Friday of the Fifth Week of Lent
Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary
Judith 13: 1720
Psalm 30, 2-3B, 3C-4, 5-6, 15-16, 20 (R. 17B)
Hebrews 5: 79
Sequence Stabat Mater
John 19: 2527
April 7, 2006
On April 11, 1930, the Friday before Palm Sunday and the Commemoration of the Compassion of the Blessed Virgin Mary, in the early morning light, a few young women and the priest who was a father to their souls descended into the darkness of the crypt of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre to offer the Holy Sacrifice at the altar of the Sorrowful Mother. It was during that Mass that Suzanne Wrotnowska pronounced the Act of Consecration that mysteriously contained within itself, as the Constitutions say, “all our consecrations to come.”
The Entrance Antiphon that morning was the very same one you sang a few moments ago: “Standing beside the Cross of Jesus were His mother, and His mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene” (Jn 19:25). The verse evoked the presence of Saint John: “Woman, behold thy son, said Jesus: then to the disciple, Behold thy mother.” In these few lines from Saint John’s Gospel, repeated in the liturgy, we see the entire mystery of the Church gathered around the Cross of Jesus to participate in His sacrifice, and to receive from His mouth the gift of the Holy Spirit. The Entrance Antiphon today is an icon of the Benedictines of Jesus Crucified with the Cross, the Tree of Life, planted in the heart of the Congregation.
This is context in which, today, I want to meditate with you the Act of Consecration that sprang from the heart of a twenty-seven year old woman three-quarters of a century ago. It is a prayer that has, in one way or another, directly or indirectly, marked all of us.
Lord Jesus. She says, “Lord Jesus.” She uses the language of Saint Paul. “No one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3). “Let every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:11). When we call Jesus “Lord,” we confess the glory of His resurrection and ascension; it is the name what sums up the whole mystery of Christ. When to this title of “Lord,” we add the Holy Name of Jesus, we know that we are close to His Humanity. The intimacy with Christ that Mother Marie des Douleurs expresses here, authorizes the boldness, the audacity, the passion of all that follows.
We desire but one thing on earth. You recognize right away the resonances with the psalm: “I am always with Thee; Thou dost hold my right hand. Thou dost guide me with Thy counsel. . . . Who have I in heaven but Thee? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides Thee” (Ps 72: 23-25). And again, “One thing have I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after” (Ps 26:4). Here Mother Foundress touches on the essential of the monastic life: to be a man, a woman, of one thing alone. It is the one thing only concerning which Jesus said to Martha of Bethany: “One thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the better part, which shall not be taken away from her” (Lk 10:42). This expression, “one thing only” or “only one desire,” will recur four times in the text. This alone tells us much about its inspiration.
To disappear and be transformed into You. Again, this is the language of Saint Paul, an élan that goes straight to the Person of Christ: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me (Gal 2: 19-20), “Indeed I account everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Jesus Christ my Lord. . . . that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and may share His sufferings” (Phil 3: 8, 10).
Be transformed into You. This transformation is not the fruit of our poor efforts. It is the work of the Holy Spirit in us. To consecrate oneself is to hand oneself over to the action of the Holy Spirit, an operation that is mysterious and often imperceptible, but always efficacious. “And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being changed into His likeness, from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit” (2 Cor 3:18).
Only through Your love can we glorify the Most Holy Trinity. The doxological thrust is striking: the primacy given to praise, praise through the mediation of Christ. “”He destined us in love to be His sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of His will, to the praise of His glorious grace” (Eph 1:5). Later on, Mother Marie des Douleurs will return repeatedly to the doxology of the Eucharistic Prayer: “Through Him, and with Him, and in Him, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour is Yours, Almighty God and Father, forever and ever.” This doxological movement is what detaches us from ourselves and frees us to go toward God for God alone.
