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CHAPTER VIII - PROFESSION OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE
Need I tell you, dear Mother, about the retreat before my profession? Far from receiving consolation, I went through it in a state of utter dryness and as if abandoned by God. Jesus, as was His wont, slept in my little barque. How rarely do souls suffer Him to sleep in peace! This Good Master is so wearied with continually making fresh advances that He eagerly avails Himself of the repose I offer Him, and, no doubt, He will sleep on until my great and everlasting retreat; but, instead of being grieved at this, I am glad.
In truth I am no Saint, as this frame of mind well shows. I ought not to rejoice in my dryness of soul, but rather attribute it to my want of fervour and fidelity. That I fall asleep so often during meditation, and thanksgiving after Communion, should distress me. Well, I am not distressed. I reflect that little children are equally dear to their parents whether they are asleep or awake; that, in order to perform operations, doctors put their patients to sleep; and finally that "The Lord knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are but dust."7171Psalm 102:14. Yet, apparently barren as was my retreat—and those which followed have been no less so—I unconsciously received many interior lights on the best means of pleasing God, and practising virtue. I have often observed that Our Lord will not give me any store of provisions, but nourishes me each moment with food that is ever new; I find it within me without knowing how it has come there. I simply believe that it is Jesus Himself hidden in my poor heart, who is secretly at work, inspiring me with what He wishes me to do as each occasion arises.
Shortly before my profession I received the Holy Father's blessing, through the hands of Brother Simeon; and this precious Blessing undoubtedly helped me through the most terrible storm of my whole life.
On the eve of the great day, instead of being filled with the customary sweetness, my vocation suddenly seemed to me as unreal as a dream. The devil—for it was he—made me feel sure that I was wholly unsuited for life in the Carmel, and that I was deceiving my superiors by entering on a way to which I was not called. The darkness was so bewildering that I understood but one thing—I had no religious vocation, and must return to the world. I cannot describe the agony I endured. What was I to do in such a difficulty? I chose the right course, deciding to tell my Novice Mistress of the temptation without delay. I sent for her to come out of choir, and though full of confusion, I confessed the state of my soul. Fortunately she saw more clearly than I did, and reassured me completely by laughing frankly at my story. The devil was put to instant flight by my humble avowal; what he wanted was to keep me from speaking, and thus draw me into his snares. But it was my turn now to ensnare him, for, to make my humiliation more complete, I also told you everything, dear Mother, and your consoling words dispelled my last fears.
Many were the graces I asked. I felt myself truly a queen and took advantage of my title to obtain every favour from the King for His ungrateful subjects. No one was forgotten. I wished that every sinner on earth might be converted; that on that day Purgatory should set its captives free; and I bore upon my heart this letter containing what I desired for myself:
"O Jesus, my Divine Spouse, grant that my baptismal robe may never be sullied. Take me from this world rather than let me stain my soul by committing the least wilful fault. May I never seek or find aught but Thee alone! May all creatures be nothing to me and I nothing to them! May no earthly thing disturb my peace!
"O Jesus, I ask but Peace. . . . Peace, and above all, Love. . . . Love—without limit. Jesus, I ask that for Thy sake I may die a Martyr; give me martyrdom of soul or body. Or rather give me both the one and the other.
"Grant that I may fulfill my engagements in all their perfection; that no one may think of me; that I may be trodden under foot, forgotten, as a little grain of sand. I offer myself to Thee, O my Beloved, that Thou mayest ever perfectly accomplish in me Thy Holy Will, without let or hindrance from creatures."
When at the close of this glorious day I laid my crown of roses, according to custom, at Our Lady's feet, it was without regret. I felt that time would never lessen my happiness.
It was the Nativity of Mary. What a beautiful feast on which to become the Spouse of Jesus! It was the little new-born Holy Virgin who presented her little Flower to the little Jesus. That day everything was little except the graces I received—except my peace and joy in gazing upon the beautiful star-lit sky at night, and in thinking that soon I should fly away to Heaven and be united to my Divine Spouse amid eternal bliss.
