October 1 – St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Chapter VI: A Pilgrimage to Rome & Chapter VII: The Little Flower Enters the Carmel

September 29, 2016

ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX

Excerpts from THE STORY OF A SOUL: THE AUTOBIOGRAPHY OF ST. THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX

SOEUR THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX, THE LITTLE FLOWER OF JESUS

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PROLOGUE: THE PARENTAGE & BIRTH OF MARIE FRANÇOISE THÉRÈSE MARTIN and
CHAPTER ONE – EARLIEST MEMORIES

CHAPTER II: A CATHOLIC HOUSEHOLD and
CHAPTER III: PAULINE ENTERS THE CARMEL

CHAPTER IV: FIRST COMMUNION AND CONFIRMATION and
CHAPTER V: VOCATION OF THÉRÈSE

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CHAPTER VI

A PILGRIMAGE TO ROME

Céline with St. Thérèse

Céline with St. Thérèse

Three days after the journey to Bayeux, I started on a much longer one–to the Eternal City. This journey taught me the vanity of all that passes away. Nevertheless I saw splendid monuments; I studied the countless wonders of art and religion; and better than all, I trod the very ground the Holy Apostles had trodden–the ground watered by the blood of martyrs–and my soul grew by contact with these holy things.

I was delighted to go to Rome; but I could quite understand people crediting Papa with the hope that in this way I should be brought to change my mind about the religious life. It might certainly have upset a vocation that was not very strong.

To begin with, Céline and I found ourselves in the company of many distinguished people. In fact, there were scarcely any others in the pilgrimage; but, far from being dazzled thereby, titles seemed to us but a “vapour of smoke,”[1] and I understood the words of the _Imitation:_ “Be not solicitous for the shadow of a great name.”[2] I understood that true greatness is not found in a name but in the soul. The Prophet Isaias tells us: “The Lord shall call His servants by another name,”[3] and we read in St. John: “To him that overcometh I will give a white counter, and on the counter a new name written which no man knoweth but he that receiveth it.”[4] In Heaven, therefore, we shall know our titles of nobility, and “then shall every man have praise from God,”[5] and he who on earth chose to be poorest and least known for love of his Saviour, he will be the first, the noblest, and the richest.

The second thing I learnt had to do with Priests. Up to this time I had not understood the chief aim of the Carmelite Reform. To pray for sinners delighted me; to pray for Priests, whose souls seemed pure as crystal, that indeed astonished me. But in Italy I realised my vocation, and even so long a journey was a small price to pay for such valuable knowledge. During that month I met with many holy Priests, and yet I saw that even though the sublime dignity of Priesthood raises them higher than the Angels, they are still but weak and imperfect men. And so if holy Priests, whom Our Lord in the Gospel calls the salt of the earth, have need of our prayers, what must we think of the lukewarm? Has not Our Lord said: “If the salt lose its savour wherewith shall it be salted?”[6] Oh, dear Mother, how beautiful is our vocation! We Carmelites are called to preserve “the salt of the earth.” We offer our prayers and sacrifices for the apostles of the Lord; we ourselves ought to be their apostles, while they, by word and example, are preaching the Gospel to our brethren. Have we not a glorious mission to fulfill? But I must say no more, for I feel that on this subject my pen would run on for ever.

Stones and earth from the Coliseum, the catacombs, St. Cecile's tomb, collected by St. Thérèse and Céline on the trip.

Stones and earth from the Coliseum, the catacombs, St. Cecile’s tomb, collected by St. Thérèse and Céline on the trip.

Now let me describe my journey in some detail. At three o’clock in the morning of November 4, we passed through the silent streets. Lisieux still lay shrouded in the darkness of night. I felt that I was going out into the unknown, and that great things were awaiting me in Rome. When we reached Paris, Papa took us to see all the sights. For me there was but one–Our Lady of Victories. I can never tell you what I felt at her shrine; the graces Our Lady granted me were like those of my First Communion Day. I was filled with peace and happiness. In this holy spot the Blessed Virgin, my Mother, told me plainly that it was really she who had smiled on me and cured me. With intense fervour I entreated her to keep me always, and to realise my heart’s desire by hiding me under her spotless mantle, and I also asked her to remove from me every occasion of sin.

I was well aware that during this journey I should come across things that might disturb me; knowing nothing of evil, I feared I might discover it. As yet I had not experienced that “to the pure all things are pure,”[7] that a simple and upright soul does not see evil in anything, because evil only exists in impure hearts and not in inanimate objects. I prayed specially to St. Joseph to watch over me; from my childhood, devotion to him has been interwoven with my love for our Blessed Lady. Every day I said the prayer beginning: “St. Joseph, Father and Protector of Virgins” . . . so I felt I was well protected and quite safe from danger.

We left Paris on November 7, after our solemn Consecration to the Sacred Heart in the Basilica of Montmartre.[8] Each compartment of the train was named after a Saint, and the selection was made in honour of some Priest occupying it–his own patron or that of his parish being chosen. But in the presence of all the pilgrims our compartment was named after St. Martin! My Father, deeply touched by this compliment, went at once to thank Mgr. Legoux, Vicar-General of Coutances and director of the pilgrimage. From this onwards he was often called “Monsieur Saint Martin.”

Basilica of the Sacré Cœur

Basilica of the Sacré Cœur

Father Révérony watched my behaviour closely. I could tell that he was doing so; at table, if I were not opposite to him, he would lean forward to look at me and listen to what I was saying. I think he must have been satisfied with his investigations, for, towards the end of the journey, he seemed more favourably disposed. I say towards the end, for in Rome he was far from being my advocate, as I will tell you presently. Still I would not have it thought he deceived me in any way by falling short of the good will he had shown at Bayeux. On the contrary, I am sure that he always felt kindly towards me, and that if he opposed my wishes it was only to put me to the test.

On our way into Italy we passed through Switzerland, with its high mountains, their snowy peaks lost in the clouds, its rushing torrents, and its deep valleys filled with giant ferns and purple heather. Great good was wrought in my soul by these beauties of nature so abundantly scattered abroad. They lifted it to Him Who had been pleased to lavish such masterpieces upon this transient earth.

