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CHAPTER IV - FIRST COMMUNION AND CONFIRMATION
While describing this visit to the Carmel, my thoughts are carried back to the first one which I paid after Pauline entered. On the morning of that happy day, I wondered what name would be given to me later on. I knew that there was already a Sister Teresa of Jesus; nevertheless, my beautiful name of Thérèse could not be taken from me. Suddenly I thought of the Child Jesus whom I loved so dearly, and I felt how much I should like to be called Teresa of the Child Jesus. I was careful not to tell you of my wish, dear Mother, yet you said to me, in the middle of our conversation: "When you come to us, little one, you will be called 'Teresa of the Child Jesus.'" My joy was great indeed. This happy coincidence of thought seemed a special favour from the Holy Child.
So far I have not said anything about my love for pictures and books, and yet I owe some of the happiest and strongest impressions which have encouraged me in the practice of virtue to the beautiful pictures Pauline used to show me. Everything was forgotten while looking at them. For instance, "The Little Flower of the Divine Prisoner" suggested so many thoughts that I would remain gazing at it in a kind of ecstasy. I offered myself to Our Lord to be His Little Flower; I longed to console Him, to draw as near as possible to the Tabernacle, to be looked on, cared for, and gathered by Him.
As I was of no use at games, I should have preferred to spend all my time in reading. Happily for me, I had visible guardian angels to guide me in this matter; they chose books suitable to my age, which interested me and at the same time provided food for my thoughts and affections. I was only allowed a limited time for this favourite recreation, and it became an occasion of much self-sacrifice, for as soon as the time had elapsed I made it my duty to stop instantly, even in the middle of a most interesting passage.
As to the impressions produced on me by these books, I must frankly own that, in reading certain tales of chivalry, I did not always understand the realities of life. And so, in my admiration of the patriotic deeds of the heroines of France, especially of the Venerable Joan of Arc, I longed to do what they had done. About this time I received what I have looked on as one of the greatest graces of my life, for, at that age, I was not favoured with lights from Heaven, as I am now.
Our Lord made me understand that the only true glory is that which lasts for ever; and that to attain it there is no necessity to do brilliant deeds, but rather to hide from the eyes of others, and even from oneself, so that "the left hand knows not what the right hand does."2323Cf. Matt. 6:3. Then, as I reflected that I was born for great things, and sought the means to attain them, it was made known to me interiorly that my personal glory would never reveal itself before the eyes of men, but that it would consist in becoming a Saint.
This aspiration may very well appear rash, seeing how imperfect I was, and am, even now, after so many years of religious life; yet I still feel the same daring confidence that one day I shall become a great Saint. I am not trusting in my own merits, for I have none; but I trust in Him Who is Virtue and Holiness itself. It is He alone Who, pleased with my feeble efforts, will raise me to Himself, and, by clothing me with His merits, make me a Saint. At that time I did not realise that to become one it is necessary to suffer a great deal; but God soon disclosed this secret to me by means of the trials I have related.
I must now continue my story where I left off. Three months after my cure Papa took me away for a change. It was a very pleasant time, and I began to see something of the world. All around me was joy and gladness; I was petted, made much of, admired—in fact, for a whole fortnight my path was strewn with flowers. The Wise Man is right when he says: "The bewitching of vanity overturneth the innocent mind."2424Wisdom 4:12. At ten years of age the heart is easily fascinated, and I confess that in my case this kind of life had its charms. Alas! the world knows well how to combine its pleasures with the service of God. How little it thinks of death! And yet death has come to many people I knew then, young, rich, and happy. I recall to mind the delightful places where they lived, and ask myself where they are now, and what profit they derive to-day from the beautiful houses and grounds where I saw them enjoying all the good things of this life, and I reflect that "All is vanity besides loving God and serving Him alone."2525Imit., I, ch. i. 3.
Perhaps Our Lord wished me to know something of the world before He paid His first visit to my soul, so that I might choose more deliberately the way in which I was to follow Him.
