Archive for November, 2016

Dear child of God, your Father has His arms of love open wide to you. Throw yourself into His arms. You who have strayed and wandered away as sheep, return to your Shepherd. You who are sinners, come to your Savior.     Jeanne Guyon

jeanne-guyonJeanne Marie Bouvieres de la Mothe Guyon (known as Madame Guyon) was born April 13, 1648. She was a French mystic and is also known for her involvement in the “Quietist” movement. Her chief contribution to the Kingdom of God is her writing on prayer. Madame Guyon believed that Christians should pray all the time no matter where they are or what they are doing. The most beautiful, satisfying part of the Christian life is to spend time with God. Jeanne Guyon proved with her own life just how important intimacy with Christ is for the believer.

Jeanne Guyon came into this world during the very corrupt seventeenth century in France. At this time the French nation was well-known for its degeneracy. The church was as bad as the world. Even at the time, many people believed that Jeanne Guyon was one of the most spiritual women who ever lived, yet the corrupt Roman Catholic Church burned her books, condemned her principles of Quietism, and cruelly imprisoned her. Jeanne even spent several years in the Bastille.

Because Jeanne’s family was in French high society, she had the privilege of getting an education in a prosperous convent. Early in her life it became obvious what a gifted child Jeanne was. She began to read the Bible at age ten and decided to devote her life to God.

Jeanne wanted to enter a cloister, but her parents married her off to Jacques Guyon, a man of weak health. Jeanne was not quite sixteen years old; Jacques was twenty-two years her senior. Though Jeanne developed a love for her spouse, and claimed that he loved her, her mother-in-law was a severe trial to her for most of her life. The maid that was provided for Jeanne also put on airs and gave Jeanne a lot of grief.

No matter what happened, Jeanne turned to God in prayer. “It was in a condition so deplorable, O my God, that I began to perceive the need I had of Thy assistance… Thou didst draw me to Thyself.” Jeanne knew that her only hope was in the Savior.
Jacques died when Jeanne was twenty-eight years old, leaving her with three young children. He left Jeanne very well off and Jeanne spent the next 40 years of her life serving God by giving away money to the poor. She also began her career as an evangelist and a writer.

Jeanne spent a few years in Geneva and returned to Paris in 1686. When she arrived home, she was imprisoned for her opinions. With the help of Madame de Maintenon, she was released. Now Jeanne began to teach and write about Quietism.

Quietism is a form of mysticism that teaches devotional contemplation and the surrender of the will to God’s will. Quietists calmly accept things as they are without complaining. Madame Guyon exemplified this in her life. She refused to retaliate against her husband or mother-in-law no matter how badly they treated her. Many Christians learned from her example and imitated her ways.

Madame Guyon began traveling throughout France and Switzerland teaching people to pray more and live holy lives. She met with individuals and tried to avoid “preaching”. Many people found comfort in her words.

Why would the Roman Catholic Church oppose this? The church taught that it was the business of the priests to pray. Believers could not approach God on their own. They must go through the priest. Jeanne was especially offensive to the church because she was a woman.

Jeanne continued to teach people to pray from their hearts. She taught thatshort-and-easy-method-of-prayer they could achieve intimacy with God apart from the need for a priest. In 1685, Jeanne wrote a book called “A Short and Very Easy Method of Prayer”.

The book became so popular that groups of Roman Catholic priests went about confiscating them to destroy them. They came into the town of Dijon, France, and gathered up a total of 300 copies and burned them! One Frenchman was known to have taken over 1500 copies and passed them out. The church saw Jeanne’s book as going too far against their authority so they arrested her.

Madame Guyon spent seven years in prison, the last two in solitary confinement in the Bastille. She continued to write while in prison. Jeanne produced a 20-volume commentary on the Bible, an autobiography, and many short works. There are precious collections of letters, especially those shared with Archbishop Francois de Fenelon, the most celebrated churchman of the day. Jeanne and Archbishop Fenelon were friends for twenty- five years.

Eventually, Jeanne was released from prison. She lived for another fifteen years in retirement with her daughter. She entertained many visitors from all over the world.

