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EPILOGUE: A VICTIM OF DIVINE LOVE
"Many pages of this story"—said its writer—"will never be read upon earth." It is necessary to repeat and emphasize her words. There are sufferings which are not to be disclosed here below; Our Lord has jealously reserved to Himself the right to reveal their merit and glory, in the clear vision where all veils shall be removed. "My God," she cried on the day of her religious profession, "give me martyrdom of soul or body . . . or rather give me both the one and the other!" And Our Lord Who, as she herself avowed, fulfilled all her desires, granted this one also, and in more abundant measure than the rest. He caused "the floods of infinite tenderness pent up in His Divine Heart to overflow into the soul of His little Spouse." This was the "Martyrdom of Love," so well described in her melodious song. But it was her own doctrine that, "to dedicate oneself as a Victim of Love is not to be dedicated to sweetness and consolations; it is to offer oneself to all that is painful and bitter, because Love lives only by sacrifice . . . and the more we would surrender ourselves to Love, the more we must surrender ourselves to suffering."
Therefore, because she desired to attain "the loftiest height of Love," the Divine Master led her thither by the rugged path of sorrow, and it was only on its bleak summit that she died a Victim of Love.
. . . . . .
We have seen how great was her sacrifice in leaving her happy home and the Father who loved her so tenderly. It may be imagined that this sacrifice was softened, because at the Carmel she found again her two elder and dearly loved sisters. On the contrary, this afforded the young postulant many an occasion for repressing her strong natural affections. The rules of solitude and silence were strictly observed, and she only saw her sisters at recreation. Had she been less mortified, she might often have sat beside them, but "by preference she sought out the company of those religious who were least agreeable to her," and no one could tell whether or not she bore a special affection towards her own sisters.
Some time after her entrance, she was appointed as "aid" to Sister Agnes of Jesus, her dear "Pauline"; this was a fresh occasion for sacrifice. Thérèse knew that all unnecessary conversation was forbidden, and therefore she never allowed herself even the least word. "O my little Mother," she said later, "how I suffered! I could not open my heart to you, and I thought you no longer knew me!"
After five years of this heroic silence, Sister Agnes of Jesus was elected Prioress. On the evening of the election Thérèse might well have rejoiced that henceforth she could speak freely to her "little Mother," and, as of old, pour out her soul. But sacrifice had become her daily food. If she sought one favour more than another, it was that she might be looked on as the lowest and the least; and, among all the religious, not one saw less of the Mother Prioress.
She desired to live the life of Carmel with all the perfection required by St. Teresa, and, although a martyr to habitual dryness, her prayer was continuous. On one occasion a novice, entering her cell, was struck by the heavenly expression of her countenance. She was sewing industriously, and yet seemed lost in deep contemplation. "What are you thinking of?" the young Sister asked. "I am meditating on the 'Our Father,'" Thérèse answered. "It is so sweet to call God, 'Our Father!'" . . . and tears glistened in her eyes. Another time she said, "I cannot well see what more I shall have in Heaven than I have now; I shall see God, it is true, but, as to being with Him, I am that already even on earth."
The flame of Divine Love consumed her, and this is what she herself relates: "A few days after the oblation of myself to God's Merciful Love, I was in the choir, beginning the Way of the Cross, when I felt myself suddenly wounded by a dart of fire so ardent that I thought I should die. I do not know how to explain this transport; there is no comparison to describe the intensity of that flame. It seemed as though an invisible force plunged me wholly into fire. . . . But oh! what fire! what sweetness!"
When Mother Prioress asked her if this rapture was the first she had experienced, she answered simply: "Dear Mother, I have had several transports of love, and one in particular during my Noviciate, when I remained for a whole week far removed from this world. It seemed as though a veil were thrown over all earthly things. But, I was not then consumed by a real fire. I was able to bear those transports of love without expecting to see the ties that bound me to earth give way; whilst, on the day of which I now speak, one minute—one second—more and my soul must have been set free. Alas! I found myself again on earth, and dryness at once returned to my heart." True, the Divine Hand had withdrawn the fiery dart—but the wound was unto death!
In that close union with God, Thérèse acquired a remarkable mastery over self. All sweet virtues flourished in the garden of her soul, but do not let us imagine that these wondrous flowers grew without effort on her part.
"In this world there is no fruitfulness without suffering—either physical pain, secret sorrow, or trials known sometimes only to God. When good thoughts and generous resolutions have sprung up in our souls through reading the lives of the Saints, we ought not to content ourselves, as in the case of profane books, with paying a certain tribute of admiration to the genius of their authors—we should rather consider the price which, doubtless, they have paid for that supernatural good they have produced."150150Dom Guéranger.
And, if to-day Thérèse transforms so many hearts, and the good she does on earth is beyond reckoning, we may well believe she bought it all at the price with which Jesus bought back our souls: by suffering and the Cross!
Not the least of these sufferings was the unceasing war she waged against herself, refusing every satisfaction to the demands of her naturally proud and impetuous nature. While still a child she had acquired the habit of never excusing herself or making a complaint; at the Carmel she strove to be the little servant of her Sisters in religion, and in that same spirit of humility she endeavoured to obey all without distinction.
One evening, during her illness, the Community had assembled in the garden to sing a hymn before an Altar of the Sacred Heart. Soeur Thérèse, who was already wasted by fever, joined them with difficulty, and, arriving quite exhausted, was obliged to sit down at once. When the hymn began, one of the Sisters made her a sign to stand up. Without hesitation, the humble child rose, and, in spite of the fever and great oppression from which she was suffering, remained standing to the end.
