To present Dina Bélanger is at the same time a profound joy and a challenge. I read her "Autobiography". I was overwhelmed. She fascinates and she delights. To try to summarize her life in a few pages appears to be impossible, even bold. Will you forgive me if I cite only a few moments of her life, preferring to send back the reader to her writings; in this way you, the reader, will discover the development of a privileged soul, a great mystic…! Dina was compared to: Teresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Thérèse of Lisieux.
Dina was born in Quebec on April 30, 1897, in the parish of Saint Roch. Her parents were not common Christians. Early on, the liveliness of her intelligence was noted. She would complete successful studies in music in New York. She would perform in concert for charitable works between 1918 and 1921. She would enter the novitiate of the Religious of Jesus-Mary in Sillery in 1921. She would make her religious profession on August 15, 1923. On September 4, 1929, she would depart to meet her Spouse with hands and a heart charged with the tenderness of God. Ten years after her death, on September 4, 1939, thanks to her intercession, the little Jude Chiasson of Lamèque in New Brunswick would be cured of hydrocephalus … On March 20, 1993 Pope John Paul II declared this mystic and musician, blessed. The day after the beatification, he felt the need to say: "all ages and all walks of life will find in Dina Bélanger a model of fidelity to the call of the Lord …" (p.6)
If it is possible for us to perceive the distinguished graces of this privileged person, it is because, right from the start, her superior, profoundly impressed by the depth of this uncommon life, imposed upon her to write what she did on a daily basis: "…So it was, that at the beginning of March 1924, during her spiritual interview, I said to our privileged soul: "You must write your life my dear sister, …and she answered with complete humility : is that your wish, Mother, … yes, Mother, I will do as you ask…" (p.15) Later, Dina would say : "…obedience was my most perfect rule …" (p. 198). Dina, in a profound and constant encounter with God in the bosom of her daily life, her work, would be the salt which has not lost its flavor … (cf. Mt. 5, 13)
No one can go into her personal history, nor live the slow evolutionary demands of an ascending road leading to the encounter with God, without saying as Job did: "I had heard of you by word of mouth only, but, now my eye has seen you …(Job 42,4).
What road does one take to become a contemplative? How does one unite prayer and interior life so that the commitment becomes effective and the being attains its fullness? But you, when you pray, go to your inner-room, close the door behind you, and pray to your father who is there, in secret… (cf. Mt. 6, 6)
Dina's encounter with God was carried out in a personal manner, for God does not unite Himself like a politician with a group of supporters obsessed with the color of their party, waiting for campaign instructions. God reserved surprises for this person, for she said: " …All the time, I see God …" (p. 250).
Each is an original being. God created us unique. We are not facsimiles, each one wearing his or her own number which differentiates it from the others. On each one of us, God has inclined his face (cf. Ps 42, 2) and, with the hands of an artist, He has molded us according to His Heart as the Creator who never repeats Himself.
Right from the beginning, we are the more complete reflection, amid creation, of a new facet of God. However, since we are not simple works placed on canvas or fossils, but by and large creative lives, we can be the clay which rebels against the potter (cf. Is 45, 9), or therefore to bring to God's work something irreplaceable, to be witness of His Love (cf. Prov 14, 5) the "malaks" (prophemi)[those who announce the kindness, the love of God].
God wants our arrival in this world to link with Him and it is in this relationship only that it will have meaning. Separated from Him, it would fall down the slopes and dry up like a broken branch taken by the forceful wind (cf. Jer 13, 24). It is with our arrival that God realizes His project in history. It is by realizing this project that our arrival attains its own creative fullness.
In this relationship, Dina never said: I have arrived. This encounter presented itself far from the shore. God is not simply an horizon (cf. Es 40,22) which attracts through its distance. He became, within her, an endless source of suggestions, of gifts, of inspirations … "yes, I am happy, because my happiness lies not in the events which take place but in God alone … if I can say: I let Jesus have his way and concern myself only with Him … I am sure of my divine Craftsman, I believe in His Goodness and in His Love …" (pp. 188-189).
