Theme 4 -
Sophie Barat emerged gradually from the intense years of crisis rooted in the conviction that love and compassion was the path of truth for herself and for the members of the Society of the Sacred Heart.
In that spirit, and with the immediate problems in the Society partially resolved, Sophie Barat set about effecting reconciliation and harmony. She was 64 years old. The impact of the crisis marked the Society profoundly and the healing process took many years. Indeed, in the final months of her life Sophie Barat accepted that not all had been resolved, not all had been reconciled.
Sophie first reached out to those who had opposed her and she slowly created new bridges of communication with them, as far as she could, recognising that resolution could not be forced or realised quickly. Since the first and second generations of members in the Society were to different degrees fractured, Sophie Barat reached out to the third and fourth generations of members and set about training them for leadership in the Society, both immediately and into the future.
With her sense of truth and conscious of what she had been entrusted, Sophie Barat governed the Society for the rest of her life, for 22 more years. Her letter writing became even more intense in the measure that she travelled less and the Society expanded further. Her letters show how the years 1839-
The great secret of the spiritual life, which ensures our salvation and indeed our transformation, is to place ourselves in the hands of God like a little child with her mother. It means surrendering to God in the present and for the future, without useless questioning and without anxiety. It means benefitting from the present moment, and making our struggles and problems, which we must face, work for the good of our soul. Now this is wisdom.
Sophie Barat to Valerie de Bosredont, Rome, 26 May 1845
I cannot urge you enough to surrender yourself in peace and trust in God. Go back to your own way of prayer and recollection. From the moment you draw close to your God with the heart of a child you will regain your original facility in prayer. Hurry and return to a deep life of prayer, which we all should have in the Society. What would happen to the Society if, in the midst of so much activity, we were to become dissipated and acted like machines! We would only be active on the outside, on the material level, and we would make others just like us. This
would be a disaster. A religious without a deep inner life is like a body without a soul, a tree without fruit. If this were so, then we work in vain. It would be better to do nothing. So go back to your life of prayer with Jesus Christ, and unite yourself to Him in trust and love.
Sophie Barat to Valérie de Bosredont, Paris, 22 April 1846
My tender remembrance and affection follow you wherever you are and wherever you go. The short rest you enjoyed here among us bears fruit and each of us will carry the Cross of Jesus more generously. It is in vain that we claim to glorify the Heart of Jesus if we hold on so tightly to our own desires, that is to say to what is merely human. We sow in the wind; and we only reap vanity and deception. My main disappointment is to see members of the Society, endowed with so many gifts from the Heart of Jesus, and yet so lacking in generous response to Him. Yet who are we to criticise? Are we in charge of own souls? Why do we not do all that is in our power to give all of our being to the glory of this Divine Heart? Ask this courage for me when you think back with nostalgia to our times on Tabor, where we lived together long ago. Now I do not go forth with the same élan towards Calvary, where nevertheless the Beloved rests at midday.
Sophie Barat to Thérèse Maillucheau, Paris 13 September 1849
Please, and I cannot repeat this too often, open out your soul, you hold yourself in a double stranglehold. Your faults, which are only sheer fragility upset you too much and constrain your heart! You must draw much more closely to the Heart of Jesus and not think about yourself. His glory, his work in people ought to be your dominant thought. A single disavowal of your failings is enough. Conserve all your powers of your soul for securing yourself in union and in love with Jesus! Believe that everything is useful for nurturing these virtues. It is like the way we throw dry wood, green wood, brambles and brushwood on the fire, these materials feed the fire and their nature is changed on account of the action of the fiery furnace! Jesus acts like that in our souls, if we surrender our being entirely to Him.
Sophie Barat to Louise de Limminghe, Paris, 25 February 1852.
What a life we have, and while we were young we thought that we would bury ourselves in a Carmelite monastery. The ways of God are unfathomable. I would always regret not going to Carmel if I did not have the assurance that God so designed it. But at least we must unite solitude to the work we do, and counter this whirlwind with a deep cavern where the soul can take refuge as often as possible. For us this cavern in the rock is the Heart of Jesus!
Sophie Barat to Emma de Bouchaud, Paris, 18 June 1853
This is a short note, dear Blanche, as this is the first time I have been able to write and my tiredness makes me feel so weak. And yet I know I should write to you without delay, to tell you that a German family has written to us recently here, at the rue de Varenne. Fears are expressed that Riedenburg will not prosper. They say the coldness of the superior [Blanche de Lannoy] is off-
Sophie Barat to Blanche de Lannoy, in Riedenburg, Austria), Paris 15 May 1855
The main thing is to keep our soul at peace by continually surrendering to the good pleasure of God; we can make this present in us by the longing of our hearts for God! Let us both ask to have this way of being as the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Otherwise, how can we sustain a life which burns and dries up all the powers of our soul, relentlessly? Indeed the world today resembles the movement of trains: all rushes along and races forward. We have no more time to breathe. And take note that the same is happening in all good works undertaken. No doubt all this is good but the pace of it cannot be stopped. We have to follow the rush; you know what I mean.