The Infirmarian had advised her to take a little walk in the garden for a quarter of an hour each day. This recommendation was for her a command. One afternoon a Sister, noticing what an effort it cost her, said: "Soeur Thérèse, you would do much better to rest; walking like this cannot do you any good. You only tire yourself!" "That is true," she replied, "but, do you know what gives me strength? I offer each step for some missionary. I think that possibly, over there, far away, one of them is weary and tired in his apostolic labours, and to lessen his fatigue I offer mine to the Good God."
She gave her novices some beautiful examples of detachment. One year the relations of the Sisters and the servants of the Convent had sent bouquets of flowers for Mother Prioress's feast. Thérèse was arranging them most tastefully, when a Lay-sister said crossly: "It is easy to see that the large bouquets have been given by your friends. I suppose those sent by the poor will again be put in the background!" . . . A sweet smile was the only reply, and notwithstanding the unpleasing effect, she immediately put the flowers sent by the servants in the most conspicuous place.
Struck with admiration, the Lay-sister went at once to the Prioress to accuse herself of her unkindness, and to praise the patience and humility shown by Soeur Thérèse.
After the death of Thérèse that same Sister, full of confidence, pressed her forehead against the feet of the saintly nun, once more asking forgiveness for her fault. At the same instant she felt herself cured of cerebral anæmia, from which she had suffered for many years, and which had prevented her from applying herself either to reading or mental prayer.
Far from avoiding humiliations, Soeur Thérèse sought them eagerly, and for that reason she offered herself as "aid" to a Sister who, she well knew, was difficult to please, and her generous proposal was accepted. One day, when she had suffered much from this Sister, a novice asked her why she looked so happy. Great was her surprise on receiving the reply: "It is because Sister N. has just been saying disagreeable things to me. What pleasure she has given me! I wish I could meet her now, and give her a sweet smile." . . . As she was still speaking, the Sister in question knocked at the door, and the astonished novice could see for herself how the Saints forgive. Soeur Thérèse acknowledged later on, she "soared so high above earthly things that humiliations did but make her stronger."
To all these virtues she joined a wonderful courage. From her entrance into the Carmel, at the age of fifteen, she was allowed to follow all the practices of its austere Rule, the fasts alone excepted. Sometimes her companions in the noviciate, seeing how pale she looked, tried to obtain a dispensation for her, either from the Night Office, or from rising at the usual hour in the morning, but the Mother Prioress would never yield to these requests. "A soul of such mettle," she would say, "ought not to be dealt with as a child; dispensations are not meant for her. Let her be, for God sustains her. Besides, if she is really ill, she should come and tell me herself."151151Mother Mary of Gonzaga died Dec. 17, 1904, at the age of 71. Mother Agnes of Jesus (Pauline) was at that time Prioress. The former—herself of the line of St. Antony of Padua—recognized in Soeur Thérèse "an heroic soul, filled with holiness, and capable of becoming one day an excellent Prioress." With this end in view, she trained her with a strictness for which the young Saint was most grateful. In the arms of Mother Mary of Gonzaga the "Little Flower of Jesus" was welcomed to the Carmel, and in those arms she died—"happy," she declared, "not to have in that hour as Superioress her 'little Mother,' in order the better to exercise her spirit of faith in authority." [Ed.]
But it was always a principle with Thérèse that "We should go to the end of our strength before we complain." How many times did she assist at Matins suffering from vertigo or violent headaches! "I am able to walk," she would say, "and so I ought to be at my duty." And, thanks to this undaunted energy, she performed acts that were heroic.
It was with difficulty that her delicate stomach accustomed itself to the frugal fare of the Carmel. Certain things made her ill, but she knew so well how to hide this, that no one ever suspected it. Her neighbour at table said that she had tried in vain to discover the dishes that she preferred, and the kitchen Sisters, finding her so easy to please, invariably served her with what was left. It was only during her last illness, when she was ordered to say what disagreed with her, that her mortifications came to light. "When Jesus wishes us to suffer," she said at that time, "there can be no evading it. And so, when Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart152152As will be remembered, this was Marie, her eldest sister. [Ed.] was procuratrix, she endeavoured to look after me with a mother's tenderness. To all appearances, I was well cared for, and yet what mortifications did she not impose upon me! for she served me according to her own taste, which was entirely opposed to mine."
Thérèse's spirit of sacrifice was far-reaching; she eagerly sought what was painful and disagreeable, as her rightful share. All that God asked she gave Him without hesitation or reserve.
"During my postulancy," she said, "it cost me a great deal to perform certain exterior penances, customary in our convents, but I never yielded to these repugnances; it seemed to me that the image of my Crucified Lord looked at me with beseeching eyes, and begged these sacrifices."
Her vigilance was so keen, that she never left unobserved any little recommendations of the Mother Prioress, or any of the small rules which render the religious life so meritorious. One of the old nuns, having remarked her extraordinary fidelity on this point, ever afterwards regarded her as a Saint. Soeur Thérèse was accustomed to say that she never did any great penances. That was because her fervour counted as nothing the few that were allowed her. It happened, however, that she fell ill through wearing for too long a time a small iron Cross, studded with sharp points, that pressed into her flesh. "Such a trifle would not have caused this," she said afterwards, "if God had not wished thus to make me understand that the greater austerities of the Saints are not meant for me—nor for the souls that walk in the path of 'spiritual childhood.'"
. . . . . .
"The souls that are the most dear to My Father," Our Lord once said to Saint Teresa, "are those He tries the most, and the greatness of their trials is the measure of His Love." Thérèse was a soul most dear to God, and He was about to fill up the measure of His Love by making her pass through a veritable martyrdom. The reader will remember the call on Good Friday, April 3, 1896, when, to use her own expression, she heard the "distant murmur which announced the approach of the Bridegroom"; but she had still to endure long months of pain before the blessed hour of her deliverance.
