All Saints, and was buried near the altar of Our Lady in the Carmelite church at Malines,

The following is a translation of the first five of Marie Petyt’s introductory notes on the Marian life. We hope in succeeding issues to publish the remainder of her Marian reflections.

The Blessed Virgin appears to Marie, instructs her concerning the path of greater purity, and consoles her.

Now I remember what I forgot to mention when speaking of that former state of dereliction, in the course of which that took place. One night, during my sleep, our kind Mother, came near us. She carried the Infant Jesus in her left arm. The Infant and His Mother looked at me lovingly and smiled. They spoke to me. words of consolation and affection; but I do not clearly recall what they-said to me.- But I do know that my loving Mother gave me advice about a more perfect purity, a more complete, stripping of self, a death to all creatures. Her other words were spoken to console and strengthen me.

I said to myself: It is impossible that this is an illusion; I did not dream it. Hence I must of necessity remember it, in order to be faithful to obedience ”,. Afterwards, I no longer wanted to dwell upon it, but rather to consider it all as a dream. Still the memory of it remained much more vividly than in the case of an ordinary dream. It happened to me many times to dream of such good things, yet never was I impelled to record them as I am now doing.

The Blessed Virgin appears to her during the Office.

The morning of the Vigil of Pentecost, during the recitation of the Office, I thought I saw in spirit our loving Mother. She was present among us, and she seemed to listen to our recitation of the Office with a particular joy, with contentment and with pleasure. It appeared so to me because her glance, as she looked at us, was very loving and she was smiling, especially when we arrived at antiphons, verses and orations which are properly destined to spread her praises and perfections.

This presence caused a sentiment of reverence towards her Majesty, and, at the same time, a very tender and respectful love. To see her so, my heart leapt with complete joy and happiness. And I said:

" Sweet Mother, since your Majesty seems to delight in this praise which we offer to you, why do you not raise up souls in ever greater number to serve you in this same manner and to speak your praises in complete purity of heart? ” And it seemed to me that she expressed a certain hope that some such souls should later appear. Yet, I was not entirely sure of this.

She is shown how to conform herself to the example of Jesus and Mary in those things where nature finds a certain enjoyment.

Sometimes the soul experiences that its spirit begins to establish itself in a certain elevation and to place itself in God, abstracted from thing5 created. But sometimes, too, the faithful soul is shown how it must comport itself in situations which, at the same time, please and rejoice nature 01* which are agreeable to the sensibility; — especially when necessity or fitness or discretion force it to use those things. It is then necessary to use prudence and to take great care to elevate these thing to the spirit. Restraining herself immediately and detaching herself from every affection, the soul will then use such things in God.

This advice applies to everything which, in some way, can please the senses — taste, sight, hearing, smell. Ah, if the soul who is searching for God in all purity, the soul who wants God, could understand how our loving Mother and her Child Jesus comported themselves in these circumstances! In opportune times they made use of bodily nourishment. They were at the nuptials in Cana of Galilee, without their spirits suffering the least inconvenience. The loving Mother showed to her Son a tender and maternal affection. She caressed Him, she kissed Him, she held Him in her arms. And the baby Jesus acted the same, conforming Himself to the nature of every little child, sucking the milk of His mother, letting Himself be lulled asleep in her arms and coaxed. He was in every way like a little innocent child, although He was the Wisdom of the Father. Ah! who will give us ever to use creatures after their example, only for the spirit and for God!

The Blessed Virgin invites her to communicate, saying that Jesus desires it.

Our loving Mother appeared to me once; and as she looked at me affectionately and smiled, I asked her what I should do to please her: if I should continue to write in conformity to obedience; or rather devote myself to the church according to my own desire? She deigned to answer: “ Go; make haste to receive my Son I fell at her feet, my face pressed to the ground, begging her to give me her motherly blessing. Then, filled with respect and reverence and love, I listened to her as she said: “ My Son wants to come to you and to take His repose in your heart ”,

During my preparation for Holy Communion, this sweet Mother remained present to my spirit. She carried her loving Child in her left arm. But, after some time, she set the Child down upon His knees, His face turned toward me. And she smiled at me, stretching out her arms toward me in a gesture of affection.

When I had received Communion, I no longer sensed within me the presence of my loving Mother. Only the sweet Child Jesus was in the secret of my heart, where I gave Him a welcome full of affection, of caresses and of loving protestations.

How she honored and prayed to the Blessed Virgin, in God.

As for that which is of love and other operations, divine knowledge, lights upon the revealed truths, movements of the supernatural order, all that seemed to me gathered and, as it were, blended in the unity of the One Divine •—- although all that sometimes clouded my soul with superabundance. But this repletion did not make my soul depart from the unity, for in all that, it saw, knew and tasted the only Divine Unity, in a mysterious and excellent manner. The forces and the light of God alone aided my soul and elevated it to that.

It is in the same way, in the Divine One as in a mirror, that I see, honor and love our loving Mother, and that I pray to her. I see her there united with this divine mirror, with this inexpressible Being. And so, whenever I kneel before one of her statues and pray to her for something to which I feel myself interiorly drawn — the good of souls, the needs of the country, or something else — her image becomes present in this interior mirror, where she is contained with all other creatures. At other times I seem to penetrate, in some manner, the exterior image, without noticing there anything of her body, and I see her all contained in the secret of the spirit.

Stephen Lowell, O.Carm.

As Carmelites We live our life of allegiance to Jesus Christ and to serve Him faithfully with a pure heart and a clear conscience through a commitment to seek the face of the living God (the contemplative dimension of life), through prayer, through fraternity, and through service (diakonia). These three fundamental elements of the charism are not distinct and unrelated values, but closely interwoven. 

All of these we live under the protection, inspiration and guidance of Mary, Our Lady of Mount Carmel, whom we honor as "our Mother and sister."