On September 24 took place the ceremony of my receiving the veil. This feast was indeed veiled in tears. Papa was too ill to come and bless his little Queen; at the last minute Mgr. Hugonin, who should have presided, was unable to do so, and, for other reasons also, the day was a painful one. And yet amid it all, my soul was profoundly at peace. That day it pleased Our Lord that I should not be able to restrain my tears, and those tears were not understood. It is true I had borne far harder trials without shedding a tear; but then I had been helped by special graces, whilst on this day Jesus left me to myself, and I soon showed my weakness.
Eight days after I had taken the veil my cousin, Jeanne Guérin, was married to Dr. La Néele. When she came to see us afterwards and I heard of all the little attentions she lavished on her husband, my heart thrilled and I thought: "It shall never be said that a woman in the world does more for her husband than I do for Jesus, my Beloved." And, filled with fresh ardour, I set myself more earnestly than ever to please my Heavenly Spouse, the King of Kings, Who had deigned to honour me by a divine alliance.
Having seen the letter announcing the marriage, I amused myself by composing the following invitation, which I read to the novices in order to bring home to them what had struck me so forcibly—that the glory of all earthly unions is as nothing compared to the titles of a Spouse of Our Divine Lord.
"God Almighty, Creator of Heaven and Earth, Sovereign Ruler of the Universe, and the 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 Thérèse Martin, now Princess and Lady of His Kingdoms of the Holy Childhood and the Passion, assigned to her as a dowry, by her Divine Spouse, from which Kingdoms she holds her titles of nobility—of 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, 1890—the Heavenly Court was alone admitted—but you are requested to be present at the Wedding Feast which will take place to-morrow, 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 still uncertain, you are asked to hold yourselves in readiness and watch."7373This letter, the style of which may seem strange to English ears, is modelled closely on the formal and quaint letters whereby French parents of the better class announce to their friends the marriage of their children. Such letters of "faire-part" are issued in the name of relatives to the third or fourth degree. [Ed.]
And now, Mother, what more shall I say? It was through your hands that I gave myself to Our Lord, and you have known me from childhood—need I write my secrets? Forgive me if I cut short the story of my religious life.
During the general retreat following my profession I received great graces. As a rule I find preached retreats most trying, but this one was quite an exception. I anticipated so much suffering that I prepared myself by a fervent novena. It was said that the good Priest understood better how to convert sinners than to direct the souls of nuns. Well then, I must be a great sinner, for God made use of this holy religious to bring me much consolation. At that time I had all kinds of interior trials which I found it impossible to explain to anyone; suddenly, I was able to lay open my whole soul. The Father understood me in a marvellous way; he seemed to divine my state, and launched me full sail upon that ocean of confidence and love in which I had longed to advance, but so far had not dared. He told me that my faults did not pain the Good God, and added: "At this moment I hold His place, and I assure you from Him that He is well pleased with your soul." How happy these consoling words made me! I had never been told before that it was possible for faults not to pain the Sacred Heart; this assurance filled me with joy and helped me to bear with patience the exile of this life. It was also the echo of my inmost thoughts. In truth I had long known that the Lord is more tender than a mother, and I have sounded the depths of more than one mother's heart. I know that a mother is ever ready to forgive her child's small thoughtless faults. How often have I not had this sweet experience! No reproach could have touched me more than one single kiss from my Mother. My nature is such that fear makes me shrink, while, under love's sweet rule, I not only advance—I fly.
Two months after this happy retreat our Venerable Foundress, Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa, quitted our little convent to enter the Heavenly Carmel. Before speaking of my impressions at the time of her death, I should like to tell you what a joy it was to have lived for some years with a soul whose holiness was not inimitable, but lay in the practice of simple and hidden virtues. More than once she was to me a source of great consolation.
One Sunday I went to the infirmary to pay her a visit, but, as two of the older nuns were there, I was retiring quietly, when she called me and said, with something of inspiration in her manner: "Wait, my child, I have just a word for you; you are always asking me for a spiritual bouquet, well, to-day I give you this one: Serve the Lord in peace and in joy. Remember that Our God is the God of peace."