Madame Guyon died quietly in Blois, June 9, 1717, age sixty-nine.

Many have admired Jeanne Guyon very much. Shortly after Jeanne’s death the Quakers began using her book on prayer. It is said to have affected the Quaker movement more than any other single piece of literature. Others who were influenced by Jeanne Guyon were Count Zinzendorf and the Moravians.
John Wesley said of her, “How few such instances do we find of exalted love to God, and our neighbor; of genuine humility; of invincible meekness and unbounded resignation.”

One of the greatest persons influenced by Madame Guyon was Watchman Nee. Along with Madame Guyon’s autobiography the book on prayer also became an indirect influence on many of Watchman Nee’s co-workers.

I hope you will get some of Jeanne Guyon’s books. They are beautifully written and inspiring. Here are some excerpts from Chapter 1 of “Intimacy with Christ”. This “chapter” is a letter written in response to some correspondence she received. In this example you will see her earnest desire for prayer and for Quietism.

It makes me happy to see Jesus Christ inwardly reigning in the heart of one of God’s children. Thank you for your good letter….

Many pray, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” but have no intention of giving up their own ways, nor of allowing the cross to deal with their most deeply held desires. God wants to take each one of us, although we naturally resist it, through a desert time of experiencing the cross. He does not want to make it hard on us for no reason, but only so that we might enter the quiet rest of the promised land with Him….

The Lord gave you no strict rituals to follow. He teaches you to “enter into your closet,” that is, to quiet yourself, open your heart, and without many words, to touch your Lord who is within you.

The Sabbath is not just a day of outward rest, but the continual rest that you are privileged to enjoy when you are in union with God. How I wish that all Christians would know this deep, restful union with God; to live in God and have God live in them!

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Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven. (Matthew 5:16)

In our continuation of the series on Medieval Christian Women Mystics we come to the life of Louise de Marillac of France, foundress of the Daughters of Charity.

louise-de-marillacLouise de Marillac stands as a model for all women. Wife, mother, teacher, nurse, social worker, mentor, spiritual leader, mystic, and foundress of charitable organizations, Louise let her light shine in the darkness.

In her excellent book, “Louise de Marillac: A Light in the Darkness”, Kathryn LaFleur explains that Louise was born in a very dark time in France’s history. Unless we understand just how bad the times were, we may miss how amazing Louise’s life of spirituality and devotion to the poor was. Louise’s life, a span of sixty-nine years (1591 – 1660) witnessed the “drama of three kings, two Queen-Regents, two powerful political cardinals and forty years of unrelenting war with its resultant destruction of the social, economic, political and religious fabric of the country.” Louise was born when Protestant Henri IV was struggling to keep his throne. Henry IV would convert to Roman Catholicism in order to appease the French people. “Paris is worth a Mass,” he famously said. The throne was contested with much war and destruction over Louise’s lifetime. This caused many of the people to become destitute, displaced, sick, or abused. Louise would be given ample opportunity to serve the poor.

Louise not only had to face perilous times, but she also overcame personal obstacles – illegitimate birth, early death of her husband, a sickly son, and a season of doubts –  before she was able to finally live her dream of dedicating her life to Christ in service to the poor.

Louise was born on August 12, 1591, an illegitimate daughter to Louis de Marillac, Louise never knew who her mother was. Her father loved her very much and saw to it that she was educated at the Royal Abbey of Poissy, a school for those of noble birth. Louise was in the care of her great aunt, the Dominican nun, Mere Catherine Louise de Marillac. Louise received a liberal education, but she was also well-grounded spiritually. She learned the importance of the love of God, love of neighbor, and prayer. Louise sought to enter a cloister, but events intervened. Her father died and her support ended.

Through her de Marillac relatives, Louise met Antoine Le Gras. They had a short courtship and then were married on February 5, 1613 in the church of Saint-Gervais. Louise and Antoine had one son, Michel, on October 18, 1613.