On the morning of that Good Friday, she made so little of the hæmorrhage of the previous night, that Mother Prioress allowed her to practise all the penances prescribed by the Rule for that day. In the afternoon, a novice saw her cleaning windows. Her face was livid, and, in spite of her great energy, it was evident that her strength was almost spent. Seeing her fatigue, the novice, who loved her dearly, burst into tears, and begged leave to obtain her some little reprieve. But the young novice-mistress strictly forbade her, saying that she was quite able to bear this slight fatigue on the day on which Jesus had suffered and died.
Soon a persistent cough made the Mother Prioress feel anxious; she ordered Soeur Thérèse a more strengthening diet, and the cough ceased for some time. "Truly sickness is too slow a liberator," exclaimed our dear little Sister, "I can only rely upon Love."
She was strongly tempted to respond to the appeal of the Carmelites of Hanoï, who much desired to have her, and began a novena to the Venerable Théophane Vénard153153The Blessed Théophane Vénard was born at St. Loup, in the diocese of Poitiers, on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lady, Nov. 21, 1829. He was martyred at Kecho, Tong-King, on the Feast of the Presentation of Our Lord, Feb. 2, 1861, at the age of 32. A long and delightful correspondence with his family, begun in his college days and completed from his "cage" at Kecho, reveals a kinship of poesy as well as of sanctity and of the love of home, between the two "spring flowers." The beauty of his soul was so visible in his boyish face that he was spared all torture during his two months in the "cage." In 1909, the year in which Thérèse became "Servant of God" by the commencement of the Episcopal Process, her patron received the honours of Beatification. Another child of France—Joan, its "Martyr-Maid"—whose praises have been sung in affectionate verse by the Saints of St. Loup and Lisieux, was beatified that same year. [Ed.] to obtain her cure, but alas! that novena proved but the beginning of a more serious phase of her malady.
Like her Divine Master, she passed through the world doing good; like Him, she had been forgotten and unknown, and now, still following in His Footsteps, she was to climb the hill of Calvary. Accustomed to see her always suffering, yet always joyous and brave, Mother Prioress, doubtless inspired by God, allowed her to take part in the Community exercises, some of which tired her extremely. At night, she would courageously mount the stairs alone, pausing at each step to take breath. It was with difficulty that she reached her cell, and then in so exhausted a state, that sometimes, as she avowed later, it took her quite an hour to undress. After all this exertion it was upon a hard pallet that she took her rest. Her nights, too, were very bad, and when asked if she would not like someone to be near her in her hours of pain, she replied: "Oh, no! on the contrary, I am only too glad to be in a cell away from my Sisters, that I may not be heard. I am content to suffer alone—as soon as I am pitied and loaded with attentions, my happiness leaves me."
What strength of soul these words betray! Where we find sorrow she found joy. What to us is to hard to bear—being overlooked and ignored by creatures—became to her a source of delight. And her Divine Spouse knew well how to provide that bitter joy she found so sweet. Painful remedies had often to be applied. One day, when she had suffered from them more than usual, she was resting in her cell during recreation, and overheard a Sister in the kitchen speaking of her thus: "Soeur Thérèse will not live long, and really sometimes I wonder what our Mother Prioress will find to say about her when she dies.154154An allusion to the obituary notice sent to each of the French Carmels when a Carmelite nun dies in that country. In the case of those who die in the odour of sanctity these notices sometimes run to considerable length. Four notices issued from the Carmel of Lisieux are of great interest to the clients of Soeur Thérèse, and are in course of publication at the Orphans' Press, Rochdale; those of the Carmel's saintly Foundress, Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa, whose death is referred to in Chapter VIII; Mother Mary of Gonzaga, the Prioress of Thérèse; Sister Mary of the Eucharist (Marie Guérin), the cousin of Thérèse (Chapter III); and most interesting of all, the long sketch, partly autobiographical, of Mother Mary of St. Angelus (Marie Ange), the "trophy of Thérèse," brought by her intercession to the Carmel in 1902—where the writer made her acquaintance in the following spring; she became Prioress in 1908, dying eighteen months later in the odour of sanctity, aged only 28. [Ed.] She will be sorely puzzled, for this little Sister, amiable as she is, has certainly never done anything worth speaking about." The Infirmarian, who had also overheard the remark, turned to Thérèse and said: "If you relied upon the opinion of creatures you would indeed be disillusioned today." "The opinion of creatures!" she replied; "happily God has given me the grace to be absolutely indifferent to that. Let me tell you something which showed me, once and for all, how much it is worth. A few days after my Clothing, I went to our dear Mother's room, and one of the Sisters who happened to be there, said on seeing me: 'Dear Mother, this novice certainly does you credit. How well she looks! I hope she may be able to observe the Rule for many years to come.' I was feeling decidedly pleased at this compliment when another Sister came in, and, looking at me, said: 'Poor little Soeur Thérèse, how very tired you seem! You quite alarm me. If you do not soon improve, I am afraid you will not be able to keep the Rule very long.' I was then only sixteen, but this little incident made such an impression on me, that I never again set store on the varying opinion of creatures."
On another occasion someone remarked: "It is said that you have never suffered much." Smiling, she pointed to a glass containing medicine of a bright red colour. "You see this little glass?" she said. "One would suppose that it contained a most delicious draught, whereas, in reality, it is more bitter than anything else I take. It is the image of my life. To others it has been all rose colour; they have thought that I continually drank of a most delicious wine; yet to me it has been full of bitterness. I say bitterness, and yet my life has not been a bitter one, for I have learned to find my joy and sweetness in all that is bitter."
"You are suffering very much just now, are you not?" "Yes, but then I have so longed to suffer." "How it distresses us to see you in such pain, and to think that it may increase!" said her novices.