I thanked her quite simply and went out of the room. I was moved almost to tears, and was convinced that God had revealed to her the state of my soul. That day I had been sorely tried, almost to sadness. Such was the darkness that I no longer knew if I were beloved of God, and so, dear Mother, you can understand what light and consolation succeeded this gloom.
The following Sunday I asked her whether she had received any revelation about me, but she assured me that she had not, and this only made me admire her the more, for it showed how intimately Jesus lived in her soul and directed her words and actions. Such holiness seems to me the most true, the most holy; it is the holiness I desire, for it is free from all illusion.
On the day when this revered Mother ended her exile, I received a very special grace. It was the first time I had assisted at a death-bed, yet though the sight enchanted me by its beauty, my two hours of watching had made me very drowsy. I was grieved at this, but, at the moment her soul took its flight to Heaven, my feelings were completely changed. In an instant I was filled with an indescribable joy and fervour, as if the soul of our blessed Foundress made me share in the happiness she already enjoyed—for I am quite convinced she went straight to Heaven. I had said to her some time previously: "You will not go to Purgatory, dear Mother." "I hope not," she answered sweetly. Certainly God would not disappoint a hope so full of humility; and the proof that He did not, lies in the many favours we have received.
The Sisters hastened to claim something belonging to our beloved Mother, and you know what a precious relic is mine. During her agony I had noticed a tear glistening like a beautiful diamond. That tear, the last she shed on this earth, did not fall, I still saw it shining when her body was exposed in the choir. When evening came, I made bold to approach unseen, with a little piece of linen, and I now have the happiness of possessing the last tear of a Saint.
I attach no importance to my dreams, and indeed, they seldom have any special meaning, though I do often wonder how it is that, as I think of God all the day, my mind does not dwell on Him more in my sleep. Generally I dream of the woods and the flowers, the brooks and the sea, and nearly always of pretty children; or I chase birds and butterflies such as I have never seen. But, if my dreams are sometimes poetical, they are never mystical.
However, one night after Mother Genevieve's death, I had a more consoling one. I thought I saw her giving to each of us something that had belonged to herself. When my turn came, her hands were empty, and I was afraid I was not to receive anything; but she looked at me lovingly, and said three times: "To you I leave my heart."
About a month after that seraphic death, towards the close of the year 1891, an epidemic of influenza raged in the Community; I only had it slightly and was able to be about with two other Sisters. It is impossible to imagine the heartrending state of our Carmel throughout those days of sorrow. The worst sufferers were nursed by those who could hardly drag themselves about; death was all around us, and, when a Sister had breathed her last, we had to leave her instantly.
My nineteenth birthday was saddened by the death of Mother Sub-Prioress; I assisted with the infirmarian during her agony, and two more deaths quickly followed. I now had to do the Sacristy work single-handed, and I wonder sometimes how I was equal to it all.
One morning, when it was time to rise, I had a presentiment that Sister Magdalen was no more. The dormitory was quite in darkness, no one was leaving her cell. I decided, however, to go in to Sister Magdalen, and I found her dressed, but lying dead on her bed. I was not in the least afraid, and running to the Sacristy I quickly brought a blessed candle, and placed on her head a wreath of roses. Amid all this desolation I felt the Hand of God and knew that His Heart was watching over us. Our dear Sisters left this life for a happier one without any struggle; an expression of heavenly joy shone on their faces, and they seemed only to be enjoying a pleasant sleep. During all these long and trying weeks I had the unspeakable consolation of receiving Holy Communion every day. How sweet it was! For a long time Jesus treated me as a spoilt child, for a longer time than His more faithful Spouses. He came to me daily for several months after the influenza had ceased, a privilege not granted to the Community. I had not asked this favour, but I was unspeakably happy to be united day after day to my Beloved.
