Reflections about Marthe Robin

by Henri Nouwen

Date: March 16, 2008
Category: Spiritual Life

Excerpt taken from book Letters to Marc About Jesus by Henri Nouwen:

Now I´d like to tell you one or two things about her, not just because I happen to be here but because, all along, I´ve been wanting to write to you about Jesus as the hidden God.
I don´t think you´ll ever be able to penetrate the mystery of God´s revelation in Jesus until it strikes you that the major part of Jesus´life was hidden and that even the “public” years remained invisible as far as most people were concerned. Whereas the way of the world is to insist on publicity, celebrity, popularity and getting maximum exposure, God prefer to work in secret. You must have the nerve to let that mystery of God´s secrecy, God´s anonymity, sink deeply into your consciousness because, otherwise, you´re continually looking in the wrong direction. In God´s sight, the things that really matter seldom take place in public.

It´s quite possible that the reasons why God sustains our violent and homicidal world and continues giving us new opportunities for conversion will always remain unknown to us.
Maybe while we focus our whole attention on the VIPs and their movements, on peace conferences and protest demonstrations, it´s the totally unknown people, praying and working in silence, whp make God save us yet again from destruction. I often think that I´ve succeeded in staying true to my Christian and priestly calling thanks to the prayers and magnanimity of people who remain completely unknown to me during my lifetime.
Perhaps the very greatest of saints remain anonymous.

Marthe Robin is one of the most impressive examples of God´s hidden presence in our world. She was born in 1902. At sixteen she fell ill, and her illness, for which the doctors could find no explanation, grew worse and worse.
Slowly but surely she became aware that God was calling her to a life in which she would be linked in a special way to the suffering of Jesus.
When she was 23, she wrote an “act of abandonment”. In it she gave to the God of love all that she had: “I belong to you without any reservation, forever. O Beloved of my soul!It is you only whom I want, and for your love I renounce all.” When she was 26 her legs became totally paralyzed, and soon afterwards her arms. From then on she did not eat, drink, or sleep.
From 1928 to her death in 1981 she took no food other than weekly Holy Communion. When I first heard about this it sounded to me like a pious fairy tale, but now that I´ve talked to a lot of people who knew Marthe Robin personally, I realize that God can achieve a great deal more in a human being than we who are of little faith are prepared to believe possible. The total “abstinence” of Marthe is one of the ways in which Jesus showed his love to her.
In September 1930 Jesus appeared to Marthe and asked her, “Do you wish to become as I am?” She replied , “Yes” and soon afterwards she received the wounds of Jesus in her hands, feet and side.
She also received the crown of thorns. From that time on, week by week Marthe began suffering fully into the Passion of Jesus. Her suffering with Jesus was so intense that tears of blood flowed from her eyes and the marks of invisible thorns appeard across her head.
Every Friday she entered so fully into the death of Jesus that only on Saturday did she come to herself again; and until Sunday and Monday she remained in a state of total exhaustion. As the years passed her suffering grew deeper. In the beginning she suffered with Jesus, but little by little she became the suffering Jesus.
To Jean Guitton, a well-known French philosopher who visited her several times, she said:

At the start, I recognized in my visions people along the road that Jesus took to Calvary. But now I´ve gone beyond that. What occupies me now is the Passion, uniquely Jesus. I don´t know how I am to explain it….Things like that are so grievous that you would die if God did not support you. And yet it´s exquisite.

I am not telling you all this for the sake of relation something uncanny or gloomy or weird. I want to show you that in the midst of our warring world there are people who, in a very hidden way, enter into the mystery of Jesus´suffering, a suffering for the world´s sake. (…)
A number of times now, I´ve been to pray in the room where for 51 years Marthe experienced the suffering of Jesus. Many of those who knew her say that there has probably never been anyone who has lived out so directly and so fully in their own body the suffering and death of Jesus.
Every time I walk into that little room, I experience what I have so far never experienced anywhere else: a peace which the world cannot give; a joy which does not conflict with suffering; a total surrender which makes true freedom possible; and a love which comes from God himself, but which often remain unknown to us human beings.
There I discover quite concretely what life is about and what is asked of me if I want to spread the love of God.
It´s a life in which joy and the cross are never separated. It´s a life which doesn´t seek influence, power, success, and popularity, but trusts that God is secretly at work and, in secret, is causing something new to grow. It´s a life of mortification, that is to say, of dying to old ways of being so as to make it possible for us to bear new fruit.
Many people came to visit Marthe during her lifetime to seek her advice and counsel. In utter simplicity and often with a great sense of humor, she would chat with them. It was extremely rare for her to talk about herself. Her concern and compassion were always directed toward her guests….



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