Imagine living with a reckless, overly-critical spouse who tries to control your every thought. How would you handle it? Barbe Acarie demonstrated a Christian way and left a lasting legacy to her church.
Barbara Avrillot was born into a Catholic home in Paris in 1566. Her childhood was painful, not so much for the political reversal that cost her father his property, as for her mother's harshness. Madame Avrillot was harsh--even violent--with her daughter, so Barbe grew up a timid, frightened child. She was educated in a convent and would just as soon have become a nun, but her mother insisted she marry Pierre Acarie, who had been a King's Councillor.
Pierre was a hot-head and critical of his sixteen-year old wife. He limited her reading, insisting that she only open books on the spiritual life. Did he think these would bore her as much as they bored him? If so he was mistaken. Through the books, God opened her eyes to the spiritual world. One sentence etched itself into her mind: "Too greedy is he for whom God does not suffice." Six years into her marriage, those words transformed her entire outlook. With a new spiritual vigor, she became more efficient, decisive and cheerful. This was as well, since Pierre squandered their wealth on get-rich-quick schemes and she eventually had to bail out her household with austere management while he spent years in exile.
Barbe would slip into ecstacy while praying. She had to have someone read mystical books to her, because if she opened them on her own, she would fall into sublime reveries. With six children and a reckless husband to care for, she needed her wits about her.
Barbe personally trained her children, doing her best to weed out falsehood and vanity from them. Although she deliberately taught each of her three girls to carry themselves fashionably, all three became Carmelite nuns! What is more, one of her sons entered the priesthood. Obviously, her quiet strength had a great impact on them.
She made a powerful impact on others, too. One of her friends estimated that she was responsible for 10,000 genuine conversions. So close did she live to God that those who came near her felt as if they were approaching God himself, living in her.
She gathered women around her in a community for holy life and the instruction of their children. Later she established several Carmelite communities in France. Francis de Sales worked closely with her. Although she never became a nun, her wisdom and advice was attended with great respect by church and convent leaders.
Although Barbe saved Pierre's bacon on more than one occasion, he resisted and thwarted her to the end. After his death in 1613, Barbe joined the Carmelites as a lay sister, taking the name Marie of the Incarnation. She is remembered on April 30, every year.
- "Acarie, Mme." The Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
- Fournet, A. "Bl. Marie de l'Incarnation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
- Jones, Kathleen. Women Saints: lives of faith and courage. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books, 1999.
- Various other books, such as Tucker's Daughters of the Church mention Barbe Acarie.