Great was my joy in being allowed to touch the Sacred Vessels and prepare the Altar linen on which Our Lord was to be laid. I felt that I must increase in fervour, and I often recalled those words addressed to deacons at their ordination: "Be you holy, you who carry the Vessels of the Lord."
What can I tell you, dear Mother, about my thanksgivings after Communion? There is no time when I taste less consolation. But this is what I should expect. I desire to receive Our Lord, not for my own satisfaction, but simply to give Him pleasure.
I picture my soul as a piece of waste ground and beg Our Blessed Lady to take away my imperfections—which are as heaps of rubbish—and to build upon it a splendid tabernacle worthy of Heaven, and adorn it with her own adornments. Then I invite all the Angels and Saints to come and sing canticles of love, and it seems to me that Jesus is well pleased to see Himself received so grandly, and I share in His joy. But all this does not prevent distractions and drowsiness from troubling me, and not unfrequently I resolve to continue my thanksgiving throughout the day, since I made it so badly in choir.
You see, dear Mother, that my way is not the way of fear; I can always make myself happy, and profit by my imperfections, and Our Lord Himself encourages me in this path. Once, contrary to my usual custom, I felt troubled when I approached the Holy Table. For several days there had not been a sufficient number of Hosts, and I had only received a small part of one; this morning I foolishly thought: "If the same thing happens to-day, I shall imagine that Jesus does not care to come into my heart." I approached the rails. What a joy awaited me! The Priest hesitated a moment, then gave me two entire Hosts. Was this not a sweet response?
I have much to be thankful for. I will tell you quite openly what the Lord has done for me. He has shown unto me the same mercy as unto King Solomon. All my desires have been satisfied; not only my desires of perfection, but even those of which I understood the vanity, in theory, if not in practice. I had always looked on Sister Agnes of Jesus as my model, and I wished to be like her in everything. She used to paint exquisite miniatures and write beautiful poems, and this inspired me with a desire to learn to paint,7474Thérèse had kept this wish hidden in her heart from the days of her childhood, and later in life she made the following confidence: "I was ten the day Papa told Céline that she was to begin painting lessons. I felt quite envious. Then he turned to me and said: 'Well, little Queen, would you like to learn painting too?' I was going to say: 'Yes, indeed I should,' when Marie remarked that I had not the same taste for it as Céline. She carried her point, and I said nothing, thinking it was a splendid opportunity to make a big sacrifice for Our Lord; I was so anxious to learn, that even now I wonder how I was able to keep silence." and express my thoughts in verse, that I might do some good to those around me. But I would not ask for these natural gifts, and my desire remained hidden in my heart.
Jesus, too, had hidden Himself in this poor little heart, and He was pleased to show me once more the vanity of all that passes. To the great astonishment of the Community, I succeeded in painting several pictures and in writing poems which have been a help to certain souls. And just as Solomon, "turning to all the works which his hand had wrought, and to the labours wherein he had laboured in vain, saw in all things vanity and vexation of mind,"7575Eccl. 2:11. so experience showed me that the sole happiness of earth consists in lying hidden, and remaining in total ignorance of created things. I understood that without love even the most brilliant deeds count for nothing. These gifts, which Our Lord lavished upon me, far from doing me any harm, drew me towards Him; I saw that He alone is unchangeable, He alone can fill the vast abyss of my desires.
Talking of my desires, I must tell you about others of quite a different kind, which the Divine Master has also been pleased to grant: childish desires, like the wish for snow on my clothing day. You know, dear Mother, how fond I am of flowers. When I made myself a prisoner at the age of fifteen, I gave up for ever the delights of rambling through meadows bright with the treasures of spring. Well, I never possessed so many flowers as I have had since entering the Carmel. In the world young men present their betrothed with beautiful bouquets, and Jesus did not forget me. For His Altar I received, in abundance, all the flowers I loved best: cornflowers, poppies, marguerites—one little friend only was missing, the purple vetch. I longed to see it again, and at last it came to gladden me and show that, in the least as in the greatest, God gives a hundred-fold, even in this life, to those who have left all for His Love.
