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MARIE FRANCOISE-THERESE MARTIN, daughter of Louis-Joseph-Stanislaus and Zelie (Guerin) Martin, was born in Alencon, France, January 2, 1873. She was the youngest of nine children, four of whom died in infancy, and of the five others, four became Carmelite nuns. Therese, a singularly precocious, charming and beautiful child set her heart upon entering the convent at the age of fifteen. Her wish was granted nearly to the letter, for on April 9, 1888, when only a little more than three months past her fifteenth birthday, she was received into the Carmelite monastery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Conception, at Lisieux, France. There she lived for nine years a life of remarkably joyous and childlike — or angelic — holiness; and there September 30, 1897, she died. Her name in religion was Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face. In her character she so exemplified the loveliness and the sanctity of the Child Jesus Himself, and to such a singular degree throughout her whole short life did she love and serve her Lord, that the Mother-Prioress bade her write her memories, which, with entire openness and simple obedience, she did. After her death this exquisite memoir, at first intended only for the edification of her sister nuns, was published in French, together with a valuable appendix of her letters, notes of retreat, counsels, and certain loving remembrances of her life by those who had watched her daily. Following upon these, come one hundred and fifty pages that contain her poems, which she wrote in many instances to certain French airs. It has been said of these simple verses that: “The rules of prosody are not always exactly observed in their construction; and that on the other hand, they suggest an extraordinary degree of inspiration.” Lifted up by an angelic presence, the soul shakes off the dust of earth, and rises gently towards the true ideal — God, the eternal Love. In reading this charming history, containing verses that breathe exquisite purity, we fancy ourselves before a fresco of Fra Angelico; or, to use a graceful expression of Soeur Therese herself, we imagine that we hear a “melody from heaven.”
It is a curious fact that Sister Teresa seems never to have written verses outside the cloister; though within its walls she succeeded, and to an extent by no means slight. She narrates her experience as follows to the prioress:
“O my Mother! how many reasons I have for thanking God! I am going to tell you in all simplicity, that the Lord showed to me the same mercy as to King Solomon. All my wishes have been fulfilled— not only my wishes for perfection, but even those, the vanity of which I understood without having experienced it. Seeing one of my sisters paint charming pictures and compose verses, I thought how happy I should be if I could paint also, could express my thoughts in verse, and could do much good to others. Yet I would not have liked to ask for these natural gifts, and my wishes remained hidden in the depths of my heart. But Jesus, hidden likewise in that poor little heart, deigned to show it once more the nothingness of what passes away. To the great surprise of the community I composed poetry, I painted; it was permitted me to do good to some souls. And even as Solomon (Ecclesiastes 2:11), turning himself to all the works which his hands had wrought, and to the labors wherein he had labored in vain, saw in all things vanity and vexation of mind, and that nothing was lasting under the sun, so I saw by experience, that the only joy on earth consists in hiding one’s self, in remaining in complete ignorance of all created things. I understood that without love all works are but nothingness, even the most brilliant. Instead of doing me harm, and wounding my soul, the gifts the Lord lavished on me led me to Him. I perceive that He is the only thing that cannot change, the only thing capable of satisfying my immense desires.”
One turns from these simple and holy songs with a conviction which is well expressed by P. N., “To the reader” in the beginning of the French edition of the Memoirs and which I have translated thus:
Would you live, one happy moment,
lifted between earth and heaven;
Feel an atmosphere supernal
all about you gently rise;
See the world beneath your feet and
walk ‘mid radiant Pleiads seven;
And believe an angel walks beside you,
from more radiant skies?
Read these songs of love with reverence;
let no idle glance profane
These sublimely simple pages,
seek their mystic sense to know;
But learn humbly that in convents
Love Divine as King doth reign,
And, within their deep seclusion,
hearts with joy are all aglow.
Lovely flower, soul celestial!
fifteen years at home you grew;
Then you gave your heart to Jesus,
fresh with its baptismal dew;
And the Sovereign Pontiff blessed this
lovely lily, that we know
As a nun whose wondrous sweetness,
heavenly, angelic ways,
Lyric songs of rapturous music, —
everything about her — says
That an angel passed through Carmel,
just a few short years ago.