"Oh! Do not grieve about me. I have reached a point where I can no longer suffer, because all suffering is become so sweet. Besides, it is quite a mistake to trouble yourselves as to what I may still have to undergo. It is like meddling with God's work. We who run in the way of Love must never allow ourselves to be disturbed by anything. If I did not simply live from one moment to another, it would be impossible for me to be patient; but I only look at the present, I forget the past, and I take good care not to forestall the future. When we yield to discouragement or despair, it is usually because we think too much about the past and the future. But pray much for me, for it is often just when I cry to Heaven for help that I feel most abandoned."
"How do you manage not to give way to discouragement at such times?" "I turn to God and all His Saints, and thank them notwithstanding; I believe they want to see how far my trust may extend. But the words of Job have not entered my heart in vain: 'Even if God should kill me, I would still trust in Him.'155155Cf. Job 13:15. I own it has taken a long time to arrive at this degree of self-abandonment; but I have reached it now, and it is the Lord Himself Who has brought me there."
Another time she said: "Our Lord's Will fills my heart to the brim, and hence, if aught else is added, it cannot penetrate to any depth, but, like oil on the surface of limpid waters, glides easily across. If my heart were not already brimming over, and must needs be filled by the feelings of joy and sadness that alternate so rapidly, then indeed would it be flooded by a wave of bitter pain; but these quick-succeeding changes scarcely ruffle the surface of my soul, and in its depths there reigns a peace that nothing can disturb."
And yet her soul was enveloped in thick darkness, and her temptations against Faith, ever conquered but ever returning, were there to rob her of all feeling of happiness at the thought of her approaching death. "Were it not for this trial, which is impossible to understand," she would say, "I think I should die of joy at the prospect of soon leaving this earth."
By this trial, the Divine Master wished to put the finishing touches to her purification, and thus enable her not only to walk with rapid steps, but to run in her little way of confidence and abandonment. Her words repeatedly proved this. "I desire neither death nor life. Were Our Lord to offer me my choice, I would not choose. I only will what He wills; it is what He does that I love. I do not fear the last struggle, nor any pains—however great—my illness may bring. God has always been my help. He has led me by the hand from my earliest childhood, and on Him I rely. My agony may reach the furthest limits, but I am convinced He will never forsake me."
Such confidence in God, of necessity stirred the fury of the devil—of him who, at life's close, tries every ruse to sow the seeds of despair in the hearts of the dying.
"Last night I was seized with a terrible feeling of anguish," she confessed to Mother Agnes of Jesus on one occasion; "I was lost in darkness, and from out of it came an accursed voice: 'Are you certain God loves you? Has He Himself told you so? The opinion of creatures will not justify you in His sight.' These thoughts had long tortured me, when your little note, like a message from Heaven, was brought to me. You recalled to me, dear Mother, the special graces Jesus had lavished upon me, and, as though you had had a revelation concerning my trial, you assured me I was deeply loved by God, and was on the eve of receiving from His Hands my eternal crown. Immediately peace and joy were restored to my heart. Yet the thought came to me, 'It is my little Mother's affection that makes her write these words.' Straightway I felt inspired to take up the Gospels, and, opening the book at random, I lighted on a passage which had hitherto escaped me: 'He whom God hath sent speaketh the Words of God, for God doth not give the Spirit by measure.'156156John 3:34. Then I fell asleep fully consoled. It was you, dear Mother, whom the Good God sent me, and I must believe you, because you speak the Words of God."
For several days, during the month of August, Thérèse remained, so to speak, beside herself, and implored that prayers might be offered for her. She had never before been seen in this state, and in her inexpressible anguish she kept repeating: "Oh! how necessary it is to pray for the agonising! If one only knew!"
One night she entreated the Infirmarian to sprinkle her bed with Holy Water, saying: "I am besieged by the devil. I do not see him, but I feel him; he torments me and holds me with a grip of iron, that I may not find one crumb of comfort; he augments my woes, that I may be driven to despair. . . . And I cannot pray. I can only look at Our Blessed Lady and say: 'Jesus!' How needful is that prayer we use at Compline: 'Procul recedant somnia et noctium phantasmata!' ('Free us from the phantoms of the night.') Something mysterious is happening within me. I am not suffering for myself, but for some other soul, and satan is angry." The Infirmarian, startled, lighted a blessed candle, and the spirit of darkness fled, never to return; but the sufferer remained to the end in a state of extreme anguish.
One day, while she was contemplating the beautiful heavens, some one said to her: "soon your home will be there, beyond the blue sky. How lovingly you gaze at it!" She only smiled, but afterwards she said to the Mother Prioress: "Dear Mother, the Sisters do not realise my sufferings. Just now, when looking at the sky, I merely admired the beauty of the material heaven—the true Heaven seems more than ever closed against me. At first their words troubled me, but an interior voice whispered: 'Yes, you were looking to Heaven out of love. Since your soul is entirely delivered up to love, all your actions, even the most indifferent, are marked with this divine seal.' At once I was consoled."
In spite of the darkness which enveloped her, her Divine Saviour sometimes left the door of her prison ajar. Those were moments in which her soul lost itself in transports of confidence and love. Thus it happened that on a certain day, when walking in the garden supported by one of her own sisters, she stopped at the charming spectacle of a hen sheltering its pretty little ones under its wing. Her eyes filled with tears, and, turning to her companion, she said: "I cannot remain here any longer, let us go in!" And even when she reached her cell, her tears continued to fall, and it was some time before she could speak. At last she looked at her sister with a heavenly expression, and said: "I was thinking of Our Lord, and the beautiful comparison He chose in order to make us understand His ineffable tenderness. This is what He has done for me all the days of my life. He has completely hidden me under His Wing. I cannot express all that has just stirred my heart; it is well for me that God conceals Himself, and lets me see the effects of His Mercy but rarely, and as it were from 'behind the lattices.' Were it not so I could never bear such sweetness."
. . . . . .
