64XV. ONWARD TO ROME ROMEWARD bound! No time was lost in making preparations for the journey. Within three days after their futile interview with the Bishop of Bayeux, the Little Flower was speeding toward the Eternal City with her father and her sister, Celine. The little Saints Autobiography contains no more beautiful chapter than that in which she records the happenings on that memorable trip. "Though it taught me the hollowness of all things that pass away, I saw splendid monuments; I studied the countless wonders of art and religion; and, better than all, I stood on the very soil trodden by the Apostles and bedewed with the blood of Martyrs, and my soul grew strong by contact with those holy things." This pilgrimage to Rome gave Therese an important bit of knowledge concerning the needs of Gods priests. She observed that, despite the sublime dignity of the Priesthood which raises them above the Angels, they still remain men and subject to human fraility. The little faults and failings which she observed in these men of God during her month in Italy, moved her to conclude that her special vocation would be to pray for priests and especially for those among their ranks who might be called lukewarm priests.
The poetic soul of the Little Flower is clearly reflected in her reaction to the scenic beauty of Switzerland. She experienced a foretaste of Heaven in "its lofty mountains, whose snowy peaks are lost in the clouds, its rushing torrents, its deep valleys with their luxuriant growths of giant ferns and purple heather. Now we were high up the mountain side, while at our feet a yawning abyss seemed ready to engulf us: a little later we were passing through some charming village with its cottages and graceful belfry, over which fleecy clouds floated lazily. Farther on, the calm, clear waters of a great lake would blend their azure tints with the glories of the setting sun."Six days were devoted to visiting the hallowed spots of Rome. Naturally, the heart of the Little Flower beat rapidly when she touched the sacred precincts of the Coliseum and her eyes "beheld the arena where so many martyrs had shed their blood for Christ." In the Catacombs, she laid herself down in what had been St. Cecelias tomb and felt herself overwhelmed with tender love for that martyr saint and queen of harmony. While the group to which she was attached was visiting the Church of St. Agnes, a fragment of red marble from an ancient mosaic fell at the feet of little Therese. She regarded this as a touching keepsake of that St. Agnes whom she called the friend of her childhood.
All during the time when she was paying tribute to these sacred places and venerating the remains of the saints contained there, her joy was heightened by the expectation of seeing the greatest of all the wonders of RomePope Leo XIII. "We spent six days visiting the chief wonders of Rome, and on the seventh we saw the greatest of allLeo XIII." Thereses visit at the Vatican was by no means prompted by curiosity. She wanted to honor Christs visible vicar upon earth. She desired to receive his powerful blessing. Most of all, she hoped to obtain from him permission to enter Carmel despite her tender age.
While the pilgrims were waiting their turn to pay the customary homage to the Holy Father, M. Révérony, the Vicar-General of Bayeux, who was standing at the right of His Holiness, clearly and distinctly forbade anyone to address the Pope. This caused Therese more than a little confusion. She looked to Celine for counsel. The answer to that look was a whispered command: "Speak!" In an instant, the Little Flower was on her knees and greeting the saintly Pope in the usual manner. Tears beaded her eyes as she addressed the Great White Shepherd of Christendom: "Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask of you." His Holiness benignly leaned forward until his venerable head almost touched the golden locks of the little girl from Lisieux. She continued: "Holy Father, in honor of your jubilee, allow me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen." To the witnesses of this dramatic incident, Thereses conduct might have seemed indeed presumptuous. Some of them might accuse her of lack of decorum in thus familiarly approaching the highest authority in Christendom.
67 The Little Flower did not feel in her heart that she was transgressing any law of propriety. In the person of the Holy Father, she saw Christ beckoning children to come and rest upon His knee. "Suffer the little ones to come unto Me and forbid them not." It was one of her favorite pictures: Christ entertaining and instructing a host of boys and girls. Again in that venerable figure of Leo XIII, she recognized Christ the Consoler, Christ the Strengthener, Christ the Comforter. "Come to Me all ye that labor and are heavily burdened, and I will refresh you." Had not Therese labored long and indefatigably to obtain her request? Was she not heavily burdened with the desire to save millions of souls by a life of rigorous penance and heroic sacrifice? Could the Pope refuse to refresh her by granting her request? The Vicar-General feared that the simple eloquence of the little girl might prevail upon the Pontiff to yield to her petition. Accordingly, he lost no time in reminding His Holiness that there was some difficulty among the superiors at Carmel who were looking into the matter. This bit of information did influence the Holy Father and did have its effect upon his answer: "Well, my child, do whatever the superiors decide."
Therese was disappointed but not defeated. She presumed to make one last appeal: "Holy Father, if only you were to say Yes, everyone else would be willing." 68 The answer to this second pleading was kindly, though all too general to satisfy the yearnings of the Little Flowers heart: "Well, my child! well, you will enter if it be Gods Will!"