One remarkable thing about Sister Teresa’s simple and sweet verses is the mortification she practiced in regard to them, a severe self-discipline which those will appreciate, who have tried to keep in mind thoughts which they could not at once write down. To quote her own words: “The good God never let our Mother tell me how to write my verses as fast as I composed them, and I would not have been willing to ask this permission for fear of committing a fault against holy poverty. So I waited for the hour of free time, and it was not without extreme difficulty, that I recalled at eight o’clock in the evening what I had composed in the morning. These little nothings are a martyrdom, it is true; but we must take great care not to make our martyrdom less meritorious, by allowing ourselves a thousand things that would make our religious life an easy one.” Her verses have for their motto: “Vous avez été seul l’objet de mes chants dans le lieu de mon pélerinage,” (“You alone are the object of my song in the place of my pilgrimage”), and are divided into five sections. The first consists of hymns and canticles relating more exclusively to her Lord, the Divine Spouse of her soul; the second part contains hymns in relation to the Blessed Virgin; and the remaining sections contain other hymns and poems and pious recreations, in honor of St. Mary Magdelen, St. Agnes, and St. Cecelia.
The religious spirit of the French people is surely not wholly dead if we may judge them from the fact, that twenty-nine thousand copies of the life of a young Carmelite nun of Lisieux have been sold in that land, within a few years. A translation under the title of The Little Flower of Jesus, is known in English, but the entire French life appears in two forms: one, a large edition with the poems of the gifted young soul; the other without the poems except one under the title — which also forms the title of that edition — Une Rose Effeuillée.
Moreover, the life has been translated into Polish, German, Dutch, Italian and Portuguese. The Spanish and Flemish editions are nearing completion. The Cardinal Patriarch of Lisbon has granted an indulgence to those who read “this admirable Life,” and all the Prelates of Portugal have followed his example. Truly the last desires of Sister Teresa have been realized in a touching and most wonderful manner: “I wish to pass my Heaven in doing good on earth,” and again, “After my death I will let fall a shower of roses.”
The Carmelites of Lisieux receive from all parts of the world, most precious testimonies of the truth of these words. At one time it is the account of the remarkable cure of some pitiful malady; more frequently it is to tell of the relief and consolation of a soul in distress. Persons come from long distances and foreign lands to kneel at the tomb of this elect of God. Priests and young missionaries departing for the Foreign Missions respectfully kiss the blessed earth and carry away flowers as veritable relics. The Nuns are constantly pressed to give some souvenir of the “little queen,” “the little St. Teresa,” the “little great Saint” or “the Little Flower”, for so are her titles varied by the devotion of those who love her, the world over.
The Seminaries have addressed touching petitions covered with signatures earnestly pleading for the introduction of her Cause. Venerable Priests and eminent Religious have said: —
“Sister Teresa of the Infant Jesus is a providential soul. Her divine mission is evident.”
“This dear ‘little saint’ is a remarkable Missionary whose word is powerful and irresistible.”
“The Life of this soul written by herself has a lasting charm, and souls who yield to its powerful influence will be drawn from tepidity and sin.”
“I assure you that the Lord works beautiful and great things by means of your ‘little Saint.’ In our Seminary she transforms souls.”
“The heart of Sister Teresa is a pure flame of Paradise which has enkindled and will enkindle many hearts.”
“Happy Victim, not only consumed by the flame of Divine Love but who has received the gift of communicating it powerfully to others.”
“Many lives tell of the fire of Love. The Life of Sister Teresa makes it felt. Many give us the desire to love God; she puts the fire in our souls.” O Thou who hast so loved Jesus and souls, who didst say when dying, “I have given my God only love, and he will return my love.” — thy word was a prophecy. Thousands of hearts to whom thou wast hitherto unknown, love and venerate thee now, and by their prayers and desires long to hasten the day when the Church will enshrine thy memory on Her Altars.
Meanwhile, dear Little Flower, console the heart of the Sovereign Pontiff in this moment of supreme trial, and from the gardens of Paradise let fall upon Him and each of His children thy shower of roses.
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