Chapter Seven — The Little Flower Enters the Carmel

Lesson Fifty-Seven — The Wound of Love…Once Again

Lesson:  Recall the “wound of love” that Thérèse experienced at the loss of her mother (Lesson Fifteen).  She loved her mother so deeply that her passing left a wound which only slowly healed with the help of the tender love and care she received from her father and sisters.

Just over a decade later, the evening before she entered her beloved Carmel, she felt that wound of love once again.  She was at table with her father and her sisters Céline and Léonie for the last time in their family home.

These farewells are in themselves heartrending, and just when I would have liked to be forgotten I received the tenderest expressions of affection, as if to increase the pain of parting.

The next morning, April 9, 1888, Thérèse and her family attended the early Mass at Carmel.  After Communion, Thérèse “heard sobs on all sides.”  After Mass, she and her family members exchanged their final acts of love.

As I led the way to the cloister door my heart beat so violently that I wondered if I were going to die. Oh, the agony of that moment! One must have experienced it in order to understand. I embraced all my dear ones and knelt for my Father’s blessing. He, too, knelt down and blessed me through his tears. It was a sight to gladden the Angels, this old man giving his child to God while she was yet in the springtime of life.

“A sight to gladden the Angels,” yet this parting inflicted a deep wound of love.  They felt this  beautiful moment so deeply because the Martin family shared a bond that was pure, holy and selfless.  God was asking for the greatest sacrifice from them, and they all responded with submission and love.  Love is “painful” in the sense that, when it is pure and holy, it is also sacrificial, selfless and self-giving.  Sacrifice “wounds” us with a holy wound that is also sweet and healing.  This wound of love is best depicted by the Sacred Heart of Jesus, wounded on the Cross and resulting in the outpouring of His endless mercy.

Reflection:  Whom do you love so deeply that it hurts?  Does your heart ache for the goodness of another and love that person such that you are willing to love sacrificially, offering your beloved to the divine will—no matter what it may be?

We all love in various ways and on various levels.  Reflect upon the way you give and receive love in the relationships in your life.  Reflect upon this father offering his daughter to God and upon this daughter lovingly enduring her father’s and sisters’ pain in giving her to God.  This is indeed a love which gladdens the Angels and a love which we must all seek to imitate in our lives.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, you were exceptionally blessed to give and receive a love that was so deep and pure that it left a sacrificial wound of love.  Pray for me, that I may imitate this depth of love.  May I also gladden the Angels by the sacrifice and offering I make in the fulfillment of God’s perfect will.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Fifty-Eight — Peace Amidst Every Trial

Lesson:  Recall the “wondrous peace” that Thérèse felt, even as she endured many obstacles in her attempt to fulfill God’s will and enter Carmel at the age of fifteen (See Lesson Forty-Seven).  As a young teenager, Thérèse of the Child Jesus continued to receive peace as she began her new cloistered life in the convent.

At last my desires were realised, and I cannot describe the deep sweet peace which filled my soul. This peace has remained with me during the eight and a half years of my life here, and has never left me even amid the greatest trials.

It’s important to note that, in the experience of Sister Thérèse, deep peace did not exclude “the greatest trials” she would endure during her years as a Carmelite nun.  Peace, joy, faith, fortitude and the like do not eliminate trials from our lives, rather, they have the effect of transforming trials into the path to holiness.  

Everything in the Convent delighted me, especially our little cell.  I fancied myself transported to the desert. I repeat that my happiness was calm and peaceful—not even the lightest breeze ruffled the tranquil waters on which my little barque sailed; no cloud darkened the blue sky. I felt fully recompensed for all I had gone through, and I kept saying: “Now I am here forever.” …Yet you know well that from the beginning my way was strewn with thorns rather than with roses.

Reflection:  What trials have you experienced in life?  If you are going through some trial right now, do not lose hope and do not lose your peace.  Pain and suffering are a part of life.  The good news we must never forget is that Jesus transformed suffering, and as a result, made it possible for every trial we would endure to become the means of our sanctity.