When the two officials of the Noble Guard lifted the little pilgrim to her feet and bade her make room for others, Therese reverently kissed the hand of His Holiness and probably left upon it, a hot tear of sorrow. She had failed in her effort to elicit from his saintly lips the permission of which she stood so much in need.Her journey to Rome was not considered to be a complete failure. She had frequently asked the Child Jesus to accept her as 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 rather as a little ball of no value that could be thrown on the ground, tossed about, pierced, left in a corner, or pressed to His Heart, just as it might please Him. In a word, all I desired was to amuse the Holy Child, to let Him play with me just as He felt inclined." The Child Jesus had willed that she should come to Rome to be pierced with the lance of sorrow, the spear of disappointment. While at Rome, she venerated with profound reverence the relics of the True Cross together with two of the Thorns and one of the Sacred Nails. These precious treasures are carefully preserved at Santa Croce Church in the Eternal City. Therese made bold (it was not boldness for her!) to slip her little finger through an opening in the reliquary and "to touch the Sacred Nail once bathed by the Blood of Our Savior." During the eight remaining years that Providence had mapped out for her, she would not only feel the Nails but be pierced and dug by them, but not in such a way that people might behold the bleeding that was caused by them.
The Little Flower, shortly before her death, displaying the cherished objects of her favorite devotionthe Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
Concerning the remainder of her trip, Therese has little to tell. The ruins of Pompeii spoke to her of the vanity and instability of all things human; the peacefulness of Assisi confirmed her in the thought that lasting refreshment can be found only in God and in sacrificing ones self for Him as did the Poverello Francis. The "princely luxury" which she shared at the grandest hotels, made but slight impression upon her otherworldly heart. In the midst of all the comforts and conveniences of this fashionable pilgrimage, she reflected thus: "Wealth does not make happiness! I should have been a thousand times more contented under a thatched roof with the hope of entering Carmel, than I was amid marble stair-cases, gilded ceilings and silken hangings, with my heart full of woe. I thoroughly realized that joy is not found in the things that surround us, but lives only in the soul, and that it may be possessed just as easily in an obscure prison as in the palace of a King."
CARMELON THE Feast of the Holy Innocents, December 28, 1888, Mother Mary of Gonzaga received the Bishops answer authorizing Thereses immediate entrance into Carmel. The Superior did not delay to send this information to the Little Flower. The message, however, contained a sting. The Superior of the convent reserved to herself the right to postpone the time of admission until the close of Lent. This delay was decided for very wise reasons. The childs health was frail and the Lenten fast of the Carmelites was rather rigorous.
Therese used these three months to perfect herself by prayer and penances. We must not think of her as disciplining her flesh with barbed scourges or rough hair-shirts. She recognized a more efficient way of battling her pride and increasing her store of virtues. "I made my mortifications consist simply in checking my self-will, keeping back an impatient answer, rendering a small service in a quite way, and a hundred other similar things." She loved to refer to these little conquests as so many diamonds with which to adorn her soul for the day, when she might become His cloistered Spouse.
The coveted goal was now reached. A girl in her early teens was prepared to part with loved ones, turn her back to the riches and the pleasures of this world, renounce even the legitimate conveniences and comforts of an ordinary home and embrace the rigorous and abstemious life of a cloistered nun. Before we follow Therese in spirit through that door which will forever lock her from the world, it is well that we investigate somewhat into the nature of the life which she is to pursue.Perhaps no institution in the Catholic Church is more frequently misunderstood by those who have not bothered about studying it, as is the Catholic Sisterhood. The reader has probably heard some thoughtless mother utter senseless statements such as the following: "Why, I would not want my daughter to enter the convent for love or money!" Such a mother appears to be ignorant of the fact, that ladies do not enter the cloister out of love for any earthly thing. They seek that peace which this world can not give because it does not possess it. Neither do they entertain any ambition of amassing wealth within the enclosure, unless it be the wealth which can be carried beyond the grave to the coffers of Heaven. A modern girl, once the liveliest senior in her class, possessed of immense vitality and enjoying extreme popularity, recently wrote these enlightening words from her cell in a Carmelite Convent: "Within the Carmel we are expected to be the victims for the sinful world. While men run after success in life, the soul in Carmel begs God to give them success in eternity; while they chase the multi-colored rainbow of joy, Carmel finds joy in praying for their ultimate happiness; while they sin, Carmel cries, Father, forgive them for they know not what they do."
72 But what of the ridiculous reports that we sometimes hear concerning the absurd practices which are fostered within the convent walls? The same authority, who gave us the information of the previous paragraph, brands such reports as nonsensical: "We do not dig our own graves. We do not sleep in coffins. If we have a high wall about our buildings and their lovely grounds, it is not to keep us prisoners, but to keep out the noisy, obtrusive world. Of course, we never eat meat, though abstinence from it is voluntary. I never miss it. As for the silence, we have two hours recreation a day, and though for the rest there is silence, it is not the stillness of the tomb, but the cheerful quiet of a busy library only instead of reading unimportant books, we are reading Gods Word; instead of studying things that really matter very little, we are quietly thinking about the great truths of time and eternity."