Sometimes we were high up the mountain side, while at our feet an unfathomable abyss seemed ready to engulf us. A little later we were passing through a charming village with its cottages and graceful belfry, above which light fleecy clouds floated lazily. Farther on a great lake with its blue waters, so calm and clear, would blend with the glowing splendour of the setting sun. I cannot tell you how deeply I was impressed with this scenery so full of poetry and grandeur. It was a foretaste of the wonders of Heaven. Then the thought of religious life would come before me, as it really is, with its constraints and its little daily sacrifices made in secret. I understood how easily one might become wrapped in self and forget the sublime end of one’s vocation, and I thought: “Later on, when the time of trial comes, when I am enclosed in the Carmel and shall only be able to see a little bit of sky, I will remember this day and it will encourage me. I will make light of my own small interests by thinking of the greatness and majesty of God; I will love Him alone, and will not be so foolish as to attach myself to the fleeting trifles of this world, now that my heart has had a glimpse of what is reserved for those who love Him.”

After having contemplated the works of God, I turned next to admire those of His creatures. Milan was the first Italian town we visited, and we carefully studied its Cathedral of white marble, adorned with countless statues. Céline and I left the timid ones, who hid their faces in fear after climbing to the first stage, and, following the bolder pilgrims, we reached the top, from whence we viewed the city below. When we came down we started on the first of our expeditions; these lasted the whole month of the pilgrimage, and quite cured me of a desire to be always lazily riding in a carriage.

Milan Cathedral

Milan Cathedral

The “Campo Santo”[9] charmed us. The whole vast enclosure is covered with marble statues, so exquisitely carved as to be life-like, and placed with an apparent negligence that only enhances their charm. You feel almost tempted to console the imaginary personages that surround you, their expression so exactly portrays a calm and Christian sorrow. And what works of art! Here is a child putting flowers on its father’s grave–one forgets how solid is marble–the delicate petals appear to slip through its fingers. Sometimes the light veils of the widows, and the ribbons of the young girls, seem floating on the breeze.

We could not find words to express our admiration, but an old gentleman who followed us everywhere–regretting no doubt his inability to share our sentiments–said in a tone of ill-temper: “Oh, what enthusiasts these French people are!” and yet he also was French. I think the poor man would have done better to stay at home. Instead of enjoying the journey he was always grumbling: nothing pleased him, neither cities, hotels, people, nor anything else. My Father, whose disposition was the exact opposite, was quite content, no matter what happened, and tried to cheer our friend, offering him his place in the carriage or elsewhere, and with his wonted goodness encouraging him to look on the bright side of things. But nothing could cheer him. How many different kinds of people we saw and how interesting it is to study the world when one is just about to leave it!

In Venice the scene changed completely. Instead of the bustle of a large city, silence reigned, broken only by the lapping of the waters and the cries of the gondoliers as they plied their oars; it is a city full of charm but full of sadness. Even the Palace of the Doges, splendid though it be, is sad; we walked through halls whose vaulted roofs have long since ceased to re-echo the voices of the governors in their sentences of life and death. Its dark dungeons are no longer a living tomb for unfortunate prisoners to pine within.

venice

While visiting these dreadful prisons I fancied myself in the times of the martyrs, and gladly would I have chosen this sombre abode for my dwelling if there had been any question of confessing my faith. Presently the guide’s voice roused me from my reverie, and I crossed the “Bridge of Sighs,” so called because of the sighs uttered by the wretched prisoners as they passed from their dungeons to sentence and to death. After leaving Venice we visited Padua and there venerated the relic of St. Anthony’s tongue; then Bologna, where St. Catherine’s body rests. Her face still bears the impress of the kiss bestowed on her by the Infant Jesus.

I was indeed happy when on the way to Loreto. Our Lady had chosen an ideal spot in which to place her Holy House. Everything is poor, simple, and primitive; the women still wear the graceful dress of the country and have not, as in the large towns, adopted the modern Paris fashions. I found Loreto enchanting. And what shall I say of the Holy House? I was overwhelmed with emotion when I realised that I was under the very roof that had sheltered the Holy Family. I gazed on the same walls Our Lord had looked on. I trod the ground once moistened with the sweat of St. Joseph’s toil, and saw the little chamber of the Annunciation, where the Blessed Virgin Mary held Jesus in her arms after she had borne Him there in her virginal womb. I even put my Rosary into the little porringer used by the Divine Child. How sweet those memories!

The Holy House of Loreto, which was moved by the angels from Nazareth.

The Holy House of Loreto, which was moved by the angels from Nazareth.

But our greatest joy was to receive Jesus in His own House, and thus become His living temple in the very place which He had honoured by His Divine Presence. According to Roman custom the Blessed Sacrament is reserved at one Altar in each Church, and there only is it given to the faithful. At Loreto this Altar was in the Basilica–which is built round the Holy House, enclosing it as a precious stone might be enclosed in a casket of white marble. The exterior mattered little to us, it was in the _diamond_ itself that we wished to receive the Bread of Angels. My Father, with his habitual gentleness, followed the other pilgrims, but his daughters, less easily satisfied, went towards the Holy House.

God favoured us, for a Priest was on the point of celebrating Mass; we told him of our great wish, and he immediately asked for two hosts, which he placed on the paten. You may picture, dear Mother, the ecstatic happiness of that Communion; no words can describe it. What will be our joy when we communicate eternally in the dwelling of the King of Heaven? It will be undimmed by the grief of parting, and will know no end. His House will be ours for all eternity, and there will be no need to covet fragments from the walls hallowed by the Divine Presence. He will not give us His earthly Home–He only shows it to us to make us love poverty and the hidden life. What He has in store for us is the Palace of His Glory, where we shall no longer see Him veiled under the form of a child or the appearance of bread, but as He is, in the brightness of His Infinite Beauty.

Now I am going to tell you about Rome–Rome, where I thought to find comfort and where I found the cross. It was night when we arrived. I was asleep, and was awakened by the porters calling: “Roma!” The pilgrims caught up the cry and repeated: “Roma, Roma!” Then I knew that it was not a dream, I was really in Rome!

