MARTHE ROBIN: ANOTHER VICTIM SOUL
[The following article from the Voice of Padre Pio speaks of another soul, who like Padre Pio, offered herself to God on behalf of others.]
She neither ate, drank nor slept, but lived for seven decades and carried on a busy apostolate.
Padre Pio passed to his heavenly reward in September 1968.
At that moment a sister soul, a laywoman who also suffered the stigmata and the Passion of Christ was still living her mission. She lived in the Galaure Valley in the southern half of France. It would seem that she and the Padre had much in common.
Last year, just after my biography, The Pierced Priest was published, I was interviewed on a French radio station. They were fascinated to hear more about Padre Pio and I realised that perhaps he is not quite as well known there as in some places because France had its own 'Padre Pio'. She was Marthe Robin. The interviewer was surprised that Marthe, in turn, is very little known so far in English-speaking countries.
In researching Padre's life, I understood that he was in some way part of that "Legion of Little Souls" that St Therese of Lisieux so confidently prophesied would follow her and continue her 'Little Way.' As well as the 'explosion' of apparitions with which the Lord seemed to be gracing this century, I understood that in his mercy He was also inspiring chosen souls to become 'victims' with Him to appeal to the Divine Mercy of our Father on this apparently Godless age.
Padre Pio was born in 1887. We know that as a student he read the newly-published 'autobiography' of St Therese. (He was also much influenced by another devotee of Therese, that incomparable little flower herself, St Gemma Galgani.)
Therese died in 1897. I think she somehow in her last months experienced that near-despair which would be the lot of so many of our contemporaries in the twentieth century. Marthe Robin was born in 1902.
Her only food was the Holy Eucharist
From the age of 28 she was completely paralysed and bedridden. At first she still had the power to move thumb and forefinger of one hand whereby she could still tell her beads. Eventually this, too, was lost to her and she was completely immobile apart from her head which she could move slightly. Since the previous year, at the age of 25, she could not eat anything at all. And from the age of 26 and her total paralysis she couldn't even take a sip of water. When doctors tried to force some water down her throat, it merely came down her nostrils.
For the next 53 years Marthe's only food was the Holy Eucharist. Once a week her spiritual father brought her the Sacred Host. On more than one occasion both he and other visiting priests, saw the Host apparently leap from their hands and fly directly to her mouth. Even a bishop testified that he saw it apparently dissolve once it passed her lips.
Her Holy Communion was weekly. Once she had received Jesus she went immediately into ecstasy and then began her weekly re-living of Christ's Passion and crucifixion. The stigmata and the scourging, the crowning with thorns appeared on her body. The whole crucifixion seemed to be re-enacted on this little countrywoman and from the moment of Christ's death on the Cross she too appeared dead. Thus she would remain until 'called back' to life under obedience by her spiritual father on the Sunday. (This would eventually become the Monday and then even the Tuesday following the Friday crucifixion.)
I said that for 53 years Marthe ate not a crumb of food. Neither did she sleep. She was in constant prayer and intercession for the world. On the days when she was not reliving the Passion she would receive a stream of visitors. Like Padre Pio she had the gift of seeing into people's souls and would very simply tell them what they most needed to hear. Also like the Padre she could not abide anyone coming to see her out of mere curiosity or expecting to 'have their fortunes told.'
One famous French philosopher and member of the prestigious Academie Francaise, Jean Guitton, wrote how he was bowled over on meeting this extraordinary little woman on a visit to her family's small farmhouse where she lived in a bed in one small room. As a renowned intellectual, Guitton was fascinated by the fact that she never slept. He concluded that she was a "living brain" which was constantly active. Soon, of course, he realised that she was "more, much more, than that."
"I'm worried about my goat!"
Another well-known French philosopher, Marcel Clement, remembers his first meeting with Marthe during the second world war. He had heard about her, of course. So many were the questions he had to put to this extraordinary woman who, while never listening to radio or TV or seeing newspapers, seemed to know everything that was happening in the world. Full of intellectual, philosophical questions, he was shown into the small dim room.
After a while of silence Marthe began. "Bonjour M. Clement."
"Did you see my goat on the way in, M. Clement?"
Somewhat surprised, the young philosopher confirmed that he had.
"I'm worried about my goat, M. Clement."
"Ah, yes Marthe?"
"Yes M. Clement, I think he has a liver problem."
By now, the young sophisticate was somewhat loss for words!
Marthe continued. "Yes? I think he has a liver problem and I think the same thing is wrong with Father Finet (her spiritual director) and I'm worried about him."