The nun who penned the above words tells us that it was the reading of men like Durant and Shaw, while she was yet in the world, that helped her to become a Discalced Carmelite. Their works, like the biographies of Napoleon and Lincoln, thrilled her. But when she came to the end of their long stories and when she saw them die, something was all wrong. Their glory was ended. Glory that had an end could not satisfy her. She would seek lasting glory behind the walls of the convent. She would lay up her treasures in Heaven where the moth does not consume and where thieves can not break in and steal.
Yet another motive animates the soul of the young lady, who bids farewell to the world to be forever wedded with Christ in the humble home of the conventit is the winning of souls to God by a life of penance. Self-mortification is the daily routine of the Carmelite nuns life. Her sleep is broken by prayer at a midnight hour; her rest is taken upon rough planks covered with a coarse blanket; she observes an almost continuous fast. She never eats meat. She inflicts punishment upon her delicate body. She voluntarily imprisons herself behind ugly bars that shut her from her loved ones in the world. She wears thin sandals on her weary feet. She is clothed with a rough, coarse, brown habit. Her triple vow of poverty, chastity and obedience gives her a thousand opportunities to discipline her will and to save souls from the brink of destruction.
Vicarious suffering! Authors may expatiate upon it but the nuns live it! As Father Lord, S.J., beautifully says: "Always these brave and tender women are trying to make up to God for the lovelessness of His children. They love Him for the millions who actually hate Him, and they offer Him their hearts for the countless hearts that are given so freely to Satan....
74 "Between the anger of His Father threatening to strike and His sinful brothers and sisters, Jesus flung His Body. The blow fell upon Him, and He took it gladly, while He prayed that they might be forgiven. In exactly that spirit the contemplative nun throws her pure and delicate body between the justly angry God and sinful humanity. The blows of voluntary penance which she inflicts upon herself, joined to the unceasing prayers which she pours out for sinners, save the world from the sword that would avenge Gods injured majesty."
It is not a matter of surprise, then, that a Bishop in charge of a midwestern diocese in the United States, once declared that if he were sent forth to organize a new diocese, the very first thing that he would do, would be to erect a convent for contemplative nuns. He felt that this would be the very best way of promoting the spiritual interests of the community and bring immeasurable blessings upon the diocese. Such a power-house of prayer stands in the center of old Lisieux, not far from the church of St. Jacques. Other convents had given to the firmament of the saints bright stars of sanctity. This Carmel was to give to a needy world, a "little Saint" as brilliant in virtue as the others, yet possibly more desirous of remaining close to earth until the last soul should be saved.
We are not fully conscious of our attachment to our homes until we are asked to leave them. So it was with Therese. She had been a home-girl and had become deeply enamoured of every object at Les Buissonnets. Now that she was to leave this sphere of her childhood activities, everything about the place seemed to speak to her of the happy past. There was the fireside where she had listened for hours on winter evenings to the thrilling accounts of the Lives of the Saints. There were the two armchairs which had been used by her parents as they gathered their little flock around them on familiar feasts.
There were the spreading trees which sheltered her miniature cemetery in which she was accustomed to give fashionable burial to the little birds which had the misfortune to fall from their nests. There was the tiny grotto in the wall with its dwarfed figures of Jesus, Mary, Joseph, the donkey and the ox, the angels and the adoring shepherds. With these she must part, and the parting would have been unbearable had she not been given the grace to see the spiritual treasures which would be given to her in exchange.Deeply religious souls derive untold consolation and gain abundant courage from attending the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass. So it was with Therese on the morning of her entrance into the convent (April 9, 1888). Even with this powerful spiritual aid, her brave heart experienced an agony which only they can understand who have gone through it. It was a heavy-hearted group that assembled about the convent altar that morning. Therese tells us that "at the Communion, when Our Divine Lord entered our hearts, I heard sobs on every side. I did not shed a tear, but, as I led the way to the cloister door, the beating of my heart became so violent that I wondered if I were going to die." The moment of her dreams had arrived. "I embraced all my loved ones, then I knelt for Papas blessing, and he too knelt as he blessed me through his tears. To see this old man giving his child to God while she was still in the springtime of life was a sight to gladden the Angels."
A deep peace, baffling all attempts at description, filled the heart of the Little Flower as she triumphantly entered those hallowed precincts where she was to spend the remaining portion of her exemplary life. Everything about her new home charmed her. Its bare walls and simple furniture made her feel that here she would be able to live like Christ, unhampered by any of the luxuries of the world.
Obstacles and AimsFROM the very beginning of her convent life, Therese met with one mortification after another. The priest in charge of the convent had consistently opposed her entrance at such an early age. Now that she had gained her way, he chillingly thrust all responsibility upon the elder nuns of the community, insinuating that this "mere child" might become a source of disappointment to them.
