Dear readers of Secret Harbour, I have received some emails this morning from fellow readers informing me that our Holy Father’s Wednesday General Audience yesterday was devoted to a Carthusian, Marguerite d’Oingt. Many thanks to those who emailed me about this! Here’s what Pope Benedict had to say:
(Translation by ZENIT)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
(Translation by ZENIT)
Dear Brothers and Sisters,
With Marguerite d'Oingt, of whom I would like to speak to you today, we are introduced to Carthusian spirituality, which is inspired in the evangelical synthesis lived and proposed by Saint Bruno. We do not know her date of birth, although some place it around 1240. Marguerite came from a powerful family of the old nobility of Lyonnais, the Oingt. We know that her mother was also called Marguerite, that she had two brothers -- Giscard and Louis -- and three sisters: Catherine, Elizabeth and Agnes. The latter followed her to the Carthusian monastery, succeeding her as prioress.
We have no information on her childhood, but through her writings we can intuit that she spent it peacefully, in an affectionate family environment. In fact, to express God's unbounded love, she valued images linked to the family, with particular reference to the figures of the father and mother. In one of her meditations she prays thus: ‘Very sweet Lord, when I think of the special graces that You have given me by Your solicitude: first of all, how You took care of me since my childhood, and how You removed me from danger and called me to dedicate myself to Your holy service, and how You provided everything that was necessary for me to eat, drink, dress and wear, and You did so in such a way that I had no occasion to think of these things but of your great mercy’ (Marguerite d'Oingt, Scritti Spirituali, Meditazione V, 100, Cinisello Balsamo, 1997, p. 74).
We always intuit in her meditations that she entered the Carthusian monastery of Poleteins in response to the Lord's call, leaving everything behind and accepting the severe Carthusian Rule, to belong totally to the Lord, to be with Him always. She wrote: ‘Sweet Lord, I left my father and my mother and my siblings and all the things of this world for love of You; but this is very little, because the riches of this world are but thorns that prick; and the more they are possessed the more unfortunate one is. And because of this it seems to me that I left nothing other than misery and poverty; but You know, sweet Lord, that if I possessed thousands of worlds and could dispose of them as I pleased, I would abandon everything for Your love; and even if You gave me everything that you possess in heaven and on earth, I would not consider myself satiated until I had You, because You are the life of my soul, I do not have and do not want to have a father and mother outside of You’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 32, p. 59).
We also have little data on her life in the Carthusian monastery. We know that in 1288 she became its fourth prioress, a post she kept until her death, which took place on 11 February 1310. From her writings, however, we do not deduce particular turns in her spiritual itinerary. She conceives the entirety of life as a journey of purification up to full configuration with Christ. He is the book that is written, which daily influences her heart and life, in particular his saving Passion. In the work ‘Speculum’, referring to herself in the third person, Marguerite stresses that by the Lord's grace ‘she had engraved in her heart the holy life that Jesus Christ, God led on earth, His good examples and His good doctrine. She had placed the sweet Jesus Christ so well in her heart, that it even seemed to her that He was present and that He had a closed book in His Hand, to instruct her’ (ibid., I, 2-3, p. 81). ‘In this book she found written the life that Jesus Christ led on earth, from His birth to His ascension into heaven’ (ibid., I, 12, p. 83). Every day, beginning in the morning, Marguerite dedicated herself to the study of this book. And, when she had looked at it well, she began to read the book in her own conscience, which showed the falsehoods and lies of her own life (cf. ibid., I, 6-7, p. 82); she wrote about herself to help others and to fix more deeply in her heart the grace of the presence of God, that is, to make her life every day marked by confrontation with the words and actions of Jesus, with the Book of His life. And she did this so that Christ's life would be imprinted in her soul in a stable and profound way, until she was able to see the Book in her interior, that is, until contemplating the mystery of God Trinity (cf. Ibid., II, 14-22; III, 23-40, p. 84-90).
