The works of God are marked with silence. It is in the silence of prayer and retreat, in the silence of the desert and the forest, that great souls receive their message from God. Recall how Saint Bernard enriched the whole of Europe with silent monasteries. These were stricter still than [the Discalced Carmelites]. Their religious did not have the right to speak or to recreate; they kept total silence. In order to describe the beauty of silence, he used to say: “The oak trees of the forest have been my masters of prayer.” Silence is the great master. It speaks to the human heart. Silence is not an empty void; God dwells therein.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Conference 8: Silence Listen to the Silence – A Retreat with Pere Jacques
Bunel, J 2004, Listen to the Silence - A Retreat with Pere Jacques, translated and edited by Murphy F, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
We will be saints, with holiness like that of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Saint John of the Cross, Saint Teresa of Avila and the Little Flower, when God comes to us no longer in divine radiance, but in the form of a crushing threat to our life. Such was the experience of Christ in his Passion.
Even if our human nature recoils in fear and trembling, we will be able to commune with God within the recesses of our soul through abandonment. There lies the key to God’s love and peace.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Conference 11: Hope and Abandonment Listen to the Silence – A Retreat with Pere Jacques
Bunel, J 2004, Listen to the Silence - A Retreat with Pere Jacques, translated and edited by Murphy F, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Silence Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Eight Thursday evening, 9 September 1943
The Servant of God Jacques de Jésus, O.C.D., who was a professed friar of the Province of Paris-Avon, an ordained priest, and the headmaster of the Discalced Carmelite friars’ boys’ preparatory school at Avon, the Petit Collège Sainte-Thérèse de l’Enfant-Jésus, died on this date, 2 June 1945 in St. Elizabeth Hospital in Linz, Austria following 70 weeks in Nazi prison camps. Père Jacques was weakened by a year of hard labor and harsh conditions at Mauthausen and Gusen concentration camps in Austria; when the Allied Forces liberated the camps on 5 May 1945, he summoned the strength to help restore order and organize relief efforts. But 15 days later the Allied camp commanders transferred him to St. Elizabeth Hospital so that he could be close to the community of the Discalced Carmelite friars at Linz. It was there that he succumbed to illness and exhaustion at 45 years of age.
The diocesan process of his cause for beatification was opened in 1990. You can find the prayer for his beatification here and the website for his cause here.
The World Holocaust Remembrance Center Yad Vashem has a featured story dedicated to Père Jacques. It includes a description of his heroic acts to shelter Jewish students at the preparatory school, for which he was arrested. It also quotes the testimony of witnesses to his arrest and imprisonment and provides links to read full accounts of witnesses’ testimonies. On 17 January 1985 Yad Vashem recognized Père Jacques as Righteous Among the Nations. You can read the Yad Vashem featured story, find the links, and see the Yad Vashem photos here.
Listen to the Silence – A Retreat with Père Jacques, is available for purchase from the publisher, ICS Publications.
Day by day they grow in prayerfulness and year-by-year they become living embodiments of our Rule and Constitutions. Admittedly, we may be far from perfect at the beginning of our religious life. However, once we have completed our apprenticeship, we must be the living embodiment of our Rule and Constitutions for no other reason than to work with Christ for the salvation of the world. Pray to our saints and to the Virgin Mary to help you to attain that goal. Amen.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. The Apostolate Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Thirteen Saturday evening, 11 September 1943
He was creating and maintaining his mother in existence
It is so awesome that it makes us weep with admiration and thanksgiving to think that a poor little human creature, our sister human being, had the tremendous honor of forming a body and bringing god into the world. She received him, she guarded him, she enclosed him in the humble, narrow limits of her own body. What a privilege! The creator of the world called her “Mama.” She held him in her arms and cradled him at her breast.
You know very well that creation was not a passing gesture, as if God had withdrawn, leaving his work to continue according to determined laws. Creation is actually continuing while I speak to you. If God discontinued his creating action, all beings would instantly return to nothingness. Creation is a work that continues unceasingly. This is a consoling thought, which puts us in the presence of God and into contact with the being of God. Thus the little one who was there under Mary’s eye was continuing the act of creating the world; he was creating and maintaining his mother in existence.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. The Divine Preparation in Mary and in Us Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Five Wednesday morning, 8 September 1943
About the illustration
This English manuscript is an early example of a Psalter with the Hours of the Virgin Mary attached. The manuscript’s origin is unknown, but probably has a connection with Oxford since its Calendar contains three feasts of St Frideswide (d. 727): the latter was abbess at Oxford and venerated there as local saint by the 10th century; her relics were discovered and elevated in 1180 and preserved at the Augustinian Priory of St Frideswide at Oxford. The manuscript also contains the ‘Psalter of the Virgin Mary’ that has been attributed to St Anselm (b. c. 1033, d. 1109), abbot of Bec and archbishop of Canterbury. This relatively rare attribution can also be found in the 13th century Oscott Psalter which has also been associated with Oxford because of its inclusion of St Frideswide in its Litany of Saints.