And since we recognize ourselves totally incapable of doing anything whatsoever that is good, today, Lord Jesus, we consecrate ourselves to you. After looking toward God through Christ, Mother Foundress looks at herself. She does so with a gaze that is sober and lucid. She sees the truth and is not afraid to face up to her own weaknesses, nor to expose her wounds. The word of Jesus at the Last Supper comes to mind and fills us with hope: “Apart from me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). To see oneself as poor, and have recourse to the riches of Christ. To see oneself as weak, and have recourse to the power of Christ. This is the deep meaning of this Act of Consecration. It is, in fact, another way of saying, out of the depth’s of one’s weakness, what our Holy Father Saint Benedict makes us sing on the day of monastic profession: Suscipe me, that is, “Take me to thyself, O Lord” (Ps 118:116).
So that in us You Yourself may act, and suffer, and love. Always the thinking of Saint Paul: Christ in us. Mother Foundress is aiming at an unconditional openness to the grace of Christ. One can hear, certainly, an echo of the beautiful prayer of Blessed Elizabeth of the Trinity, O my God, Trinity Whom I Adore, but behind the influence of the young Carmelite is that of the Apostle. “He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ I will all the more gladly boast of my weaknesses that the power of Christ may rest upon me” (2 Cor 12:910). In 1930 Mother Marie des Douleurs had certainly not yet taken all the measure of her own weakness, nor of that of her Sisters, but she had already taken the measure of the power of Christ, and she believed in it.
Behold, we are yours; make us whatever you will. Utter availability and simplicity. The best project or plan of the monk or the nun is to have no project at all, but to offer oneself to the project of God. How many projects in the first years of the Congregation, and even later on, never saw the light of day or perished before bearing fruit! The projects that are not crowned with success serve, mysteriously, to root us in a humility that, with each failure, becomes deeper and more true. This obliges us to believe only in the project of God, in “the thoughts of His Heart” (Ps 32:11). “The counsel of the Lord stands forever, the thoughts of His Heart to all generations” (Ps 32:11). This requires an immense confidence. In order to offers oneself unconditionally to the designs of God, one must believe in Love. “As for us,” said Mother Marie des Douleurs, “we have believed in love.”
We have only one desire and it burns intensely. This is the first occurrence in this prayer of the image of fire. Mother Marie des Douleurs speaks the language of desire, only one desire, a desire that burns intensely. We hear the word of Jesus that the Church repeats in the liturgy of the Sacred Heart: ‘I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” (Lk 12:49).
We want our lives to be but a moment of Your Passion. We do not want to die without having fulfilled in our flesh what is lacking to Your sufferings for the sake of Your Body which is the Church. Always Saint Paul. “I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I complete what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of His Body, that is, the Church” (Col 1:24). Note the opening onto the Church, the Body of Christ. Here there is nothing reclusive, nothing narrow, nothing individualistic. There is a breath that is apostolic. There is a care for the whole Church, a concern that will express itself more especially in prayer for priests.
We are happy to surrender ourselves entirely to You by this consecration; we renounce once and for all the right to dispose of ourselves. O Divine Master, we place our life in Your hands with an immense confidence, becoming, as it were, strangers to ourselves. “We are happy.” “Who is the man who desires life and is eager to see happy days?” (RB Pro: 15). This Act of Consecration, far from being a death sentence, is a pledge of life and of happiness. Here Mother Foundress’s language is that of Saint Benedict in the chapter of the Rule on monastic profession. The newly professed, dispossessed of all he has, knows that from that day forward, “he will have no power even over his own body” (RB 58:24).
“Becoming, as it were, strangers to ourselves.” This path of disappropriation, of spiritual poverty, is also the path of joy. Just as Jesus Crucified gave himself into His Father’s hands (cf. Lk 23:46), so did the first Sisters give themselves at Montmartre into the hands of Christ with an immense confidence. All that is given to Jesus Crucified is taken up, by the power of the Holy Spirit, into His Sacrifice to the Father.