Consequently, Dina prepared for God's future at the same time in history and in the depth of an intimacy which, starting from the mysterious outpouring of life offered to her, called Him by His name (cf. Es. 42,6). She was neither paralyzed in an intimacy without history, nor a vacuum in a history without intimacy. This relationship with God led to an encounter(cf. Mt 28,9) and an inexhaustible project, "all my infinite treasures belong to you. Through my holy Mother, give them to other souls…" (18 January 1928).
Often she retired to her room, closed the door and met God (cf. Mt 6,6). There she experienced, to unsuspected limits, the presence of Him who possesses the keys opening the door to meaning and to fullness, a fullness for which she was created and which, offered in the abrupt changes on the way, unified everything. Her heart grew in the ways of the Eternal … (cf. 2 Chr 17,16) "… The Heart of Jesus is an abyss of tenderness … that is all I can say, because I have no words with which to express what I now understand …" (p. 293).
Dina experienced there, with surprising clarity, her own identity which she could not dismiss herself in the hands of any person since God Himself gave Self to her. He brought her solitude to the closest intimacy with Himself, but also to the farthest inaccessibility. Starting from this encounter, He always opened new possibilities for her, as a stream of living water flowing out from the very heart of His Being.
The vocal prayer is said with the lips and is expressed with spoken words. This prayer, whether personal or not, expressed her being before God and spoke also of God to her being. When she said "Our Father", "… Father, your will be done! That is the text Our Lord has given me to meditate on …" (p. 274), not only did she express her relationship before God, but God also expressed His paternity before her, " Often late in the evening, by the dim glow of the sanctuary lamp, I went up close to Jesus, kneeling at the altar rail so as to hear his voice and share my secrets with Him! …" (p. 93).
The meditation is fundamentally based in the spirit. Through thoughts and images, God Himself is more and more understandable. Dina received a new light and oriented herself towards the end of this illuminated way. " … how can I describe my prayer? - A celebration of love, a glimpse of God, a taste of the Infinite … an improvisation in harmony with the Spirit of love ... Happiness unknown on earth: Oh! If the world could have any suspicion of the delights of paradise, it would not do violence to itself by vainly seeking consolation anywhere else than in genuine Goodness." (p. 223).
In attentive contemplation, affectivity is filled with sentiments. Sentiments and spoken words are simplified. The presence of God is rendered closer and centered. It is here that the will intervenes and receives God Himself, "… I took Jesus as my professor …" (p. 110)
All forms of personal prayer are aimed and lead to contemplation where every spoken word, symbol and thought end up being eclipsed by the luminous approach of God. It is the reason by which Dina would want to speak of contemplation by trying to describe the path of her personal relationship with God.
Prayer is an encounter between God (cf. Mt 28,8) and His creature. Like every encounter between people, it must be cultivated in time and space. Spoken words, sentiments, images, in which the relationship is expressed, are born little by little. Quality of silence imposes itself on prayer, in order to reach its goal toward a communication beyond words "… I feel that I am more and more possessed by Love …" (p. 230).
Every encounter is found within an existential relationship. It is open to everything unexpected and new. It is mpossible to foresee God's initiative (cf. Am 4.12), as to know perfectly the dynamism which it receives. The encounter occurs, in the relationship, because it is opened unconditionally to God's initiative and to His profound and naked truth. " … I fell asleep savoring the sensible presence of my good Master …" (p. 278). From the depth of her being, Dina was guided toward an inexhaustible encounter (cf. Mt 28, 9) since she has God as her goal, searching for an inexpressible YOU. Every other encounter would appear sooner or later as derisive.
