“Suffering is the ancient law of love,” writes Heinrich Suso, fourteenth century lyric poet, troubadour of divine wisdom, student of Meister Eckhart. “There is not quest without pain; there is no lover who is not also a martyr.”
Saint Paul knew this well. “It is now my joy to suffer for you; for the sake of Christ’s body, the church, I am completing what still remains for Christ to suffer in my own person” (Col. 1:24). As a minister of Christ, Paul reminds the people of Corinth, he has ministered “with far greater labors,” endured “far more imprisonments, with countless floggings, and often near death”:
Five times I have received from the Jews the forty lashes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I received a stoning. Three times I was shipwrecked; for a day and a night I was adrift at sea; on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from bandits, danger from my own people danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, danger from false brothers and sisters; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, hungry and thirsty, often without food, cold and naked. And besides other things, I am under daily pressure because of my anxiety for all the churches. (2 Cor. 11: 23b-28)
In the known history of humanity what lover has been more dedicated to the beloved? And what was Paul’s quest if not that of achieving Christlikeness for himself as well as for every other believer, which as he says is that of Christ’s body, i.e., the Church: “. . . we all, with open face beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, [being] transformed into the same likeness from glory to glory even as by the Spirit of the Lord”. (1 Cor. 3:18)
Indeed no quest without pain when we consider how life, in lack of any quest, would be otherwise. Only think what life-and-death questions would be worth without that willing acceptance of suffering that makes such questions cries of blood, prayers of the marrow ascending through the heavenly hierarchies in smoke of living sacrifice, Gethsemane-prayers to be heard at the throne of grace itself. Only try to avoid suffering in life and see how the Demon of Insignificant Things sets out to torture us through that fear of pain. Better would be to do what Suso recommends any aspiring soul to do: “Abandon yourself utterly for the love of God, and in this way you will become truly happy.”
Truly happy, how can we doubt it. But suffering “as an ancient law of love” has its definite limits, no? And to seek out suffering in any case could not stand as the goal of any healthy spiritual quest surely.
Yet consider the mattter of Marthe Louise Robin. A woman of great courage and strength, with a deep love of Christ and the Church, she was born on March 13, 1902 at Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, near Lyons in south-eastern France. When she died there in 1981, aged 78, she had been bedridden and almost totally paralyzed for more than half a century. In continuous and increasing pain during all those years, she had nothing to eat except the host of the Blessed Sacrament given to her daily, and nothing ever to drink. Not once, it seems, in those more than fifty years, was she ever observed actually to sleep.
Marthe Robin was a stigmatic, a willing victim of love who had imprinted upon her own body the sacred wounds of the Crucified One. In October of 1925 Marthe had made a decision that would direct the course of her life as a victim soul: she voluntarily offered up her sufferings in union with Mary for the sake of helping Christ to save souls who had sinned and needed atonement for their transgressions. It was at the end of September 1930 that Jesus Christ appeared to Marthe and asked her: “Do you wish to become like Me?” Readily consenting, Marthe prepared herself for the union with the Cross. When Christ appeared again on October 4, a flame leapt from His side, from His hands and feet, piercing Marthe in the same places. Later Christ would also bestow upon her His wounds from the crown of thorns. Every Friday from that day forward she relived the passion of Christ, her wounds bleeding copiously. In later years on Thursdays she would also relive the agony of Gethsemane, her eyes weeping blood.
The well-known French philosopher Jean Guitton (1901-1999), prisoner of the Nazis, author of some one hundred books, recalling his meeting with the visionary, writes: “I found myself in that dark room of hers, confronted by the best-known contemporary critics of the Church: Novelist Anatole France (a critic whose books were condemned by the Vatican) and Dr. Paul-Louis Couchoud, a disciple of Alfred Loisy (an excommunicated priest whose books were condemned by the Vatican) and author of a number of books denying the historical reality of Jesus. From our first meeting, I understood that Marthe Robin would have been a ‘sister of charity’ always, as she was for thousands of visitors.”
We have this account of another encounter from the book Marthe Robin: The Cross and the Joy by Raymond Peyret (Alba House, 1983, p. 105:
A former pastor of Saint-Martin-d’Août (a community quite near Châteauneuf-de-Galaure), Fr. Joseph Petit, told during his lifetime of how he had one day been accompanied to the home of Marthe Robin by Fr. Garrigou-Lagrange. This Dominican, a professor at the Angelicum in Rome, and Thomist of international reputation, was somewhat skeptical about the stigmatist. But returning from the visit, this savant was like a man in a daze. During the trip he kept talking to himself: “If only you could speak as well as that about the Blessed Virgin!” Much later, shortly before his death, he was heard to say, “Who am I compared to that humble girl?”
During her life, Marthe met tens of thousands of visitors in the small room at her home to which she had been confined for most of her life. Spending around ten minutes with each visitor, she shared with each an open and free conversation that often shed light on the person’s problem or concern. She always ended with a simple prayer. In addition to those men and women she met at her bedside, she dealt with an unending flow of letters, despite losing her sight when she was only 38. “I have no other dream than to conform myself at every moment with the suffering and Eucharistic life of our Divine Saviour,” said Marthe, “to unite my host with His Host, so that my heart may be consecrated with His Heart to the Glory of the Father for the salvation of the world. For the more my life is submitted to God and in conformity with the Redeemer, the more I shall participate in the achievement of His Work.”