Providence threw a guard of angels around this little one to keep her from temptation to despair. She was sorely tried by Mother Mary of Gonzaga at almost every turn. Hours which should have been spent in giving spiritual advice, soon turned into hours of complaints levelled at the innocent newcomer. Either Therese had left a cobweb in the cloister, or she had made little progress in weeding the garden, or she had failed in some other regard. Thoroughly grounded in humility, she took these chidings as "a sound and valuable training." She rejoiced that in the community she had not been made the pet, as had been the case in the world. Had her superiors been more indulgent to her than to the other postulants by reason of her delicate age, she might have become a spoilt child of Carmel. "Instead of seeing Our Lord in the person of my superiors I might have considered only the creature, and my heart, so carefully guarded in the world, would have been ensnared by human affection in the cloister."
Men and women of the world might conclude that the Little Flower must have derived considerable joy from the thought that her two sisters in the flesh were housed beneath the same roof and were subject to the same discipline. What was there to prevent the postulant from carrying her heartaches to those two devoted souls who had soothed her pains and quieted her worries in the world? That was exactly what Therese sought to avoid. She would ask for no concessions; she would seek for no privileges; she would look for no exemptions, simply because God had been good enough to pluck three white lilies from the garden of her home. She was judicious enough to place her sisters on the same level with the other nuns and to mingle with them only when the ordinary hours of recreation would permit. There was one to whom the Little Flower could turn and unburden her heart. Two months after she entered the convent, Father Pichon was sent to Carmel to conduct the Spiritual Exercises there. He had been the only one to encourage her, when she was but fourteen years old, to seek entrance to the cloister. Now that he was appointed her spiritual director, she regarded every word that fell from his lips as a special message from the Holy Ghost. Unfortunately, she was to enjoy his direction for but a brief space. "Hardly had Father Pichon undertaken the care of my soul when his superiors sent him to Canada, and I could not hear from him more than once in the year."
Obstacles which seem insurmountable to the aimless soul, are with less difficulty overcome by the man or woman who has a definite and noble purpose. On entering the convent, Therese was asked to state the reasons why she chose the life of Carmel. Her answer was couched in simple though meaningful words: "I have come to save souls and especially to pray for priests."To pray for priests! What a sublime vocation and how productive of good it is! A retreat-master in speaking recently to two hundred and fifty priests in Detroit, reminded them that in whatever way we consider the Church, Christs Spouse, the priest holds a most prominent place of power and of honor. If we consider her an army in battle array, fighting against the powers of darkness, the priests are the officers, planning the attack or the defense, carrying the banner of the Cross, leading her hosts to certain victory. If we compare her to a ship, sent on a perilous voyage, freighted with the precious cargo of immortal souls, it is the priest who holds the helm, mans the oars, sets the sails, steers her past the rocks and shoals, wards off the attacks of pirates and brings her safely into the port of eternal life for which she is bound. If we consider the Church as the mystical body of Christ, the priests are the organs through which that body performs its functions; they are the eyes through which it sees, the ears through which it hears, the mouth through which it speaks, the hands through which it works, the feet by which it is carried from nation to nation, from country to country, from shore to shore. If we compare the Church to a kingdom, the priests are its princes, senators, legislators, judges. Without the priest, the Church would be lifeless, stationary, immovable.
80 Our little theologian, Therese, needed no one to tell her of the dignity and the responsibility of the priesthood. The Holy Ghost had secretly instructed her in this important lesson. She saw that by praying for one priest, she could benefit thousands of souls to whom that priest would minister. She had learned on her trip to Rome that priests were human and subject to temptations as are other mortals. She perceived that Satan is especially anxious to bring about the ruin of a priest because the priest never falls alone, but drags thousands of other souls with him to perdition. It was equally evident to her that the good priest was a source of special joy to the Sacred Heart of Christ. By praying for priests, she would be multiplying the number of souls that she might offer to sate the Thirst of Christ. She had something real, something definite, something noble, something far-reaching and far-embracing for which to pray and suffer. The pages of this book will, it is hoped, give the reader some notion of the fidelity with which she pursued her purpose.
A FATHERS OFFERING
OUR little heroine in Heaven would be greatly displeased with any account of her life, which would not give special attention to her devoted father. The sanctity of this "King" of Thereses heart beams forth from every word of the letter which he wrote to a friend on the day after his youngest daughter entered Carmel. "Therese, my little Queen, entered Carmel yesterday. God alone can claim such a sacrifice, but He helps me so powerfully that, in the midst of my tears, my heart abounds with joy."Like his little one, he was thoroughly convinced that the end of man is not to seek joy, but rather to make sacrifice and thus become like unto Christ. He, too, wanted to be a victim of love. One day he came to the convent and said to his three daughters: "My children, I have just returned from Alencon, where I received, in the church of Notre Dame, such wonderful graces and consolation that I made this prayer: My God, it is too much; yes, I am too happy. It is not possible to get to Heaven in this manner; I want to suffer something for Thee.... And I offered myself...." The rest of the sentence was submerged in tears, but his daughters, who knew him thoroughly, understood perfectly what he meant. He had presented himself to the Lord as a victim.