I shall always remember my First Communion Day as one of unclouded happiness. It seems to me that I could not have been better prepared. Do you remember, dear Mother, the charming little book you gave me three months before the great day? I found in it a helpful method which prepared me gradually and thoroughly. It is true I had been thinking about my First Communion for a long time, but, as your precious manuscript told me, I must stir up in my heart fresh transports of love and fill it anew with flowers. So, each day I made a number of little sacrifices and acts of love, which were to be changed into so many flowers: now violets, another time roses, then cornflowers, daisies, or forget-me-nots—in a word, all nature's blossoms were to form in me a cradle for the Holy Child.
I had Marie, too, who took Pauline's place. Every evening I spent a long time with her, listening eagerly to all she said. How delightfully she talked to me! I felt myself set on fire by her noble, generous spirit. As the warriors of old trained their children in the profession of arms, so she trained me for the battle of life, and roused my ardour by pointing to the victor's glorious palm. She spoke, too, of the imperishable riches which are so easy to amass each day, and of the folly of trampling them under foot when one has but to stoop and gather them. When she talked so eloquently, I was sorry that I was the only one to listen to her teaching, for, in my simplicity, it seemed to me that the greatest sinners would be converted if they but heard her, and that, forsaking the perishable riches of this world, they would seek none but the riches of Heaven.
I should have liked at this time to practise mental prayer, but Marie, finding me sufficiently devout, only let me say my vocal prayers. A mistress at the Abbey asked me once what I did on holidays, when I stayed at home. I answered timidly: "I often hide myself in a corner of my room where I can shut myself in with the bed curtains, and then I think." "But what do you think about?" said the good nun, laughing. "I think about the Good God, about the shortness of life, and about eternity: in a word, I think." My mistress did not forget this, and later on she used to remind me of the time when I thought, asking me if I still thought. . . . Now, I know that I was really praying, while my Divine Master gently instructed me.
The three months' preparation for First Communion passed quickly by; it was soon time for me to begin my retreat, and, during it, I stayed at the Abbey. Oh, what a blessed retreat it was! I do not think that one can experience such joy except in a religious house; there, with only a few children, it is easy for each one to receive special attention. I write this in a spirit of filial gratitude; our mistresses at the Abbey showed us a true motherly affection. I do not know why, but I saw plainly that they watched over me more carefully than they did over the others.
Every night the first mistress, carrying her little lamp, opened my bed curtains softly, and kissed me tenderly on the forehead. She showed me such affection that, touched by her kindness, I said one night: "Mother, I love you so much that I am going to tell you a great secret." Then I took from under my pillow the precious little book you had given me, and showed it to her, my eyes sparkling with pleasure. She opened it with care, and, looking through it attentively, told me how privileged I was. In fact, several times during the retreat, the truth came home to me that very few motherless children of my age are as lovingly cared for as I was then.
I listened most attentively to the instructions given us by Father Domin, and wrote careful notes on them, but I did not put down any of my own thoughts, as I knew I should remember them quite well. And so it proved.
How happy I was to attend Divine Office as the nuns did! I was easily distinguished from my companions by a large crucifix, which Léonie had given me, and which, like the missionaries, I carried in my belt. They thought I was trying to imitate my Carmelite sister, and indeed my thoughts did often turn lovingly to her. I knew she was in retreat too, not that Jesus might give Himself to her, but that she might give herself entirely to Jesus, and this on the same day as I made my First Communion. The time of quiet waiting was therefore doubly dear to me.
At last there dawned the most beautiful day of all the days of my life. How perfectly I remember even the smallest details of those sacred hours! the joyful awakening, the reverent and tender embraces of my mistresses and older companions, the room filled with snow-white frocks, where each child was dressed in turn, and, above all, our entrance into the chapel and the melody of the morning hymn: "O Altar of God, where the Angels are hovering."