Louise’s marriage was happy but short. Antoine grew gravely ill in 1621 and died four years later. A strong love had grown between Louise and Antoine. Their closeness was based on a mutual life of prayer, their devotion to the poor, their shared sorrows and struggles with their families, and the bond that grew during the four years that Louise nursed Antoine attentively.

During the years that Louise was nursing Antoine, she experienced some doubts. Louise had always wanted to join a cloister and spend her life ministering to the poor. She wondered if she would ever be able to realize her desire. Then one day while praying at church, Louise had a “Lumiere” or illumination. In this enlightenment she was told to continue to nurse her husband. A time would come when she would be able to be in a small community where others would vow to work among the poor. She believed that God was speaking to her and telling her to be patient, assuring her that the day would come when she could reach out to the poor full time.

Antoine died in 1625. Louise coped with her loss by praying and seeking advice from spiritual directors. She received sympathetic counseling from Saint Francis de Sales and the Bishop of Belley, France. Later, Louise met Vincent de Paul.

In 1629 Vincent de Paul invited Louise to assist him with his work in many parishes in France. Working amonglouise-and-vincent the poor helped Louise with her grief over Antoine’s death. While seeking God’s will for her life, Louise poured her efforts into the service of her less fortunate neighbors. Working as an assistant to Vincent de Paul, Louise learned how to organize and supervise visits. She reviewed financial accounts for stewardship reports. She learned what the actual needs of the poor were.

Finally, in 1633, Louise was ready to start her own ministry. She began to train young women in her home to address the needs of the poor. The girls were encouraged to form communities where they would live simply and dedicate their lives to Christ. This was how the Daughters of Charity began.

Louise provided the leadership by example. She worked among the poor herself. Louise trained her Daughters to seek first a life of solid virtue before they could serve the poor. Prayer and humility were essential to the religious life. The women were to consecrate their lives to serve the poor both spiritually and temporally in imitation of Christ for the glory of God. They endeavored to meet the physical needs of the poor while protecting their dignity and sharing the love of Jesus Christ and His Gospel.

The Daughters began by going into the homes of the sick and nursing them there. They also visited hospitals, worked among galley slaves, orphans, soldiers on battlefields, the poor in war-torn villages, and the insane. During this time of social and political upheaval in France the needy were everywhere. Louise’s Daughters sought to liberate the poor from all of the calamities and injustices in which they lived.

The communities of the Daughters of Charity were unique for their time. In 1633 in France, the religious were cloistered. Both Louise and Vincent wanted the Daughters to be able to have the freedom to serve the poor without the restrictions that existed in cloisters, so they formed communities in villages and towns. Here the women would take simple annual vows of dedication. They would remember that their calling was to serve the poor. They lived modestly, virtuously, and in dependence on God. They gladly gave everything they had to the poor.

Louise spent her last years supporting, guiding and encouraging her Daughters.

In 1650, Michel married and had a daughter, Louise-Renee. Louise’s granddaughter was a joy not only to Louise but also to the Daughters of Charity.

In the last moments of her life, March 15, 1660, Louise could only think of the poor and her Daughters. She prayed that though her earthy light was going out, their light would still shine in their vocation of service to the poor and love for God. Vincent de Paul died only a few months later. Today Louise’s light shines throughout the world in many communities.

Louise’s case for sainthood was first introduced in 1895. In 1911 Pius X proclaimed Louise’s virtues as a great woman of prayer, mysticism, and works of mercy. In 1920 Benedict XV beatified her; in 1934 Pius XI canonized her; and in 1960 Pope John XXIII proclaimed Louise de Marillac the Patroness of All Those Devoted to Christian Social Works.

From a small house with four women in 1633 to 65 houses in 1660, Louise had witnessed the grace of God. She had indeed come to realize the fulfillment of her vision of work among the poor. Louise de Marillac was a prophetic witness during a dark time in France. We live in dark times too and Louise speaks to us today. She had a strong spiritual life both in contemplation and in social action. Louise is a model for us of the virtues of faith, hope and charity.