Our first day, and perhaps the most enjoyable, was spent outside the walls. There, everything retains its stamp of antiquity, whilst in Rome, with its hotels and shops, one might fancy oneself in Paris. This drive in the Roman Campagna has left a specially delightful impression on my mind.

coliseum

How shall I describe the feelings which thrilled me when I gazed on the Coliseum? At last I saw the arena where so many Martyrs had shed their blood for Christ. My first impulse was to kiss the ground sanctified by their glorious combats. But what a disappointment! The soil has been raised, and the real arena is now buried at the depth of about twenty-six feet.

As the result of excavations the centre is nothing but a mass of rubbish, and an insurmountable barrier guards the entrance; in any case no one dare penetrate into the midst of these dangerous ruins. But was it possible to be in Rome and not go down to the real Coliseum? No, indeed! And I no longer listened to the guide’s explanations: one thought only filled my mind–I must reach the arena.

We are told in the Gospel that St. Mary Magdalen remained close to the Sepulchre and stooped down constantly to look in; she was rewarded by seeing two Angels. So, like her, I kept stooping down and I saw, not two Angels, but what I was in search of. I uttered a cry of joy and called out to my sister: “Come, follow me, we shall be able to get through.” We hurried on at once, scrambling over the ruins which crumbled under our feet. Papa, aghast at our boldness, called out to us, but we did not hear.

In the Roman Coliseum with Céline - wash by Charles Jouvenot.

In the Roman Coliseum with Céline – wash by Charles Jouvenot.

As the warriors of old felt their courage grow in face of peril, so our joy increased in proportion to the fatigue and danger we had to face to attain the object of our desires. Céline, more foreseeing than I, had listened to the guide. She remembered that he had pointed out a particular stone marked with a cross, and had told us it was the place where the Martyrs had fought the good fight. She set to work to find it, and having done so we threw ourselves on our knees on this sacred ground. Our souls united in one and the same prayer. My heart beat violently when I pressed my lips to the dust reddened with the blood of the early Christians. I begged for the grace to be a martyr for Jesus, and I felt in the depths of my heart that my prayer was heard. All this took but a short time. After collecting some stones we approached the walls once more to face the danger. We were so happy that Papa had not the heart to scold us, and I could see that he was proud of our courage.

From the Coliseum we went to the Catacombs, and there Céline and I laid ourselves down in what had once been the tomb of St. Cecilia, and took some of the earth sanctified by her holy remains. Before our journey to Rome I had not felt any special devotion to St. Cecilia, but on visiting the house where she was martyred, and hearing her proclaimed “Queen of harmony”–because of the sweet song she sang in her heart to her Divine Spouse–I felt more than devotion towards her, it was real love as for a friend. She became my chosen patroness, and the keeper of all my secrets; her abandonment to God and her boundless confidence delighted me beyond measure. They were so great that they enabled her to make souls pure which had never till then desired aught but earthly pleasures.

St. Cecilia is like the Spouse in the Canticles. I find in her the Scriptural “choir in an armed camp.”[10] Her life was one melodious song in the midst of the greatest trials; and this is not strange, because we read that “the Book of the Holy Gospels lay ever on her heart,”[11] while in her heart reposed the Spouse of Virgins.

Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia in the Church of Santa Ceciclia in Trastevere, Rome

Martyrdom of Saint Cecilia in the Church of Santa Ceciclia in Trastevere, Rome

Our visit to the Church of St. Agnes was also very delightful. I tried, but without success, to obtain a relic to take back to my little Mother, Sister Agnes of Jesus. Men refused me, but God Himself came to my aid: a little bit of red marble, from an ancient mosaic dating back to the time of the sweet martyr, fell as my feet. Was this not touching? St. Agnes herself gave me a keepsake from her house.

We spent six days in visiting the great wonders in Rome, and on the seventh saw the greatest of all–Leo XIII. I longed for, yet dreaded, that day, for on it depended my vocation. I had received no answer from the Bishop of Bayeux, and so the Holy Father’s permission was my one and only hope. But in order to obtain this permission I had first to ask it. The mere thought made me tremble, for I must dare speak to the Pope, and that, in presence of many Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops!

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn with the Church of Saints Luca and Martina and the Mamertine Prison behind it.

The ruins of the Temple of Saturn with the Church of Saints Luca and Martina and the Mamertine Prison behind it.

On Sunday morning, November 20, we went to the Vatican, and were taken to the Pope’s private chapel. At eight o’clock we assisted at his Mass, during which his fervent piety, worthy of the Vicar of Christ, gave evidence that he was in truth the “Holy Father.”

The Gospel for that day contained these touching words: “Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom.”[12] My heart was filled with perfect confidence. No, I would not fear, I would trust that the Kingdom of the Carmel would soon be mine. I did not think of those other words of Our Lord: “I dispose to you, as my Father hath disposed to Me, a Kingdom.”[13] That is to say, I will give you crosses and trials, and thus will you become worthy to possess My Kingdom. _If you desire to sit on His right hand you must drink the chalice which He has drunk Himself._[14] “Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?”[15]

A Mass of thanksgiving followed, and then the audience began. Leo XIII, whose cassock and cape were of white, was seated on a raised chair, and round him were grouped various dignitaries of the church. According to custom each visitor knelt in turn and kissed, first the foot and next the hand of the venerable Pontiff, and finally received his blessing; then two of the Noble Guard signed to the pilgrim that he must rise and pass on to the adjoining room to make way for those who followed.

No one uttered a word, but I was firmly determined to speak, when suddenly the Vicar-General of Bayeux, Father Révérony, who was standing at the Pope’s right hand, told us in a loud voice that he absolutely forbade anyone to address the Holy Father. My heart beat fast. I turned to Céline, mutely inquiring what I should do. “Speak!” she said.

The next moment I found myself on my knees before the Holy Father. I kissed his foot and he held out his hand; then raising my eyes, which were filled with tears, I said entreatingly: “Holy Father, I have a great favour to ask you.” At once he bent towards me till his face almost touched mine, and his piercing black eyes seemed to read my very soul. “Holy Father,” I repeated, “in honour of your jubilee, will you allow me to enter the Carmel when I am fifteen?”

St. Therese of Lisieux audience with Pope Leo XIII.

St. Therese of Lisieux audience with Pope Leo XIII.