But one desire, the dearest of all, and for many reasons the most difficult, remained unfulfilled. It was to see Céline enter the Carmel of Lisieux. However, I had made a sacrifice of my longing, and committed to God alone the future of my loved sister. I was willing she should be sent to far distant lands if it must be so; but I wanted above all things to see her like myself, the Spouse of Jesus. I suffered deeply, aware that she was exposed in the world to dangers I had never even known. My affection for her was maternal rather than sisterly, and I was filled with solicitude for the welfare of her soul.
She was to go one evening with my aunt and cousins to a dance. I know not why, but I felt more anxious than usual, and I shed many tears, imploring Our Lord to hinder her dancing. And this was just what happened; for He did not suffer His little Spouse to dance that evening, although as a rule she did so most gracefully. And, to the astonishment of everyone, her partner, too, found that he was only able to walk gravely up and down with Mademoiselle. The poor young man slipped away in confusion, and did not dare appear again that evening. This unique occurrence increased my confidence in Our Lord, and showed me clearly that He had already set His seal on my sister's brow.
On July 29, 1894, God called my saintly and much-tried Father to Himself. For the last two years of his life he was completely paralysed; so my uncle took him into his house and surrounded him with the tenderest care. He became quite helpless and was only able to visit us once during the whole course of his illness. It was a sad interview. At the moment of parting, as we said good-bye, he raised his eyes, and pointing upwards said in a voice full of tears: "In Heaven!"
Now that he was with God, the last ties which kept his consoling Angel in the world were broken. Angels do not remain on this earth; when they have accomplished their mission, they return instantly to Heaven. That is why they have wings. Céline tried therefore to fly to the Carmel; but the obstacles seemed insurmountable. One day, when matters were going from bad to worse, I said to Our Lord after Holy Communion: "Thou knowest, dear Jesus, how earnestly I have desired that the trials my Father endured should serve as his purgatory. I long to know if my wish is granted. I do not ask Thee to speak to me, I only want a sign. Thou knowest how much opposed is Sister N. to Céline's entering; if she withdraw her opposition, I shall regard it as an answer from Thee, and in this way I shall know that my Father went straight to Heaven."
God, Who holds in His Hand the hearts of His creatures, and inclines them as He will, deigned in His infinite mercy and ineffable condescension to change that Sister's mind. She was the first person I met after my thanksgiving, and, with tears in her eyes, she spoke of Céline's entrance, which she now ardently desired. Shortly afterwards the Bishop set every obstacle aside, and then you were able, dear Mother, without any hesitation, to open our doors to the poor little exile.7676Céline entered the Convent on September 14, 1894, and took the name of Sister Genevieve of St. Teresa.
Now I have no desire left, unless it be to love Jesus even unto folly! It is Love alone that draws me. I no longer wish either for suffering or death, yet both are precious to me. Long did I call upon them as the messengers of joy. I have suffered much, and I have thought my barque near indeed to the Everlasting Shore. From earliest childhood I have imagined that the Little Flower would be gathered in its springtime; now, the spirit of self-abandonment alone is my guide. I have no other compass, and know not how to ask anything with eagerness, save the perfect accomplishment of God's designs upon my soul. I can say these words of the Canticle of our Father, St. John of the Cross:
"I drank deep in the cellar of my Friend, And, coming forth again, Knew naught of all this plain, And lost the flock I erst was wont to tend. My soul and all its wealth I gave to be His Own; No more I tend my flock, all other work is done, And all my exercise is Love alone."7777Spiritual Canticle: Stanzas 26 and 28.
"Love hath so wrought in me Since I have known its sway, That all within me, whether good or ill, It makes subservient to the end it seeks, And soon transforms my soul into itself."7878Hymn to the Deity.
