Chapter Five — Vocation of Thérèse

Lesson Forty-Two — A Christmas Miracle

Lesson:  Though the prayers of her “little angels” (her siblings in Heaven) began to alleviate Thérèse’s scruples, she had not fully rid herself of her extreme sensitivity and knew she needed a miracle.  This miracle took place on Christmas Day, 1886, just nine days before Thérèse’s fourteenth birthday.

On that blessed night the sweet Infant Jesus, scarce an hour old, filled the darkness of my soul with floods of light. By becoming weak and little, for love of me, He made me strong and brave; He put His own weapons into my hands, so that I went from victory to victory, beginning, if I may say so, “to run as a giant” (Cf. Psalm 18[19]:5).  The fountain of my tears was dried up, and from that time they flowed neither easily nor often.

That Christmas night, Thérèse received the grace of a complete conversion.  Though she had labored for years to overcome her extreme sensitivity and her tendency to cry over everything, she could not change her nature.  But God could, and He did.  

On this night of grace, the third period of my life began—the most beautiful of all, the one most filled with heavenly favours. In an instant, Our Lord, satisfied with my good will, accomplished the work I had not been able to do during all these years.

Thérèse began to grow in fortitude and strength of character.  Her sisters and her father were in awe of her sudden transformation and knew it was a true Christmas miracle.  Thus, with this childish obstacle cured, Thérèse was now one step closer to being ready to fulfill her vocation as a Carmelite nun.

Reflection:  Is there one struggle in your life that you have not been able to overcome, no matter how hard you tried?  What is it that requires more than your own effort to achieve?  What miracle do you need so as to achieve a “complete conversion?”

We all struggle and we all need grace.  At times, there may be one particular struggle that causes us much grief.  It might be a weakness within our nature, or it might be some burden imposed upon us that is beyond our control.  What is your struggle?

Reflect upon the primary struggle in your life and acknowledge your powerlessness to overcome it.  Only when you admit your weakness and abandon yourself fully to God, can God perform a miracle in your life.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, you struggled for years with the weakness of being overly sensitive and often cried at the slightest disturbance.  Through your perseverance in prayer, God performed a miracle in you and freed you from this struggle.  Pray for me, that I may recognize my powerlessness to overcome my struggles.  May I turn to God in complete abandonment so as to obtain the complete conversion of my life.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Forty-Three — A Fisher of Souls

Lesson:  After Thérèse’s complete conversion, she entered her fourteenth year of life with a newfound love of sinners.

From that day the cry of my dying Saviour—“I thirst!”—sounded incessantly in my heart, and kindled therein a burning zeal hitherto unknown to me. My one desire was to give my Beloved to drink; I felt myself consumed with thirst for souls, and I longed at any cost to snatch sinners from the everlasting flames of hell.

Shortly after discovering this new thirst for sinners, Thérèse became aware of a notorious criminal named Pranzini who was soon to be executed for his crimes and who had shown no sign of repentance.  Therefore, this new little apostle for sinners used “all the spiritual means” she could think of to bring about the conversion of Pranzini’s soul.  Though she was fully confident God would answer her prayer, she asked for a sign of his repentance, since this was her “first sinner.”

“My God, I am quite sure that Thou wilt pardon this unhappy Pranzini. I should still think so if he did not confess his sins or give any sign of sorrow, because I have such confidence in Thy unbounded Mercy; but this is my first sinner, and therefore I beg for just one sign of repentance to reassure me.”

Sure enough, Thérèse received her sign.  Just before his execution, despite the fact that he refused to confess his sins and receive absolution, the newspaper recorded that Pranzini, moved by what seemed to be a sudden inspiration just before death, embraced a crucifix held out by the priest and kissed it three times.  Thérèse’s prayers were answered, and she had won her first sinner for Heaven.

Reflection:  What do you “thirst” for in life?  Too often, we allow ourselves to be drawn to passing delights and selfish ambitions.  We thirst for money, recognition, pleasure and more.  

Thérèse came to understand that the only good thirst her soul should have was the thirst in the Heart of Jesus.  As Jesus hung dying on the Cross, His thirst was for souls.

Reflect upon your own thirst, your cravings and your desires.  Do you have the thirst within the heart of Christ?  Do you thirst for the salvation of souls?  Do you long to see God’s mercy poured out in abundance upon every sinner?  Or do you find yourself condemning the sinner as you remain stuck in your own self-righteousness?

Seek to imitate this desire in the heart of Jesus to the same extent that it was alive in the heart of little Thérèse and know that this thirst can only be satisfied by love.  Pray for this gift and let God save many souls through you.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, your heart was filled with a longing to save sinners.  The thirst of your soul was a beautiful sharing in the thirst of Jesus on the Cross.  Pray for me, that I may also thirst for the salvation of souls.  May God use me as He chooses to be an instrument of His mercy to the greatest sinner.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Forty-Four — A Time of Learning

Lesson:  Now a girl of fourteen, Thérèse was maturing quickly.  Her physical stature was changing, she was growing tall, and she discovered a newfound love for learning.  All of this began with her Christmas miracle.