Reflect upon your experience of your own trials, and if you see that they have stolen away your peace, get on your knees and surrender your heart more deeply to God.  He desires to be with you through all things and will carry you when you need it the most.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, you were blessed with the most wondrous peace throughout your life on account of your deep trust in God.  Pray for me, that I may persevere through all things and may always live in the peace that comes with the fulfillment of the will of God.  May your example inspire me and lead me to holiness.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Fifty-Nine — An Inestimable Grace

Lesson:  The new postulant, Thérèse of the Child Jesus, embraced her new life as a Carmelite with fervor and joy.  Her daily schedule included six hours of prayer, a half hour of spiritual reading, five hours of work, seven hours for sleep, two meals in silence with the community while some text was read aloud, two hours of recreation with the other sisters and an hour of free time.

Thérèse received two incredible graces once she entered Carmel.  First, she received the gift of spiritual dryness which was a lack of spiritual consolation and a feeling as if God were absent.  Second, she received the gift of severe mistreatment at the hands of the Mother Superior, Mother Marie de Gonzague.  Most people would not consider these two “gifts” as “inestimable graces,” but Thérèse of the Child Jesus was able to see beyond the surface and discover the rich spiritual blessings she received from them.

In the first place, my soul had for its daily food the bread of spiritual dryness. Then, too, dear Mother, Our Lord allowed you, unconsciously, to treat me very severely. You found fault with me whenever you met me. I remember once I had left a cobweb in the cloister, and you said to me before the whole community: “It is easy to see that our cloisters are swept by a child of fifteen. It is disgraceful! Go and sweep away that cobweb, and be more careful in future.”

…And yet, dear Mother, how grateful I am to you for giving me such a sound and valuable training. It was an inestimable grace. What should I have become, if, as the world outside believed, I had been but the pet of the Community?

…Suffering opened her arms to me from the first, and I took her to my heart.

…For five years this way was mine, but I alone knew it; this was precisely the flower I wished to offer to Jesus, a hidden flower which keeps its perfume only for Heaven.

Thérèse could see that the suffering she endured was producing much fruit in her soul and was becoming a precious “perfume” for Heaven.  Her spiritual director also saw her soul grow in holiness, for she recalled, “Two months after my entry Father Pichon was surprised at the workings of grace in my soul; he thought my piety childlike and my path an easy one.”  God was indeed doing great things in His Little Flower.

Reflection:  Whether you experience spiritual dryness, severe treatment from another, or some other suffering in your life, it is difficult to see the blessing that comes from such experiences.  Thérèse of the Child Jesus was different.  She was not self-consumed and did not pity her mistreatment or her interior cross.  She kept her eyes only on the sweet fragrance that God was bringing forth from her soul for Him alone to enjoy.  This knowledge enabled her to keep her peace and joy through every daily cross.

Reflect upon your own attitude toward the sufferings you endure.  Pray that you will receive the “inestimable grace” to see beyond the superficial pain that is inflicted and will be able to allow the healing balm of grace to transform everything in your life into a beautiful fragrance for God.

Saint Thérèse, your attitude toward the suffering you endured, both interiorly and exteriorly, is inspiring and is a reflection of your deep union with Jesus on the Cross.  Pray for me, that I may imitate your complete embrace of every suffering in my life so as to become a sweet fragrance of love offered to our merciful God.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty — A Simple Soul

Lesson:  Shortly after Thérèse of the Child Jesus entered Carmel, Father Pichon, a saintly priest, was appointed as her Spiritual Director.  After making a general confession of her whole life, Father Pichon declared, “Before God, the Blessed Virgin, and Angels, and all the Saints, I declare that you have never committed a mortal sin.”  

Thérèse tried hard to share every aspect of her soul each time she met with Father Pichon but found it difficult to know what to say.  The same was true with her Novice Mistress (Pauline), even though she found her to be exceedingly good to her.  One day during recreation, one of the older sisters mentioned to Thérèse that she understood that Thérèse did not know what to say in spiritual direction and with her superiors.  Thérèse was surprised at this and asked her how she knew.