Disconsolate at the prospect of losing their treasure, the Community began a novena to Our Lady of Victories on June 5, 1897, in the fervent hope that she would once again miraculously raise the drooping Little Flower. But her answer was the same as that given by the blessed Martyr, Théophane Vénard, and they were forced to accept with generosity the bitterness of the coming separation.
At the beginning of July, her state became very serious, and she was at last removed to the Infirmary. Seeing her empty cell, and knowing she would never return to it, Mother Agnes of Jesus said to her: "When you are no longer with us, how sad I shall feel when I look at this cell!"
"For consolation, little Mother, you can think how happy I am up there, and remember that much of my happiness was acquired in that little cell; for," she added, raising her beautiful eyes to Heaven, "I have suffered so much there, and I should have been happy to die there."
As she entered the Infirmary she looked towards the miraculous statue of Our Lady, which had been brought thither. It would be impossible to describe that look. "What is it you see?" said her sister Marie, the witness of her miraculous cure as a child. And Thérèse answered: "Never has she seemed to me so beautiful . . . but to-day it is the statue, whereas that other day, as you well know, it was not the statue!" And from that time she often received similar consolations.
One evening she exclaimed: "Oh, how I love Our Blessed Lady! Had I been a Priest, how I would have sung her praises! She is spoken of as unapproachable, whereas she should be represented as easy of imitation. . . . She is more Mother than Queen. I have heard it said that her splendour eclipses that of all the Saints as the rising sun makes all the stars disappear. It sounds so strange. That a Mother should take away the glory of her children! I think quite the reverse. I believe that she will greatly increase the splendour of the elect . . . Our Mother Mary! Oh! how simple her life must have been!" and, continuing her discourse, she drew such a sweet and delightful picture of the Holy Family that all present were lost in admiration.
A very heavy cross awaited her before going to join her Spouse. From August 16 to September 30, the happy day of her death, she was unable to receive Holy Communion, because of her continual sickness. Few have hungered for the Bread of Angels like this seraph of earth. Again and again during that last winter of her life, after nights of intolerable pain, she rose at early morn to partake of the Manna of Heaven, and she thought no price too heavy to pay for the bliss of feeding upon God. Before depriving her altogether of this Heavenly Food, Our Lord often visited her on her bed of pain. Her Communion on July 16, the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, was specially touching. During the previous night she composed some verses which were to be sung before Communion.
Thou know'st the baseness of my soul, O Lord, Yet fearest not to stoop and enter me. Come to my heart, O Sacrament adored! Come to my heart . . . it craveth but for Thee! And when Thou comest, straightway let me die Of very love for Thee; this boon impart! Oh, hearken Jesus, to my suppliant cry: Come to my heart!
In the morning, when the Holy Viaticum was carried to the Infirmary, the cloisters were thickly strewn with wild flowers and rose-petals. A young Priest, who was about to say his first Mass that day in the Chapel of the Carmel, bore the Blessed Sacrament to the dying Sister; and at her desire, Sister Mary of the Eucharist—whose voice was exceptionally sweet—sang the following couplet:
Sweet martyrdom! to die of love's keen fire:
The martyrdom of which my heart is fain!
Hasten, ye Cherubim, to tune your lyre;
I shall not linger long in exile's pain!
. . . . . .
Fulfill my dream, O Jesus, since I sigh
Of love to die!
A few days later Thérèse grew worse, and on July 30 she received Extreme Unction. Radiant with delight the little Victim of Love said to us: "The door of my dark prison is ajar. I am steeped in joy, especially since our Father Superior has assured me that to-day my soul is like unto that of a little child after Baptism."
No doubt she thought she was quickly to join the white-robed band of the Holy Innocents. She little knew that two long months of martyrdom had still to run their course. "Dear Mother," she said, "I entreat you, give me leave to die. Let me offer my life for such and such an intention"—naming it to the Prioress. And when the permission was refused, she replied: "Well, I know that just at this moment Our Lord has such a longing for a tiny bunch of grapes—which no one will give Him—that He will perforce have to come and steal it. . . . I do not ask anything; this would be to stray from my path of self-surrender. I only beseech Our Lady to remind her Jesus of the title of Thief, which He takes to Himself in the Gospels, so that He may not forget to come and carry me away."
. . . . . .
One day Soeur Thérèse took an ear of corn from a sheaf they had brought her. It was so laden with grain that it bent on its stalk, and after gazing upon it for some time she said to the Mother Prioress: "Mother, that ear of corn is the image of my soul. God has loaded it with graces for me and for many others. And it is my dearest wish ever to bend beneath the weight of God's gifts, acknowledging that all comes from Him."
She was right. Her soul was indeed laden with graces, and it was easy to discern the Spirit of God speaking His praises out of the mouth of that innocent child.
Had not this Spirit of Truth already dictated these words to the great Teresa of Avila:
"Let those souls who have reached to perfect union with God hold themselves in high esteem, with a humble and holy presumption. Let them keep unceasingly before their eyes the remembrance of the good things they have received, and beware of the thought that they are practising humility in not recognising the gifts of God. Is it not clear that the constant remembrance of gifts bestowed serves to increase the love of the giver? How can he who ignores the riches he possesses, spend them generously upon others?"
But the above was not the only occasion on which the "little Thérèse of Lisieux"157157When asked before her death how they should pray to her in Heaven, Soeur Thérèse, with her wonted simplicity, made answer: "You will call me 'Little Thérèse'—petite Thérèse." And at Gallipoli, on the occasion of her celebrated apparition in the Carmel there, when the Prioress, taking her to be St. Teresa of Avila, addressed her as "our holy Mother," the visitor, adopting her then official title, replied:—"Nay, I am not our holy Mother, I am the Servant of God, Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux." This, her own name of Soeur Thérèse, has been retained in the present edition, unless where it was advisable to set down her name in full—Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. The name of the "Little Flower," borrowed by her from the Blessed Théophane Vénard, and used so extensively in the pages of her manuscript, is the one by which she is best known in English-speaking lands. [Ed.] gave utterance to words that proved prophetic. In the month of April, 1895, while she was still in excellent health, she said in confidence to one of the older nuns: "I shall die soon. I do not say that it will be in a few months, but in two or three years at most; I know it because of what is taking place in my soul."
