Saturday, November 21, 2020

'The True Self of Henriette Aymer de la Chevalerie from the point of view of Thomas Merton'

*** A Theological Reflection A Pilgrimage to the True Self ***

Br. Ludovikus Calasanz Salu sscc (Indonesia)


The life of nobleman as many peoples knew is a life that full of happiness. Their lives are often decorated by having various events together among their groups. This life style also has been experienced by Henriette Aymer because she is from noble family. In many events of nobility in Poitiers (France), Henriette was always be the limelight of many peoples because of her pretty face, her passion for expressing herself, and her brilliant ideas. Henriette experienced this life style for so long.

In this life style, Henriette turned out to be very far from her True Self. She seemed to be in an alienation of identity. The Henriette-self whom appears on these life style is a fake Henriette. It can be said that it is Her False Self.

Henritte Aymer de la Chevalerie.

Henriette Aymer de la Chevalerie is her full name. She is a daughter from a noble family. She is the child of partner Marquis de la Chevelerie and Loiuse Gigou de Vezancy. She was born on August 11, 1767 at the Chateau de la Chevalerie in St. Petersburg. Georges de Noisne near by the city of Poitiers. She is the middle child of three siblings. Her two brothers are Louis and Dominic. On 24 December 1800, Henriette profess her eternal vows as a follower of the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary which later gave birth to the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary (SSCC).

Henriette's existence, personality and actions were very influential in the founding of the SSCC Congregation. In the Congregation, she was called " Bonne mere " (Good Mother). She died in Christ on 23 November 1834 in France.

Henriette’s life before knew the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary was filled with various pleasures. Together with her mother, they always attended social events of nobility in Poitiers. At that events, Henriette was always in the limelight for her beauty face, her passion for expression and her brilliant ideas. Henriette and her mother lived in a social environment that ignored the difficulties that have been experienced by society as a result of the revolutionary changes at that time. For many years they lived in such a social environment.

In generally, life style as a nobleman is dreamed by many peoples because live in happiness, without suffering.  However, not for Henriette Aymer. The life style of always having fun, didn’t captive Henriette. She often attended the events of social events of nobility in Poitiers only with motivation of making her mother happy.

It is unfortunate that the Henriette who looks cheerful and happy at that events was Henriette who is actually far from her True Self. What that she has shown at that events of noble in Poitiers was her False Self. Henriette’s true calling is to unity with God in contemplation.

An American Trappist, Thomas Merton said that Man who lives in a False Self is a form of alienation from her true identity as the Image of God and she will always act with pretense. Because dissemblance is a main action that can be represented by a False Self.

If Merton's view is used to see Henriette Aymer before joining the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary, Henriette is classified in the False Self. This can be seen from her motivation in attending aristocratic events in Poitiers. She was just trying to make her mother happy while she herself had no interest in such events. Her being in a false self-buries her true self. Even her false self-dims her true self which is hidden in God's love. This false self really messes her existence as the image of a God whom is free to express herself. The result of presenting a false self makes her didn’t know her true self.

I can say that Henriette has faked or used a 'mask' (image of False Self) in the social events of nobility in Poitiers. Although, she seemed free to express herself. What that appears in that events were a form of style to wrap her true Self. Henriette's actions at that events were the result of her being in a false self. The existence of a false self emphasizes outer actions.  Achievement is the most important value in this identity because the more she achieves something, the more real she becomes. The emphasis is on visible results. In the false self, Self-Assertion becomes an important thing. And to promote herself, she is required to dominate others. This is Henriette’s self-image before joining the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary.

Henriette's life in prison and a time of self-transformation.

On July 14, 1789 the Parisians forcibly took control of the Bastille fort. At that time, Henriette Aymer and her mother no longer cared about events with the aristocracy. When the revolution peaked, Henriette and her mother showed an extraordinary morality. Around 1792 and 1793 they were with no doubt hiding all the priests whom rejected to take the oath of allegiance to the state. Their actions resulted them in being imprisoned at Hospitaller's Prison in Poitiers on October 22, 1793.

The experience of being imprisoned was a sad and terrifying experience. Their actions were considered against the government so they have to accept the consequences. At that time, the punishment for those who against government regulations were hanging or guillotine. In historical story, said that Henriette Aymer and her mother got a chance to be free from punishment and sent back home from prison because of the close relationship that Henriette built with a daughter of the prison’s guard.

The experience of being jailed properly was a bitter experience but at the same time, it was an opportunity for Henriette Aymer to entered into herself and found her true self. The experience in the prison also was the moment of life’s transformation from false self to true self. The true self that has been buried far away because of the false self has returned to bring significant changes to Henriette Aymer's life. Henriette Returns to find her true self. So, let me said that the experience of being imprisoned is also a story that leads Henriette to realize her calling to reach the True Self.

Thomas Merton said that the true Self is a hidden inner self, namely: the true human essence. This essence is the deepest human reality, which is supported by a fundamental union with God which is the basis of this essence. Man, actually depends on God and without God's presence in her life, man really doesn't exist.

