I think that a lot or rather questionable theology has grown up with regard to the Holy Spirit since Pope Paul VI, not the most discerning of Popes, gave the Charismatic movement his blessing in 1975, and if my memory serves me correctly, it was at Pentecost that year when he gave his blessing to Cardinal Suenens, another man not known for his discernment, and the assembled Charismatics in St. Peter’s. Unfortunately whenever you speak to members of the Charismatic Renewal, since that day of Paul VI’s blessing, they never seem interested in the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but are obsessed with healing and the gift of tongues. Too often there is more than a hint of a desire for temporal benefits rather than the Cross, a desire for Heaven on Earth, rather than suffering here, and eternal bliss to follow. In that they have been influenced, as we all have been, by the man centred view of Vatican II, where much ink was spilt, and much nonsense talked with regard to mission, ecumenical dialogue, and that most dangerous and delicate of activities, namely inter religious dialogue, which is a theological mine field in which fools rush in, in their thousands, and the angels indeed fear to tread.
The seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are Wisdom, Understanding, Counsel, Fortitude, Knowledge, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. If we do not strive for these gifts, then prophecy, tongues, and healing are a complete waste of time. I remember many years ago finding myself, unwittingly, at a Healing Mass (When is the Mass not healing?) to which all the people were being given, indiscriminately, the sacrament of the sick. As they were all, as far as I could see over 60, this was quite legitimate on one level, and rather silly on anothe. I could barely anoint some people, who were slain the Spirit, before ever I anointed them (And what does slain in the Spirit mean? The Orthodox East have not heard of it, and the Latin West did not know of it. It is something that comes out of the Pentecostal Movement, which is not in the tradition of the Church. What was sad was this, that at the end of this healing Mass, a young Iraqi or Palestinian girl felt let down that she had not been slain in the spirit, and that her sister had. I told her that St. Teresa of Avila considered the physical phenomenon of mysticism, such as ecstasies and levitation, to be a weakness of the human organism in dealing with the invasion into their souls of the mystical life. This is very true in the case of, the now almost forgotten mystic, Madame Acarie, who was transported to the mystical heights as a young wife and mother, when her eyes fell on the words, reportedly of Augustine The Great, “That man for whom God is not enough is a miser”. Her life was transformed. She was overcome by levitations which she tried to stop by hitting herself with her children’s toys. If that failed, she would run to the spinet and try and distract herself with that, and then reluctantly failed, and began to gently rise towards the ceiling. For four years she had to endure this, thinking that it came from the Devil, until Benet Canfield the English Capuchin Friar, known as the spearhead of the great French mystical renaissance at the end of the 16th and the beginning of the 17th century, informed her that her experiences were of God. Added to this Madame Acarie was the first French person to have the stigmata, albeit it was invisible, as was St. Catherine of Siena’s. This extraordinary woman married to a bombastic and somewhat bullying husband, although he had a good heart and was good looking and charming, are summed up in the following words of Henri Bremond, in his great work “A Literary History of Religious Though in France, volume II, The Coming of Mysticism”:
These pages, too long, yet too short and dry, have endeavoured to bring out the distinctive features of this remarkable woman, the greatest religious force, it seems to me, of even her times. (p.192) He goes on to say with even greater emphasis;
One thing alone is clear and should be sufficient for us: the contemporaries of Mme Acarie found in her a living type of that sublime life towards which so many souls of the time felt themselves vaguely called. Her ecstasies were but signs, as a light hung out for travellers seeking their way at night. Their attention was caught at first by such extraordinary phenomena, but they soon learned from her truths far simpler and of quite different import. Her message consisted of a sentence from the Gospel, the full sense of which only mystics realize, “The kingdom of God is within you.” “One must,” she said, “penetrate to the depths of the soul, and see if God is, or will be there.” (p.193)
When you consider that the greatest saints of the time came to her salon, and also other profoundly holy people, one realizes how right Bremond is. St. Francis de Sales was so overawed by her that he would only hear her confession, and would not direct her. The great Cardinal Berulle, her cousin and constant co-operator was formed by her. Père Coton revered her, and Vincent de Paul as a young priest came to her home. Madame Acarie reformed Abbeys, fed half of Paris in the famine during the final period of the wars of religion in France, and was called “The conscience of Paris” if not of France. Henry IV admired he so much that when he was falsely accused of something, he sent a messenger to her, to assure her that it was not true. St. Teresa appeared to her and asked her to bring the Carmelite Reform to France, and had to appear again (Madame Acarie did not care for the great Carmelite foundress from her writings.) to make plain to her that this was important. And so with great difficulty Barbe (for that was her Christian name) brought the Carmelite nuns to France, and the Ursulines also, and paved the way by beginning a postulant community in her home (It later moved) called the congregation of St. Genvieve which provided the candidates for both orders.
She ended her days as Carmelite lay sister, Blessed Marie of the Incarnation, and was at one time under her daughter, Marguerite, who was almost as great a mystic as her mother, differing in the fact that she was utterly tactless unlike her mother, who was a mixture of charm, dignity, light heartedness, and great profundity. Compared to Barbe, St. Jane de Chantal, though more attractive, seems far more ordinary and down to earth.
This great beacon of light and hope who begins her work before the reign of Henry IV, and dies in the reign of Louis XIII, leads a band of saints and mystics upon whom fell the Pentecostal fire in full force. There is much talk of the Holy Spirit these days, but by comparison ours is a tawdry and somewhat superficial age, where easy slogans dominate so much of spirituality, and where man is made too much of and God too little. True, since 1917 great martyrs have been given to the Church, and more will follow in our own time, and are in many countries soaking their countries with their blood, and preparing for the truly reformed and renewed Church, However that great concerted work of the spirit has been somewhat sidetracked by the all too optimistic hopes set in motion by the Second Vatican Council. So if we want hope to well up in our hearts, let us cast a glance at this great age of holiness and endeavour to make its message our own.
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