But I would not and I could not tell you all. Some things lose their fragrance when exposed to the air, and so, too, one's inmost thoughts cannot be translated into earthly words without instantly losing their deep and heavenly meaning. How sweet was the first embrace of Jesus! It was indeed an embrace of love. I felt that I was loved, and I said: "I love Thee, and I give myself to Thee for ever." Jesus asked nothing of me, and claimed no sacrifice; for a long time He and little Thérèse had known and understood one another. That day our meeting was more than simple recognition, it was perfect union. We were no longer two. Thérèse had disappeared like a drop of water lost in the immensity of the ocean; Jesus alone remained—He was the Master, the King! Had not Thérèse asked Him to take away her liberty which frightened her? She felt herself so weak and frail, that she wished to be for ever united to the Divine Strength.
And then my joy became so intense, so deep, that it could not be restrained; tears of happiness welled up and overflowed. My companions were astonished, and asked each other afterwards: "Why did she cry? Had she anything on her conscience? No, it is because neither her Mother nor her dearly loved Carmelite sister is here." And no one understood that all the joy of Heaven had come down into one heart, and that this heart, exiled, weak, and mortal as it was, could not contain it without tears.
How could my Mother's absence grieve me on my First Communion Day? As Heaven itself dwelt in my soul, in receiving a visit from Our Divine Lord I received one from my dear Mother too. Nor was I crying on account of Pauline's absence, for we were even more closely united than before. No, I repeat it—joy alone, a joy too deep for words, overflowed within me.
During the afternoon I read the act of consecration to Our Lady, for myself and my companions. I was chosen probably because I had been deprived of my earthly Mother while still so young. With all my heart I consecrated myself to the Blessed Virgin Mary, and asked her to watch over me. She seemed to look lovingly on her Little Flower and to smile at her again, and I thought of the visible smile which had once cured me, and of all I owed her. Had she not herself, on the morning of that 8th of May, placed in the garden of my soul her Son Jesus—"the Flower of the field and the Lily of the valleys"?2626Cant. 2:1.
On the evening of this happy day Papa and I went to the Carmel, and I saw Pauline, now become the Spouse of Christ. She wore a white veil like mine and a crown of roses. My joy was unclouded, for I hoped soon to join her, and at her side to wait for Heaven.
I was pleased with the feast prepared for me at home, and was delighted with the beautiful watch given to me by Papa. My happiness was perfect, and nothing troubled the inward peace of my soul. Night came, and so ended that beautiful day. Even the brightest days are followed by darkness; one alone will know no setting, the day of the First and Eternal Communion in our true Home. Somehow the next day seemed sorrowful. The pretty clothes and the presents I had received could not satisfy me. Henceforth Our Lord alone could fill my heart, and all I longed for was the blissful moment when I should receive Him again.
I made my second Communion on Ascension Day, and had the happiness of kneeling at the rails between Papa and Marie. My tears flowed with inexpressible sweetness; I kept repeating those words of St. Paul: "I live now, not I; but Christ liveth in me."2727Gal. 2:20. After this second visit of Our Lord I longed for nothing else but to receive Him. Alas! the feasts seemed so far apart. . . .
On the eve of these happy days Marie helped me to prepare, as she had done for my First Communion. I remember once she spoke of suffering, and said that in all probability, instead of making me walk by this road, God, in His goodness, would carry me always like a little child. Her words came into my mind next day after my Communion; my heart became inflamed with an ardent desire for suffering, and I felt convinced that many crosses were in store for me. Then my soul was flooded with such consolation as I have never since experienced. Suffering became attractive, and I found in it charms which held me spellbound, though as yet I did not appreciate them to the full.
I had one other great wish; it was to love God only, and to find my joy in Him alone. During my thanksgiving after Holy Communion I often repeated this passage from the Imitation of Christ: "O my God, who art unspeakable sweetness, turn for me into bitterness all the consolations of earth."2828Imit., III, ch. xxvi. 3. These words rose to my lips quite naturally; I said them like a child, who, without well understanding, repeats what a friend may suggest. Later on I will tell you, dear Mother, how Our Lord has been pleased to fulfill my desire, how He, and He alone, has always been my joy; but if I were to speak of it now I should have to pass on to my girlhood, and there is still much to tell you of my early days.