Full sweet is the way of Love. It is true one may fall and be unfaithful to grace; but Love, knowing how to profit by everything, quickly consumes whatever is displeasing to Jesus, leaving in the heart only a deep and humble peace. I have obtained many spiritual lights through the works of St. John of the Cross. When I was seventeen and eighteen they were my only food; but, later on, and even now, all spiritual authors leave me cold and dry. However beautiful and touching a book may be, my heart does not respond, and I read without understanding, or, if I understand, I cannot meditate. In my helplessness the Holy Scriptures and the Imitation are of the greatest assistance; in them I find a hidden manna, genuine and pure. But it is from the Gospels that I find most help in the time of prayer; from them I draw all that I need for my poor soul. I am always discovering in them new lights and hidden mysterious meanings. I know and I have experienced that "the Kingdom of God is within us."7979Luke 17:21. Our Lord has no need of books or teachers to instruct our souls. He, the Teacher of Teachers, instructs us without any noise of words. I have never heard Him speak, yet I know He is within me. He is there, always guiding and inspiring me; and just when I need them, lights, hitherto unseen, break in. This is not as a rule during my prayers, but in the midst of my daily duties. Sometimes, however, as this evening, at the close of a meditation spent in utter dryness, a word of comfort is given to me: "Here is the Master I give thee, He will teach thee all that thou shouldst do. I wish thee to read in the Book of Life in which is contained the science of love. . . ."8080Revelation of Our Lord to Bd. Margaret Mary.
The Science of Love! How sweetly do these words echo in my soul! That science alone do I desire. Having given all my substance for it, like the Spouse in the Canticles, "I think that I have given nothing."8181Cant. 8:7. After so many graces, may I not sing with the Psalmist that "the Lord is good, that His Mercy endureth for ever"?8282Psalm :1.
It seems to me that if everyone were to receive such favours God would be feared by none, but loved to excess; that no one would ever commit the least wilful fault—and this through love, not fear.
Yet all souls cannot be alike. It is necessary that they should differ from one another in order that each Divine Perfection may receive its special honour. To me, He has given His Infinite Mercy, and it is in this ineffable mirror that I contemplate his other attributes. Therein all appear to me radiant with Love. His Justice, even more perhaps than the rest, seems to me to be clothed with Love. What joy to think that Our Lord is just, that is to say, that He takes our weakness into account, that He knows perfectly the frailty of our nature! Of what, then, need I be afraid?
In the year 1895 I received the grace to understand, more than ever, how much Jesus desires to be loved. Thinking one day of those who offer themselves as victims to the Justice of God, in order to turn aside the punishment reserved for sinners by taking it upon themselves, I felt this offering to be noble and generous, but was very far from feeling myself drawn to make it. "O my Divine Master," I cried from the bottom of my heart, "shall Thy Justice alone receive victims of holocaust? Has not Thy Merciful Love also need thereof? On all sides it is ignored, rejected . . . the hearts on which Thou wouldst lavish it turn to creatures, there to seek their happiness in the miserable satisfaction of a moment, instead of casting themselves into Thine Arms, into the unfathomable furnace of Thine Infinite Love.
"O my God! must Thy Love which is disdained lie hidden in Thy Heart? Methinks, if Thou shouldst find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Thy Love, Thou wouldst consume them rapidly; Thou wouldst be well pleased to suffer the flames of infinite tenderness to escape that are imprisoned in Thy Heart.
"If Thy Justice—which is of earth—must needs be satisfied, how much more must Thy Merciful Love desire to inflame souls, since "Thy mercy reacheth even to the Heavens"?8484Cf. Psalm 35:5. O Jesus! Let me be that happy victim—consume Thy holocaust with the Fire of Divine Love!"
Dear Mother, you know the love, or rather the oceans of grace which flooded my soul immediately after I made that Act of Oblation on June 9, 1895. From that day I have been penetrated and surrounded with love. Every moment this Merciful Love renews me and purifies me, leaving in my soul no trace of sin. I cannot fear Purgatory; I know I do not merit to enter, even, into that place of expiation with the Holy Souls, but I also know that the fire of Love is more sanctifying than the fire of Purgatory. I know that Jesus could not wish useless suffering for us, and He would not inspire me with the desires I feel, were He not willing to fulfill them.
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