The Vicar-General, surprised and displeased, said quickly: “Holy Father, this is a child who desires to become a Carmelite, but the Superiors of the Carmel are looking into the matter.” “Well, my child,” said His Holiness, “do whatever the Superiors decide.” Clasping my hands and resting them on his knee, I made a final effort: “Holy Father, if only you say ‘yes,’ everyone else would agree.”

He looked at me fixedly and said clearly and emphatically: “Well, well! You will enter if it is God’s Will.” I was going to speak again, when the Noble Guards motioned to me. As I paid little attention they came forward, the Vicar-General with them, for I was still kneeling before the Pope with my hands resting on his knee. Just as I was forced to rise, the dear Holy Father gently placed his hand on my lips, then lifted it to bless me, letting his eyes follow me for quite a long time.

My Father was much distressed to find me coming from the audience in tears; he had passed out before me, and so did not know anything about my request. The Vicar-General had shown him unusual kindness, presenting him to Leo XIII as the father of two Carmelites. The Sovereign Pontiff, as a special sign of benevolence, had placed his hand on his head, thus appearing in the name of Christ Himself to mark him with a mysterious seal. But now that this father of four Carmelites is in Heaven, it is no longer the hand of Christ’s Vicar which rests on his brow, prophesying his martyrdom: it is the hand of the Spouse of Virgins, of the King of Heaven; and this Divine Hand will never be taken away from the head which it has blessed.

Brooches brought from Rome by St. Thérèse and Céline.

Brooches brought from Rome by St. Thérèse and Céline.

This trial was indeed a heavy one, but I must admit that in spite of my tears I felt a deep inward peace, for I had made every effort in my power to respond to the appeal of my Divine Master. This peace, however, dwelt in the depths of my soul–on the surface all was bitterness; and Jesus was silent–absent it would seem, for nothing revealed that He was there.

On that day, too, the sun dared not shine, and the beautiful blue sky of Italy, hidden by dark clouds, mingled its tears with mine. All was at an end. My journey had no further charm for me since it had failed in its object. It is true the Holy Father’s words: “You will enter if it is God’s Will,” should have consoled me, they were indeed a prophecy. In spite of all these obstacles, what God in His goodness willed, has come to pass. He has not allowed His creatures to do what they will but only what He wills. Sometime before this took place I had offered myself to the Child Jesus to be His little plaything. I told Him not to treat me like one of those precious toys which children only look at and dare not touch, but to treat me like a little ball of no value, that could be thrown on the ground, kicked about, pierced, left in a corner, or pressed to His Heart just as it might please Him. In a word I wished to amuse the Holy child and to let Him play with me as He fancied. Here indeed He was answering my prayer. In Rome Jesus pierced His little plaything. He wanted to see what was inside . . . and when satisfied, He let it drop and went to sleep. What was He doing during His sweet slumber, and what became of the ball thus cast on one side? He dreamed that He was still at play, that He took it up or threw it down, that He rolled it far away, but at last He pressed it to His Heart, nor did He allow it again to slip from His tiny Hand. Dear Mother, you can imagine the sadness of the little ball lying neglected on the ground! And yet it continued to hope against hope.

The medieval fortress Castel Sant'Elmo, on the left, located on a hilltop next to the Certosa di San Martino on the right, overlooking Naples, Italy.

The medieval fortress Castel Sant’Elmo, on the left, located on a hilltop next to the Certosa di San Martino on the right, overlooking Naples, Italy.

After our audience my Father went to call on Brother Simeon–the founder and director of St. Joseph’s College–and there he met Father Révérony. He reproached him gently for not having helped me in my difficult task, and told the whole story to Brother Simeon. The good old man listened with much interest and even made notes, saying with evident feeling: “This kind of thing is not seen in Italy.”

The next day we started for Naples and Pompeii. Vesuvius did us the honour of emitting from its crater a thick volume of smoke, accompanied by numerous loud reports. The traces of the devastation of Pompeii are terrifying. They show forth the power of God: “He looketh upon the earth, and maketh it tremble; He toucheth the mountains and they smoke.”

I should like to have wandered alone among its ruins, meditating on the instability of human things, but such solitude was not to be thought of.

At Naples we made an expedition to the monastery of San Martino; it crowns a high hill overlooking the whole city. On the way back the horses took the bit in their teeth, and it is solely to our Guardian Angels that I attribute our safe return to the splendid hotel. This word “splendid” is not too strong to describe it; in fact during the whole journey we stayed only at the most expensive hotels. I had never been surrounded by such luxury, but it is indeed a true saying that riches do not make happiness. I should have been a thousand times more contented under a thatched room, with the hope of entering the Carmel, than I was amid marble staircases, gilded ceilings, and silken hangings, with my heart full of sorrow.

I realised thoroughly that joy is not found in the things which surround us, but lives only in the soul. One could possess it as well in an obscure prison as in the palace of a king. And so now I am happier at the Carmel, in the midst of trials within and without, than I was in the world where I had everything I wanted, and, above all, the joys of a happy home.

Although I felt heavy of heart, outwardly I was as usual, for I thought no one had any knowledge of my petition to the Pope. I was mistaken. One day, when the other pilgrims had gone to the refreshment-room and Céline and I were alone, Mgr. Legoux came to the door of the carriage. He looked at me attentively and smiling said: “Well, and how is our little Carmelite?” This showed me that my secret was known to all the pilgrims, and I gathered it, too, from their kindly looks; but happily no one spoke to me on the subject.

At Assisi I had a little adventure. While visiting the places sanctified by the virtues of St. Francis and St. Clare I lost the buckle of my belt in the monastery. It took me some time to find and put it back in place, and when I reached the door all the carriages had started except one; that belonged to the Vicar-General of Bayeux! Should I run after those which were no longer in sight and so perhaps miss the train, or should I beg for a seat in the carriage of Father Révérony? I decided that this was the wiser plan.

I tried to hide my extreme embarrassment and explained things. He was placed in a difficulty himself, for all the seats were occupied, but one of the party promptly gave me his place and sat by the driver. I felt like a squirrel caught in a snare. I was ill at ease in the midst of these great people, and I had to sit face to face with the most formidable of all. He was exceedingly kind, however, and now and then interrupted his conversation to talk to me about the Carmel and promise that he would do all in his power to realise my desire of entering at fifteen. This meeting was like balm to my wounds, though it did not prevent me from suffering. I had now lost all trust in creatures and could only lean on God Himself.

