The Extraordinary Witness of Marthe Robin
TO SUFFER WITH JESUS
Ed. Note: During the 1985-1986 academic year, Henri J.M. Nouwen was a priest-in-residence at the l’Arche community in Trosly-Breuil, France (a Catholic/ecumenical community serving disabled persons). This article is the eighth installment in a series of articles reflecting on that year. The series is adapted from his diary.
Sunday, April 13, 1986
This was a very special day. I am in a small village in the south of France, St. Martin d’Août, close to Chateauneuf de Galaure, where Marthe Robin lived and died. After having heard so much about the great influence of Marthe Robin on the lives of so many saintly people in Trosly, I felt a great desire to visit the place where she had made her life a long painful “yes” to Jesus’ invitation to suffer with him.
Monday, April 14, 1986
This afternoon Bernard drove me to the house where Marthe Robin was born (1902), lived, and died (1981). It is a simple farmhouse on a hill not far from the small town of Chateauneuf de Galaure. As we drove up to Marthe’s home, we had a splendid view of the valleys, hills, and mountains of “la Drome” (the name of that department of France). As far as we could see we saw beautiful green fields and villages marked with elegant church steeples. At about 5 p.m. we entered the house. A very friendly woman led us to the small room where Marthe lived the passion of Jesus. The more I hear and read about Marthe’s life, the more I come to think of her as the saint who has participated most directly and fully in the suffering of the Son of God. In 1918 she became aware of her vocation to experience in her own body the great battle against evil that Jesus had fought and won. In 1926, when her parents thought she was going to die, St. Thérèse of Lisieux appeared to her three times telling her not only that she would live, but that she was called to continue in her life the mission of St. Thérèse in the world. Soon after these apparitions, Marthe was paralyzed. She could no longer move her arms or legs. Her parents put her on a small divan bed where she remained until her death 52 years later. In 1930 Jesus asked her, “Do you want to be like me?” This was the invitation to experience not only the physical pain Jesus had experienced during His passion, but also the immense suffering of His heart. Marthe said “yes” to that divine invitation, and from that moment she did not eat, drink, or sleep anymore. The only food she received was Holy Communion on Wednesdays. Every week, from Thursday night until Monday, she lived fully the agony of Jesus in Gethsemane, on His way to Calvary, His death on the Cross, and the joy of His Resurrection. It was a complete inner experience. To an outsider she seemed dead during that period, though the signs of Jesus’ passion had become visible on her body. Blood pouring from her head revealed that she was “wearing” in her ecstasy a crown of thorns, and tears of blood coming from her eyes showed how fully she lived the agony of Jesus in the garden.
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