Saint Therese of the Child Jesus
of the Holy Face
Today, May 30, we observe the feast of St. Joan of Arc. Because Joan was not beatified until 1909 or canonized until 1920, her liturgical feast was not celebrated during the lifetime of St. Therese of Lisieux. Neverthess, Joan of Arc had a profound influence on Therese throughout her life, and Therese, in her poems and plays, presented Joan as one who both inspired and followed the way Therese was discovering of littleness, confidence, and love.
By furnishing some background, guiding you to the texts, and presenting a couple of themes, this modest article highlights certain aspects of Therese’s relationship with Joan and empowers you to reflect on the texts and interpret them in the light of your experience.
St. Joan of Arc in Therese's childhood
When Therese was a little girl, her study of Joan’s adventures brought her a sudden illumination of her own vocation. At age 22, in 1895, she recounts:
When reading the accounts of the patriotic deeds of French heroines, especially the Venerable JOAN OF ARC, I had a great desire to imitate them; and it seemed I felt within me the same burning zeal with which they were animated, the same heavenly inspiration. Then I received a grace which I have always looked upon as one of the greatest in my life because at that age I wasn’t receiving the lights I’m now receiving when I am flooded with them. I considered that I was born for glory and when I searched out the means of attaining it, God inspired in me the sentiments I have just described. He made me understand my own glory would not be evident to the eyes of mortals, that it would consist in becoming a great saint!
Story of a Soul, The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Third Edition. Tr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, 1996. You may see this quotation in context at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.
1894, "Joan of Arc Year" in France
Although Joan would be canonized five years and one day before Therese (on May 16, 1920), during the 1890s she was very much a “current event,” someone to whose canonization the Martin family could contribute (as we can now to that of Therese’s sister Leonie, Sister Francoise-Therese of the Visitation at Caen). 1894 was “Joan of Arc” year in France. On January 27, 1894, Pope Leo XIII, at whose feet Therese had knelt almost six years before, declared Joan “Venerable” (a title given to candidates for sainthood who are considered to have practiced “heroic virtue.” We are now praying that the study of the life and writings of Leonie Martin may lead to her being named Venerable).
Therese's First Play About Joan of Arc: "The Mission of Joan of Arc"
Six days earlier, Therese had produced her first play for the Carmelite recreations, “The mission of Joan of Arc, or The Shepherdess of Domremy listening to her voices.” She wrote it for the feast on January 21, 1894 of her sister, Mother Agnes of Jesus, the prioress, and herself played the role of Joan.
Note: You may read this and Therese’s second play about Joan in The Plays of St. Therese of Lisieux: “Pious Recreations,” with a general introduction by Guy Gaucher, O.C.D., translated by Susan Conroy and David Dwyer. Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Carmelite Friars, 2008. Bishop Gaucher’s general introduction and his short introduction to each play place them in the context of Therese’s life and spiritual development. Further, this volume is a splendid way to become familiar with Therese’s least-known writings. You may also read the text of the play (but not the introductions and notes) at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.
Although Therese will discover her “way of confidence and love” only toward the end of 1894, it’s clearly foreshadowed in this play.
“I am only his little spouse,
and I will try to return to Him love for love.”
“I, too, want to remain always very little and very humble,
so that I will be like Jesus and He will dwell in me.”
As the play ends, Joan leaves to seek the Dauphin and take up arms, but Saints Michael, Catherine, and Margaret foresee her glorification: “Come, save France a second time!”
May 8, 1894: A National Holiday for Joan of Arc in France
Very soon, events surrounding Joan began to accelerate in France. From The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux, tr. Donald Kinney, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, 1996, pp. 46-47, we learn that Therese’s uncle, Isidore Guerin, wrote several articles about Joan for Le Normand. Henri Wallon, whose biography of Joan Therese had consulted, presided over a commission that introduced into the National Assembly a bill proposing that May 8 be celebrated as a “national holiday” each year in honor of Joan of Arc. Tension between the Church and the state continued to run high, and Uncle Isidore saw this holiday as a scheme by the freemasons to reclaim the saintly Joan for their cause and to secularize her.
