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Madame Jeanne-Marie Guyon - Catholic Evangelist

Quote: "I found myself in happiness equal to that of the Blessed. Nothing here below affected me; and neither at present do I see anything in heaven or in earth which can trouble me as regards myself."

Born into a wealthy family, Madame Jeanne-Marie Guyon (1648 - 1717) is a sickly child who spends her early life in a convent. Her desire is to become a nun, but her parents instead arrange a marriage to a wealthy forty-year-old aristocrat whose mother treats her cruelly. The loss of her parents, a sister, and a son and daughter adds to the anguish of her twelve-year marriage. Widowhood at the age of twenty-eight comes as a relief.

All the while, however, she finds solace in God through mystical experiences, convinced that suffering draws her closer to God. Influenced by a French Barnabite monk, Père Lacombe, she adopts a passive spirituality, one that opens the consciousness to deep meditation and comprehension of God. So consumed is she with spiritual discoveries that she leaves her two young children behind and begins an evangelistic tour. Her confessor, she insists, gives not only his blessing but also the command of the Lord: "My Father, I am a widow, who has little children four and six years of age. What else could God require of me but to rear them?" He responds: "I know nothing of it. You know whether God had made you recognize that he wished something of you. If it is so, there is nothing which should hinder you from doing his will. One must leave one's children to do it."

She journeys to Geneva where Father Lacombe has settled. But the local bishop orders them out of town. She later returns to France, where she publishes her mystical insights and is once again forced into exile by a local bishop. Her flight from persecution becomes an opportunity to evangelize. She preaches in marketplaces and private homes and is amazed at the spiritual hunger she finds.

Her ministry reaches every social class and vocation, from an impoverished "laundress" to a prominent physician. She preaches to those she encounters along the way and also seeks the rich and famous. In Paris she forms a group of "ladies of rank," including a countess and two duchesses. Convents and monasteries also become regular stops on her journeys. In fact, she is permitted to present her message at the monastery of the Grande Chartreuse, where no woman has before entered.

When she encounters a suicidal nun, she writes, "I endeavored to explain to her she must no longer rely upon observances, or trust to personal merits, but must trust in Christ and resign herself to Him alone." With further counsel, "she was so much changed that she became the admiration of the Religious community." Even if her words were true to the dogma reaffirmed by the Council of Trent, a female itinerant evangelist is not acceptable to the church hierarchy—particularly one considered mentally unstable. Indeed, she is regularly given to bizarre behavior. In an effort to gain holiness and comprehend the suffering of Christ, for example, she sucks bitter herbs, rolls in stinging nettles, puts stones in her shoes, and pulls out healthy teeth. She is convinced that in identifying with Christ she has actually ceased to exist and has become one with God.

Church authorities seek to silence her, but she is a Quietist who will not be quieted. Both she and Lacombe are imprisoned on orders of Louis XIV. Following her release, she is examined by theologians and signs a recantation. But she continues on with her ministry and is again imprisoned, this time in the Bastille. In 1703, after seven years of suffering, the last two years in solitary confinement, she is released. She lives the rest of her life with her son, writing poetry and following the injunction not to preach. "I found myself in happiness equal to that of the Blessed," she said of her suffering. "Nothing here below affected me; and neither at present do I see anything in heaven or in earth which can trouble me as regards myself."

Today's reading is from Parade of Faith: A Biographical History of the Christian Church by Ruth Tucker. © 2010 by Zondervan. Used with permission. All rights reserved. The book's title must be included when sharing the above content on social media.

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