Now that I was free from scruples and morbid sensitiveness, my mind developed. I had always loved what was noble and beautiful, and about this time I was seized with a passionate desire for learning. Not content with lessons from my teachers, I took up certain subjects by myself, and learnt more in a few months than I had in my whole school life.

Up until this time, the only book that seemed to nourish Thérèse was the Imitation of Christ.  However, after her Christmas conversion Thérèse began learning fervently in numerous ways.  She read Father Charles Arminjon’s The End of this World and the Mysteries of the World to Come.  This book had a huge impact upon her.  Every evening she and Céline would go up to the attic window together to gaze at the stars and engage in spiritual conversations from which she gained much wisdom and spiritual insight.  Thérèse was also being taught directly by Jesus.  It was as if she had a newfound gift of spiritual knowledge and learning.  

As she matured physically and intellectually, she also grew in virtue.  Thérèse began to make small daily sacrifices, which had the effect of increasing her virtue.  Her prayer life deepened and she began to receive Holy Communion more often, even daily with the permission of her confessor.  Thérèse realized: “[Jesus] does not come down from Heaven each day in order to remain in a golden ciborium, but to find another Heaven—the Heaven of our souls in which He takes such delight.”

Little by little, Thérèse was maturing and receiving the necessary graces to enter the Carmelite convent at age fifteen.  But if she were to be ready to enter Carmel within a year, God still had much work to do in her soul.

Reflection:  God’s ways are always perfect.  Sometimes we go through painful and confusing periods in life, only to have these trials lifted so as to enter into new endeavors.  God teaches us through books, conversations, prayer, daily experiences and sometimes by directly communicating to us in our soul.

In what way does God want you to be formed at this time in your life?  Is He asking you to engage in greater sacrifice, to read and study, to show more charity, to increase your prayer?  Though all of these are good, God will give special graces when we need them so as to be formed in the way we need at each moment of our lives.

Reflect upon the specific needs you have in your life right now, and examine your conscience to discern whether there is some gentle God-given invitation to which you must respond.  Say “Yes” to whatever God wants to do in your soul, and you will be in awe of the joy you receive in following His perfect plan for your life.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, God did great things in your soul and provided all that you needed to prepare for your  lovely  vocation in the Carmel convent.  Pray for me, that I may respond to the graces I am given to prepare my own soul for the work God has given only to me.  May I imitate your willing cooperation with grace and grow in wisdom and virtue so that I may also be used in accord with the perfect will of God.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Forty-Five — Persevering to Carmel

Lesson:  Even though Thérèse had desired to give herself entirely to God from the age of three, her desire and conviction continued to grow during her childhood and young adolescence.  In reflecting upon this time in her life she thought, “The Divine Call was becoming so insistent that, had it been necessary for me to go through fire, I would have thrown myself into it to follow my Divine Master.”

She spoke of her calling to Pauline and Céline, and they both offered wholehearted support.  When she spoke to her father she did so through tears, both hers and his.  He listened intently and understood that her desire to enter the convent was from God.  With love, he offered his little Queen his blessing and support.  Her uncle Isidore Guérin did not immediately agree that this was a good idea and told Thérèse that only a miracle would change his mind.  However, shortly after that conversation, Thérèse’s uncle again told her that he had prayed to God for knowledge of His perfect will and that God made it clear to him that this was Thérèse’s calling.  He ended their conversation by saying, “Go in peace, my dear child, you are a privileged little flower which Our Lord wishes to gather. I will put no obstacle in the way.”

With her uncle’s consent and that of her father and sisters, Thérèse set her eyes and heart on the vocation to which she was being called.  However, she soon met a roadblock when the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Carmelites, Canon Delatroette, would not allow Thérèse to enter until she was twenty-one years of age.  He worried that she was only following in the footsteps of her sister and that hers was not a true vocation.  She and her father met with him, but he was insistent.  Although this meeting left Thérèse with much sorrow, she did not lose hope, since the Superior also said that she was welcome to seek permission directly from the Bishop, which she immediately resolved to do.

Reflection:  At times, it seems as though God’s will is impossible to fulfill.  Obstacles often arise along the way, and those who are easily discouraged are quickly dissuaded.  But obstacles are often permitted by God to deepen our resolve to follow Him with unwavering commitment.

What obstacles do you find in your life that keep you from fulfilling the will of God in your life?  What is your reaction to these obstacles?  It’s easy to give in to despair and to allow these “tests” of our endurance to wear us down.  