God is not the kind to accompany only part of the way and then leave at the first crossroads, "… he reveals himself on the way…" (cf. Lc 24, 17) as at Emmaus. He is the beginning and the end, the alpha and the omega (cf. Apoc. 1, 8). At the horizon of this relationship is found the eschatological fullness " … Blessed be that moment when I will commence in heaven my canticle of thanksgiving. Blessed be the dawn of that day without end when I will set to divine harmonies the words: Praised for ever be Jesus and Mary! Blessed be that eternal embrace in which I will be enfolded in Love!" (30 June 1924) (p. 178).
We meet in order to communicate. Dina, expressed herself before God and listened to Him (cf. Mat 15, 10; cf. Mc 7, 14) expressing Himself before her, " … Religious life is an uninterrupted exchange between the soul and her Bridegroom; everywhere one is at prayer …" (p. 116). Her attitude was imprinted with vigilance during these encounters which she did not want to miss, and God spoke to her whole being. She thought before God and expressed to Him what she saw clearly. She spoke to Him of daily activities. She presented to Him what she knew. She formulated supplications for them. She adored and elements of responses flowed out of her spirit. "I made my request and obtained permission very easily. How easy it is to come to an agreement with God and the Most Blessed Virgin! Or rather, how well Our Lord arranges everything so as to achieve his ends! " (p. 276).
Dina expressed herself before God from the depth of her heart, where were born the great feelings which filled her life. Inevitably, her footsteps would take the direction that her feelings would indicate and which, accordingly would be the carriers of the graces of these encounters to show the way to follow. Her imagination brought to light profound realities which were more or less disguised. She allowed herself also to trace with great strokes the new possibilities which arose in her and which fascinated or terrified her, "Was Maman going to recover?" (p. 89).
If she learned to listen to Him, He would tell her many truths about herself. The encounter would be more "intense" during the Eucharist .. the body of Jesus became the wheat giving her the strength for the ascending way which would bring her to a greater abandon and availability for the Father's project . "… Again, just when I was not expecting it at all … my dear Master gave me this divine chalice. "(p. 274).
God expressed Himself to her, in her association with Scripture; the Spirit who was in her translated this Word in a message aimed within the context where she lived, "it is a close union with God …" (p. 120).
God spoke to her (cf. I R 14, 11), moreover through a number of saints and prophets. Their commitment was revealed through historic signs. Her artistic sensibility perceived creation as a faithful and permanent presence of God. In her daily routine, God spoke to her unexpectedly through the people around her, "Whoever has found a friend is in possession of a real treasure …" (p. 92.
The Word came to her in many ways as total communication. It did not come through the ear only. "I am entrusting my secrets to you as I did to John, my beloved, at the Last Supper". (p. 293). It attained the complete dimension of her being and opened a path to the heart of her life. The Word could see her being, touch it, feel it, hear it, savor it. It moved around, made its way and left behind the mark of its passage. It could not enclose her nor set it in her writings, her spirit, even though it was clear like the day. It was faithful, and would respond to these expectations. It was efficient but did not force her to follow the rhythm of the seasons and projects. It directed itself concretely towards her in its total originality. It was familiar and transparent.
In order to be able to listen fully to God (cf. Jer 38, 20), she had to, during her short life, develop contemplative skills, to allow them to resonate following a period of silence, in order to attain in this way the heart as a word welcomed by the whole being. "we speak of the Word who is life …" "what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have contemplated, what our hands have touched .., we announce it to you…" (cf. 1 Jn 1, 1-3).
To develop one's manner of looking at reality is a long experience. She would keep a modest look in order to be attracted only to a great reality: "Here is your God" (Ex 32, 4) and that which is nothing but brilliant gold would not blind her and stop her in the middle of the road. Also it was necessary to reflect upon the resistances which present themselves in this communion with God.
In every relationship between persons there arise resistances. It is well-known that we all have our space and we defend it against every stranger who approaches it. God at times appears to us as a menace, like someone we dare not wish to see, because we wish to continue to live. (cf. Ex 20, 19). However, Dina abandoned herself totally to Her Creator.