The novices betrayed surprise when she read their inmost thoughts. "This is my secret," she said to them: "I never reprimand you without first invoking Our Blessed Lady, and asking her to inspire me as to what will be most for your good, and I am often astonished myself at the things I teach you. At such times I feel that I make no mistake, and that it is Jesus Who speak by my lips."
During her illness one of her sisters had experienced some moments of acute distress, amounting almost to discouragement, at the thought of the inevitable parting. Immediately afterwards she went to the Infirmary, but was careful not to let any sign of grief be seen. What was her surprise when Thérèse, in a sad and serious tone, thus addressed her: "We ought not to weep like those who have no hope."
One of the Mothers, having come to visit her, did her a trifling service. "How happy I should be," thought the Mother, "if this Angel would only say: 'I will repay you in Heaven!' At that instant Soeur Thérèse, turning to her, said: "Mother, I will repay you in Heaven!"
But more surprising than all, was her consciousness of the mission for which Our Lord had destined her. The veil which hides the future seemed lifted, and more than once she revealed to us its secrets, in prophecies which have already been realised.
"I have never given the Good God aught but love; it is with Love He will repay.
AFTER MY DEATH I WILL LET FALL A SHOWER OF ROSES."
At another time she interrupted a Sister, who was speaking to her of the happiness of Heaven, by the sublime words: "It is not that which attracts me."
"And what attracts you?" asked the other. "Oh! it is Love! To love, to be beloved, and to return to earth to win love for our Love!"
One evening, she welcomed Mother Agnes of Jesus with an extraordinary expression of joy: "Mother!" she said, "some notes from a concert far away have just reached my ears, and have made me think that soon I shall be listening to the wondrous melodies of Paradise. The thought, however, gave me but a moment's joy—one hope alone makes my heart beat fast: the Love that I shall receive and the Love I shall be able to give!
"I feel that my mission is soon to begin—my mission to make others love God as I love Him . . . to each souls my little way . . .
I WILL SPEND MY HEAVEN IN DOING GOOD UPON EARTH.
Nor is this impossible, since from the very heart of the Beatific Vision, the Angels keep watch over us. No, there can be no rest for me until the end of the world. But when the Angel shall have said: 'Time is no more!' then I shall rest, then I shall be able to rejoice, because the number of the elect will be complete."
"And what is this little way that you would teach to souls?"
"IT IS THE WAY OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD, THE WAY OF TRUST AND ABSOLUTE SELF-SURRENDER.
I want to point out to them the means that I have always found so perfectly successful, to tell them that there is but one thing to do here below: we must offer Jesus the flowers of little sacrifices and win Him by a caress. That is how I have won Him, and that is why I shall be made so welcome."
"Should I guide you wrongly by my little way of love," she said to a novice, "do not fear that I shall allow you to continue therein; I should soon come back to the earth, and tell you to take another road. If I do not return, then believe in the truth of these my words: We can never have too much confidence in the Good God, He is so mighty, so merciful. As we hope in Him so shall we receive."
On the eve of the feast of Our Lady of Mount Carmel, a novice said to her: "I think that if you were to die to-morrow, after Holy Communion, I should be quite consoled—it would be such a beautiful death!" Thérèse answered quickly: "Die after Holy Communion! Upon a great feast! Nay, not so. In my 'little way' everything is most ordinary; all that I do, little souls must be able to do likewise."
And to one of her missionary brothers she wrote: "What draws me to my Heavenly Home is the summons of my Lord, together with the hope that at length I shall love Him as my heart desires, and shall be able to make Him loved by a multitude of souls who will bless Him throughout eternity."
And in another letter to China: "I trust fully that I shall not remain idle in Heaven; my desire is to continue my work for the Church and for souls. I ask this of God, and I am convinced He will hear my prayer. You see that if I quit the battle-field so soon, it is not from a selfish desire of repose. For a long time now, suffering has been my Heaven here upon earth, and I can hardly conceive how I shall become acclimatised to a land where joy is unmixed with sorrow. Jesus will certainly have to work a complete change in my soul—else I could never support the ecstasies of Paradise."
It was quite true, suffering had become her Heaven upon earth—she welcomed it as we do happiness. "When I suffer much," she would say, "when something painful or disagreeable happens to me, instead of a melancholy look, I answer by a smile. At first I did not always succeed, but now it has become a habit which I am glad to have acquired."
A certain Sister entertained doubts concerning the patience of Thérèse. One day, during a visit, she remarked that the invalid's face wore an expression of unearthly joy, and she sought to know the reason. "It is because the pain is so acute just now," Thérèse replied; "I have always forced myself to love suffering and to give it a glad welcome." "Why are you so bright this morning?" asked Mother Agnes of Jesus. "Because of two little crosses. Nothing gives me 'little joys' like 'little crosses.'" And another time: "You have had many trials to-day?" "Yes, but I love them! . . . I love all the Good God sends me!" "Your sufferings are terrible!" "No—they are not terrible: can a little Victim of Love find anything terrible that is sent by her Spouse? Each moment He sends me what I am able to bear, and nothing more, and if He increase the pain, my strength is increased as well. But I could never ask for greater sufferings—I am too little a soul. They would then be of my own choice. I should have to bear them all without Him, and I have never been able to do anything when left to myself."
