08 January 2010

The Chosen Myrrh

Dom Louis-Marie Rouvier’s reflection on the chosen myrrh, who is our Blessed Mother, was clearly, according to the way it was written, never intended to scale the walls of Carthusian monasteries and reach the outside world. He offers some thoughts on living the Carthusian life, and on a couple of occasions refers to their Rule, thus giving readers outside of the Order some insight into their charism. We also get to meet in this writing a Carthusian nun, Mother Anne Griffon, who one would deduce from what is shared here, was a mystic and a visionary. You’ll see the Latin words, “Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei,” which is from the Latin Vulgate and more specifically, Psalm 45, verse 5, which translates as: “The stream of the river makes glad the city of God.” This is a splendid reflection on our Lady. The picture used for this post depicts the Presentation of Mary in the Temple.

One of the principal aims of our Order is to form followers of our crucified Lord, who will carry the cross after Him, in order to fill up, as Saint Paul says, for themselves and for the Church, what is wanting of the sufferings of Christ (cf. Colossians 1:24). In our Constitutions all has been ordained to the end that the cross destined for the sons of Saint Bruno should be borne by them in a perfect manner, and with unflinching constancy. “The man who gives himself to prayer,” says Saint Teresa, “offers himself to our Lord to carry His cross.” She who entered most deeply in union with Him has become the Queen of martyrs. Thus the Church places on Mary’s lips the inspired words: I yielded a sweet odor like the choicest myrrh (cf. Ecclesiasticus 24:20). May our souls, too, and our whole lives be impregnated with this divine fragrance emanating from the Wounds of our crucified Savior.

The cross of the Carthusian serves a double purpose, according as it affects the soul or the body. It is in other words spiritual or material, and is called humility or austerity. Let us see how, following in Mary’s steps, we can offer to our Savior this double martyrdom imposed by our Rule.

Mary’s humility has only been surpassed by that of the Heart of Jesus. No saint can compare with our heavenly Mother in this fundamental virtue. Singularly favored, as she was, by heaven, Mary looked on herself as a mere nothing. “Take it for certain,” she said to Saint Elizabeth of Hungary, “that in the Temple I regarded myself as the lowest of all creatures, and as unworthy as you yourself to be the Mother of the Redeemer.” This humility was the heavenly spikenard which ravished the Most High, and drew the Word of God into the womb of Mary. At the very moment when she was humbling herself in her prayer, not daring to aspire even to the favor of serving the privileged creature who was to give birth to the Savior, the archangel Gabriel came to propose to her that she herself should be the Mother of the Redeemer.

One of our nuns, Mother Anne Griffon, the venerable Prioress of Gosnay in Artois, had wonderful lights on the abyss of humility which caused the graces of the Most High to flow so abundantly into the soul of the Immaculate Virgin. Through these revelations, we may learn to preserve deep in our hearts the knowledge of our own insufficiency in this respect.

On the feast of Saint Anne, as during the Mass the nuns were singing the Responsory, Fluminis impetus lætificat civitatem Dei, the venerable Mother saw Saint Anne under the figure of the city of God, thus depicted because she bore in her womb the Tabernacle of God (cf. Psalm 131:5). God dwelt in Mary by sanctifying grace from the moment of her conception. The stream of the river represented the torrent of graces drawn down upon the mother and the daughter by their mutual humility.

On the feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the venerable Mother saw in contemplation the Blessed Trinity and all the heavenly court rejoicing in the birth of this unique creature, sanctified and full of grace from the first moment of her existence, and immediately endowed with the use of reason, so that she might be aware that she owed all these graces to her Creator.

On other occasions, our Lady appeared to the venerable Mother as when, after her Presentation in the Temple, she humbled herself more profoundly before the adorable Trinity than ever angels or saints have done or will do. And again, in the mystery of the Purification, seeking how to humble herself, as did her Son when He emptied Himself, taking the form of a servant, made in the likeness of men (Philippians 2:7). Again, co-operating in the Redemption at the foot of the cross, as she suffered for us to an extent equaled by no other creature; at her death, so transformed in God that she seemed to be identified with Him, yet stripping herself of all this glory in order to attribute it all to its divine Author; crowned in heaven with such splendor that we would be tempted to adore her, were we not conscious of the Majesty of the Son. Again, so great that God alone comprehends her, yet ceaselessly offering to Him all she has received from Him, interceding with the divine Goodness that He might bestow on all the elect a share in her glory as the Mother of Jesus and thus the Mother of men – a Mother whom we must imitate by profoundly humbling ourselves, as she did, in the presence of the divine Majesty, esteeming ourselves as nothing.

We must love, then, humility in all its forms, if we would be true religious, and be content with the hidden life which shelters us from the vanities of this world, and with the lowly position we occupy in the House of God. Let us find pleasure in the apparently humble and commonplace actions which fill our days. Mary herself avowed to a holy religious that she experienced great joy in seeing him every Saturday sweeping the convent cloister for love of her. We should also accept with a fervent heart the practices of respect and humility imposed on us by our Rule, whether it be towards the Fathers of the cloister or to our superiors (Statuta Ordinis Cartusiensis, II Pars, ch. XVIII, I); we should lose none of these opportunities to practice virtue. Above all, we should fulfill with exact fidelity the act of humility prescribed to us when we are admonished for some fault (ibid., ch. XVIII, 20).

We have already treated of austerity, the second form of our Carthusian cross, when meditating on the vow of poverty; we need not, therefore, repeat it here. Let it suffice to recall that according to the testimony of the Sacred Scriptures, wisdom is seldom found in those who live in luxury (cf. Job 28:13), and it hardly becomes the members of a thorn-crowned Head to garland themselves with roses.

It is for us, then, to practice renunciation or self-denial, and to use the sword of immolation whenever grace inspires us to do so. In the matter of the mind, our Lady would have us renounce our ideas, our opinions, our plans, our own judgment; in that of the heart, our desires, our affections, our tastes and our repugnances. As for the senses, we must renounce our ease, all forms of self-gratification and satisfaction; and in the matter of the will, all over-eagerness and our natural vivacity. Such, and no less, is the extent of the renunciation we are called upon to practice.