The Virgin Mary shares this condition of creaturehood with us.
God is pure act, as the philosophers say; that is, he is the total realization of all possibility. We are not pure act; we have not realized all possibilities of being that are in us. Our being evolves as our heart intensifies its affections and perfects them. Our body grows and then declines. God himself is pure actuality, pure act. Nothing in him is in the state of possibility, passing from nonexistence to existence. All is infinite existence in him.
The human person, on the contrary, far from being this totality of realization, is a creature of infirmity and dependence. Remember what I was saying to you regarding creation? Nothing exists that cannot be annihilated instantly, if the creative action ceases to operate. It is this way, because we are not self-existent beings, as the words of Our Lord to Saint Catherine of Siena indicated: “You are she who is not.” This is the foundation of our being. We are not; we have only a borrowed being, unceasingly renewed by God. The Virgin Mary shares this condition of creaturehood with us. By herself she was not; she was totally dependent, as we are totally dependent.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Virginity in God and in Mary Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Six Wednesday evening, 8 September 1943
Let us now fix our gaze on the bosom of God and the mystery of the Trinity, to the degree that revelation permits. I maintain that the Word of God is total, absolute virginity. Here is the reason why. As you are well aware, there is in the inner life of the Trinity a stupendous cycle, which overwhelms our poor, little minds. The pure intelligence of God conceives the being itself of God. The divine intelligence grasps and sees itself; it speaks and expresses itself. It grasps and expresses itself in a word, which equals the intelligence that sets it forth. With infinite simplicity, the divine nature eternally expresses the Word of God. In this one word is the infinite activity of the divine intelligence. The Word of God, begotten by the Father, is the infinite, equal, and divine expression of the very Being of God. The Word possesses the fullness of the divine nature, just as does the Father, and thus is truly God. In the infinite simplicity of God’s being, this unfathomable, living expression shines forth so brilliantly that a third person, an outpouring of love, unites in a single nature this Word and the One who begets him from all eternity.
These three persons: the Father, the Son begotten by the Father, and the Holy Spirit, whose infinite breath of love unites the three, constitute the perfect purity of God. That divine purity is what I term the fullness of virginity. Such is God himself!
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Conference 6: Virginity in God and in Mary Listen to the Silence – A Retreat with Pere Jacques
Some have asked if Carmelites have a particular message or word of advice and counsel to offer to the Catholic Church as she passes through a profound crisis concerning sexual abuse, the abuse of power, and the abuse of conscience. Of course, the answer is a resounding, “yes”. Let us turn to the teaching of our Doctors of the Church, and in particular, let us learn from their feminine genius, to be attentive to the wisdom that emanates from Carmel.
When she was a young nun, Saint Teresa was attached to a priest with fallen morals in Becedas, and she talks about this relationship in Chapter 5 of her autobiography, The Book of Her Life.
“I was so fascinated with God at that time what pleased me most was to speak of the things of God. And since I was so young, it threw him into confusion to observe this; and by reason of the strong love he had for me, he began to explain to me about his bad moral state. This was no small matter, because for about seven years he had been living in a dangerous state on account of his affection and dealings with a woman in that same place; and, despite this, he was saying Mass. The association was so public that he had lost his honor and reputation, and no one dared to admonish him about this. To me, it was a great pity for I loved him deeply. I was so frivolous and blind that it seemed to me a virtue to be grateful and loyal to anyone who loved me. Damned be such loyalty that goes against the law of God! This is the kind of nonsense that goes on in the world, which makes no sense to me: that we consider it a virtue not to break with a friendship, even if the latter go against God, whereas we are indebted to God for all the good that is done to us. Oh, blindness of the world! You would have been served, Lord, if I had been most ungrateful to all that world and not the least bit ungrateful to You! But it has been just the reverse because of my sins.”
“Damned be such loyalty that goes against the law of God!”
The wisdom of our Carmelite doctors teaches that practicing the presence of Christ is essential in the Christian life to weather every trial. “Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do,” wrote Saint Teresa (The Book of Her Life, 12:4).
Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection agrees: “The holiest, most ordinary, and most necessary practice of the spiritual life is that of the presence of God. It is to take delight in and become accustomed to his divine company, speaking humbly and conversing lovingly with him all the time, at every moment, without rule or measure, especially in times of temptation, suffering, aridity, weariness, even infidelity and sin.” (Maxims, 2:6)
“Keeping Christ present is what we of ourselves can do”
Saint Teresa teaches us the necessity of avoiding sin at all costs. In her Spiritual Testimonies, No. 20, Saint Teresa describes her 1571 vision of “how a soul in sin is without any power but is like a person completely bound, tied, and blindfolded; for although wanting to see, such a person cannot, and cannot walk or hear, and remains in great darkness. Souls in this condition make me feel such compassion that any burden seems light to me if I can free one of them.”
In the Interior Castle (First Dwelling, Chapter 2) she described the torment to a greater extent: “there’s no darker darkness nor anything more obscure and black… Nothing helps such a soul; and as a result, all the good works it might do while in mortal sin are fruitless for the attainment of glory… Since, after all, the intention of anyone who commits a mortal sin is to please the devil, who is darkness itself, not God, the poor soul becomes darkness itself.”
But, it was her vision of hell in 1560 that compelled her first and foremost to serve God with the greatest fervor, to avoid sin at all costs, and to “give a thousand lives to save one soul” (Way of Perfection, Chapter 1). She explained the horror of the vision in The Book of Her Life, Chapter 32:
[W]hile I was in prayer one day, I suddenly found that, without knowing how, I had seemingly been put in hell. I understood that the Lord wanted me to see the place the devils had prepared there for me and which I merited because of my sins. This experience took place within the shortest space of time, but even were I to live for many years I think it would be impossible for me to forget it…
What I felt, it seems to me, cannot even begin to be exaggerated; nor can it be understood. I experienced a fire in the soul that I don’t know how I could describe… This, however, was nothing next to the soul’s agonizing: a constriction, a suffocation, an affliction so keenly felt and with such a despairing and tormenting unhappiness that I don’t know how to word it strongly enough. To say the experience is as though the soul were continually being wrested from the body would be insufficient, for it would make you think somebody else is taking away the life, whereas here it is the soul itself that tears itself in pieces. The fact is that I don’t know how to give a sufficiently powerful description of that interior fire and that despair…
I was left terrified, and still am now in writing about this almost six years later, and it seems to me that on account of the fear my natural heat fails me right here and now. Thus I recall no time of trial or suffering in which it doesn’t seem to me that everything that can be suffered here on earth is nothing; so I think in a way we complain without reason…
Consequently, it is hardly surprising that Saint Teresa shrugged off so many hardships with her “grande y muy determinadadeterminación“; that is to say, her “great and very determined determination,” a typical Teresian turn of phrase that gives us a glimpse into her unflinching character. Not only was her heart aflame with divine love, but her soul bore the traces of this unquenchable fire and disconsolate despair.
“Souls in this condition make me feel such compassion that any burden seems light to me if I can free one of them”
Saint Teresa responded to the Church’s most profound crisis in centuries by practicing prayer, silence, and striving for evangelical perfection. She continues her account of the 1560 vision of hell with these remarkable words: “from this experience[the vision of hell]also flow the great impulses to help souls and the extraordinary pain that it caused me by the many that are condemned (especially the Lutherans, for they were through baptism members of the Church). It seems certain to me that in order to free one alone from such appalling torments I would suffer many deaths very willingly.” (The Book of Her Life, Chapter 32)
When the professor of moral theology at Wittenburg University sent his Disputatio pro declaratione virtutis indulgentiarum in a letter to the Archbishop of Mainz on 31 October 1517, few could have foreseen that the 95 theses in Professor Luther’s Disputatio would wound the Church so deeply, or that the wound would grow so infected that it would spread even to Spain.
Teresian scholars Rodriguez and Kavanaugh describe the context of the times for Saint Teresa: only a few short years after the publication of Martin Luther’s 95 Theses, the Inquisition in Spain promulgated a decree (1525) against the “heresies of Luther”. The restrictions of the Inquisition in those days were so oppressive that even Saint Ignatius of Loyola was forbidden to preach for three years.
