For the last few months my blog has included a page of spiritual reading recommendations. As I was thinking about how I wanted to expand my blog’s content and include a greater variety of Catholic/spiritual content especially, it occurred to me that I should share why exactly I recommend some of the books that I do. So, here’s my first in-depth book recommendation of Gabrielle Bossis’ He and I.
I first came across Gabrielle Bossis on a website dedicated to Mystics of the Church some five years or so ago. I don’t know if I read much about Gabrielle at that time, but I remember her image on the website: a woman clad in a simple nurse’s uniform with a gentle look on her face. A few years later, one of my summer camp staff friends mentioned Gabrielle’s memoir He and I and said that it was very beautiful, so in my quest to learn more about her and the book, I found myself on the same website I had discovered years earlier. I read some of the quotes from Gabrielle’s memoir on this website and was struck by the beauty and the intimacy of the words that she wrote, words that came not from her but from an interior voice that she understood to be the voice of Christ. I knew I had to read more, so I ordered He and I, and as I waited for it to arrive, I satiated my thirst for Jesus’ words by reading excerpts from the Amazon.com listing (and since the Amazon listing only reveals so much, I read a lot of the same quotes more than once).
If my mention of an “interior voice” supposedly belonging to Christ has you a bit alarmed and skeptical, I understand your concern, but bear with me for a moment. Yes, the book is an account of private revelation, which is not required to be believed by Catholics. And yes, Gabrielle is not a saint nor a blessed. The fact that the word “Saint” is not sitting before Gabrielle’s name might make some people more hesitant to pick up her memoir. But the website that I learned about Gabrielle Bossis on is run by a thoroughly orthodox Catholic, and my friend who recommended the book is thoroughly orthodox herself. And from what people have gathered about Gabrielle, she was a thoroughly orthodox, if unexpected, mystic. She was raised in a rather wealthy household. She was educated, cultured, and talented in theater and other crafts. Usually we think of mystics and visionaries as poor, uneducated, and very simple. This was not Gabrielle. But the voice that she heard spoke to her a few times about her worldliness, encouraging her to use her gifts for His glory, not hers, and for the benefit of others. I completely understand wanting to stick to the classics and the masters (i.e. the saints and their works) when navigating the interior life. I would recommend it myself! Preference should be given to such writers and works, but this book, as far as I can tell, is safe and acceptable for personal enrichment. It has an Imprimatur (“Let it be printed”) from the 1969 Archbishop of Sherbrooke, Canada, so somebody saw it fit to be printed and read. If you are still hesitant, though, I understand wanting to skip this one.
Gabrielle Bossis was born in France in 1874, and from a young age she showed signs of great love for God and desire for things of the spirit. Her spiritual director was sure that she should enter a convent, and she received many proposals for marriage, but she was convinced that the Lord wanted her to belong to Him in the world. She was a nurse, she was active in her parish, and she was skilled in the fine arts. On a few occasions when Gabrielle was young, she heard an interior voice that she believed to be the voice of Christ. This voice didn’t blossom into full conversations until she was 62, and these interior dialogues continued until about two weeks before her death in 1950. She recorded these conversations and published them anonymously for the first time in 1948, out of a desire to show that intimacy with Christ was not reserved for those in the cloister but was for everybody.
“Intimacy” is a theme that readers will pick up on quickly as they read the Lord’s words to Gabrielle Bossis. The very first message that Gabrielle records is startlingly sweet and sets the tone beautifully for the rest of her conversations with the Lord. On August 22, 1936, during her travels on a ship to Canada, she heard a “very tender” whisper say to her, “My little girl…” It’s simultaneously the first and the last thing one would expect to hear from Jesus. Sure, He loves us, but does He really love us like that? In such a way that moves Him to speak to Gabrielle, and to all of us, with the simplicity and charm of a father to his child? You will find as you keep reading that the answer is yes, and at times the Lord’s speech goes beyond that of a father and into the realm of a dear friend, and even as a lover. There are countless passages in my copy of He and I that I underlined, bracketed, and drew little hearts beside because I was so breathless and humbled by the intimacy that Jesus desired with Gabrielle, and thereby with me. Here’s just a sampling…
- December 24, 1937, as Gabrielle was in prayer at mass: “My wounds can hold the entire world. Stay there (on His Heart), say nothing. Let us exchange our sufferings and love in secret…I live you. My child, live Me.”
- February 23, 1938: “Say ‘my Jesus.’ Don’t you prefer to be called ‘My Gabrielle?’”
- January 2, 1940: “Throw yourself into My arms every morning and ask Me for strength to pay attention to the little details.”
It all seems too beautiful to be true. But this is our Savior. He is not satisfied with being kept at a distance from us. He revealed to Gabrielle that He wanted to be included in every detail of her days and carried with her wherever she went. He expressed to her multiple times His desire for “at-onement” with her, to be so bound up in her and her in Him that they were one. And He revealed how passionately and individually He loved her, and how passionately and individually He loves us. This should be nothing new to us. But we easily forget, and even when we remember, I’m not sure if our feeble imaginations and memories can even come close to conceiving the deeply personal love He has for each of us. Jesus even tells Gabrielle,
“I can only teach you about it (My love) little by little, because you are so fragile. For you would faint like the beloved in the Song of Solomon if more vehement words from My heart fell upon your ear, and if, as in beautiful books, I added pictures.” (March 18, 1948)
As if what He reveals to Gabrielle isn’t breathtaking enough, Jesus promises that He loves her even more still! We can’t possibly grasp the depths of His love in this life. But this book might be one of the best resources we have for understanding it as fully as we can.
Besides these glimpses into the passionate love of Christ, Jesus also speaks some beautiful, practical tips for the spiritual life. Among my favorites…
- March 29, 1940: “It is not what you do that matters, but the way you love Me while you work.”
- May 25, 1939: “Love your appearance. I gave it to you.”
- February 17, 1944: “Try to see Me in every happening, big and little.”
He and I is beautifully accessible for anyone at any stage in their spiritual journey. It’s not overly intellectual but also not saccharine and fluffy. It’s the love of Christ and His desire for intimacy with us, pure and simple. It changed how I relate to Christ and how I walk with Him. I’m confident it can do the same for you.