Lisieux shared especially in the enthusiasm for Joan, for, in a way, the town represented Joan’s “blood money.” Pierre Cauchon, the pro-British bishop who had presided at the trial of Joan of Arc, was rewarded by being named bishop of Lisieux. On May 8, 1894, a precious flag of “the glorious Liberatrix” was placed in the chapel Cauchon had built in St. Pierre’s Cathedral at Lisieux, the very chapel where Therese, as a laywoman, had participated in the weekday Mass. Celine Martin and Marie Guerin joined a committee of young women recruited by the pastor of St. Pierre’s parish to prepare for the celebration. They sewed twelve big banners covered with the fleur de lis. On May 8 the church was brilliantly lighted, and five thousand people jammed inside.
Therese's First Poem for Joan of Arc, "Canticle to Obtain the Canonization of Joan of Arc"
On that same day, dedicating it to her sister Celine, Therese wrote her “Canticle to Obtain the Canonization of Joan of Arc.” (It's online at the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux. You may read the poem with complete notes at The Poetry of Saint Therese of Lisieux). Therese sees Joan’s path as her own:
“A heart of fire, a warrior’s soul:
You gave them to the timid virgin.”
She, who was especially united to the virgin-martyrs, shows the kinship between Joan and the Carmelites:
Sweet Martyr, our monasteries are yours.
You know well that virgins are your sisters,
And like you the object of their prayers
Is to see God reign in every heart.
She echoes the sentiment of her first play:
Come down to us, come convert France.
Come save her a second time.
Therese's Second Play about Joan of Arc, "Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission"
Therese then began to prepare her second play about Joan, a longer and more ambitious work: “Joan of Arc Accomplishing Her Mission, or: The Victories, the Captivity, the Martyrdom, and the Heavenly Triumphs of the Venerable Joan of France,” which would be presented for the prioress’s feast day on January 21, 1895. This longer play was greeted with general enthusiasm. To interpret the meaning of the play for Therese (which is beyond the scope of this article), I direct you to Bishop Gaucher’s introduction to that play in The Plays of St. Therese of Lisieux: “Pious Recreations,” cited in full above.
Photographs of Therese in Her Costume as Joan of Arc
Sometime between January 21, 1897 and March 25, 1897, Therese put on her costume again (a brown wig worn over her toque, and a gold-paper costume worn over part of her Carmelite habit) and was photographed five times as Joan of Arc. Although I have no permission to display these photos on this site, you need only click to see them (photos 11-15 in the catalog of the 47 photos of Therese) here courtesy of the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.
Therese and Joan of Arc in 1897
Joan was always at Therese’s side, but in the spring and summer of 1897, as Therese faced her own death, Joan became even more real to her. On April 27, 1897, she wrote to Maurice Belliere, the seminarian who was her “spiritual brother”:
When I was beginning to learn the history of France, the account of Joan of Arc's exploits delighted me; I felt in my heart the desire and the courage to imitate her. It seemed the Lord destined me, too, for great things. I was not mistaken, but instead of voices from heaven inviting me to combat, I heard in the depths of my soul a gentler and stronger voice, that of the Spouse of Virgins, who was calling me to other exploits, to more glorious conquests, and into Carmel's solitude. I understood my mission was not to have a mortal king crowned but to make the King of heaven loved, to submit to Him the kingdom of hearts.
Letters of Saint Therese of Lisieux, Volume II, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D. (Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Carmelite Friars, 1988, p. 1085).
Betrayal: Leo Taxil
One souvenir of Therese’s play inside the cloister became known in Paris. Therese had learned of the existence of “Diana Vaughan,” a character who had supposedly forsaken a Satanist cult and converted to Catholicism. Therese sent to "Diana" a copy of a retouched version of photo 14, of herself as Joan and Celine as Saint Catherine. But "Diana" was a hoax. She did not exist. Leo Taxil, a con man, had made her up to ridicule the Church. On April 19, 1897, “Diana Vaughan” was to appear at a big press conference in Paris to satisfy critics who questioned her existence. Instead, they saw only Taxil, who projected the photo of Therese and Celine as Saints Joan and Catherine (courtesy of the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux). Taxil told the press that the photo had been taken from a play about Joan of Arc that had been enacted in a convent. One newspaper wrote “What convent? Probably Taxil’s house!”