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, or Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Rome).

The Basilica di Santa Croce in Gerusalemme, or Basilica of the Holy Cross in Jerusalem (Rome).

And yet my distress did not hinder me from taking a deep interest in the holy places we visited. In Florence we saw the shrine of St. Mary Magdalen of Pazzi, in the choir of the Carmelite Church. All the pilgrims wanted to touch the Saint’s tomb with their Rosaries, but my hand was the only one small enough to pass through the grating. So I was deputed for this important and lengthy task, and I did it with pride.

It was not the first time I had obtained special favours. One day, at _Santa Croce,_ in Rome, we venerated the relics of the True Cross, together with two of the Thorns, and one of the Sacred Nails. I wanted to examine them closely, so I remained behind, and when the monk in charge was going to replace them on the Altar, I asked if I might touch the precious treasures. He said I might do so, but was doubtful if I should succeed; however, I put my little finger into one of the openings of the reliquary and was able to touch the Sacred Nail once hallowed by the Blood of Our Saviour. You see I behaved towards Him like a child who thinks it may do as it pleases and looks on its Father’s treasures as its own.

Having passed through Pisa and Genoa we came back to France by one of the loveliest routes. At times we were close to the sea, and one day during a storm it seemed as though the waves would reach the train. Farther on we travelled through plains covered with orange trees, olives, and feathery palms, while at night the numerous seaports twinkled with lights, and stars came out in the deep blue sky. But I watched the fairy picture fade away from my eyes without any regret–my heart was set elsewhere.

My Father proposed to take me to Jerusalem, but in spite of the natural wish I had to visit the places sanctified by Our Lord’s Footsteps, I was weary of earthly pilgrimages and only longed for the beauties of Heaven. In order to win these beauties for souls I wanted to become a prisoner as quickly as possible. I felt that I must suffer and struggle still more before the gates of my blessed prison would open; yet my trust in God did not grow less, and I still hoped to enter at Christmas.

Handwoven basket brought from Napoli - 35 cm. long.

Handwoven basket brought from Napoli – 35 cm. long.

We had hardly reached home when I paid a visit to the Carmel. You must remember well that interview, dear Mother. I left myself entirely in your hands, for I had exhausted all my resources. You told me to write to the Bishop and remind him of his promise. I obeyed at once, and as soon as my letter was posted I felt I should obtain the coveted permission without any delay. Alas! each day brought fresh disappointments. The beautiful feast of Christmas dawned; still Jesus slept. He left His little ball on the ground without even glancing that way.

This was indeed a sore trial, but Our Lord, Whose Heart is always watching, taught me that He granted miracles to those whose faith is small as a grain of mustard seed, in the hope of strengthening this slender faith; whilst for His intimate friends, for His Mother, He did not work miracles till He had proved their faith. Did He not permit Lazarus to die even though Mary and Martha had sent word that he was sick? And at the marriage feast of Cana, when Our Lady asked her Divine Son to aid the master of the house, did He not answer that His hour had not yet come? But after the trial what a reward! Water is changed into wine, and Lazarus rises from the dead. In this way did my Beloved act with His little Thérèse; after He had tried her for a long time He granted all her desires.

For my New Year’s gift of 1888, Jesus again gave me His Cross. You told me, dear Mother, that you had had the Bishop’s answer since December 28, the feast of Holy Innocents; that he authorised my immediate entry into the Carmel, but that nevertheless you had decided not to open its doors till after Lent. I could not restrain my tears at the thought of such a long delay. This trial affected me in a special manner, for I felt my earthly ties were severed, and yet the Ark in its turn refused to admit the poor little dove.

How did these three months pass? They were fruitful in sufferings and still more so in other graces. At first the thought came into my mind that I would not put any extra restraint on myself, I would lead a life somewhat less strictly ordered than was my custom. But Our Lord made me understand the benefit I might derive from this time He had granted me, and I then resolved to give myself up to a more serious and mortified life. When I say mortified, I do not mean that I imitated the penances of the Saints; far from resembling those beautiful souls who have practised all sorts of mortifications from their infancy, I made mine consist in simply checking my inclinations, keeping back an impatient answer, doing little services to those around me without setting store thereby, and a hundred other things of the kind. By practising these trifles I prepared myself to become the Spouse of Jesus, and I can never tell you, Mother, how much the added delay helped me to grow in abandonment, in humility, and in other virtues. ______________________________

[1] Joel 2:19.

[2] _Imitation of Christ,_ III, xxiv. 2.

[3] Isa. 65:15.

[4] Apoc. 2:17.

[5] 1 Cor. 4:5.

[6] Matt. 5:13.

[7] Tit. 1:15.

[8] Montmartre–the “Mount of Martyrs”–is the hill whereon St. Denis, apostle and bishop of Paris, was martyred with his two companions in the third century. It was a famous place of pilgrimage in medieval times, and here St. Ignatius and the first Jesuits took their vows. Under the presidency of Marshal MacMahon, the erection of the well-known Basilica was voted in 1873 by the French Chamber of Deputies as a national act of reparation to the Sacred Heart. [Ed.] [9] Cemetery.

[10] Cf. Cant. 7:1.

[11] Office of St. Cecilia.

[12] Luke 12:32.

[13] Luke 22:29.

[14] Cf. Matt. 20:22.

[15] Luke 24:26.

______________________________

CHAPTER VII
THE LITTLE FLOWER ENTERS THE CARMEL

Monday, April 9, 1888, being the Feast of the Annunciation, transferred from Passiontide, was the day chosen for me to enter the Carmel. On the evening before, we were gathered around the table where I was to take my place for the last time. These farewells are in themselves heartrending, and just when I would have liked to be forgotten I received the tenderest expressions of affection, as if to increase the pain of parting.