Marthe Robin’s principal message was simply this: that we must follow Jesus Christ with the help and power of Mary. “All of life is a Calvary,” said Marthe Robin,” and every soul is a Gethsemane where all drink in silence the chalice of their own lives.” Father Finet, Marthe’s parish priest for many years, speaks of his first meeting with Marthe on February 10, 1936, a visit that lasted three hours:
During the first hour Marthe spoke to me only of the Blessed Virgin. I who conducted Marian retreats was dazzled by her manner of talking about the Blessed Virgin. She called the Virgin her ‘dear mama’. I had the impression these two were well acquainted.
During the second hour she told me about the great events that were going to take place, some of which would be very bad, others very good. In particular, during this second hour, she said that there would be a New Pentecost of Love, that the Church would be renewed by an apostolate of the laity. She spoke a great deal about that, even saying that the laity were going to play a very important role in the Church; many would be called to be Apostles. Years later, I was quite struck when I heard Pope Pius XII, Pope John XXIII and Pope Paul VI speak about a springtime in the Church, or a ‘New Pentecost of Love’. Well, Marthe had announced this to me in 1936. And she said that the Church was going to be totally rejuvenated. It was the Second Vatican Council that she was predicting. She had added that there would be many methods for formation of the laity, but outstanding among these would be ‘Foyers’ [‘Houses’] of Light, Charity, and of Love. I did not understand too well what she was trying to convey.
“At this point I said to her: ‘This will be something totally new in the Church; it has never been done before. It will consist of consecrated laity, not a religious order. They will be directed by a priest, and they will be comprised of dedicated lay people.’ And she replied, ‘These “Foyers de Charité” will have world-wide influence! They will be the expression of the Heart of Jesus to the nations after the defeat of materialism and satanic errors.’ She told me that among the errors that would pervade the world were communism, laicism, and Freemasonry. She mentioned these three in particular. She told me all this in 1936. But she said the Blessed Virgin would intervene. (Ibid. 75-6)
Thus through Marthe Robin came the call of God: a call for the renewal of the Church, renewal through an apostolate of consecrated lay men and women living together in communities of prayer and work, communities that were centers or homes of light, of charity and of love. (Marthe explained that the word “charity” refers to the relations among the men and women of the Foyer, while the word “love” refers to their relationship with God.) Through the priest assigned to direct it, each Foyer is firmly rooted in both the larger mission and the hierarchical structure of the Church. The Foyers often include schools for young people and/or special facilities for those with disabilities, but their chief apostolic work is to form and educate lay people through five-day retreats. To date there are some seventy of these communities on five continents.
This then is the meaning of the passion of Marthe, to identify herself with the Divine Saviour Jesus Christ, Him whom she loved, in a mission of redemption. As Adam was “broken small” at the fall, writes Saint Augustine in his commentary on Psalm 95 (96), so Adam has been gathered together again:
“For with righteousness shall he judge the world”, not a part of it only, for it was not merely a part that he redeemed; the whole of the world is his to judge, since for the whole did he pay the price. You have heard what the Gospel has to say, that when he comes “He shall gather together the elect from the four winds” (Mark 13:27). He gathers all the elect from the four winds, that is to say, from the whole world. Now Adam’s name, as I have said more than once, means in Greek, the whole world. For there are four letters, A, D, A, and M, and with the Greeks the four quarters of the world have these initial letters. They call the East, “Anatole”; the West, “Dusis”; the North, “Arctus”; and the South, “Mesmebria”, and these letters spell Adam. Adam is thus scattered thoughout the globe. Set in one place, he fell and, as it were, broken small, he has filled the whole world. But the Divine Mercy gathered up the fragments from every side, forged them in the fire of love and welded into one what had been broken. That was work which this Artist knew how to do; let no one therefore give way to despair. An immense task it was indeed; but think who the Artist was. He who remade was himself the Maker; he who refashioned was himself the Fashioner. “He shall judge the world in righteousness and nations in his truth.”
Accomplished through the Passion of Christ , this gathering up of the fragments of Adam upon the Cross, “forged through the fire of love”, continues to be accomplished by Christ through those who take up their cross and follow Him. As Origen says in explaining Ezekiel’s vision (Ezekiel 37:1-14): as at Yahweh’s command, when he breathed upon them, the bones strewn about on the plain came together and were covered with flesh, and life entered them, and the House of Israel, “an exceeding army”, was thus re-made, so will it be at the last day when death shall be overcome: “When shall come the resurrection of the real, whole body of Christ, then the members of Christ will be knitted together, joint to joint, each one in his place, and the multitude of members will form at last, completely and in full reality, one single Body.”
Through one single Body, through one single Passion, through one single Cross, the fragments of Adam are being gathered together. Rudolf Steiner expresses this powerfully in the meditation below:
So long as thou dost feel the pain
Which I am spared,
The Christ unrecognized
Is working in the World.
For weak is still the Spirit
While each is only capable of suffering
Through his own body.
“God forbid,” writes Paul in Galatians 6:14 and 17, “that I should boast of anything but the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world is crucified to me and I to the world! . . . In future let no one make trouble for me, for I bear the marks of Jesus branded on my body.”
Marthe Robin died exactly thirty years ago today on February 6, 1981. The cause for her beatification commenced in 1991.
Pax et Bonum,