That was the first meeting between the stigmatist and the philosopher who became a lifelong friend. Thirty years later he asked her, "Marthe do you remember our first meeting? You spoke to me about your goat."
"Yes," she said, "You needed to be brought down to earth and the reality of everyday life and human concerns."
The spiritual father Marthe was concerned about in that incident had been sent to her by Our Blessed Lady. Like Padre Pio, Marthe's mission did not rest purely on the spiritual plane but was to find a concrete expression of charity.
She was directed to found a school, first for girls and then one for boys, in her native village. All this she directed and led to the smallest detail from her bed in her darkened little room! But more was to follow. She was then told to found a community which would welcome retreatants and which would be a home of "light, charity and love." It became known as the 'Foyer de Charite' and there are now some 70 houses and communities throughout the world.
Our Lady gave very specific instructions about what was to happen in these houses. Each one was to be led by a priest, 'the Father', and the retreats were to be in complete silence apart from the prayers and the preaching of the Father which would lead to a complete renewal in the Faith of the participants. And they were to be five days long. Three days was "not enough to change a soul." The retreats were, and are, based very much on the teaching of that great Marian apostle, St. Louis de Montfort. Indeed, one time after an ecstasy a copy of his Treatise on True Devotion to the Blessed Virgin was found on Marthe's bed. No one knew where it had come from. Marthe told them our Lady left it!
Like Padre Pio and others who live a high degree of union with Our Blessed Lord, Marthe also had to suffer assaults from the Devil. As in a similar incident with Padre Pio, our Lady assisted Marthe and one time when she was thrown onto the floor, herself placed a cushion under Marthe's head.
Like Padre and other truly holy souls, Marthe was also very discreet about her supernatural experiences. But she did often speak to close friends about her special relationship with St Therese of Lisieux. On more than one occasion she confirmed that St Therese had appeared to her three times. She said that Therese had told her that her work, like that of Therese, would be much greater after her death than while she was alive in her Carmel of Lisieux. And Therese said that Marthe would have a great mission to continue in her 'Little Way.'
"For your beloved souls, the priests"
An offering made by Marthe in 1939 (renewing her Act of Abandonment of 1925) echoes so closely that made by Padre Pio. She said, "Lord, I offer myself, I give myself again to You for all the souls in the world, for the sanctity of your beloved souls the priests, especially for those whose sins I carry in my heart.
"That through me, Lord, by my prayer, by my love, by my sufferings, by my immolation, by any exterior actions I may have, that by my whole life their apostolate will be more effective, more fruitful, more holy, more divine."
Another paragraph of that offering would surely have struck a chord with Padre Pio, who offered the Mass with such love, devotion and tenderness that he would often weep. Marthe prayed for her beloved priests, "May their Mass be less of a sumptuous exterior ceremony during which they are busy, distracted, distant, and more an act of profound tenderness."
And like Padre Pio, Marthe seemed to be able to be - or at least see what was happening - elsewhere. She could tell her spiritual father, exactly what had happened that day during the retreat in the Foyer in the village. She could tell him which parts of the talks he gave were good and where he might have been a bit distracted for example. And this ability and concern for the well-being of the retreatants reached down to the smallest detail. She would point out clearly to the members of the community if there had been any lack in charity or if the silence had been broken. She would say if the retreatants needed more heating or if something was not good enough with the meals.
When Marthe died aged 79, after suffering the Passion and Crucifixion a last time in February 1981, over 250 priests and several bishops concelebrated her Requiem. Her work of the Foyers de Charite continues and grows.
Thank God who in his infinite Mercy has given us such souls as our beloved Padre Pio, St Gemma Galgani, Marthe Robin and who knows how many hidden 'victims' to intercede with Him to the Father for mercy in these times we live in.
The very existence of a Padre Pio, a Marthe Robin, surely proves once again the "loving mercy of the Heart of our God." He cannot change. He sent his only Son to die for us. The Holy Spirit, our Advocate, inspires certain chosen souls to identify in a special way in the redemptive work of our Saviour. They are led and helped particularly by she who stood by the Cross, Our Blessed Mother of Mercy.
What a mighty God who in this century of atheism, rejection of his ways, mass murder, and all sorts of blasphemy and sacrilege should respond with grace upon grace. May we respond, with our brothers and sisters those victim souls, before it is too late. May St Therese Padre Pio, Marthe Robin intercede for us and inspire us.
Voice of Padre Pio © 1996
June 1996, p. 14.
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