ThereseThe next morning, after a last look at the happy home of my childhood, I set out for the Carmel, where we all heard Mass. At the moment of Communion, when Jesus had entered our hearts, I heard sobs on all sides. I did not shed a tear, but as I led the way to the cloister door my heart beat so violently that I wondered if I were going to die. Oh, the agony of that moment! One must have experienced it in order to understand. I embraced all my dear ones and knelt for my Father’s blessing. He, too, knelt down and blessed me through his tears. It was a sight to gladden the Angels, this old man giving his child to God while she was yet in the springtime of life. At length the doors of the Carmel closed upon me. . . . I found a welcome in your arms, dear Mother, and received the embraces of another family, whose devotedness and love is not dreamt of by the outside world.

At last my desires were realised, and I cannot describe the deep sweet peace which filled my soul. This peace has remained with me during the eight and a half years of my life here, and has never left me even amid the greatest trials.

Everything in the Convent delighted me, especially our little cell.[1] I fancied myself transported to the desert. I repeat that my happiness was calm and peaceful–not even the lightest breeze ruffled the tranquil waters on which my little barque sailed; no cloud darkened the blue sky. I felt fully recompensed for all I had gone through, and I kept saying: “Now I am here for ever.” Mine was no passing joy, it did not fade like first illusions. From illusions God in His Mercy has ever preserved me. I found the religious life just what I expected, and sacrifice was never a matter of surprise. Yet you know well that from the beginning my ways was strewn with thorns rather than with roses.

In the first place, my soul had for its daily food the bread of spiritual dryness. Then, too, dear Mother, Our Lord allowed you, unconsciously, to treat me very severely. You found fault with me whenever you met me. I remember once I had left a cobweb in the cloister, and you said to me before the whole community: “It is easy to see that our cloisters are swept by a child of fifteen. It is disgraceful! Go and sweep away that cobweb, and be more careful in future.”

On the rare occasions when I spent an hour with you for spiritual direction, you seemed to be scolding me nearly all the time, and what pained me most of all was that I did not see how to correct my faults: for instance, my slow ways and want of throughness in my duties, faults which you were careful to point out.

The family accompanies St. Thérèse to Carmel - wash by Charles Jouvenot.

The family accompanies St. Thérèse to Carmel – wash by Charles Jouvenot.

One day it occurred to me that you would certainly prefer me to spend my free time in work instead of in prayer, as was my custom; so I plied my needle industriously without even raising my eyes. No one ever knew of this, as I wished to be faithful to Our Lord and do things solely for Him to see.

When I was a postulant our Mistress used to send me every afternoon at half-past four to weed the garden. This was a real penance, the more so, dear Mother, because I was almost sure to meet you on the way, and once you remarked: “Really, this child does absolutely nothing. What are we to think of a novice who must have a walk every day?” And yet, dear Mother, how grateful I am to you for giving me such a sound and valuable training. It was an inestimable grace. What should I have become, if, as the world outside believed, I had been but the pet of the Community? Perhaps, instead of seeing Our Lord in the person of my superiors, I should only have considered the creature, and my heart, which had been so carefully guarded in the world, would have been ensnared by human affection in the cloister. Happily, your motherly prudence saved me from such a disaster.

And not only in this matter, but in other and more bitter trials, I can truly say that Suffering opened her arms to me from the first, and I took her to my heart. In the solemn examination before my profession I declared–as was customary–the reason of my entry into the Carmel: “I have come to save souls, and especially to pray for Priests.” One cannot attain the end without adopting the means, and as Our Lord made me understand that it was by the Cross He would give me souls, the more crosses I met with, the stronger grew my attraction to suffering. For five years this way was mine, but I alone knew it; this was precisely the flower I wished to offer to Jesus, a hidden flower which keeps its perfume only for Heaven.

Two months after my entry Father Pichon was surprised at the workings of grace in my soul; he thought my piety childlike and my path an easy one. My conversation with this good Father would have brought me great comfort, had it not been for the extreme difficulty I found in opening my heart. Nevertheless I made a general confession, and after it he said to me: “Before God, the Blessed Virgin, and Angels, and all the Saints, I declare that you have never committed a mortal sin. Thank God for the favours He has so freely bestowed on you without any merit on your part.”

Without any merit on my part! That was not difficult to believe. Fully conscious of my weakness and imperfection, my heart overflowed with gratitude. I had distressed myself, fearing I might have stained my baptismal robe, and this assurance, coming as it did from the lips of a director, a man of wisdom and holiness, such as our Mother St. Teresa desired, seemed to come from God Himself. Father Pichon added: “May Our Lord always be your Superior and your Novice Master!” And indeed He ever was, and likewise my Director. In saying this I do not mean to imply that I was not communicative with my superiors; far from being reserved, I always tried to be as an open book.

Photograph of the front of the chapel after 1925, located on the Rue de Livarot. The street was completely destroyed in 1944 at the time of the Allied landing.

Photograph of the front of the chapel after 1925, located on the Rue de Livarot. The street was completely destroyed in 1944 at the time of the Allied landing.

Our Mistress was a true saint, the perfect type of the first Carmelites, and I seldom left her side, for she had to teach me how to work. Her kindness was beyond words, I loved and appreciated her, and yet my soul did not expand. I could not explain myself, words failed me, and so the time of spiritual direction became a veritable martyrdom.

One of the older nuns seemed to understand what I felt, for she once said to me during recreation: “I should think, child, you have not much to tell your superiors.” “Why do you think that, dear Mother?” I asked. “Because your soul is very simple; but when you are perfect you will become more simple still. The nearer one approaches God, the simpler one becomes.”

This good Mother was right. Nevertheless the great difficulty I found in opening my heart, though it came from simplicity, was a genuine trial. Now, however, without having lost my simplicity, I am able to express my thoughts with the greatest ease.

I have already said that Our Lord Himself had acted as my Spiritual Guide. Hardly had Father Pichon become my director when his Superiors sent him to Canada. I was only able to hear from him once in the year, so now the Little Flower which had been transplanted to the mountain of Carmel quickly turned to the Director of Directors, and unfolded itself under the shadow of His Cross, having for refreshing dew His Tears, His Precious Blood, and for radiant sun His Adorable Face.

St. Thérèse’s entrance into Carmel through the convent door. Her father is outside with Canon Delatroette.

St. Thérèse’s entrance into Carmel through the convent door. Her father is outside with Canon Delatroette.