Soon after my First Communion I went into retreat again, before being confirmed. I prepared myself with the greatest care for the coming of the Holy Ghost; I could not understand anyone not doing so before receiving this Sacrament of Love. As the ceremony could not take place on the day fixed, I had the consolation of remaining somewhat longer in retreat. How happy I felt! Like the Apostles, I looked with joy for the promised Comforter, gladdened by the thought that I should soon be a perfect Christan, and have the holy Cross, the symbol of this wondrous Sacrament, traced upon my forehead for eternity. I did not feel the mighty wind of the first Pentecost, but rather the gentle breeze which the prophet Elias heard on Mount Horeb. On that day I received the gift of fortitude in suffering—a gift I needed sorely, for the martyrdom of my soul was soon to begin.
When these delightful feasts, which can never be forgotten, were over, I had to resume my life as a day scholar, at the Abbey. I made good progress with my lessons, and remembered easily the sense of what I read, but I had the greatest difficulty in learning by heart; only at catechism were my efforts crowned with success. The Chaplain called me his little "Doctor of Theology,"2929St. Teresa, who reformed the Carmelite Order, and died in 1582, is sometimes called the Doctor of Mystical Theology, because of her luminous writings on the relations of the soul with God in prayer. [Ed.] no doubt because of my name, Thérèse.
During recreation I often gave myself up to serious thoughts, while from a distance I watched my companions at play. This was my favourite occupation, but I had another which gave me real pleasure. I would search carefully for any poor little birds that had fallen dead under the big trees, and I then buried them with great ceremony, all in the same cemetery, in a special grass plot. Sometimes I told stories to my companions, and often even the big girls came to listen; but soon our mistress, very rightly, brought my career as an orator to an end, saying she wanted us to exercise our bodies and not our brains. At this time I chose as friends two little girls of my own age; but how shallow are the hearts of creatures! One of them had to stay at home for some months; while she was away I thought about her very often, and on her return I showed how pleased I was. However, all I got was a glance of indifference—my friendship was not appreciated. I felt this very keenly, and I no longer sought an affection which had proved so inconstant. Nevertheless I still love my little school friend, and continue to pray for her, for God has given me a faithful heart, and when once I love, I love for ever.
Observing that some of the girls were very devoted to one or other of the mistresses, I tried to imitate them, but I never succeeded in winning special favour. O happy failure, from how many evils have you saved me! I am most thankful to Our Lord that He let me find only bitterness in earthly friendships. With a heart like mine, I should have been taken captive and had my wings clipped, and how then should I have been able to "fly away and be at rest"?3030Ps. 54:7.
How can a heart given up to human affections be closely united to God? It seems to me that it is impossible. I have seen so many souls, allured by this false light, fly right into it like poor moths, and burn their wings, and then return, wounded, to Our Lord, the Divine fire which burns and does not consume. I know well Our Lord saw that I was too weak to be exposed to temptation, for, without doubt, had the deceitful light of created love dazzled my eyes, I should have been entirely consumed. Where strong souls find joy and practise detachment faithfully, I only found bitterness. No merit, then, is due to me for not having given up to these frail ties, since I was only preserved from them by the Mercy of God. I fully realised that without Him I should have fallen as low as St. Mary Magdalen, and the Divine Master's words re-echoed sweetly in my soul. Yes, I know that "To whom less is forgiven he loveth less,"3131Luke 7:47. but I know too that Our Lord has forgiven me more than St. Mary Magdalen. Here is an example which will, at any rate, show you some of my thoughts.
Let us suppose that the son of a very clever doctor, stumbling over a stone on the road, falls and breaks his leg. His father hastens to him, lifts him lovingly, and binds up the fractured limb, putting forth all his skill. The son, when cured, displays the utmost gratitude, and he has excellent reason for doing so. But let us take another supposition.