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(Chapter 1) Treats of the beauty and dignity of our souls; makes a comparison by the help of which this may be understood; describes the benefit which comes from understanding it and being aware of the favours which we receive from God; and shows how the door of this castle is prayer.*

teresaofavilamirrorTeresa de Cepeda y Ahumada was born on March 28, 1515 in Avila, Spain to mother Beatriz, a member of the nobility, and Don Alonso Sanchez de Cepeda who was a successful merchant. Don Alonso had two children from a previous marriage. He and Beatriz had ten more children. The children were all highly educated; Beatriz loved to read and Don Alonso had an extensive library that included many classics as well as theological books. Teresa took advantage of this library and became very learned.  In November, 1528, when Teresa was thirteen, her mother died.

By the late fifteenth century the Spanish Inquisition had started. Ferdinand and Isabella (the king and queen who later gave Christopher Columbus his ships) were trying to unite Spain on ethnic and religious purity of blood. Teresa’s paternal grandfather, Juan Sanchez, was a Jew who had been forced to convert to Christianity. In 1485 he was accused of backsliding and was forced to endure humiliating punishment. In order to get away from this conflict Teresa’s family moved to Avila. There they were very financially successful.

Teresa was a vivacious and precocious child. When she was seven years old she and her brother ran away to try to convert Muslims. This was quite dangerous but fortunately a relative saw them and returned them home. During her teen years she gave up her piety and turned to frivolity. She engaged in such flirtatious behavior that her father sent her to an Augustinian convent for eighteen months. When she became ill in 1532 she returned home to recover. Afterwards she decided to enter the Carmelite house of the Encarnation, taking the veil in 1536.

This convent was very popular with the daughters of the wealthy. Teresa was able to live there with family members and friends and servants. She lived in some of the best quarters and ate good food. She was free to come and go. She could return home to visit family or recuperate from illness. This is not our usual picture of convents with their solitude, silence and prayer. Later Teresa would question the laxness of her convent and become desirous of reform for Encarnation.

After another serious illness in 1538, Teresa’s spiritual life deepened. She spent her time reading spiritual books while convalescing at the uncle’s home. She began to take her relationship with God seriously. She thought of God now in terms of friendship and love. She would later say that the presence of God within the human person was as a taste of heaven on earth.

She returned to the convent but then experienced such a serious illness that she was in a coma. Everyone thought she was dying. She recovered gradually, living with partial paralysis for three years. Again Teresa used her time to grow deeper in her relationship with God. She then went home to nurse her father until his death in 1543.

For the next ten years Teresa experienced tremendous spiritual growth. She st-teresa-prayerbegan to have mystic visions. She tried to be cautious about telling others; some people assumed that all visions were demonic. But Teresa’s visions led her to do something about reforming the Encarnation. She desired to turn the convent into a place of piety, prayer, and community. Teresa’s visions also led to love for the poor and a willingness to serve others in Christian service.

Teresa’s first reformed convent, St. Joseph’s, opened up in 1562. The same year Teresa started writing “The Book of Her Life”. She also completed a Constitution to be used by the reformed convents.

Another problem that Teresa had to surmount was the fact that she was a woman. The Jesuit men confiscated her book during the Inquisition and held onto it until after her death, where it eventually found its way into the library of Philip II. Many people who loved her made copies and circulated them.

Like Catherine of Siena for Italy, Bridgett of Sweden, and Julian of Norwich, Teresa was an innovator for Spain. She was one of the first to write modern Spanish literature. She was a creative theologian; beatified by Pope Paul V in 1614; canonized by Pope Gregory XV in 1622; and made a Doctor of the Church by Pope Paul VI in 1970, the first woman to be given that honor in the Roman Catholic Church.

Teresa’s works include: “The Book of Her Life”; “Spiritual Testimonies and Soliloquies”; “Constitutions and On Making the Visitation”; “The Way of Perfection”; “The Interior Castle”; “Meditations on the Song of Songs”; and ”The Book of Her Foundations”.

Teresa wrote “The Interior Castle” in 1577. This book is well regarded by Protestants and Catholics alike as one of the most celebrated books on mystical theology in existence. It is considered to be Teresa’s most mature work and expresses the depth of her experience in guiding souls to a deeper relationship with God through prayer.