Like a chateau with its ramparts, its moats, its drawbridges, its permanent sentries when Dina seemed to be distracted, she turned toward her God. There was no question of severing this communion. Dina would develop, to a higher level, the meaning of the closeness with God.
Since certain persons can withdraw when they feel the presence of God, and appear to be destabilized, she, on her part, sensed that she was stronger and capable of dominating the situation, like a mystery demanding the invitee to progress slowly in the comprehension of a reality which must reveal its "hour" (cf. Mt 24, 36). What one can see of the other is received and welcomed, then, organized according to a past experience, but will not come to extinguish this thirst that she had in meeting her God, where goodness and faithfulness meet. (cf. Ps 85, 11)
At times, we feel that we have arrived at a safe stage and we are frightened to move to the next; for her part, Dina would greatly hope to arrive at this union. Never would she dodge the encounter even if she had to expend great sacrifices (cf. Ps 54, 8).
Resistances have many names and their symptoms are also varied as: fright, obscurity, dryness, temptation, waste, boredom … Dina would know this road she said: "Aridity, dryness, aversion, temptation, to discouragement and despair …" (p. 215).
For certain people, contemplation can be a waste of time, like less important than the urgency to work, like impossible because of the impacts of a hard reality which invades our own intimacy, like an invasion toward worlds which would ease reality and move us away from it.
To pass through these resistances is inevitable and one must use discernment (cf. Prov. 8, 12). This passage is also part of the way of prayer. It can at times transform itself into a veritable battle against death (cf. He 12, 4), but it is a passover toward a new fullness.
For Dina, it was the way by which she advanced toward a more profound union with God. The Spirit entered into her being like water in a sponge (cf. Ex Sp 33). When a sponge is immersed in water, brilliant and attractive bubbles come to the surface. Experiencing these resistances immersed her to a greater degree in the mystery of God. The useless appearances vanished and left room for the presence of God. She allowed God to be God in her. But God did not enter like an invader which annihilated her and reduced her to slavery. He had power of fascination (cf. Mt 9, 28). He would have for Dina this fantastic word: "…my little Own Self …" (p. 323) and again " … come, my little Own Self. Let me take you into the sanctuary of the Most Blessed Trinity." (p. 323).
God is communion, a presence where she could fully be herself and loved for who she was. She was aware of what she was, more so that she was capable of being herself. Feeling loved in all its reality, her frailty, she accepted herself as being on her way. The imprint of The French School (Grignon de Montfort and others) left her in a certain strictness but she accepted and integrated it in her person in this embrace uniting her to God at a very high level.
The word adoration can express this experience of communion, lived in confidence and abandon to the God of history. "It is the Lord your God whom you adore, and only Him shall you serve" (Mt 4,10), who united her and delivered her to the atmosphere protected from the contemplative silence, but also from the world, to the creation of the Kingdom of God (cf. Mc 12, 34).
Dina wished to devote herself to God only (cf. Mt 4, 10; cf. Lc 4.8). There was no question of adoring idols (projects, persons…) which could seize her and reduce her to slavery in exchange for a mediocre and temporary light, for effectiveness, for a vain glory of a short vision, which would pretend to protect her from the demanding way, paved with sacrifices, with prayers, but opening up to the creature road bringing her towards her Beloved. "…Our Lord continues to keep me in the infinite regions of the Most Blessed Trinity. This morning, he said to me: Here, everything is total self-denial, and everything is absolute joy in God alone. (p. 311).
Confronted with the "non-knowing" of God, of the future…, she maintained, in the name of a more profound knowledge, that its mystery and that of history reside in God, the Father of goodness, an inexhaustible source of new possibilities. The mystery was not simply obscurity and meaningless, but gestation of a hidden meaning and of an unknown future, which would see daylight in its time (cf. Jn 14, 18). The Kingdom of God was planted in her heart and would germinate in order to produce a hundred for one, in this way attaining the fullness of the harvest (cf. Mt 4, 26-29) "… During my meditation this morning, Our Lord plunged me deeper into the Heart of the most lovable Trinity …There, he said to me, nothing earthly or human can touch you …" (p. 271).
