Counter culture Leone Caldecott
4 J r esus chooses a feeble, small and humble soul, He takes it in his arms, He commits it to his Heart. If it
understands, if it abandons itself to Him, He forms it in his image. The mission of little souls is so beautiful and touching. They receive from the Lord the divine secret of doing with Him silently, without praise or human reward, great things for his Love, and for Heaven." These words sound as though they could have come from St Therese of Lisieux. In fag they issued from the mouth of one of her more remarkable, if less well-known, disciples, Marthe Robin.
Marthe was born on March 13, 1902, the daughter of farmers in Chateauneuf-de-Galaure, near Lyons in south-eastern France. She spent the greater part of her 78 years totally bedridden, owing to a paralysing condition which made it impossible for her even to ingest food normally. Indeed the only sustenance Marthe received during the last 50 years of her life was thoEucharist, which she received once a week. And yet during all those years, this woman who could do nothing active in life poured herself out for.Christ and his Church in the most incredible fashion, achieving a mystical union with her Saviour to the point that each Friday she relived His Passion with Him. She was also marked with the stigmata. This is a story which you might expect to read in some long-ago hagiography, with whose historicity sceptics might beg to differ. But it happened in the middle of the 20th century, and is attested by a host of witnesses, many of whom are still alive today. Needless to say, Marthe's cause is being actively promoted.
I, first heard of Marthe Robin from the godmother of one of my children, who had visited Marthe with her fiance, in order to seek guidance as to whether they should marry (they did, I am glad to say). This visit is typical of the thousands which were made to the bedside of this "feeble soul" whose complete devotion to and unity with the suffering Lord made of her a friend and counsellor to all who were in need.
For this apostolate she employed not only her intense prayer life, but also her countrywoman's sanity and humour. There are saints who dispense physical charity to their fellow men, expending their youth, their strength, and all /heir resources in order to succour the needy. Then there are saints who give to others that incieasingly rare and precious thing in this busy modern era: a truly undivided attention, a burning.charity of the heart, words that soothe and inspire and re-affirm faith. These figures, of whom Marthe Robin is the great modem exemplar, do not make the suffering or confused soul feel that their miseries merely show up their foolishness. Instead, these missionaries of the heart find the precise way of re-orienting the person in need, precisely by focussing on their full human dignity as created and loved by God himself.
if Marthe's mission had stopped there it would have been remarkable enough. But this woman, whose spirituality has so much in common with St Therese, shared her Carmelite friend's capacity:for achieving stupendous fruits from within a seemingly insignificant seed. Closeted from the world not by the cloister but by her own body, Marthe nonetheless took Our Lord at his word when He told her she must create centres all over the world where light, love and charity would prevail against the darkness of the time. This is at the origin of the Foyers de Charlie (foyer meaning both hearth and home in French). Obviously Marthe could not do this alone, bed-ridden as she was. A spiritual father, Fr Georges Finet, was sent to her in 1936, and he became the instrument whereby the divine will began to be unfolded. First of all a Foyer was set up in Marthe Robin's own town, Chateauneuf-de-Galaure, along with a girls' school. But the charism soon spread, and other Foyers were set up in France, and then abroad.
The primary work of the Foyer is to receive people on a five-day retreat, guided by a priest and supported by a lay community who have taken this priest as a spiritual father (and Our Lady as their spiritual mother). During this time (the minimum stipulated by Marthe in order for souls to be converted), the retreatant would hear the Word of God. he enabled to
reflect on it and think about its application to his Or her life, and receive guidance, if desired, on their path in life. But most of all they would taste the healing power of silence. They would experience at the hands of the lay community the unconditional warmth and love with which Jesus wishes all his little ones to be received, departing refreshed and renewed.
There are some extraordinary testimonies of the effect of speaking with Marthe herself, or simply making a Foyer retreat, has had on people in all walks of life. For example the avid entrepreuneur who arrived at his doctor's behest to take what he thought would be a "rest cure-; he departed five days later having discovered that he had a vocation to the priesthood.
There are as yet no Foyers in this country.
However a group of people devoted to the cause of Marthe and the ideal of the Foyers get together each year with a sympathetic priest, and undertake the classic five-day retreat which Marthe inaugurated. This year's retreat will be held from September 10-15 at the Carmelite Priory at Boar's Hill, near Oxford, in September. It will be led by Fr Edwin Gordon of the Clifton diocese. Those who are interested in participating should contact Martin Blake, at 4 Dunkerton Close, Glastonbury, Somerset, BA6 8LZ.
The best introduction to the Foyers of Charity is Marthe Robin: A Chosen Soul, published by the Catholic Truth Society, 40-46 Harleyford Road, Vauxhall, London, SE1 1 5AY, tel. 020 7640 0042.