Thus spoke that wise and prudent Virgin on her deathbed, and her lamp, filled to the brim with the oil of virtue, burned brightly to the end. If, as the Holy Spirit reminds us in the Book of Proverbs: "A man's doctrine is proved by his patience,"158158Cf. Prov. 19:11. those who have heard her may well believe in her doctrine, for she has proved it by a patience no test could overcome.
At each visit the doctor expressed his admiration. "If only you knew what she has to endure! I have never seen any one suffer so intensely with such a look of supernatural joy. . . . I shall not be able to cure her; she was not made for this earth." In view of her extreme weakness, he ordered some strengthening remedies. Thérèse was at first distressed because of their cost, but she afterwards admitted: "I am no longer troubled at having to take those expensive remedies, for I have read that when they were given to St. Gertrude, she was gladdened by the thought that it would redound to the good of our benefactors, since Our Lord Himself has said: 'Whatever you do to the least of My little ones, you do unto Me.'"159159Matt. 25:49. "I am convinced that medicines are powerless to cure me," she added, "but I have made a covenant with God that the poor missionaries who have neither time nor means to take care of themselves may profit thereby."
She was much moved by the constant gifts of flowers made to her by her friends outside the Convent, and again by the visits of a sweet little redbreast that loved to play about her bed. She saw in these things the Hand of God. "Mother, I feel deeply the many touching proofs of God's Love for me. I am laden with them . . . nevertheless, I continue in the deepest gloom! . . . I suffer much . . . very much! and yet my state is one of profound peace. All my longings have been realised . . . I am full of confidence."
Shortly afterwards she told me this touching little incident: "One evening, during the 'Great Silence,' the Infirmarian brought me a hot-water bottle for my feet, and put tincture of iodine on my chest. I was in a burning fever, and parched with thirst, and, whilst submitting to these remedies, I could not help saying to Our Lord: 'My Jesus, Thou seest I am already burning, and they have brought me more heat and fire. Oh! if they had brought me even half a glass of water, what a comfort it would have been! . . . My Jesus! Thy little child is so thirsty. But she is glad to have this opportunity of resembling Thee more closely, and thus helping Thee to save souls.' The Infirmarian soon left me, and I did not expect to see her again until the following morning. What was my surprise when she returned a few minutes later with a refreshing drink! 'It has just struck me that you may be thirsty,' she said, 'so I shall bring you something every evening.' I looked at her astounded, and when I was once more alone, I melted into tears. Oh! how good Jesus is! how tender and loving! How easy it is to reach His Heart!"
. . . . . .
On September 6, the little Spouse of Jesus received a touching proof of the loving thought of His Sacred Heart. She had frequently expressed a wish to possess a relic of her special patron, the Venerable Théophane Vénard, but as her desire was not realised, she said no more. She was quite overcome, therefore, when Mother Prioress brought her the longed-for treasure—received that very day. She kissed it repeatedly, and would not consent to part with it.
It may be asked why she was so devoted to this young Martyr. She herself explained the reason in an affectionate interview with her own sisters: "Théophane Vénard is a little saint; his life was not marked by anything extraordinary. He had an ardent devotion to Our Immaculate Mother and a tender love of his own family." Dwelling on these words she added: "And I, too, love my family with a tender love; I fail to understand those Saints who do not share my feelings. As a parting gift I have copied for you some passages from his last letters home. His soul and mine have many points of resemblance, and his words do but re-echo my thoughts."
We give here a copy of that letter, which one might have believed was composed by Thérèse herself:
"I can find nothing on earth that can make me truly happy; the desires of my heart are too vast, and nothing of what the world calls happiness can satisfy it. Time for me will soon be no more, my thoughts are fixed on Eternity. My heart is full of peace, like a tranquil lake or a cloudless sky. I do not regret this life on earth. I thirst for the waters of Life Eternal.
"Yet a little while and my soul will have quitted this earth, will have finished her exile, will have ended her combat. I go to Heaven. I am about to enter the Abode of the Blessed—to see what the eye hath never seen, to hear what the ear hath never heard, to enjoy those things the heart of man hath not conceived . . . I have reached the hour so coveted by us all. It is indeed true that Our Lord chooses the little ones to confound the great ones of this earth. I do not rely upon my own strength but upon Him Who, on the Cross, vanquished the powers of hell.
"I am a spring flower which the Divine Master culls for His pleasure. We are all flowers, planted on this earth, and God will gather us in His own good time—some sooner, some later . . . I, little flower of one day, am the first to be gathered! But we shall meet again in Paradise, where lasting joy will be our portion.
"Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, using the words of the angelic martyr—Théophane Vénard."
Toward the end of September, when something was repeated to her that had been said at recreation, concerning the responsibility of those who have care of souls, she seemed to revive a little and gave utterance to these beautiful words: "To him that is little, mercy is granted.160160Wisdom 6:7. It is possible to remain little even in the most responsible position, and is it not written that, at the last day, 'the Lord will arise to save the meek and lowly ones of the earth'?161161Cf. Ps. 75:10. He does not say 'to judge,' but 'to save!'"
As time went on, the tide of suffering rose higher and higher, and she became so weak, that she was unable to make the slightest movement without assistance. Even to hear anyone whisper increased her discomfort; and the fever and oppression were so extreme that it was with the greatest difficulty she was able to articulate a word. And yet a sweet smile was always on her lips. Her only fear was lest she should give her Sisters any extra trouble, and until two days before her death she would never allow any one to remain with her during the night. However, in spite of her entreaties, the Infirmarian would visit her from time to time. On one occasion she found Thérèse with hands joined and eyes raised to Heaven. "What are you doing?" she asked; "you ought to try and go to sleep." "I cannot, Sister, I am suffering too much, so I am praying. . . ." "And what do you say to Jesus?" "I say nothing—I only love Him!"