82 The Lord accepted this offer sooner than M. Martin or his relatives anticipated. A second attack of paralysis threatened to dispatch his noble soul to the place of its eternal reward. But the Master of Life and Death had yet another earthly, rather we should say heavenly joy, in store for him. He was to be present at the clothing ceremonies of his "little Queen." The time for this touching ceremony was fixed for January 10, 1889. Strange to say, M. Martin had recovered sufficiently to take an active part in the preparation for this feast. He wished that little Therese should wear a dress of white velvet, bordered with swansdown and enriched with point dAlencon lace. His eyes must have been moist with tears and his heart filled with golden memories as he beheld his ninth child clad in purest white, a bouquet of white lilies in her hand, and her long hair falling in natural curls over her shoulders. One desire more than any other possessed his soul at that dramatic moment. He longed for his departed wife to be present. She was there in spirit, and we might well suppose that she was attended by her four angel-children who had gone before her into eternity.
Only the pen of the Little Flower can adequately describe the significant ceremony of that day. "Papa met me at the enclosure door, his eyes full of tears, and pressing me to his heart he exclaimed: Ah! here is my little Queen! Then giving me his arm, we made our solemn entry into the public chapel. This was indeed his day of triumph, his last feast here below; the sacrifice was now completehis children belonged to God. Celine had already told him that later on she also meant to exchange the world for Carmel, whereupon he cried in a transport of joy: Come, let us visit the Blessed Sacrament together and thank God for all the graces He has bestowed upon our family, especially for the great honor He has done me in choosing His spouses from my household. Were I possessed of anything better I would hasten to offer it to Him." It was a taste of Heaven on earth. M. Martin did not have to wait until eternity to be crowned with a halo of light. Three of his children had entered CarmelMarie, Pauline and Therese. A fourth, Leonie, had entered a Convent of Poor Clares, but the discipline there was too rigid for her delicate health. Later she became a Visitation Nun at Caen and took the name of Sister Frances Teresa. The fifth child, once Thereses "playmate," Celine, entertained the hope of entering Carmel as soon as conditions at home would permit.
Could anything more be desired to make the day complete? Yes, there was one tiny wish still lingering in the heart of the Little Flower. She loved snow. Snow had greeted her eyes when first she saw the light of day. A snow-white cloth had been spread over her infant breast at the time of her Baptism to remind her that on Judgment Day a soul would be required of her just as pure as the one which had just been made whiter than snow in the waters of Baptism. Snow had always reminded her of the Immaculate Mother whom she loved most tenderly. . Her one ambition was to cleanse the world by her sufferings until it might become as pure as the original world at the time of creation. All these facts account for her yearning to see the earth blanketed in snow on the day of her clothing.
84 The miracle actually happened! It must be regarded as such, for the temperature was warm and no weatherman would have suspected the possibility of a snow fall on that day. However, as soon as Therese set foot in the enclosure and looked towards the quadrangle, she saw that it was covered with snow. The young novice regarded this as "a delicate attention on the part of Jesus. To gratify the least wish of His little spouse He actually made her a gift of snow. Where is the creature with power enough to make even one flake fall, to please his beloved?" , In these last words, whether she was conscious of it or not, the Little Flower gave to the world a convincing proof for the existence of God. Only God can make a snow flake and cause it to fall from Heaven to earth.
Just one month after Thereses clothing day, M. Martin, beloved father of our Saint, was stricken with a third attack of paralysis. His doctor recommended that he be removed from Lisieux to a private asylum, where he remained for three years. Generally speaking, he had lost the use of his faculties and was in a pitiable condition when Celine insisted that he be brought back to Lisieux. During the three remaining years of his life, he was sedulously cared for by Celine. He died on July 29, 1894, closing the last chapter of his glorious life by fixing his gaze upon this devoted daughter and blessing her with an unforgettable smile.
|A sculptured image in the Chapel of the Carmelites at Lisieux, France, representing the "Shower of Roses from Heaven."|
One of the poets once fittingly wrote:
"We see but dimly through these earthly vapors
Amid these earthly damps;
What seem to us but sad funeral tapers
May be Heavens distant lamps."
The affliction which befell M. Martin and which caused the last three years of his life to be a source of agony to himself and his beloved, was a blessing in disguise. A chapter in her Autobiography tells us how the Little Flower viewed those years:
"In Heaven we shall delight to dwell on those dark days, and even here the three years of our dear fathers martyrdom seem to me the sweetest and most fruitful of our lives. I would not exchange them for the most sublime ecstasies, and in gratitude for such a priceless treasure my heart cries out: Blessed be Thou for the days wherein Thou hast afflicted us."