“Because your soul is very simple; but when you are perfect you will become more simple still. The nearer one approaches God, the simpler one becomes.”

This good Mother was right. Nevertheless the great difficulty I found in opening my heart, though it came from simplicity, was a genuine trial. Now, however, without having lost my simplicity, I am able to express my thoughts with the greatest ease.

Thérèse was, indeed, a simple soul.  She was simple because even though God is the deepest and widest Mystery, God is also exceedingly simple.  God is love, simple and pure.  Thérèse was in love with her God and the deeper her love grew, the simpler she became.

Reflection:  For us, life can seem extraordinarily complicated and complex, but it doesn’t have to be.  We must all seek to become more simple as we grow in love of God and in virtue.  The greater the love in our soul, the simpler our lives become.  With simplicity, our lives are then freed from the many burdens and complexities that weigh us down.

Do you find yourself weighed down at times by the complexities of life?  If so, ponder the simplicity of love.  If love of God and others is your single focus in life, many of the difficulties, confusions and burdens you carry will begin to disappear.  

Saint Thérèse, you were a simple soul who was free from the many burdens and complexities of life.  Pray for me, that I may seek the simplicity of life that you enjoyed and that I will find the freedom that comes from the simple love of God and others.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-One — The Holy Face of Jesus

Lesson:  Thérèse of the Child Jesus had always adored the Holy Face of Jesus imprinted on the veil of Saint Veronica when she lovingly wiped His face on the road to Calvary.  Thérèse’s devotion to the Holy Face further increased with imparted wisdom from her sister, Sister Agnes of Jesus, as well as from Mother Marie de Gonzague.

This devotion inspired Thérèse in two ways.  First, she sought to be like Saint Veronica, offering consolation to her suffering Lord through her tender love and devotion.  Second, she sought to become the Face of Jesus.

I wished that my face, like the Face of Jesus, “should be, as it were, hidden and despised” (Is. 53:3), so that no one on earth should esteem me. I thirsted to suffer and to be forgotten.

Thérèse pondered the great mystery, that the bruised and beaten Face of Jesus was but a veil for the Holy Face of God.  God was hidden and His face despised by many.  Only by faith could one see behind the veil to the reality of His glory.

Thérèse discovered that this was also her mission.  One aspect of her imitation of our Lord was to live her life hidden and despised on the surface by the world, but holy and united to God in the depths of her soul.

Thérèse’s love for the Holy Face was so important to her that she obtained permission, when she made her profession as a novice, to change her name to Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.

PRAYER TO THE HOLY FACE

O Adorable Face of Jesus, sole beauty which ravisheth my heart, vouchsafe to impress on my soul Thy Divine Likeness, so that it may not be possible for Thee to look at Thy Spouse without beholding Thyself. O my Beloved, for love of Thee I am content not to see here on earth the sweetness of Thy Glance, nor to feel the ineffable Kiss of Thy Sacred Lips, but I beg of Thee to inflame me with Thy Love, so that it may consume me quickly, and that soon Teresa of the Holy Face may behold Thy glorious Countenance in Heaven.

Reflection:  What devotion or inspiration has affected you so deeply that you long to identify yourself with it throughout your life?  Thérèse discovered her vocation of hiddenness in the devotion to the Holy Face.  You too must seek your vocation in the devotion that God has uniquely called you to embrace.

Reflect upon the Scriptures, teachings or devotions in your life that have had the greatest impact upon you.  As you do, allow them to guide you in the vocation that God has given to you.

Saint Thérèse, you discovered a central aspect of your unique vocation in the Holy Face of Jesus.  Pray for me, that I may also discover my vocation through the ways that God has spoken to me and inspired me along the way.  May I embrace His holy words and inspiration and allow them to transform me into the person I am called to become.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-Two — An Offering and a Victim

Lesson:  Thérèse recalled a moment from her childhood when her father spoke to her and her sisters about his desire to become a victim for God.