Besides the mystical content, Teresa writes an abundance of good advice on how to live as a human being in relation to God and others. She encourages the spiritual traits of self-examination, humility, progress in virtue, and grace. She aspired to evermore closeness to the Father and Christ with the help of the Holy Spirit, and longs for her sisters to know the same joy.

The central motif of “The Interior Castle” is that of a “castle made of a single diamond … in which there are many rooms, just as in Heaven there are many mansions.”

The door by which one enters the castle is prayer and meditation. Once inside, the seeker is called to cultivate self-knowledge and humility before entering the rooms. It is the only way to spiritual progress. Pride will keep the soul from experiencing deeper fellowship with God.

The first set of mansions begins with a meditation on the excellence and dignity of the human soul, because it is made in the image and likeness of God. The souls are encouraged to spend as long as needed here in the Mansions of Humility.

In the second set of mansions, the soul matures as it seeks every opportunity to grow spiritually. Sermons, edifying conversation and good company are resources for maturing. Much time should be spent in the Mansion of Prayer.

In the third set of mansions, the Mansions of Exemplary Life, the soul learns to trust more in God and not to lean on their own strength and the virtues they have already acquired. Discipline, penance and charitable works are enjoined on the seekers.

In the fourth set of mansions, the soul learns to make God’s part increase more and more in their lives. Their soul is like a fountain built near a source of water. God gives the water of life.

In the fifth set of mansions the soul is able to reach a new level of prayer and contemplation. In the sixth set of mansions, a deep intimacy with the Lord is developed. In the seventh mansion, the soul reaches the “Spiritual Marriage” with the King. There is complete transformation and perfect peace. No higher state is conceivable until one reaches Heaven.

Teresa invited her sisters to enter the Interior Castle to move toward a life of prayer and contemplation, love and closeness to the Savior. Today we are invited to be in awe of the truth that God can make His presence real to us. We are in this castle together and as we become transformed by a life of prayer and love for God it should lead to works of charity and social action.

“May today there be peace within.
May you trust God that you are exactly where you are meant to be.
May you not forget the infinite possibilities that are born of faith.
May you use those gifts that you have received, and pass on the love that has been given to you.
May you be content knowing you are a child of God.
Let this presence settle into your bones, and allow your soul the freedom to sing, dance, praise and love.
It is there for each and every one of us.”         (Teresa of Avila)

*St. Teresa of Avila applied the figure of a castle to the life of prayer, which is also the life of virtue. She illustrates this in her “Interior Castle” (Written in 1577). This quote is the heading to chapter 1, “First Mansions”.





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I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. (Galatians 2:20)

We can’t leave the discussion of fourteenth century Christian women mystics without talking about Dorothy of Montau. Truly, Dorothy identified with the crucified Christ all of her life. She knew that He loved her first and she returned the love.

It is interesting that the Christian women mystics of the Middle Ages lived in many areas of Europe – England (Julian of Norwich, Margery Kempe), France (Jeanne Guyon), Italy (Catherine of Siena, St. Clare of Assisi, Angela of Foligno), Spain (Teresa of Avila), Sweden (Bridget), Hungary (Elizabeth of Hungary), Holland (Hadewijch) and Germany (Hildegard, Mechthild of Magdeburg, Mechthild of Hackeborn, Gertrude the Great). Spread out far and wide these women shared the same message of love for the Savior. They all had the same Holy Spirit. Their lives influenced thousands of people. God was definitely at work in the lives of Christian Medieval women.

Many of these amazing women were “firsts” — Julian of Norwich has the honor of being the first published author in all of English literature. Catherine of Siena who was the first woman to be published in the Italian dialect. Birgitta of Sweden is also an acclaimed author of many books. Margery Kempe is the earliest known English autobiographer.

Dorothy of Montau was also a first – she was the first anchoress of the Prussian dorothy-of-montaufrontier. (Today that area is called Poland.)