Reflect upon the simple truth that whatever God is calling you to do in life, He will provide you with the means of achieving it.  No matter how great or small the calling, our perseverance is essential.  If there is something that is deterring you from fulfilling the will of God in your life, try to look at it from a new perspective.  See every obstacle as a gift by which God wants to strengthen you and deepen your commitment to His will.  Grow stronger and do not waver from the gentle but clear voice of God as He guides you into His perfect will.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, you encountered what seemed to be an immovable obstacle toward the fulfillment of God’s will  in your life.  Pray for me, that when I meet with similar challenges, I will see them as opportunities to grow stronger in my resolve to answer God’s call in my life.  May I never be deterred from saying “Yes” to the perfect will of God in all things.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Forty-Six — Raptures of Love

Lesson:  In many ways, Thérèse was an ordinary teenage girl, and in many other ways she was exceptionally unique.  Though her intelligence and virtue helped her stand out, it was her deep love of God which was her most beautiful quality.

To all appearances my life seemed to continue as formerly. I went on studying, and, what is more important, I went on growing in the love of God. Now and then I experienced what were indeed raptures of love.

Not many teenage girls experience “raptures of love” that are directed toward God.  While most girls her age were mesmerized by boys and concerned about their own physical appearance, Thérèse was mesmerized by God.  She continually pondered ways in which she could show Him how much she loved Him.

One day Thérèse had the sorrowful thought that God was not loved in Hell.  This thought caused her much grief, primarily because Thérèse wanted God to receive love from everywhere.  After pondering this, she cried out from the depths of her heart, “I would gladly be cast into that place of torment and blasphemy so that He might be eternally loved even there.”  Of course she realized that going to Hell would not honor God, but she did not fear Hell because she was certain that “nothing could separate me from the Divine Being Who held me captive.”  Thérèse was truly held captive by the love of God, and she knew that there was nothing that could ever separate her from Him.

Reflection:  What is it in life that most captures your attention, consumes your desires and fills you with a deep longing?  Is it love?  If it is true love, then this love will be centered in God, will flow from His heart and will be sustained by His grace.  How often do you find yourself pondering ways by which you can more fully express your love to God?  Do you ever find yourself thinking this way?  If the answer is “No,” ask yourself the question, “Why?”  When God captivates a soul, that soul will want to love Him and receive His love in return.  

Ponder the love of God this day and ponder the way Thérèse loved God.  Pray that the love that was alive in her heart will also consume your heart and that God will be honored, loved and adored in your life and in the lives of all.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, your heart was on fire for the love of God.  This love consumed you and filled you with the sweetest delight.  Pray for me, that I may also come to know the love of God to such a degree that I long to love Him as my greatest and all-consuming desire.  May my love of God be at the center of my life and direct every action I perform.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Forty-Seven — A “Wondrous Peace” in the Face of Opposition

Lesson:  On October 31, 1887, fourteen-year-old Thérèse put her hair up for the first time in an attempt to look older and journeyed with her father to meet the Bishop of Bayeux to gain his permission to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen.  Though the Bishop was very cordial and fatherly toward Thérèse, he had to inform her that he could not give his permission until he spoke to Canon Delatroette, the Ecclesiastical Superior of the Lisieux Carmel.  Chances did not look promising for Thérèse to enter Carmel early.  It was unheard of for a fifteen-year-old girl to make such a radical decision, and the fierce opposition of Canon Delatroette only made the situation  more complicated.  

We had to return to Lisieux without a favourable answer. It seemed to me as though my future was shattered forever; the nearer I drew to the goal, the greater my difficulties became. But all the time I felt deep down in my heart a wondrous peace, because I knew that I was only seeking the Will of my Lord.

How wonderful it is to have a “wondrous peace” in the face of opposition.  In this case, it was the Bishop and the Ecclesiastical Superior who were the obstacle to Thérèse answering her call.  But her peace was present because she only wanted the will of God—nothing more, nothing less, nothing other.  

At times, in our zeal for goodness and in our desire to serve God’s will, we can become overly zealous and end up pushing things faster than God is leading them.  Thérèse teaches the beautiful lesson that nothing can steal away our peace when we are seeking only God’s will and not our own.  When we are pursuing God’s will, no barrier other than ourselves can keep us from fulfilling it.

Reflection:  Are you zealous for the will of God in your life?  Is there anything God has called you to do that seems difficult to fulfill?  If so, put your eyes on His will and seek nothing but that which He wills.

It is easy to get discouraged when we encounter obstacles that appear to inhibit us from doing great good for God and the Church.  But God often allows those obstacles for a time to test our resolve and to strengthen our faith.  Reflect upon the ways that God has tested you in life and pray for peace as you seek to endure each and every trial.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, you were at peace in the midst of the most difficult obstacles you faced as you sought to answer God’s call to live out your vocation of love.  Pray for me, that I may always know the will of God and respond to it with complete resolve, trusting in His guiding hand.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.


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Chapter Six — Pilgrimage to Rome

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