“Children, I have just come back from Alençon, and there, in the Church of Notre Dame, I received such graces and consolations that I made this prayer: ‘My God, it is too much, yes, I am too happy; I shall not get to Heaven like this, I wish to suffer something for Thee—and I offered myself as a’”—the word victim died on his lips.

Mr. Martin was indeed a victim.  One by one God called His daughters to Himself, and one by one Mr. Martin generously offered his daughters to God.  The sacrifice was deep but also filled him with great joy.  His suffering increased in his old age, but the greatest source of his victimhood was his  complete generosity with God, giving Him the very best he had…his beloved children.

After Thérèse had entered Carmel, Céline confided in her father that she wished to follow her sisters.  Instead of feeling sorrow at Céline’s announcement, Mr. Martin was filled with joy.

“Let us go before the Blessed Sacrament,” he said, “and thank God for all the graces He has granted us and the honour He has paid me in choosing His Spouses from my household. God has indeed done me great honour in asking for my children. If I possessed anything better I would hasten to offer it to Him.”

Mr. Martin did have more to give.  Thérèse noted that, “That something better was himself…”  Saint Louis Martin not only joyfully offered every daughter he had to God, but at the end of his life offered himself to God to experience great physical suffering.  His life was a holocaust of love because he was not only the one making a generous offering to God, he was also the one who was offered.  He was a holy victim of love.

Reflection:  Sacrifice is difficult.  Oftentimes we only want to give a little to God.  But God wants not only the best we have to offer, He wants everything we have to offer.  Just as Jesus gave His life to the last drop of blood, so we must make our lives a sacrifice of perfect love.  We must sacrifice all to God, ultimately making ourselves the victim of love that is offered.

How generous are you with your life?  Do you hold the best part back for yourself?  Or do you give everything?  Be generous with God to the end, and God’s generosity toward you will be repaid beyond measure.

Saint Louis Martin, father of Saint Thérèse, you were most generous in your love of God.  You gave not only your daughters as a total sacrifice to God, you also gave your very life.  Pray for me, that I may imitate your generosity and hold nothing back as my offering, entrusting all to our merciful God.  Saint Louis and Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-Three — A Bitter Chalice of Interior Suffering

Lesson:  In June of 1888, two months after Thérèse had entered the walls of Carmel, she said to her Novice Mistress (Sister Agnes of Jesus), “I am suffering a great deal, Mother, yet I feel I can suffer still more.”  As she spoke those words, Thérèse of the Child Jesus did not understand the suffering she was about to endure.

It was especially on her four-day retreat, just prior to receiving her habit on January 10, 1889, that Thérèse began to drink from her “bitter chalice.”  She wrote several letters during this retreat to her sister, Sister Agnes of Jesus.

[Jesus] is riddling me with pinpricks; the poor little ball is exhausted.  All over it has very little holes which make it suffer more than if it had only one large one!…Nothing near Jesus.  Aridity!…Sleep!…

Today more than yesterday, if it were possible, I was deprived of all consolation.  I thank Jesus, who finds this good for my soul, and that, perhaps if He were to console me, I would stop at this sweetness; but He wants that all be for Himself!…Well, then, all will be for Him, all, even when I feel I am able to offer nothing; so, just like this evening, I will give Him this nothing!

In one short letter to Sister Agnes, Thérèse used 23 exclamation points, revealing the intensity of her interior suffering.  She had no consolation, only interior agony.  In another letter to Sister Agnes, she stated, “Oh! If it were not you I would not dare send these thoughts, the most intimate of my soul!…I beg you, tear up these sheets after you have read them!”  She concluded, “Pray for your little daughter that she may refuse Jesus not one atom of her heart.”

Through every interior suffering Thérèse endured, she never lost her peace.  This peace enabled her to deepen her love for Jesus and to offer Him the “nothing” that she felt.  She did not love Him because He consoled her; she loved Him simply because He was worthy of all love.  And in the gift of all her love, she continued to grow into the most pure and holy spouse of her Beloved, becoming transformed every day into “the happiest of mortals.”