Only on Judgment Day shall we realize to the full, the powerful role which M. Martin played in the spiritual development of the Little Flower. Only on that day of great revelations, shall we see how she was strengthened by his noble example and steeled by his sacrifices.
CHRISTS BRIDETHE usual length of time in the novitiate before solemn profession in the Carmelite Order is one year. When that period had elapsed for Therese, she was informed that it was the wish of the Superior that her profession be postponed for eight months. To one less schooled in humility and less acquainted with the bitter chalice of trial, this delay might have seemed a crucifixion. To our "little Queen" it was a precious opportunity to prepare herself better for her eternal union with her spouse. She recalled how it was customary in the world for a bride to be arrayed in magnificent attire on her wedding day. Should she who was to become the betrothed of Jesus be less attractively prepared? No. Her soul must be adorned with the precious stones of sacrifice. It must be scented with the sweet perfume of prayer. It must present the appearance of a jewel-studded wedding garment, for it is to be espoused to the most beautiful of all Kings, the most loveable of all spouses.
87 Within the walls of the cloister, Therese found plenty of occasions to enrich that precious wedding gown. Space will permit mention but of one of these costly diamonds. "My first victory of the kind, though not a great one, cost me a good deal. It happened that a small jar which had been left by the window was found broken. Believing that I was the culprit our Novice Mistress reproached me for leaving it about, adding that I was most untidy and must be more careful for the future. She seemed displeased, so without saying a word in self-defense, I kissed the ground and promised to be more orderly. I was so little advanced in perfection that even trifles like these cost me dear, as I have said, and I found it necessary to console myself with the thought that all would come to light on the day of Judgment." Incidents like this show that the Little Flower was well along on her Little Way of perfection, long before the date of her profession which was fixed for September 8, 1890. In a famous church at Rome, there is a unique painting of the Blessed Virgin. It is called "Madonna della Strada," which in our language means "Madonna of the Wayside." It is a famous shrine of pilgrimage. Before that image kneel little children who are just beginning the path of life, young men and maidens who have trod the way of innocence, men and women who have never strayed, and men and women who have walked through the dreary ways of sin and now return penitent to a Mothers love.
What a fitting symbol of the ever vigilant love of the Blessed Mother! She stands alongside every Christian and is ever prepared to do battle for him. She journeys with him along his perilous way. She illumines his path with her shining example and warms his heart with her motherly love.
It is significant that the day of Thereses profession was fixed for the feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, September 8. Truly the Blessed Mother was a "Madonna della Strada" to the Little Flower. The Queen of Heaven had been her mothers special source of consolation throughout that noble ladys life and especially during the time of her trying illness. The Mother of God had smiled graciously upon little Therese when all earthly help had seemed futile, and the Little Flower raised its head and breathed again the atmosphere of health. The Blessed Ladys life contained in itself all that the little Therese hoped to attain, all that she could wish to accomplish. Mary, the Mother of God, was truly the guiding star along the Little Way of the Little Flower. We read of nothing startling in the history of the Blessed Mother. The same is true of the annals of Therese of the Child Jesus. Marys greatest joy was in her Divine Babe. There, too, was the treasure of the little Saint of Lisieux. Heavens Queen reached the very zenith of heavenly glory by doing little things well, by conforming herself in all things, both great and small, to the will of the Creator, by applying herself with her whole heart to every humble task and to every homely duty. This, too, was the mode of ascent of the Little Flower to an enviable position among the Saints. In an age of inventions, when there are elevators which save us the trouble of climbing stairs, Therese found the spiritual lift by which she was raised unto God. She discovered this lift in the words of Scripture: "Whosoever is a little one, let him come unto Me." Prov. ix, 4.
To be raised up by the mighty hand of God, Therese, like her model Mary, must become and remain a "little one." Like the Mother of God, she must be humble and use little things as stepping stones to Heaven. Like her Heavenly Queen, she must refer all things to God. "For He that is mighty hath done great things to me and holy is His Name." At the same time, she must remember that "the prayer of the humble soul shall pierce the clouds." Did not the prayer of Mary open the Heavens and bring down the Savior to a storm-tossed world? And would not the prayer of the Little Flower also force wide open the gates of Heaven and bring down upon sinners torrents of mercy and of grace?
The devotion of Therese to the Blessed Mother was tender and intimate. She begged to differ with those preachers and spiritual writers who regard Mary more as a Queen than as a Mother. "How I love Our Blessed Lady!" she exclaimed shortly before her death. "How I would have sung her praises had I been a priest! She is spoken of as unapproachable, whereas she should be represented as imitable. . . . She is more Mother than Queen! I have heard preachers say that her splendour eclipses that of all the Saints just as the rising sun makes the stars disappear. How strange that a mother should take away the glory of her children! I think quite the contrary will happen, I am certain that she will greatly add to the splendour of Gods redeemed."
To one who entertained such sentiments as these, it must have been a rare joy to realize that her profession was to take place on the feast of the Blessed Virgin.