Sophie Barat to Elisa de Bouchaud, Paris 24 May 1855
If I had more time I would have the courage to tell you why you have so little work just now. It is partly your own fault. If you had more virtue, more of a spirit of sacrifice, less absorption with yourself, your superiors would trust you more, and certainly you would not be out of a job! But let's leave this aside and find a solution! We have holes to fill everywhere, for work abounds everywhere. With the gifts that God has given you, how can we leave you in a corner of the world with nothing to do, or very little anyway? I have prayed about this in the presence of Our Lord and gone through the world in my mind's eye, looking at all the houses where you could be more useful. I stopped at one which I now propose to you, confidant that you will accept this mission as coming from the hand of Jesus Himself.
For the last two years we have a foundation in Dublin. It is ideally situated, with fine land enclosure and the work is really thriving. The foundation is growing so fast that they need more French teachers. This is happening everywhere, and we do not have enough personnel to respond to all the needs. The house in Dublin needs a bursar; even more so, one who knows both English and French! You have this advantage and I think you could fulfil this service for the Society there. You are not a stranger to the work of a bursar, since I believe that you have done it before. In any case, if you find it beyond your capacities or energies, you can train someone to help you, and later on she can take over from you.
Will you take time with Our Lord in prayer to see if you can accept this obedience? In the event that you can, prepare for your departure and come back here with those whom Mother Hardey will give you as travelling companions. There is an aspirant coming here for final vows and a
novice for Conflans, I think. We will await you sometime over the summer, and I will be happy to have you here for a while with us in Paris. Here you can rest body and soul, near your friends, and make new demands, which the Heart of Christ places upon you, easier to bear. In the event that you cannot accept this mission to Dublin, for reasons I do not know about just now, then you must stay where you are for the time being, until I find somewhere else for you. Please answer this letter a soon as you can as I do not want to be left hanging about the situation needing to be filled in Dublin. I also need to know whether or not you are coming here to Paris, for I think you need some comforting at this time of your life.
Sophie Barat to Stanislas Verhulst, (in Manhattanville), Paris 23 April 1856
What's done is done. Let us stop worrying about it anymore now! The past should be left to the compassion of Jesus Christ. Besides, we did not have enough light at the time and so our mistakes are less culpable. Now, however this is not the case, and, if we did the same again we would be culpable and without excuse. So acknowledge the action of Jesus in his creatures, and see only his presence in their lives. No matter what happens say: Fiat!
Sophie Barat to Anna de Lommessen, (Gratz), Paris 20 April 1859
These lines are to be read by you alone. If you would like an exchange, our [no name] is available; wherever I send her, people want rid of her! The poor soul is deluding herself; strict to the point of excess with others, she will not tolerate any weakness from them, while she constantly demands good care, special dispensations and gentleness for herself! She is so concerned about her health! She told me that the air was not good for her in Italy, then she told me that the air was too cold in the north when we sent her there; I thought that Lyons was between the two, yet she does not want to stay there anymore; the air is damp over there; I do not know where to send her any more. What a poor religious formation she was given! It is true that she hardly put in the effort. This is where I admire your patience in putting up with her for so long! Please pray to our Lord so that he may enlighten me and enable me to find a house for her, or rather a Superior who can take care of her and bring her, if at all possible, to our favourite maxim: nothingness in the hand of Jesus can be clothed again in his image and his spirit through his merciful power. Who understands that? And who has the courage to go through such self-
Sophie Barat to Louise de Limminghe, Paris, 13 February 1863
Thank you for your holy picture, which I received last evening, and for what you wrote to me. Your words are somewhat more humble than usual, and this softened the pain I felt yesterday, witnessing your appalling behaviour towards Mother Cahier, who did not deserve your grumpiness. Your apologies should be addressed to her and not to me. I only received the side effects of your bad humour. So, if you have made no effort to apologise, hurry up and do so. Above all, do not delay. Yes, indeed, dear Blanche, you are far from understanding the holy virtue of humility. Yet, if we reflect on it seriously, we are poor specimens, to say the least, if we do not do battle to root out our dreadful arrogance. Now take this motherly correction well. I hope it will help you to work on yourself. If so, then let us say: happy fault. I can barely manage to hold my pen. All my affection in Christ Jesus and Mary, Barat.
Sophie Barat to Blanche Ghirelli, Paris, Good Friday 1865. This letter was written some weeks before Sophie Barat died.
Process for reflection on the inner life of Sophie Barat, 1843-
Read the Summary and the Texts which accompany this theme
As you reflect on the life of Sophie Barat from 1843-
Pointers which could help your reflection.
Sophie Barat was 64 in 1843 and governed the Society until she was 85. How do you see Sophie Barat at this stage in her life?
What is your impression of Sophie Barat's spirituality as you read her letters to members of the Society?
How have you emerged from periods of crisis and uncertainty? What does this tell you about Sophie Barat?
Madeleine Sophie Barat. A Life; The Society of the Sacred Heart in 19th century France
In the evening time, take time to speak with Sophie Barat about your life and your concerns at this time; about her life and her experience. Bring this reflection into sleep. In the night hours while we are asleep the spiritual world is open and present to us. Sophie Barat belongs to that reality. As a transformed being, she is alive, active and ready to help us.