Reflection:  God’s love, as it is lavished upon the saints, is mysterious.  For many, the interior suffering He inflicts upon a pure and holy soul does not make sense.  But for the saint, these wounds of love inflicted by the Beloved Himself have one central and defining characteristic: They strengthen love.

Have you felt some affliction in your life?  Perhaps it was interior or perhaps it was something imposed upon you from outside.  When you suffer, how do you respond?  Many will turn to self-pity or some other form of selfish consolation to remove the pain.  But if you are willing to enter into the mystery of God’s love, allow yourself to see every affliction you experience as an invitation to choose Jesus on a deeper level for the sake of love alone.  When love feels good, it is easy.  When love hurts, it produces holiness.  Seek to give God the “nothing” you might feel at times so that even the pain will become sweet and transforming.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, it is impossible to understand what your soul endured due to your burning love of God.  Pray for me, that I may understand the mystery of my own suffering and that I may allow it to form my heart into a heart of pure love.  May I imitate your selfless “Yes” to God when it is most difficult to do so.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-Four — “The Little Miracle”

Lesson:  January 10, 1889 was set by the Bishop of Bayeux as the clothing day for Thérèse of the Child Jesus.  

Do you remember my telling you, dear Mother, how fond I am of snow? While I was still quite small, its whiteness entranced me. Why had I such a fancy for snow? Perhaps it was because, being a little winter flower, my eyes first saw the earth clad in its beautiful white mantle. So, on my clothing day, I wished to see it decked, like myself, in spotless white.

Unfortunately, the weather was quite mild, and that morning she abandoned her “childish desire” that it would snow.

Her father and sisters arrived to join Thérèse for the ceremony.  It was a beautiful celebration, and the Bishop was most kind.  He spoke of Thérèse’s visit to Bayeux and of her perseverance.  The Bishop even told the story of Thérèse putting up her hair for the first time to look older when she came to see him less than two years prior.

At the end of the ceremony, as Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face returned to the cloister, she noticed to her surprise that, despite the mild weather, part of the courtyard was actually covered with snow!

What a delicate attention on the part of Jesus! Gratifying the least wish of His little Spouse, He even sent her this. Where is the creature so mighty that he can make one flake of it fall to please his beloved?

Though Thérèse was willing to go without this little gift, her Jesus offered her this little miracle of love.  When two love each other with such a profound love, even the smallest details are never lost.  Her Beloved had chosen to offer her this small act of love.

Reflection:  How attentive are you to the details of love?  We often desire that others be attentive to the details of our lives.  When those details are attended to, they can have the effect of making a tremendous difference.  And though we tend to desire that others be attentive to the details of our lives, we often fail to be attentive to the details of their lives.

Reflect upon how fully you imitate this small miracle of love shown by Jesus to Thérèse.  Allow this act of generosity and perfect thoughtfulness on His part to be a source of inspiration for you in all the relationships you have.

Saint Thérèse, you were blessed with a Spouse whose love and care for you was perfect.  Though you did not need this “little miracle,” you received it as God’s tender gift.  Pray for me, that I may turn my eyes to the smallest details of love in others’ lives, and through those acts, express the Heart and tenderness of God.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-Five — The Wedding Preparation

Lesson:  Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face now wore the Carmelite clothing of a novice.  As she entered into the period of the novitiate, she hoped to make her perpetual vows in one year’s time, at the age of seventeen.  Once again, God had other plans.

Canon Delatroette, the Carmelite Superior, once again interfered and believed it was better for Thérèse to wait, rather than make her vows right when she turned seventeen.  Though this was difficult to accept, Thérèse did so by looking at the extended period of the novitiate as an opportunity to rid herself of all selfishness and her own will.

“I do not ask Thee to hasten the day of my profession, I will wait as long as Thou pleasest, only I cannot bear that through any fault of mine my union with Thee should be delayed; I will set to work and carefully prepare a wedding-dress enriched with diamonds and precious stones, and, when Thou findest it sufficiently rich, I am sure that nothing will keep Thee from accepting me as Thy Spouse.”

