This post and any that follow about this subject is for anyone who might be interested in Consummata, and are looking for more information than is available in Wikipedia. Perhaps you came across references to her in one of Von Balthasar or Adrienne’s books, like I did. Its hard to find much about her in English.
Marie-Antoinette De Geuser (1889-1918) was a French Catholic woman who wanted to become a Discalced Carmelite but could not due to family obligations and health problems. Yet, so moved by her were the nuns at a Carmel that she was apparently allowed to become first a Postulant, and then a Novice, though she lived out her vocation in her family home. She left a number of letters or diary entries that were collected and published in several volumes in France in the 1920s and 1930s. The only volume ever translated into English was a 1931 edition translated by George Baker: Consummata: Marie-Antoinette De Geuser, her Life and Letters, by Raoul Plus, SJ.
The book is in two parts. The first is a partial biography, more spiritual in focus than on the events of her life. The second part is a selection of diary entries and letters to relatives and other correspondents. The book is out of print but I was able to obtain it through an inter-library loan, and thus this blog post or posts is possible. Religious and scholars at the time were very impressed with what she shared, and Saint Teresa Benedicta of the Cross was among those who read and studied her letters.
Marie-Antoinette had two religious names. “Marie of the Trinity” was the religious name she chose as a Carmelite, and what she often signed her letters with. “Consummata” was a nickname she chose for herself. This is Latin and can be translated as “complete”, “lacking nothing” or “perfect.” This was not a commentary on her own perception of her value. She was fond of describing herself as “God’s little nobody” in her letters. Rather it was probably a reference to how she perceived the effect or result of God’s grace on her.
Consummata was born to a respected, devout and financially secure family in Le Havre, in the Normandy region of France. She was the eldest of twelve children. She had three uncles in religious vocation, and one, a Jesuit, was her spiritual director later in life and the recipient of many of the letters collected and published. She had another cousin who was a Carmelite nun. At least two of her brothers became priests or religious. World War I was very hard on the family, and two brothers died and one was crippled.
She seemed to be troubled with poor health her entire life. But I could not find a specific reference to what her trouble was in the book. There is a mention of attack of rheumatism of the joints as a child. She had a bad case of appendicitis as a teenager. It seems she spent the last 3-4 years of her life confined to home in great fatigue and often in bed. Her health problems caused her to be denied entrance to the Carmel at Le Havre in 1909. There is no mention of any course of treatment. Perhaps they could not diagnose it. Was it an autoimmune disorder?
She had another opportunity a few years later to enter Carmel, at Pontoise, but her mother became very sick (and remained sort of an invalid at least through the time of Consummata’s death in 1918). She felt that she needed to stay home to care for her siblings and help manage the house. She perceived her vocation would be to suffer in a quiet and anonymous way in a domestic setting for the salvation of souls and increase in vocations.
She was very intelligent and learned Latin. She corresponded frequently with her relatives who had vocations, and with nuns at different convents. She seemed particularly interested in the writings and spirituality of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity.
I will include an episode from the 1909 visit to the Le Havre Carmel that shows how they passed in the night, like two ships:
Within two or three days of that time I went to the Carmel here that I might know definitely what their decision was. Chatting, the Prioress told me among other things that she had just received photographs of a young sister who had died in the odour of sanctity at Dijon a couple of years previously. She offered me one of these. Though I took it, I scarcely glanced at it: only one thing interested me then – was I, or was I not accepted?
The photo was of Saint Elizabeth of the Trinity. Presumably Marie-Antoinette later realized who this photo was of. She started using the religious name of Marie of the Trinity in her correspondence in 1911.
A common point of discussion in her letters was the unity of the Trinity, and of the soul joining with that unity, and being transformed into it. She described the difference between her and Elizabeth’s focus of contemplation of the Holy Trinity as follows:
The difference between the way of Sister Elizabeth of the Trinity and my own is, as I perceive from her book, roughly this: for, as she herself says, the fascination of that greatest of mysteries lies in converse with “her Three Persons.” For me, it is their Unity that has the great appeal. Her master is S. Paul, while I am a pupil of S. John.
I think it is generally accepted that St. Paul’s letters were of great influence on St. Elizabeth, and I do perceive, in my own layperson’s way, a Johannine feel to Marie-Antoinette’s writings.
I think the way she lived her vocation may have a particular message to or appeal for Catholics in Third Orders, particularly Secular Carmelites or Lay Carmelites. She lived in the world, in a demanding domestic setting.
I will try to do a few more posts with excerpts from her letter and diary entries, and try to expand on some of the themes she discussed.