Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
of the Holy Face
A timeline of the last year of St. Therese (September 1896 - September 1897) from the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux
The Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux has created an illustrated "timeline" (in fact, a photo essay) of the last year of St. Therese. From October 8-15, 1896 Fr. Godefroy Madelaine, a Norbertine of the Abbey of Mondaye, preached the community retreat.
(Fr. Madelaine was the first editor of the manuscripts that became Story of a Soul, and, with some difficulty, he obtained from Bishop Hugonin the imprimatur for its publication. He wrote a preface to the first edition. The Carmel of Lisieux called him the "godfather of Story of a Soul." He testified at both inquiries into the sanctity of Therese. See Fr. Godefroid Madelaine's testimony about St. Therese at the diocesan process in 1910).
Therese confided to him the temptations against faith she had been suffering since Easter. He advised her to write out the Creed and to carry it with her always. She was prepared to write it in her own blood. For the first time, the Carmel has published a beautifully detailed photograph of this document (scroll down to October 1896).
Together with a narrative, see also photos of Therese during this period, of her writings, her companions, her correspondents, her doctor, the chaplains who visited her, the Saigon Carmel where she had hoped to go, the little music-box sent to entertain her, and a photograph of another sister, several years later, occupying the infirmary where Therese died.
Below are several books which, together with Story of a Soul, will be useful to you if you are especially interested in Therese's life in 1896 and 1897. the years in which she tried especially to articulate her spirituality:
With St. Therese and the Carmelites of Lisieux, draw a "vehicle by which to go to the crib." December 20, 2014
In the time of St. Therese, eight days before Christmas the Carmelites "drew by lot" little "tickets" (small bits of paper). On each ticket was written the vehicle by which the nun who drew it would "go to the crib" of the newborn Jesus. The vehicles include a boat, a wheelbarrow, an automobile, an elevator, and more. Please see the tickets drawn by the Lisieux Carmelites and choose one for yourself.
Please click on "St. Therese of Lisieux and St. John of the Cross" to read about John's influence on Therese. Feast-day blessings!
December 14, 2014: the anniversary of the day St. Therese was proclaimed patron of missions by Pope Pius XI on December 14, 1927
On December 14, 1927, the Congregation of Rites proclaimed a decree by Pope Pius XI that declared St. Therese of Lisieux, canonized less than three years before, patron of all missionaries, both men and women, the equal of St. Francis Xavier, who had held the title of Patron of Missions alone. The Congregation of Rites and the Propagation of the Faith opposed making St. Therese patron of missions, but Pope Pius XI insisted on it.
The letter written in 2007 for the 80th anniversary of the proclamation of St. Therese as patron of missions by Dámaso Zuazua, O.C.D., then General Secretary of the Missions of the Discalced Carmelite Order, has many valuable insights into the history and significance of Pius XI's conferring this title on Therese, who had already, in 1921, been named patron of the Carmelite missions. I recommend reading it.
Therese really believed that her fidelity to the smallest demands of her everyday life made a difference to the eternal salvation of souls. In 1910 her young novice, Sister Marie of the Trinity, testified about this attitude:
Her love for God gave her a burning zeal for the salvation of souls, especially those of priests; she offered all her sacrifices for their sanctification, and urged me to do likewise. She called sinners "her children" and took her role as their "mother" very seriously. She was passionately fond of them, and worked for them with untiring fervor.
One washing-day, I was sauntering along to the laundry, looking at the flowers in the garden as I went, when along came Sister Therese at a brisk pace, and overtook me. "Is that how one hurries with children to feed and work to do so they can live?" she said, and then, dragging me with her, "Come on, let's hurry; if we amuse ourselves here, our children will die of hunger."
St. Therese of Lisieux by those who knew her, tr. Christopher O'Mahony, O.C.D. Dublin: Veritas Press, 1975, p. 237. (If you want to see what Therese's lived holiness looked like from the outside, this book, consisting of the testimony of witnesses at the first diocesan inquiry 13 years after she died, is invaluable).