Dorothy was born in Montau, Prussia on February 6, 1347 to a wealthy father and mother who were originally from Holland. She was the seventh of nine children, the youngest of five sisters. Even from a very early age Dorothy practiced a religious lifestyle of asceticism and extreme discipline.

At the age of sixteen Dorothy married a swordsmith named Albrecht of Danzig. He was over twice her age and was a very overbearing man. Dorothy began to have her spiritual visions almost immediately after her marriage. Albrecht had little patience with her spiritual experiences and began to abuse her.

Dorothy and Albrecht settled in Danzig and had nine children. Sadly, four of the children did not survive infancy. Four others died during the plague. Only one child, a daughter Gertrude, survived Dorothy. Gertrude joined the Benedictines at around age 10.

Dorothy continued to have visions and engage in the practice of extreme self-mortification. This distracted her to the point of neglecting her housework. Albrecht would beat her, but Dorothy thought of it as a part of her spiritual formation. According to her biographer, John of Marienwerder, Dorothy “would receive hard knocks while serving his [the husband’s] needs, for well-observed obedience is ‘more pleasing to God than sacrifices’. Thus when Albrecht punches her on the mouth for failing to prepare his fish supper she smiles at him with her fat lip. When she forgets to buy straw he beats her chest so hard that blood mingles with her saliva; she bears these blows joyfully.”

Today we would definitely call this domestic violence and Albrecht would be looking at square sunshine. However, during the Middle Ages penance and self-mortification were seen as being extremely spiritual. Recall that a group called the “flagellants” would go around at this time beating themselves on their backs until they bled. Why would they do this? The plague had claimed the lives of many thousands during the fourteenth century. Christians believed that God sent the plague to punish them. In line with the Roman Catholic teaching on penance, Christians believed that they could inflict punishment on themselves to pay for their sins and appease God. So, before we criticize Dorothy too much, let us remember the culture in which she found herself. In order to understand her actions we must understand her times and the teaching she received from her church.

When Dorothy was thirty-eight she and Albrecht went on a pilgrimage to Aachen. When returning home, she had what she considered her greatest visionary experience. Dorothy felt that her heart was physically ripped out and a new one put in its place. It’s hard to know exactly what happened to her; it’s hard to believe that it really physically happened. But this dream helps us to understand the depth to which the mystics’ experiences were felt by them; to them it was very real. Certainly there is at least a Biblical precedent for the changing of her heart. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:26). The extent to which Dorothy felt this explains how emotional the mystics could be. We are not that way in our culture today; we tend to be more rational. The mystics always believed that there was a purpose to their suffering.

In 1387 Albrecht sold their possessions and they tried to move to Aachen. The journey by ship was full of hazards. The winter was extremely cold and Albrecht became ill. Because their attempt at moving did not work out they went back to Danzig.

Albrecht’s health began to worsen. Dorothy ministered to him unselfishly and compassionately even though Albrecht complained and continued to abuse her. They were so poor that Dorothy took to the streets to humbly beg for alms.

Albrecht actually got better and on a more loving impulse he told Dorothy that she could make a pilgrimage to Rome for the Jubilee year.

Jubilees were declared at momentous times during the history of the Church. In 1390 the Jubilee was going to be celebrated by the new pope, Boniface IX, who would open the door to the cathedral on Christmas Eve.

So in 1389, Dorothy traveled with a group of pilgrims to Rome for the 1390 Jubilee. By the time she returned home after the following Easter, her elderly husband was dead.

marienwerder_schloss5In 1393, with no one left for her to care for (Gertrude was at the convent in Kulm) Dorothy moved to Marienwerder. Here she became Prussia’s first anchoress. She was walled into a room attached to the Marienwerder cathedral. Her confessor, John of Marienwerder interrogated her intensively. He was convinced that she was truly a holy woman, declaring that her mystical experiences were of God not the devil.

Dorothy spent the last year of her life in her cell. During that time many people visited her cell seeking spiritual advice. She died on June 25, 1394. On her deathbed she told one visitor that she was dying for the love of Jesus. At the age of 47, Dorothy went to be with her crucified and risen Savior.




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