We will recall that when she was a mere child, Therese had asked the Lord to treat her as a plaything, a little ball, which He might toss about, pierce, neglect, or press to His Heart as He might choose. Christ was now answering that invitation. In preparation for the day of her profession, He chose to test her fidelity to Him by apparently abandoning her, by permitting her to pass through a period of tense dryness and darkness of spirit. "Our Lord took me by the hand and led me into a subterranean way, where it is neither hot nor cold, where the sun never shines, into which neither rain nor wind find entrance, a tunnel where I see nothing but a half-veiled light." Her response to this trial was simply an act of gratitude for the privilege of "having no consolation." She would be ashamed if her love should resemble that of earthly fiancees, who look for presents from the hands of their beloved. If by the darkness of her soul she could bring light to sinners, and if by the dryness of her spirit, she could wipe away a single tear from the Face of her Beloved Christ, she would gladly consent to spend the rest of her religious life in what she called "this sombre tunnel."
It is customary for novices, during the days preceding their profession, to make out a list of petitions which they will present to the Lord on the morning of their holy vows. In accordance with the will of her Superior, Therese asked that God cure her father, if it be the will of Divine Providence. A second wish concerned her sister, Leonie: "As regards Leonie, grant that by Thy will she may become a Visitation nun, and, if she has not the vocation, I pray Thee to bestow it on her; Thou canst not refuse me this." Such method of speaking with the Most High is surely indicative of unbounded trust in the Goodness of God.
Her petitions included not only her relatives in the flesh, but reached out and embraced the entire world. "No one was forgotten. I longed that every sinner on earth might be converted." Then, as if her thirst for souls could not be sated even by the conversion of the whole world, she asked that "all captive souls in Purgatory be set free." How Christlike were her ambitions!
In true childlike fashion, lest she might forget something on the day of her profession, she bore upon her heart a letter stating what she desired for herself:
"Oh Jesus, my Divine Spouse, grant that my baptismal robe may never be sullied. Take me from this world rather than allow me to stain my soul by committing the least wilful fault. May I never seek or find aught but Thee alone! May all creatures be as nothing to me and I as nothing to them. May no earthly thing disturb my peace!
"Oh Jesus, I ask for peace . . . peace, and above all, LOVE . . . love without limit. I ask that for Thy sake I may become a martyrgive me martyrdom of soul or of body. Or rather give me both...."
Heaven rejoices over such unselfish prayers. Hell does its best to prevent their fulfillment. On the very eve of her profession, our little Saint was sorely tried by the author of all evil. Satan cunningly and convincingly assured her that she was "wholly unsuited for the Carmelite life" and that by entering it, she was merely deceiving her superiors.
Fortunately, the Little Flower had learned, and put into practice, the lesson of referring all her doubts to her Novice Mistress. This experienced soul merely laughed at Thereses fears and assured her that they were the result of a ruse of the devil. Hell was conquered. The "little Queen" stepped forward triumphantly on September eight and pronounced her holy vows.
Sixteen days later, the newly professed nun received the veil. Her one regret on this occasion was that her aged father was too ill to attend the ceremonies. She consoled herself with the thought, that the Lord of all consolation would repay her in Heaven, the innocent joys which He had denied her here upon earth.
Within little more than a week after Therese took her veil, her cousin, Jeanne, was united in wedlock to Dr. La Néele. The bride did not forget to pay a visit to the Little Flower to tell her all the important details of the wedding, together with an account of all the little attentions that she lavished upon her husband. Therese listened with whole-hearted attention, not because she was particularly interested in any earthly union between bride and groom, but rather because the event reminded her how solicitous she should be to please her Heavenly Spouse. "I was greatly impressed, and I determined it should never be said that a woman in the world did more for her husband than I for my Beloved."
93 When the Little Flower received the announcement of her cousins marriage, she set herself about composing an invitation which she might use for the instruction and edification of her novices. Her intention in penning this invitation was to impress upon her companion nuns, that "earthly unions, however glorious, were as nothing compared to the titles of a Spouse of Christ."
Through the kindness of our little Saint, we are able to present her announcement exactly as she wrote it:
"God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and the Most Glorious Virgin Mary, Queen of the Heavenly Court, announce to you the Spiritual Espousals of Their August Son, Jesus, King of Kings, and Lord of Lords, with little Therese Martin, now Princess and Lady of His Kingdoms of the Holy Childhood and the Passion, assigned to her in dowry by her Divine Spouse, from which Kingdoms she holds her titles of nobilityof the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. It was not possible to invite you to the Wedding Feast which took place on the Mountain of Carmel, September 8, 1890the Heavenly Court was alone admittedbut you are requested to be present at the At Home which will take place tomorrow, the Day of Eternity, when Jesus, the Son of God, will come in the clouds of Heaven, in the splendour of His Majesty, to judge the living and the dead. The hour being uncertain, you are asked to hold yourselves in readiness and to watch."