In this encounter Therese showed her solidarity with the poor and with the working mothers of the world (a solidarity prefigured by her parents, Blessed Louis and Zelie Martin, who went daily to the 5:30 a.m. Mass because it was the Mass of the poor and the only one the workers could attend). She truly believed that if she were not generous in carrying out her duties, her "children" would go without. The other nuns remarked that when she arrived at the laundry (one of the hardest physical tasks the nuns had to do), she chose the least comfortable place: near the hot water in summer, near the cold rinsing tub in winter, and she worked energetically at every moment. In a small contemplative community, she avoided the temptation to become closed in on herself. She modeled what Pope Francis asked for many years later when speaking to women religious from 75 countries:
Chastity for the Kingdom of Heaven shows how affection has its place in mature freedom and becomes a sign of the future world, to make God’s primacy shine forever. But, please, [make it] a ‘fertile’ chastity, which generates spiritual children in the Church.
The consecrated are mothers: they must be mothers and not ‘spinsters’!
Forgive me if I talk like this but this maternity of consecrated life, this fruitfulness is important! May this joy of spiritual fruitfulness animate your existence. Be mothers, like the images of the Mother Mary and the Mother Church. You cannot understand Mary without her motherhood; you cannot understand the Church without her motherhood, and you are icons of Mary and of the Church.”
Celine tells us that Therese had observed in Carmel some nuns who had yielded to the temptation to be spinsters:
. . . . in a letter dated 15 September 1972, Fr. Louis Augros, the first superior of the famous “Mission of France," recalls that Celine, the sister of Therese, confided in him that when she entered the Carmel and realized all the faults of the community, she reproved Therese for not telling her about them before, and that, smiling, Therese answered her like this:
“I hadn’t wanted to tell you anything ahead of time, but now you see for yourself that you’ve landed in the middle of quite a crew of old maids, and you can see what you shouldn’t become!”
What would our lives be like if we lived them every day in full solidarity with the poor and with the gospel mission of Jesus? This is why I chose the icon of "Therese doing dishes" to illustrate this article. I believe that those who say Therese's way of confidence and love, often called the "little way," is nothing more than offering every little thing to God have not yet seen the whole picture. That is, in her poem, "Why I Love You, O Mary," Therese wrote "To love is to give everything," but followed that line immediately with this explanation: "It's to give oneself." Therese's God is not an insatiable idol greedy for more sacrifices; instead, her Creator thirsts to be loved by the creature. Offering what I'm doing at the moment is only the expression of the prior gift of myself. To give the whole person to God, as Therese did, transcends offering all one's tasks. Yet the energy and eagerness Therese put into all her occupations illuminates for us how she consecrated her whole self to the mission of the Church. It is also interesting that, even with her "passionate fondness for souls," she was considered of little practical use by some of her community; she wasn't good at manual work and was an assistant in all her jobs. Her failures in this regard did not disturb her or prevent her mission from being fulfilled.
Two more points:
- A close reading of Therese's writings will show that, as she grew in solidarity with "sinners," she moved from the role of their mother to that of their sister. See Jones, M. (2006). From mother to sister: The development in the understanding of mission in the life and writings of St Thérèse of Lisieux and its contemporary relevance (Master's thesis). University of Notre Dame Australia.
- For a unique contemporary interpretation of Therese's mission, please see "The Mission of Therese of Lisieux: Saigon and Beyond," by Constance FitzGerald, O.C.D. This article appeared in the Summer 1997 Article of The Way Supplement, pp. 28-37, and is copyright The Way, Heythrop College, Kensington Square, London, W85HQ England.
More on the Web about Therese's mission:
- The "mission" page of the site of the Shrine at Lisieux
- The "Therese's mission today" page of "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway"
Forty-four years ago, on December 10, 1968, Thomas Merton, the Trappist monk, poet, author, peacemaker, died in Bangkok. Thinking gratefully of him tonight, I remember his great love for St. Therese of Lisieux. He often acknowledged her profound influence on his life. For the anniversary of his death, I share these lines from Merton:
In reading the story of this saint it is not possible to doubt from the very first word about her parents that she was a totally extraordinary saint, more extraordinary than even Saint John of the Cross or Saint Theresa of Avila, who rejoice in heaven in her, their little sister's immense simplicity and love which includes also their love and their wisdom, because all their love and wisdom came from God and was all His.
From "Run to the Mountain, The Journal of Thomas Merton, Vol. I, 1939-1941," ed. Patrick Hart, O.C.S.O. San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1996.