This idea of​​identity cannot be separated from Merton’s thinking about humans who were created in the image and image of God. The true nature of man is the image of God. In the real self, man can recognize herself and return to her own unity and enter into ' Communion' with God through contemplation because contemplation awakens a transcendent and deep self.

Henriette’s bitter experience has become an entrance into the true self where there is union with God. In True Self, Henriette not only knew her true self but also God who reigns in humans.

Encouraged by the ' Communion ' with God, Henriette remains committed to defending and hiding the priests whom rejected their oath of allegiance to the state. Meanwhile, she sought a spiritual director to guide her so that the relationship that she has built with God is maintained. The experience in prison was an experience of finding a true self and can be said to be a moment of knowing God.

Knowledge of God.

The discovery of the true self is actually also the entrance to union with God because God reigns in human beings. To find God we need to look within ourselves, because it is in fact that God is present in man. We don't need to be looking for God out there because God is present in our True Self. Therefore, we have to go inside and find our true self so that we can find God. The discovery of the true self is a condition for a person to find God.

Merton insists that the search for the true self is obtained through contemplation. In contemplation, man finds unity between her true self and God. Even in contemplation, man returns to her true identity as the image of God. When man enters into union with God, she finds herself in her true self and at the same time she is united with one another. This unity finally has social dimensions because God is the foundation of everything. When we are more united with Him in love, we are also more our unity with our neighbor.

The union with God and neighbor experienced in contemplation has one basis: Charity. Love is the life of Christ in man. The life of Christ makes possible for humans to love God and each other. Because it is truly Christ who brings us into unity with others. In that unity, we should have the courage to see our neighbors as Christ Himself, we must have the courage to accept them without discrimination. No matter status, race, or class. Our task is to accept them and love them because in them Christ is present.

For me, Henriette really experienced this situation. After she return from prison, she has a change in herself. This was shown in her actions: looking for a spiritual director and she still wanted to hide Pieree Coudrin (her spiritual director). Of course, this is done for the sake of cultivating and maintaining a unified relationship with God.

            Love the neighbor that are obtained from unity with our true selves and God in contemplation, need to concretize in everyday life because Love will be less meaningful, if it is not accompanied by concrete actions. For Merton, loving God in others can only be if we show it through real action.

We also need to realize that contemplation in God will gradually make us realize that silence and contemplation do not make us ignore the problems of the world, but instead make us more sensitive to suffering, injustice, and various problems that occur in society. Contemplations encourages us to be witnesses of God's love and solidarity with people and the world.

This contemplation was carried out continuously by Henriette Aymer after joining the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary. This tradition continues to be lived out by the SSCC Congregation.

The birth of the SSCC congregation.

Merton said that the intense relationship with God built in contemplation produces a movement of life in love for others. Things that have to be underlined: that the importance of god-loved experiences and others will lead to a peaceful life of brothers.

Henriette Aymer's unity in contemplation in God and her experiences of being loved by God is seen in her life with the Sacred Heart Association of Jesus and Mary that accompanied by Pieree Coudrin. There, Henriette Aymer demonstrated a good way of life and was exemplary for her followers. Her prayer’s life is the central of her life. She wanted nothing except a prayer environment and a chance to spend her day before the tabernacle. She felt that this was the good place for her.

One of her interesting stories is that at the beginning Henriette wanted to join the association of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary, Henriette's request was rejected. Because as a nobleman, Henriette was known as a person who loved worldly life and unrepentant life. But finally, in March 1795 he was accepted as an outside member of the association.

In one of the notes she wrote in January 1803, eight years later, she testified of this act, when Pierre Coudrin commissioned her an hour of adoration: “When you began the tradition of Adoration and commissioned me to adore an hour, without knowing, you determined my destiny".   It was there that she completed her first conversion and found her true calling. Her encounter with Peirre Coudrin in this Association led them to plan to form the Religious community of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and Mary (SSCC).

Critical Reflection.

The dynamics of man's relationship with God are characterized by a continuous search process. The search process is an inner journey that never stops in order to find the true self. The journey we take to arrive at True Self is sometimes not just a smooth road without obstacles. For me, a smooth road without obstacles is sometimes not a forever good road. If the road is smooth, without the desert and arid. 'How can I know who I really am?

Don't we all know ourselves better when we are in a desolation situation? There, you and I found out who we really are. Get to know our strengths, our weaknesses, our shortcomings, our limitations, and many more. In knowing our true selves in the desolation period, we find God at work in our lives. Without knowing our true self, we cannot find God.

The search for God has three characteristics. First, the need for the awareness that God lives within us.  With the awareness of this, we will be led to pay attention and love others as the image of God and respect for others. This is where an attitude of loving solidarity begins to grow. Second, the need for self-emptying or acknowledging our nothingness (Nothingness), realizing helplessness or weakness. In this awareness, we are driven to surrender to God's will for us. Third, to get to the deepest self-center, we are required to empty ourselves and give ourselves to others to be formed.

*** Having a heart but unable to love and build solidarity is emptiness ***

*** Without silence and wilderness, then how do you know your true self? ***

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