HER DOUBLE TITLE
IN HER NEW capacity as Spouse of Christ, Therese wanted to be known, as is evident from her own writings, as "Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face." In choosing the first part of that captivating title, she was aware of the words, "Unless you become as little children you shall not enter into the kingdom of Heaven." Therese was content throughout her earthly sojourn to remain beside the sleeping Christ-Child of the Manger, so that she might perfectly acquire the virtues of the Divine Childhood which are so necessary for admission to Heaven. In selecting the second part of her title, she desired that every time her name was mentioned it would be a reminder of that Sacred Face which, marked and scarred and resembling the face of a leper, moved the Heavenly Father to gaze into that mysterious Face, that Face of tenderness, that Face of love, that Face of virtue, so that by a sort of reflection, her own face and the soul which it imaged might become like unto it. Thus, when Jesus would look to little Therese, He would see His own image as in a mirror.
Providence graciously granted the little Saint ample opportunity to prove herself a worthy bearer of such a noble title. The dark night of her soul seemed to be deepening in its darkness. In quick succession, death snatched from her those souls who were sources of special consolation to her. One of these was the saintly foundress of Carmel, Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa. While the body of this venerable nun was lying in its casket in the choir of Carmel, an incident happened which proved that Therese had lost none of that tenderness which had characterized her in the world. Let us permit the Little Flower to tell the story in her own simple and forceful manner:
"Each of the Sisters hastened to claim something belonging to our beloved Mother, and you know the precious relic I treasure. During her agony I had noticed a tear glistening on her eyelash like a diamond, and that tear, the last of those she had shed on earth, never fell; I saw it still shining as her body lay exposed in the choir. So when evening came I made bold to approach unseen, with a little piece of linen, and now I am the happy possessor of the last tear of a Saint."
96 Thereses nineteenth birthday followed closely upon the happening recorded in the last paragraph. She was then acting as sacristan. It was a day rather of gloom than of festivity. An epidemic of influenza had broken out in the convent and Thereses birthday turned out to be the death-day of the Sub-Prioress and two other nuns. These heartrending events naturally added to the sacristy work which was already taxing the frail constitution of the Little Flower. However, like other saints who were especially devoted to the Blessed Eucharist, she found an inexhaustible source of strength in the Manna of the Tabernacle. In the fair days of her childhood, she had often expressed her yearning to~ spend her life as a little flower blooming beside Gods Eucharistic Home. That longing was now being fulfilled. She loved the work of sacristan. She delighted in preparing the immaculate linens upon which the Body of Christ was to rest at Holy Mass. She felt a heavenly thrill in handling the precious vessels which were daily used to contain the Precious Blood. A favorite occupation of hers was to fill the ciboria with altar-breads, which would shortly be changed into the Living Body of the Savior. Most of all, she gloried in the privilege of receiving Holy Communion daily, at least during the time of the epidemic and for several months thereafter, a privilege which was not shared by the rest of the Community.
It was this intimate union with Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, that prepared her to sustain the loss of her beloved father who died on July 29, 1894. The wound inflicted upon her heart by this soul-rending stroke could be healed only by the thought of the Communion of Saints, a thought which had stood her in good stead at the time of her mothers departure for eternity. In receiving Christ, she received Heaven which contained the soul of her darling father. His life had been changed but not destroyed, as we read in the Preface of the Mass for the dead.
Though the Little Flower seemed plunged into the dark night, as she called her spiritual dryness, God did not fail to send into her life at intervals rays of light. The flowers had scarcely faded over the grave of her father, when Celine, who had been his nurse and last companion, gained admission to Carmel. Thereses joy was now complete. But one desire consumed her heart from henceforth, namely, "to love God unto folly."
In the attainment of this end, she had recourse to two books, the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation of Christ. All other learned treatises, save the writings of St. John of the Cross, had little appeal to her. "It is from the Gospels," she admits, "that I derive most help in time of prayer; I find in their pages all that my poor soul needs, and I am always discovering there new lights and hidden mysterious meanings." Practical-minded as she was, she managed to find a miniature volume of the Scriptures, so small that she could carry it continually upon her breast and refer to it frequently during the course of her work. Thus she became so familiar with the sacred passages of Holy Writ, that she could quote them freely and with facility in her letters and her conversation.
It was not with any desire to vaunt her learning that Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face applied herself so diligently to the study of the Scriptures. She wanted to know Christ in order that she might be able to live Christ. She wanted to be refreshed by His example and inspired by His obedience. Only one who had learned and practiced the principles contained in the Bible, could ever give utterance to such sensible words as these: "Oh my God! from how much disquiet do we free ourselves by the vow of obedience!Happy is the simple religious: her one guide being the will of her superiors, she is ever sure of following the right path, and has no fear of being misled, even when it may appear her superiors are mistaken. But should she cease to consult the unerring compass, then at once her soul goes astray in barren wastes, where the waters of grace quickly fail."
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