Until then I had not appreciated the beauties of the Holy Face; it was my dear Mother, Agnes of Jesus, who unveiled them to me. As she had been the first of her sisters to enter the Carmel, so she was the first to penetrate the mysteries of love hidden in the Face of Our Divine Spouse. Then she showed them to me and I understood better than ever, in what true glory consists. He whose “Kingdom is not of this world”[2] taught me that the only royalty to be coveted lies in being “unknown and esteemed as naught,”[3] and in the joy of self-abasement. And I wished that my face, like the Face of Jesus, “should be, as it were, hidden and despised,”[4] so that no one on earth should esteem me. I thirsted to suffer and to be forgotten.

Most merciful has been the way by which the Divine Master has ever led me. He has never inspired me with any desire and left it unsatisfied, and that is why I have always found His bitter chalice full of sweetness.

At the end of May, Marie, our eldest, was professed, and Thérèse, the Benjamin, had the privilege of crowning her with roses on the day of her mystical espousals. After this happy feast trials again came upon us. Ever since his first attack of paralysis we realised that my Father was very easily tired. During our journey to Rome I often noticed that he seemed exhausted and in pain. But, above all, I remarked his progress in the path of holiness; he had succeeded in obtaining a complete mastery over the impetuosity of his natural disposition, and earthly things were unable to ruffle his calm. Let me give you an instance.

During our pilgrimage we were in the train for days and nights together, and to wile away the time our companions played cards, and occasionally grew very noisy. One day they asked us to join them, but we refused, saying we knew little about the game; we did not find the time long–only too short, indeed, to enjoy the beautiful views which opened before us. Presently their annoyance became evident, and then dear Papa began quietly to defend us, pointing out that as we were on pilgrimage, more of our time might be given to prayer.

One of the players, forgetting the respect due to age, called out thoughtlessly: “Thank God, Pharisees are rare!” My Father did not answer a word, he even seemed pleased; and later on he found an opportunity of shaking hands with this man, and of speaking so pleasantly that the latter must have thought his rude words had either not been heard, or at least were forgotten.

St. Thérèse welcomed into the cloister

St. Thérèse welcomed into the cloister

His habit of forgiveness did not date from this day; my Mother and all who knew him bore witness that no uncharitable word ever passed his lips.

His faith and generosity were likewise equal to any trial. This is how he announced my departure to one of his friends: “Thérèse, my little Queen, entered the Carmel yesterday. God alone could ask such a sacrifice; but He helps me so mightily that even in the midst of tears my heart is overflowing with joy.”

This faithful servant must needs receive a reward worthy of his virtues, and he himself claimed that reward. You remember the interview when he said to us: “Children, I have just come back from Alençon, and there, in the Church of Notre Dame, I received such graces and consolations that I made this prayer: ‘My God, it is too much, yes, I am too happy; I shall not get to Heaven like this, I wish to suffer something for Thee–and I offered myself as a'”–the word _victim_ died on his lips. He dared not pronounce it before us, but we understood. You know, dear Mother, the story of our trial; I need not recall its sorrowful details.

And now my clothing day drew near. Contrary to all expectations, my Father had recovered from a second attack, and the Bishop fixed the ceremony for January 10. The time of waiting had been long indeed, but now what a beautiful feast! Nothing was wanting, not even snow.

St. Thérèse at the enclosure door on the day of taking the habit. Painting by Blanchard, retouched by Céline

St. Thérèse at the enclosure door on the day of taking the habit. Painting by Blanchard, retouched by Céline

Do you remember my telling you, dear Mother, how fond I am of snow? While I was still quite small, its whiteness entranced me. Why had I such a fancy for snow? Perhaps it was because, being a little winter flower, my eyes first saw the earth clad in its beautiful white mantle. So, on my clothing day, I wished to see it decked, like myself, in spotless white. The weather was so mild that it might have been spring, and I no longer dared hope for snow. The morning of the feast brought no change and I gave up my childish desire, as impossible to be realised. My Father came to meet me at the enclosure door, his eyes full of tears, and pressing me to his heart exclaimed: “Ah! Here is my little Queen!” Then, giving me his arm, we made our solemn entry into the public Chapel. This was his day of triumph, his last feast on earth; now his sacrifice was complete, and his children belonged to God.[5] Céline had already confided to him that later on she also wished to leave the world for the Carmel. On hearing this he was beside himself with joy: “Let us go before the Blessed Sacrament,” he said, “and thank God for all the graces He has granted us and the honour He has paid me in choosing His Spouses from my household. God has indeed done me great honour in asking for my children. If I possessed anything better I would hasten to offer it to Him.” That something better was himself, “and God received him as a victim of holocaust; He tried him as gold in the furnace, and found him worthy of Himself.”[6]

After the ceremony in the Chapel I re-entered the Convent and the Bishop intoned the _Te Deum._ One of the Priests observed to him that this hymn of thanksgiving was only sung at professions, but, once begun, it was continued to the end. Was it not right that this feast should be complete, since in it all other joyful days were reunited?

The instant I set foot in the enclosure again my eyes fell on the statue of the Child Jesus smiling on me amid the flowers and lights; then, turning towards the quadrangle, I saw that, in spite of the mildness of the weather, it was covered with snow. What a delicate attention on the part of Jesus! Gratifying the least wish of His little Spouse, He even sent her this. Where is the creature so mighty that he can make one flake of it fall to please his beloved?

Everyone was amazed, and since then many people, hearing of my desire, have described this event as “the little miracle” of my clothing day, and thought it strange I should be so fond of snow. So much the better, it shows still more the wonderful condescension of the Spouse of Virgins–of Him Who loves lilies white as the snow. After the ceremony the Bishop entered. He gave me many proofs of his fatherly tenderness, and, in presence of all the Priests, spoke of my visit to Bayeux and the journey to Rome; nor did he forget to tell them how I had put up my hair before visiting him. Then, laying his hand on my head, he blessed me affectionately. My mind dwelt with ineffable sweetness on the caresses Our Lord will soon lavish upon me before all the Saints, and this consoling thought was a foretaste of Heaven. I have just said that January 10 was a day of triumph for my dear Father. I liken it to the feast of the entry of Christ into Jerusalem, on Palm Sunday. As in the case of Our Divine Master, his day of triumph was followed by long days of sorrow; and, even as the agony of Jesus pierced the heart of His divine Mother, so our hearts were deeply wounded by the humiliations and sufferings of him, whom we loved best on earth. . . . I remember that in the month of June 1888, when we were fearing another stroke of paralysis, I surprised our Novice Mistress by saying: “I am suffering a great deal, Mother, yet I feel I can suffer still more.” I did not then foresee the trial awaiting us. I did not know that on February 12, one month after my clothing day, our beloved Father would drink so deeply of such a bitter chalice. I no longer said I could suffer more, words cannot express our grief; nor shall I attempt to describe it here.

