Wednesday, January 22, 2014

How the saints saw religious life: Madeleine Sophie Barat

Today it occurred to me that in discussing if the religious life is repulsive or not (see previous post), we have actual models of how the saints have seen it. So I went to our community library and at random picked out a volume on a saint, to see if I could find anything in this regard. The book was on St Madeleine Sophie Barat, the foundress of the Religious of the Sacred Heart. She lived in France from 1779 to 1865. I found this in the first chapter, in her own words:

There was never a time when I did not want to belong to God... I was from four to six years old when a priest came to call on my mother. He said: "I have just come from a convent where I witnessed a real scene between two religious...." I was playing in a corner of the room and seemed not to hear the conversation, but I lost none of it. It became fixed in my memory, and as I already had a religious vocation I said to myself that I would never enter that convent.*

That's grace. She always knew she was going to be a nun, and she evidently wasn't thinking of it as "the hardest, most fearsome way to live" as Br. Justin said in his article. She even knew which convents to steer clear of! For her, it meant that she would always "belong to God."

God works differently with each person, and not everyone called to religious life has such a clear intuition at such a young age. But it is possible, and my point here is that she was drawn to religious life by seeing it as a positive good, as a belonging to God. That's quite far from being repulsive! It's truly amazing how the Holy Spirit works. Madeleine Sophie never heard of TOB, but she lived it, and was one of a long line of holy people whom John Paul refers to here:

"In this call to continence 'for the kingdom of heaven,' first the disciples and then the whole living tradition of the Church quickly discovered the love for Christ himself as the Bridegroom of the Church, Bridegroom of souls, to whom he has given himself to the end... "[TOB 80:1]

* p. 15, in St. Madeleine Sophie Barat, by Margaret Williams, RCSJ, New York: Herder and Herder, 1965.

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