"Oh! how good God is!" . . . she sometimes exclaimed. "Truly He must be very good to give me strength to bear all I have to suffer." One day she said to the Mother Prioress: "Mother, I would like to make known to you the state of my soul; but I cannot, I feel too much overcome just now." In the evening Thérèse sent her these lines, written in pencil with a trembling hand:
"O my God! how good Thou art to the little Victim of Thy Merciful Love! Now, even when Thou joinest these bodily pains to those of my soul, I cannot bring myself to say: 'The anguish of death hath encompassed me.'162162Cf. Ps. 17:5. I rather cry out in my gratitude: 'I have gone down into the valley of the shadow of death, but I fear no evil, because Thou, O Lord, art with me.'"163163Cf. Ps. 22:4.
Her little Mother said to her: "Some think that you are afraid of death." "That may easily come to pass," she answered; "I do not rely on my own feelings, for I know how frail I am. It will be time enough to bear that cross if it comes, meantime I wish to rejoice in my present happiness. When the Chaplain asked me if I was resigned to die, I answered: 'Father, I need rather to be resigned to live—I feel nothing but joy at the thought of death.' Do not be troubled, dear Mother, if I suffer much and show no sign of happiness at the end. Did not Our Lord Himself die 'a Victim of Love,' and see how great was His Agony!"
. . . . . .
At last dawned the eternal day. It was Thursday, September 30, 1897. In the morning, the sweet Victim, her eyes fixed on Our Lady's statue, spoke thus of her last night on earth: "Oh! with what fervour I have prayed to her! . . . And yet it has been pure agony, without a ray of consolation. . . . Earth's air is failing me: when shall I breathe the air of Heaven?"
For weeks she had been unable to raise herself in bed, but, at half-past two in the afternoon, she sat up and exclaimed: "Dear Mother, the chalice is full to overflowing! I could never have believed that it was possible to suffer so intensely. . . . I can only explain it by my extreme desire to save souls. . . ." And a little while after: "Yes, all that I have written about my thirst for suffering is really true! I do not regret having surrendered myself to Love."
She repeated these last words several times. A little later she added: "Mother, prepare me to die well." The good Mother Prioress encouraged her with these words: "My child, you are quite ready to appear before God, for you have always understood the virtue of humility." Then, in striking words, Thérèse bore witness to herself:
"Yes, I feel it; my soul has ever sought the truth. . . . I have understood humility of heart!"
. . . . . .
At half-past four, her agony began—the agony of this "Victim of Divine Love." When the Community gathered round her, she thanked them with the sweetest smile, and then, completely given over to love and suffering, the Crucifix clasped in her failing hands, she entered on the final combat. The sweat of death lay heavy on her brow . . . she trembled . . . but, as a pilot, when close to harbour, is not dismayed by the fury of the storm, so this soul, strong in faith, saw close at hand the beacon-lights of Heaven, and valiantly put forth every effort to reach the shore.
As the convent bells rang the evening Angelus, she fixed an inexpressible look upon the statue of the Immaculate Virgin, the Star of the Sea. Was it not the moment to repeat her beautiful prayer:
A few minutes after seven, turning to the Prioress, the poor little Martyr asked: "Mother, is it not the agony? . . . am I not going to die?" "Yes, my child, it is the agony, but Jesus perhaps wills that it be prolonged for some hours." In a sweet and plaintive voice she replied: "Ah, very well then . . . very well . . . I do not wish to suffer less!"
Then, looking at her crucifix:
"Oh! . . . I love Him! . . . My God, I . . . love . . . Thee!"
These were her last words. She had scarcely uttered them when, to our great surprise, she sank down quite suddenly, her head inclined a little to the right, in the attitude of the Virgin Martyrs offering themselves to the sword; or rather, as a Victim of Love, awaiting from the Divine Archer the fiery shaft, by which she longs to die.
Suddenly she raised herself, as though called by a mysterious voice; and opening her eyes, which shone with unutterable happiness and peace, fixed her gaze a little above the statue of Our Lady. Thus she remained for about the space of a Credo, when her blessed soul, now become the prey of the "Divine Eagle," was borne away to the heights of Heaven.
. . . . . .
A few days before her death, this little Saint had said: "The death of Love which I so much desire is that of Jesus upon the Cross." Her prayer was fully granted. Darkness enveloped her, and her soul was steeped in anguish. And yet, may we not apply to her also that sublime prophecy of St. John of the Cross, referring to souls consumed by the fire of Divine Love: "They die Victims of the onslaughts of Love, in raptured ecstasies—like the swan, whose song grows sweeter as death draws nigh. Wherefore the Psalmist declared: 'Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His Saints.'165165Ps. 115:15. For then it is that the rivers of love burst forth from the soul and are whelmed in the Ocean of Divine Love."
No sooner had her spotless soul taken its flight than the joy of that last rapture imprinted itself on her brow, and a radiant smile illumined her face. We placed a palm-branch in her hand; and the lilies and roses that adorned her in death were figures of her white robe of baptism made red by her Martyrdom of Love.
On the Saturday and Sunday a large crowd passed before the grating of the nuns' chapel, to gaze on the mortal remains of the "Little Flower of Jesus." Hundreds of medals and rosaries were brought to touch the "Little Queen" as she lay in the triumphant beauty of her last sleep.
. . . . . .
On October 4, the day of the funeral, there gathered in the Chapel of the Carmel a goodly company of Priests. The honour was surely due to one who had prayed so earnestly for those called to that sacred office. After a last solemn blessing, this grain of priceless wheat was cast into the furrow by the hands of Holy Mother Church.
Who shall tell how many ripened ears have sprung forth since, how many the sheaves that are yet to come? "Amen, amen, I say to you, unless the grain of wheat, falling into the ground, die, itself remaineth alone. But if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit."166166John 12:24, 25. Once more the word of the Divine Reaper has been magnificently fulfilled.
THE PRIORESS OF THE CARMEL.
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