Make use of us as You please. In the fire of Your infinite love consume us. Take us, like little hosts, into Yourself forever: now, if you wish, or after the inaction of an interminable agony. How can we not relate this line to what Sister Myriam is living now? Here Mother Foundress insists on the unconditional character of this consecration, not knowing just where it will lead her, but accepting everything in advance. Saint Benedict says that one must advise the novice in advance of “all the hard and arduous things by which one goes to God” (RB 58:8), but God, in His merciful goodness, does not reveal them to us all at once. What remains certain is that “one cannot enter the way of salvation except through a narrow door” (RB Pro:49).
We know naught apart from this one thing: that we adore You, that we are Yours, and that in Your infinitely merciful love, You have asked to continue Your sacrifice in us, unworthy though we be. Mother Marie des Douleurs returns to “the one thing.” And here “the one thing” is summed up in adoration, in the unconditional gift of self to God, and in the certainty that there is a divine plan, a plan that will associate the Sisters very closely to the Sacrifice of the Cross. This is the Mass interiorized. This is the priesthood of the baptized: “to continue Your sacrifice in us.”
O Divine Crucified, tell us the most sorrowful secrets of Your Heart; do not spare those who want to become Your spouses. Here, for the firs time, she pronounces the word “spouses.” It is to spousal love, to a fruitful and maternal love that Mother Foundress and her Sisters feel themselves called. Mother Marie des Douleurs is conscious both of the humble dignity and of the weight of suffering that God confers on the woman called by Him to spousal love. This is the path taken by the Virgin Mary and by all the holy women who follow her to stand with her “beside the cross of Jesus” (Jn 19:25).
Bend Your adorable Face over us who make this consecration; the radiance of Your Face is all our light. The Face of Christ appears here in an expression that is very close to one of the invocations of the Litanies of the Holy Face. The Face of Christ is adored. It shines with light. The Face of Christ transfigures those who gaze upon it. “Look toward Him and be radiant” (Ps 4:7). “Sign us with the light of Your Face, O Lord” (Ps 4:7). “It is your Face, O Lord, that I seek” (Ps 26:8). The prayer that the Sisters recite when they put on the veil, a verse from Psalm 30, is an invitation to penetrate the mystery of the Holy Face of Christ: “Hide me, O Lord, in the secret of Thy Face” (Ps 30:21, Vg).
You prayed the Father that we might be one as You are one with Him in the Holy Spirit. Each of us, then, makes this consecration in the name of all. “That they may all be one; even as Thou, Father, art in me, and I in Thee, that they also may be in us” (Jn 17:21). This allusion to the great priestly and consecratory prayer of Jesus invites us to read and to pray the whole text of April 11th, 1930 in its light. Unity is not the result of human effort; it is a gift of God, a participation in His life. It is the fruit of the prayer of Christ the Priest and of the action of the Holy Spirit. To receive this unity we must, nonetheless, heartily repent of every sin against unity, and be ready to make reparation for every resistance, lack of solidarity, and reticence in obedience.
Coming to Your Sacred Heart through the Immaculate Heart of the one who suffered the most because she loved the most, we are certain of being heard. Our Lady of Compassion will guide us and through her we will come even to Calvary. Finally: the presence of the Blessed Virgin. We return to the Entrance Antiphon of the Mass: Mary standing beside the Cross, together with the other holy women, and with Saint John. Mother Marie des Douleurs does not give the last word to suffering, but to love. And to guide us to the love that casts out fear, even in suffering, she makes us turn to Mary. It is in walking with the Mother of Jesus, and in standing with her close to His Cross, the true ladder of humility, that the monk “will soon reach that charity of God which, being perfect, drives out all fear” (RB 7:67).
There you wait for us. Our union will be consummated on the Cross and we are on fire to reach it. The Cross is the place of union. We are on fire to reach it, not because we love suffering, but because we love the Will of the Father who, by the Cross, establishes us in the unity of the Holy Spirit. The power of the Cross is given to us in the Eucharist. This last sentence of the Act of Consecration will send us to the altar. There, the mystery of the Cross will blaze up before us today, as it did for the first Benedictines of Jesus Crucified almost seventy-six years ago. Let us, in turn today, be set aflame by its fire.