St. Thérèse going to choir in procession on the day she took the habit - wash by Charles Jouvenot.

St. Thérèse going to choir in procession on the day she took the habit – wash by Charles Jouvenot.

In Heaven, we shall enjoy dwelling on these dark days of exile. Yet the three years of my Father’s martyrdom seem to me the sweetest and most fruitful of our lives. I would not exchange them for the most sublime ecstasies, and my heart cries out in gratitude for such a priceless treasure: “We have rejoiced for the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us.”[7] Precious and sweet was this bitter cross, and our hearts only breathed out sighs of grateful love. We no longer walked–we ran, we flew along the path of perfection.

Léonie and Céline, though living in the world, were no longer of the world. The letters they wrote were full of the most edifying resignation. And what talks I had with Céline! Far from separating us, the grating of the Carmel united us more closely: the same thoughts, the same desires, the same love for Our Lord and for souls, made our very life. Not a word concerning things of earth entered into our conversation; but, just as in former days we lifted longing eyes to Heaven, so now our hearts strained after the joys beyond time and space, and, for the sake of an eternal happiness, we chose to suffer and be despised here below.

Though my suffering seemed to have reached its height, yet my attraction thereto did not grow less, and soon my soul shared in the trials my heart had to bear. My spiritual aridity increased, and I found no comfort either in Heaven or on earth; yet, amid these waters of tribulation that I had so thirsted for, I was the happiest of mortals.

Thus passed the time of my betrothal, too long a time for me. At the end of the year you told me, dear Mother, that I must not yet think of my profession, as our Ecclesiastical Superior expressly forbade it. I had therefore to wait for eight months more. At first I found it very difficult to be resigned to such a sacrifice, but divine light penetrated my soul before long.

St. Thérèse taking the habit in the choir.

St. Thérèse taking the habit in the choir.

At this time I was using for my meditations Surin’s _Foundations of the Spiritual life._ One day during prayer, it was brought home to me that my too eager desire to take my vows was mingled with much self-love; as I belonged to Our Lord and was His little plaything to console and please Him, it was for me to do His Will, not for Him to do mine. I also understood that a bride would not be pleasing to the bridegroom on her wedding day were she not magnificently attired. But, what had I made ready? So I said to Our Lord: “I do not ask Thee to hasten the day of my profession, I will wait as long as Thou pleasest, only I cannot bear that through any fault of mine my union with Thee should be delayed; I will set to work and carefully prepare a wedding-dress enriched with diamonds and precious stones, and, when Thou findest it sufficiently rich, I am sure that nothing will keep Thee from accepting me as Thy Spouse.”

I took up the task with renewed zest. Since my clothing day I had received abundant lights on religious perfection, chiefly concerning the vow of poverty. Whilst I was a postulant I liked to have nice things to use and to find everything needful ready to hand. Jesus bore with me patiently, for He gives His light little by little. At the beginning of my spiritual life, about the age of fourteen, I used to ask myself how, in days to come, I should more clearly understand the true meaning of perfection. I imagined I then understood it completely, but I soon came to realise that the more one advances along this path the farther one seems from the goal, and now I am resigned to be always imperfect, and I even find joy therein.

To return to the lessons which Our Lord taught me. One evening after Compline I searched in vain for our lamp on the shelves where they are kept, and, as it was the time of the “Great Silence,” I could not recover it. I guessed rightly that a Sister, believing it to be her own, had taken it; but just on that evening I had counted much on doing some work, and was I to spend a whole hour in the dark on account of this mistake? Without the interior light of grace I should undoubtedly have pitied myself, but, with that light, I felt happy instead of aggrieved, and reflected that poverty consists in being deprived not only of what is convenient, but of what is necessary. And, in this exterior darkness, I found my soul illumined by a brightness that was divine.

St. Thérèse as postulant, sweeping the cloister - wash by Charles Jouvenot.

St. Thérèse as postulant, sweeping the cloister – wash by Charles Jouvenot.

At this time I was seized with a craving for whatever was ugly and inconvenient; and was thus quite pleased when a pretty little jug was taken from our cell and a large chipped one put in its place. I also tried hard not to make excuses, but I found this very difficult, especially with our Mistress; from her I did not like to hide anything.

My first victory was not a great one, but it cost me a good deal. A small jar, left behind a window, was found broken. No one knew who had put it there, but our Mistress was displeased, and, thinking I was to blame in leaving it about, told me I was very untidy and must be more careful in future. Without answering, I kissed the ground and promised to be more observant. I was so little advanced in virtue that these small sacrifices cost me dear, and I had to console myself with the thought that at the day of Judgment all would be known.

Above all I endeavoured to practise little hidden acts of virtue; thus I took pleasure in folding the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and I sought for every possible occasion of helping them. One of God’s gifts was a great attraction towards penance, but I was not permitted to satisfy it; the only mortification allowed me consisted in mortifying my self-love, and this did me far more good than bodily penance would have done.

However, Our Lady helped me with my wedding-dress, and, as soon as it was finished, every obstacle vanished and my profession was fixed for September 8, 1890.

All that I have set down in these few words would take many pages to relate; but those pages will never be read on earth.

Subscription2

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[1] Nuns, in the spirit of poverty, avoid using the word _my,_ as denoting private possessions; so, later on, “our lamp,” “our handkerchief,” will occur. [Ed.] [2] John 18:36.

[3] _Imit.,_ I, ii. 3.

[4] Is. 53:3.

[5] Léonie, having entered an order too severe for her delicate health, had been obliged to return home to her Father. Later she became a Visitation nun at Caen, and took the name of Sister Frances Teresa.

[6] Cf. Wisdom 3:5,6.

[7] Ps. 89[90]:15.

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