In the months following her harrowing vision of hell, Saint Teresa continued to hear distressing reports concerning the spread of the Lutheran sect, as she called it. While she prayerfully, carefully laid the plans to gather a “few good friends” to found a Carmelite monastery of strict observance, the damnation of Lutherans – made more urgent by the terrifying vision of hell – was her constant concern. As she puts it, she had “some good motives”; we’ll let her explain:
When I began to take the first steps toward founding this monastery… it was not my intention that there be so much external austerity or that the house have no income; on the contrary, I would have desired the possibility that nothing be lacking. In sum, my intention was the intention of the weak and wretched person that I am — although I did have some good motives besides those involving my own comfort.
At that time news reached me of the harm being done in France and of the havoc the Lutherans had caused and how much this miserable sect was growing. The news distressed me greatly, and, as though I could do something or were something, I cried to the Lord and begged Him that I might remedy so much evil. It seemed to me that I would have given a thousand lives to save one soul out of the many that were being lost there.
I realized I was a woman and wretched and incapable of doing any of the useful things I desired to do in the service of the Lord. All my longing was and still is that since He has so many enemies and so few friends that these few friends be good ones. As a result, I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could and strive that these few persons who live here do the same. [The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines the evangelical counsels in Nos. 1973 and 1974; a further explanation of the counsels in relation to the Ten Commandments is found at No. 2053.]
Saint Teresa’s motives, methods, and goals are clear: she hears the distressing news, comprehends the gravity of the situation, and her immediate recourse is to “arise, cry out in the night,” and, clinging to her Spouse, to pour out her heart “like water before the presence of the Lord.” (Lamentations 2:19)
Much in the same way that Elijah stands on God’s holy mountain, speaking to Him when he hears the gentle breeze, rendering an account for his presence and actions saying, “with zeal have I been zealous for the Lord God of Hosts,” (Zelo zelatus sum pro Domino Deo exercituum, the motto of the Carmelites), even so Saint Teresa is driven with zealous zeal at this moment. She who desired in her reform to lift up the holy founders of the order as models and exemplars, the “holy fathers of the past, those hermits whose lives we aim to imitate,” (Way of Perfection, Chapter 11) Saint Teresa is following their path into the Wadi ‘Ain Es-Siah to pursue prayer and silence. For Teresa, a rugged hike along the way of perfection is the best remedy to the Church’s greatest crisis of the second millennium.
“I resolved to do the little that was in my power; that is, to follow the evangelical counsels as perfectly as I could”
In her infinite wisdom, the Virgin of Carmel, who is our sister and teacher, impresses upon us the necessity of prayer for priests. During her summer vacation in July 1890, Celine Martin writes to her sisters in the Carmelite monastery back home in Lisieux, “Oh! how necessary it is to pray for priests!” (Letter, 7/22/1890)
Nearly five years later, Saint Thérèse took her sister’s urgent request to heart as she penned the first draft of her act of Offering of Myself as a Victim of Holocaust to the Merciful Love of the Good God.The opening lines of her first draft state: “O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to love you and make you loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. Finally, my God, I want to make myself worthy of my vocation by helping your apostles to conquer for you all hearts.”
Thérèse eloquently expressed that desire in the final months of her life to the one apostle to whom she confided her deepest dreams and celestial aspirations: the Missionaries of Africa seminarian, Maurice Bellière. In an extraordinary letter dated 24 February 1897, Saint Thérèse plainly states her life’s mission: “If the Lord takes me soon with Him, I ask you to continue each day the same prayer, for I shall desire in heaven the same thing as I do on earth: To love Jesus and to make him loved.”
The eminent Carmelite authority on the theology of the saints, François-Marie Léthel, O.C.D. expounded upon Saint Thérèse’s deepest desires as the preacher of the 2011 Lenten Exercises for Pope Benedict XVI and the Roman Curia. In the seventh meditation, which focuses on the Christocentrism of Thérèse, he explains, “the light of Christ, which we contemplate with Thérèse in this meditation, is the total Truth of God and Man that shines forth in Love. Inseparable from scientiafidei, the scientia amoris of Thérèse makes him shine; and, by making him loved, she gives him easier access to our hearts.” (La lumière du Christ dans le coeur de l’Eglise, p. 101, blogger’s translation)
After Vespers, Mother Prioress placed a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on her knees. She looked at it for a moment and said, when Mother Prioress assured her she’d be soon caressing the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus:
“O Mother, present me quickly to the Blessed Virgin; I’m a baby who can’t stand anymore! . . . Prepare me for death.”
Mother Prioress told her that since she had always understood humility, her preparation was already made. She reflected a moment and spoke these words humbly:
“Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth; yes, I have understood humility of heart. . . . It seems to me I’m humble.”