Thérèse knew she should not hasten her “wedding” with her Beloved.  She wanted to become His spouse in His timing, and she committed herself to the preparation.  As most brides prepare the wedding dress to be beautiful, Thérèse knew that she must prepare her soul as the beautiful garment  for her Spouse.  If she adorned it with every virtue and precious act of love, her Beloved could never refuse her.

Reflection:  What is it in your life that is worth waiting for?  Is there something that God is asking you to prepare for with diligence?  Too often in life, we can get into the habit of preparing in a sloppy way for those things that should be most important.

Reflect upon those who are most important to you, especially family.  Do you give them the best of yourself and your efforts, realizing that no sacrifice or act of love is too great?  

Thérèse held nothing back in her preparation for the wedding with her Lord.  Seek to imitate her single-minded devotion of love and hold nothing back from the acts of love you are called to offer in life.

Saint Thérèse, you saw the great value of patient preparation for the total gift of yourself to your Beloved Spouse.  Pray for me, that I may also be diligent in my acts of love and may count no sacrifice too small or great.  May I imitate your patience and dedication to those whom I am to love with my whole soul.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.

 

Lesson Sixty-Six — Small Hidden Acts of Love

Lesson:  During the twenty months that Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face prepared for her vows as a novice, she discovered the great power of small hidden acts of love: “Above all I endeavoured to practise little hidden acts of virtue.”  Through the conscious choice to offer these small and hidden acts, Thérèse did indeed grow in much virtue.

On one occasion a sister accidentally took Thérèse’s oil lamp in the evening, leaving Thérèse without  light in her cell.  Though she was tempted to be frustrated and to fall into self-pity on account of this little inconvenience, Thérèse instead saw it as a grace.

I felt happy instead of aggrieved, and reflected that poverty consists in being deprived not only of what is convenient, but of what is necessary. And, in this exterior darkness, I found my soul illumined by a brightness that was divine.

She looked for opportunities to embrace “whatever was ugly and inconvenient” rather than to desire the best.  For example, when her “pretty little jug” was taken from her cell and was replaced with a “large chipped one,” she saw that as a blessing and an opportunity for virtue.

On another occasion, Thérèse was blamed for breaking a small jar that had been left on a window sill.  Rather than defend herself, she accepted this false judgment with love.  “Without answering, I kissed the ground and promised to be more observant.”  Though this injustice inflicted upon her was small, it was quite painful for her to embrace.  “I was so little advanced in virtue that these small sacrifices cost me dear…”  But the cost was not only that of humiliation, it was the price of virtue.  She paid the cost and God blessed her with increasing virtue.  Though she knew that “at the day of Judgment all would be known,” she also knew that all would not be known until then.  And it was this small sacrifice, along with many others she embraced each day, that formed her into the saint she became.

Reflection:  How well do you embrace small injustices, small sacrifices and small humiliations?  Many find these to be quite painful and difficult to accept.  But the difficulty often comes because  of a failure to see these acts as God sees them.  From the divine perspective, small acts of sacrifice have great power to transform the soul and bring forth much virtue and beauty.  The more painful the sacrifice, the greater the power to transform.

Reflect upon how quickly you embrace or reject these daily opportunities for virtue.  By embracing every small sacrifice quickly and wholeheartedly, you allow God to do great things in your soul.  As He does great things, forming you in virtue, your habit of love will grow, and no sacrifice will become too great for you to offer to God.

Dearest Saint Thérèse, your novitiate was a blessed time by which God formed you in so many countless ways.  Each small sacrifice you embraced became the source of the increase of your virtue.  Pray for me, that I may learn the lesson of these small sacrifices of love.  May I imitate your wisdom and see every injustice, sacrifice and humiliation as an invitation to grow in virtue.  Saint Thérèse, pray for us.


Table of Contents

Chapter Eight — Profession of Sister Thérèse

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