Through her writings, Marguerite gives us some traces of her spirituality, enabling us to understand some features of her personality and of her gifts of governance. She was a very learned woman; she usually wrote in Latin, the language of the erudite, but she also wrote in Provençal French, and this too is a rarity: thus her writings are the first of those known to be written in that language. She lived a life rich in mystical experiences, described with simplicity, allowing one to intuit the ineffable mystery of God, stressing the limits of the mind to apprehend it and the inadequacy of the human language to express it. She had a lineal personality, simple, open, of gentle affectivity, great balance and acute discernment, able to enter into the depth of the human spirit, discovering its limits, its ambiguities, but also its aspirations, the soul's tensions toward God. She showed outstanding aptitude for governance, combining her profound mystical spiritual life with service to her sisters and to the community. Significant in this connection is a passage of a letter to her father. She wrote: ‘My sweet father, I let you know that I am very occupied because of the needs of our house, so that it is not possible for me to apply my spirit to good thoughts; in fact, I have so much to do I do not know which way to turn. We have not gathered wheat in the seventh month of the year and our vineyards were destroyed by the storm. Moreover, our church is in such poor conditions that we are obliged to reconstruct it in part’ (ibid., Lettere, III, 14, p. 127).
A Carthusian nun thus describes the figure of Marguerite: ‘Revealed through her work is a fascinating personality, of lively intelligence, oriented to speculation and at the same time favoured by mystical graces: in a word, a holy and wise woman who is able to express with a certain humour an affectivity altogether spiritual’ (Una Monaca Certosina, Certosine, in Dizionario degli Istituti di Perfezione, Rome, 1975, col. 777). In the dynamism of mystical life, Marguerite values the experience of natural affections, purified by grace, as privileged means to understand more profoundly and to second divine action with greater alacrity and ardour. The reason lies in the fact that the human person is created in the Image of God, and because of this is called to build with God a wonderful history of love, allowing Himself to be totally involved in His initiative.
The God-Trinity, the God-Love that reveals Himself in Christ fascinated her, and Marguerite lived a relationship of profound love for the Lord and, in contrast, sees human ingratitude to the point of vileness, to the paradox of the Cross. She says that the Cross of Christ is similar to giving birth. Jesus' pain is compared with that of a mother. She wrote: ‘The mother who carried me in her womb suffered greatly in giving birth to me, during a day or a night, but you, most sweet Lord, were tormented for me not one night or one day, but for more than 30 years!. How bitterly You suffered because of me during your whole life! And when the moment of birth arrived, Your work was so painful that Your holy Sweat became as drops of Blood, which were shed over all Your body to the ground’ (ibid., Meditazione I, 33, p. 59). Evoking the accounts of the Passion, Marguerite contemplated these sorrows with profound compassion. She said: ‘You were placed on the hard bed of the Cross, so that you could not move or turn or wave Your Limbs as a man usually does when suffering great pain, because You were completely stretched and You were pierced with the nails . . . and . . . all Your Muscles and Veins were lacerated. But all these pains . . . were still not sufficient for You, so much so that You desired that Your Side be pierced so cruelly by the lance that Your docile Body should be totally ploughed and torn and Your Blood spurted with such violence that it formed a long path, almost as if it were a current’. Referring to Mary, she said: It was no wonder that the sword that destroyed Your Body also penetrated the heart of your glorious Mother who so wanted to support you . . . because Your love was higher than all other loves’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 36-39.42, p. 60f).
Dear friends, Marguerite d'Oingt invites us to meditate daily on the life of sorrow and love of Jesus and of His Mother, Mary. Here is our hope, the meaning of our existence. From contemplation of Christ's love for us are born the strength and joy to respond with the same love, placing our life at the service of God and of others. With Marguerite we also say: ‘Sweet Lord, all that You did, for love of me and of the whole human race, leads me to love You, but the remembrance of Your most holy Passion gives unequalled vigour to my power of affection to love You. That is why it seems to me that . . . I have found what I so much desired: not to love anything other than You or in You or for love of You’ (ibid., Meditazione II, 46, p. 62).
At first glance this figure of a medieval Carthusian nun, as well as her life and her thought, seems distant from us, from our life, from our way of thinking and acting. But if we look at the essential aspect of this life, we see that it also affects us and that it would also be the essential aspect of our own existence.
We have heard that Marguerite considered the Lord as a book, she fixed her gaze on the Lord, she considered Him a mirror in which her own conscience also appeared. And from this mirror light entered her soul: She allowed the Word to come in, the life of Christ in her own being and thus she was transformed; her conscience was enlightened, she found criteria, light and was cleansed. It is precisely this that we also need: to let the words, life and light of Christ enter our conscience so that it is enlightened, understands what is true and good and what is wrong; may our conscience be enlightened and cleansed. Rubbish is not only on different streets of the world. There is rubbish also in our consciences and in our souls. Only the light of the Lord, His strength and His love is what cleanses us, purifies us, showing us the right path. Therefore, let us follow holy Marguerite in this look toward Jesus. Let us read the book of His life, let us allow ourselves to be enlightened and cleansed, to learn the true life. Thank you.