The father, aware that a dangerous stone lies in his son's path, is beforehand with the danger and removes it, unseen by anyone. The son, thus tenderly cared for, not knowing of the mishap from which his father's hand has saved him, naturally will not show him any gratitude, and will love him less than if he had cured him of a grievous wound. But suppose he heard the whole truth, would he not in that case love him still more? Well now, I am this child, the object of the foreseeing love of a Father "Who did not send His son to call the just, but sinners."3232Luke 5:32. He wishes me to love Him, because He has forgiven me, not much, but everything. Without waiting for me to love Him much, as St. Mary Magdalen did, He has made me understand how He has loved me with an ineffable love and forethought, so that now my love may know no bounds.
I had often heard it said, both in retreats and elsewhere, that He is more deeply loved by repentant souls than by those who have not lost their baptismal innocence. Ah! If I could but give the lie to those words. . . .
But I have wandered so far from my subject that I hardly know where to begin again. It was during the retreat before my second Communion that I was attacked by the terrible disease of scruples. One must have passed through this martyrdom to understand it. It would be quite impossible for me to tell you what I suffered for nearly two years. All my thoughts and actions, even the simplest, were a source of trouble and anguish to me; I had no peace till I had told Marie everything, and this was most painful, since I imagined I was obliged to tell absolutely all my thoughts, even the most extravagant. As soon as I had unburdened myself I felt a momentary peace, but it passed like a flash, and my martyrdom began again. Many an occasion for patience did I provide for my dear sister.
That year we spent a fortnight of our holidays at the sea-side. My aunt, who always showed us such motherly care, treated us to all possible pleasures—donkey rides, shrimping, and the rest. She even spoiled us in the matter of clothes. I remember one day she gave me some pale blue ribbon; although I was twelve and a half, I was still such a child that I quite enjoyed tying it in my hair. But this childish pleasure seemed sinful to me, and I had so many scruples that I had to go to Confession, even at Trouville.
While I was there I had an experience which did me good. My cousin Marie often suffered from sick headaches. On these occasions my aunt used to fondle her and coax her with the most endearing names, but the only response was continual tears and the unceasing cry: "My head aches!" I had a headache nearly every day, though I did not say so; but one evening I thought I would imitate Marie. So I sat down in an armchair in a corner of the room, and set to work to cry. My aunt, as well as my cousin Jeanne, to whom I was very devoted, hastened to me to know what was the matter. I answered like Marie: "My head aches." It would seem that complaining was not in my line; no one would believe that a headache was the reason of my tears. Instead of petting me as usual, my aunt spoke to me seriously. Even Jeanne reproached me, very kindly it is true, and was grieved at my want of simplicity and trust in my aunt. She thought I had a big scruple, and was not giving the real reason of my tears. At last, getting nothing for my pains, I made up my mind not to imitate other people any more. I thought of the fable of the ass and the little dog; I was the ass, who, seeing that the little dog got all the petting, put his clumsy hoof on the table to try and secure his share. If I did not have a beating like the poor beast, at any rate I got what I deserved—a severe lesson, which cured me once for all of the desire to attract attention.
I must go back now to the subject of my scruples. They made me so ill that I was obliged to leave school when I was thirteen. In order to continue my education, Papa took me several times a week to a lady who was an excellent teacher. Her lessons served the double purpose of instructing me and making me associate with other people.
Visitors were often shown into the old-fashioned room where I sat with my books and exercises. As far as possible my teacher's mother carried on the conversation, but still I did not learn much while it lasted. Seemingly absorbed in my book, I could hear many things it would have been better for me not to hear. One lady said I had beautiful hair; another asked, as she left, who was that pretty little girl. Such remarks, the more flattering because I was not meant to hear them, gave me a feeling of pleasure which showed plainly that I was full of self-love.
I am very sorry for souls who lose themselves in this way. It is so easy to go astray in the seductive paths of the world. Without doubt, for a soul somewhat advanced in virtue, the sweetness offered by the world is mingled with bitterness, and the immense void of its desires cannot be filled by the flattery of a moment; but I repeat, if my heart had not been lifted up towards God from the first moment of consciousness, if the world had smiled on me from the beginning of my life, what should I have become? Dearest Mother, with what a grateful heart do I sing "the Mercies of the Lord!" Has He not, according to the words of Holy Wisdom, "taken me away from the world lest wickedness should alter my understanding, or deceit beguile my soul?"3333Cf. Wisdom 4:11.