By allowing God to be God with all His mystery in her, Dina silenced the words and projects which could tarnish the silence which protected an encounter of quality in a grateful discretion. All the "others" also would find there a space where they could be themselves, without being imprisoned in communion nor rejected, and even without being underestimated with constraint (cf 2 Cor 9, 7). In the manner in which she allowed God to be God (cf. 1 Jn 4, 8; cf. 2 Cor 13, 11) in contemplative silence, she allowed the others to their own demise; finally, she could be herself.
The adoration of the Lord of history was a gratuitous experience. She received something which she could not provoke nor demand. The gift of God (cf. Jn 4, 10) like love, pardon, friendship…, fundamental dimensions of life, could not be demanded. In contemplative silence, she welcomed God's closeness (cf. Ps 119, 151), and she offered herself to Him and His plan gratuitously, "…If only you knew how much pleasure you give me … … The greatest joy a soul can give me is to allow me to raise her up to my Divinity…" (p. 335).
Dina would of course give the gift of her life. With the encounter of an attitude as an investor who accounts for everything or who expects to derive profits …, she gave the gift of her time, of her activities, … of her total being … To give gratuitously what she received gratuitously connecting with her whole being. Adoration attained the last withdrawals of her heart, to which she did not have access through her reflection or her conscience. She freed herself from fear and covetousness which could prevent her from giving the gift of her life and all confidence and joyous sharing (cf. Est. 5, 9). "…My little Bride, the offering of myself in you is pleasing to my Father, … After the grace of perfect and constant union of my will with that of God, no personal, divine favor could cause me greater joy than this confirmation …" (p. 314).
In the depth of society, in the mystery of God, her project could be shocking. But Dina demonstrated here her total faith; she was vigilant without reservation (cf. Prov. 31, 27). Her great need for this experience of adoration, where God each time is more God in her, where each time she was more herself in God, became this union generating more abundant blessings for the world. " Heaven means possessing God; God is living in me, I possess him; thus I am enjoying heaven on earth." (p. 121)
Also, we could find many persons who gave gratuitously all that they have for the service of the Life and of the Kingdom. How can we explain their meaning of gratuitousness and their elation? Beyond all explanation, these people, with a discreet simplicity, like artists who by successive layers bring forth so many paintings from their creative brushes, become the announcers of God. (cf. Act 8, 25). By their given life, they are witnesses of the benefits of prayer and contemplation grateful to God; they have chosen the better part for the joy of the Lord … (cf. Mt. 23, 27). "…Jesus loves me! I felt it! It lasted two seconds perhaps. What a delight! …" (p. 265) and still: " … And I heard the voice of Jesus tell me: You will not possess me any more completely in heaven …" (p. 214).
Here was an experience of communion (cf. 1 Jn 1,3), a source of elation. To encounter God led to the discovery of the beauty of creation, of order, of perfection. To recognize and acquire its transcendence, which turns every situation upside down, in a contemplation carried out with praises and chants, is to permit the being to unify its interior scattering and to bandage its wounds, from which is forcibly born a new engagement always more innovative. " … This morning, at the end of my meditation, I was suddenly given to understand clearly that my duty now, and my task in eternity, until the end of the world, is and will be, through the Most Blessed Virgin, to send forth rays from the Heart of Jesus on all souls …(p. 266).
Dina would have these prophetic words on August 4, 1925: " …In heaven, I want to satisfy the infinite Love of God. In order to realize my ideal, I must realize the infinite treasures of Our Lord; this good Master said: Ask and you will receive. In heaven I shall be a little beggar for love : that is my mission! And I am going to begin it at once…(pp. 237-238).
Léonard Bélanger, s.j. Montréal, September 20, 2004
Translated by Normand A. Léveillée, distant cousin of Dina November 2004