Saints Thérèse and Teresa, these two great Doctors of the Church teach us the immediacy and power of these words: Dios es suma Verdad, y la humildad es andar en verdad (God is supreme Truth; and, to be humble is to walk in truth).
Thérèse embodied the eminent teaching of her Holy Mother Teresa.
“Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth…”
The holy Martin family’s pressing call to pray for priests was echoed nearly fifty years later by a spiritual brother of Saint Thérèse, the Discalced Carmelite friar Père Jacques of Jesus. A friar from the same province as Brother Lawrence, Père Jacques was the headmaster of the Discalced Carmelite friars’ boarding school in Avon. In September 1943 he preached the annual retreat for the community of Discalced Carmelite nuns in Pontoise, France. In his opening conference of the retreat, he wasted no time in addressing the Carmelite’s call to intercession for priests, in particular for priests in dire need of prayer:
Carmel is a community of human beings who reveal God to other human beings. There should be a Carmel in every city, and then there would be no need of works. One would see God through these human beings who live for him and him alone.
In reading the history of the Church or the history of our own order, like all the other orders, except for the Carthusians, we find periods of decline and need of reform in the wake of intervals of laxity and even scandal. Even among priests and religious, we find cases of spiritual death. We learn that a particular priest grew spiritually cold and left the priesthood, only to embark upon a life of degradation. You need to be aware of such cases and, in turn, to pray for priests. As you can see, it is not enough to experience a period of surpassing spiritual fervor. Gradually, one can abandon retreat instead of intensifying it. Gradually, one can return to the world left behind by readopting its norms instead of embracing God’s standards ever more fully.
Ultimately, it is through embracing the teaching of the Carmelite Doctors of the Church that one finds peace in troubled moments; calm for our fears; reminders of God’s immutable nature and the unsurpassed value of patience; and, the most timely counsel of all: “whoever possesses God lacks nothing. God alone is enough.”
The Incarnation is likewise a work of love. The Holy Spirit knew the Virgin Mary in advance, for he taught her the rich lessons of prayer. Consider Mary’s long hours immersed in prayer concerning her community and the drama of divine love for all humanity; concerning the fall of the human race and the mighty power of God. In those silent hours of prayer, the Holy Spirit inflamed Mary’s heart and swept her up into the bosom of the triune God. There, Mary was immersed in the ocean of God’s being. Mary’s hours of prayer! Therein, God’s presence attains a new and unprecedented level. God is going to ask Mary to allow her body to bring about his Incarnation. He is going to embody himself in a mysterious way in the offspring to be born of her pure blood, divinely preserved from every stain of sin. The Holy Spirit is the author of this wondrous work of love. “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” [Luke 1:35].
John’s unique apostolate was to remain close to the Virgin Mary
Consider those closest to Christ. Saint John the Apostle grasped what was indispensable for a clear understanding of his master. John never tired of probing and querying Christ. We can see how John thus gained richer insights and fuller explanations, precisely because he went to the bother of approaching and asking Christ to clarify each day’s lesson. I picture John, walking close behind Christ, as he made his way about the Holy Land. Thus, John came to gain a wealth of intimate knowledge, which the other apostles did not acquire. Herein lies the explanation for the special character of the fourth Gospel. While the other apostles traveled across the then known world on their missionary journeys, John’s unique apostolate was to remain close to the Virgin Mary, whom Christ had entrusted to him. Thus were these two great souls conjoined in love and prayer.
Père Jacques of Jesus, OCD
Thus were these two great souls conjoined in love and prayer.
Let us likewise place ourselves in the presence of the Virgin Mary, our model of contemplation, who listened faithfully to God throughout her life. Let us ask her to teach us how to listen to God, to grasp his words, and to live them out.
God is eternal silence; God dwells in silence. He is eternal silence because he is the One who has totally realized his own being because he says all and possesses all. He is infinite happiness and infinite life. All God’s works are marked by this characteristic. Contemplate the Incarnation; it was accomplished in the silence of the Virgin Mary’s chamber at a time when she was in prolonged silence, her door closed. Our Lord’s birth came during the night, while all things were enveloped in silence. That is how the Word of God appeared on earth, and only Mary and Joseph were silently with him. They did not overwhelm him with their questions, for they were accustomed to guarding their innermost thoughts.
Père Jacques of Jesus, O.C.D. Silence Retreat for the Carmel of Pontoise, Conference Eight Thursday evening, 9 September 1943