Meanwhile I resolved to consecrate myself in a special way to Our Blessed Lady, and I begged to be enrolled among the Children of Mary.3434It was on May 31, 1886, that she became a Sodalist of Our Lady. [Ed.] To gain this favour I had to go twice a week to the Convent, and I must confess this cost me something, I was so shy. There was no question of the affection I felt towards my mistresses, but, as I said before, I had no special friend among them, with whom I could have spent many hours like other old pupils. So I worked in silence till the end of the lesson, and then, as no one took any notice of me, I went to the tribune in the Chapel till Papa came to fetch me home. Here, during this silent visit, I found my one consolation—for was not Jesus my only Friend? To Him alone could I open my heart; all conversation with creatures, even on holy subjects, wearied me. It is true that in these periods of loneliness I sometimes felt sad, and I used often to console myself by repeating this line of a beautiful poem Papa had taught me: "Time is thy barque, and not thy dwelling-place."
Young as I was, these words restored my courage, and even now, in spite of having outgrown many pious impressions of childhood, the symbol of a ship always delights me and helps me to bear the exile of this life. Does not the Wise Man tell us—"Life is like a ship that passeth through the waves: when it is gone by, the trace thereof cannot be found"?3535Wisdom 5:10.
When my thoughts run on in this way, my soul loses itself as it were in the infinite; I seem already to touch the Heavenly Shore and to receive Our Lord's embrace. I fancy I can see Our Blessed Lady coming to meet me, with my Father and Mother, my little brothers and sisters; and I picture myself enjoying true family joys for all eternity.
But before reaching Our Father's Home in Heaven, I had to go through many partings on this earth. The year in which I was made a Child of Mary, Our Lady took from me my sister Marie, the only support of my soul,3636Marie entered the Carmel of Lisieux on October 15, 1886, taking the name of Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart. my oracle and inseparable companion since the departure of Pauline. As soon as I knew of her decision, I made up my mind to take no further pleasure in anything here below. I could not tell you how many tears I shed. But at this time I was much given to crying, not only over big things, but over trifling ones too. For instance: I was very anxious to advance in virtue, but I went about it in a strange way. I was not accustomed to wait on myself; Céline always arranged our room, and I never did any household work. Sometimes, in order to please Our Lord, I used to make my bed, or, if she were out in the evening, to bring in her plants and seedlings. As I said before, it was simply to please Our Lord that I did these things, and so I ought not to have expected any thanks from creatures. But, alas! I did expect them, and, if unfortunately Céline did not seem surprised and grateful for my little services, I was not pleased, and tears rose to my eyes.
Again, if by accident I offended anyone, instead of taking it in the right way, I fretted till I made myself ill, thus making my fault worse, instead of mending it; and when I began to realise my foolishness, I would cry for having cried.
In fact, I made troubles out of everything. Now, things are quite different. God in His goodness has given me grace not to be cast down by any passing difficulty. When I think of what I used to be, my heart overflows with gratitude. The graces I have received have changed me so completely, that I am scarcely the same person.
After Marie entered the Carmel, and I no longer had her to listen to my scruples, I turned towards Heaven and confided them to the four little angels who had already gone before me, for I thought that these innocent souls, who had never known sorrow or fear, ought to have pity on their poor little suffering sister. I talked to them with childish simplicity, telling them that, as I was the youngest of the family, I had always been the most petted and loved by my parents and sisters; that if they had remained on earth they would no doubt have given me the same proofs of their affection. The fact that they had gone to Heaven seemed no reason why they should forget me—on the contrary, as they were able to draw form the treasury of Heaven, they ought to obtain for me the grace of peace, and prove that they still knew how to love me.
The answer was not long in coming; soon my soul was flooded with the sweetest peace. I knew that I was loved, not only on earth but also in Heaven. From that time my devotion for these little brothers and sisters increased; I loved to talk to them and tell them of all the sorrows of this exile, and of my wish to join them soon in our Eternal Home.
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