Therese's Last Poem about Joan of Arc, "To Joan of Arc"
How acutely Therese felt this betrayal is shown in her last poem about Joan, “To Joan of Arc,” written a short time later, in May 1897. Like her Beloved openly mocked by unbelievers, plunged into a trial against faith that brought her into solidarity with atheists, and facing her own death, she wrote to Joan:
At the bottom of a black dungeon, laden with heavy chains,
The cruel foreigner filled you with grief.
Not one of your friends took part in your pain.
Not one came forward to wipe your tears.
Joan, in your dark prison you seem to me
More radiant, more beautiful than at your king's coronation.
This heavenly reflection of eternal glory,
Who then brought it upon you? It was betrayal.
Therese and Joan after the Death of Therese
Therese spoke often of Joan during her own months in the infirmary. We may note that her deep sense of kinship with Joan and with Joan’s mission was recognized by the Church. Joan was beatified in 1909 and canonized in 1920. On the day after Therese’s canonization in 1925 Pope Pius XI, speaking to the French pilgrims, called Therese “a new Joan of Arc.” And on May 3, 1944, as France was overrun by German soldiers, Pope Pius XII named Therese secondary patron of France, the equal of Joan of Arc. (The principal patron of France is the Blessed Virgin). May these two sister-saints intercede not only for France but for the whole world and inspire us to carry out our mission with the same courage they showed.
Note: I recommend the article “Thérèse of Lisieux and Jeanne d'Arc: History, Memory, and Interiority in the Experience of Vocation” by Mary Frohlich, which appeared in Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, Volume 6, Number 2, Fall 20016, pp. 173-194. Only the abstract is available online to the public, but you may access the full article online if you are affiliated with an institution that subscribes to Project MUSE. If not, you may purchase the issue online.
St. Therese of Lisieux shared with her whole family a passionate love for Jesus in the Eucharist.
- At age 22 Therese recalled in the language of mystical union the experience of her First Holy Communion. (Web site of the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux)
- She remembered participating in religious processions on the great feasts:
"I loved especially the processions in honor of the Blessed Sacrament. What a joy it was for me to throw flowers beneath the feet of God! Before allowing them to fall to the ground, I threw them as high as I could, and I was never so happy as when I saw my roses touch the sacred monstrance."
(Read more about Therese's childhood experience of the great feasts of the Church at the Web site if the archives of the Carmel of Lisieux).
- In 1887, before leaving on the pilgrimage to Rome, 14-year-old Therese spent a few days in Paris with her father, St. Louis Martin, and her sister Celine. Before departing from Paris, all the pilgrims were consecrated to the Sacred Heart in the crypt of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre. Later Therese sent her gold bracelet to be melted down to form part of the monstrance pictured above, which was used for the perpetual adoration of the Eucharist. How happy she must have been to think that the substance of the little bracelet that once touched her wrist was so near her Eucharistic Lord. I thank the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre for permitting "Saint Therese of Lisieux: A Gateway" to display this photograph, which was taken in 2012 when, to commemorate the 125th anniversary of Therese's visit in 1887, her reliquary was venerated at Montmartre for several days.
- Although Therese's understanding, experience, and theology of the Eucharist continued to grow and develop throughout her short life, it was already well formed when she was only sixteen. In May 1889, during her novitiate, she received a letter from her nineteen-year-old cousin, Marie Guerin (later Sister Marie of the Eucharist). In Paris to visit the great 1889 Exposition, Marie, a young girl from the provinces, was troubled by her reaction to the nude statues in the exposition, and wrote to Therese suggesting that she could not receive Communion in that condition. On May 30, 1889, the 16-year-old novice answered with the prophetic wisdom given by the Holy Spirit:
Oh, my darling, think, then, that Jesus is there in the Tabernacle expressly for you, for you alone-, He is burning with the desire to enter your heart ... so don't listen to the devil, mock him, and go without any fear to receive Jesus in peace and love!. . . ,
Your heart is made to love Jesus, to love Him passionately; pray so that the beautiful years of your life may not pass by in chimerical fears.
We have only the short moments of our life to love Jesus, and the devil knows this well, and so he tries to consume our life in useless works ....
Dear little sister, receive Communion often, very often. . . . That is the only remedy if you want to be healed.
(LT 92, to Marie Guerin, May 30, 1889), from The Letters of St. Therese of Lisieux, Volume I. Washington, D.C.: Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, 1982, pp. 568-569. I repeat: if you know Therese only through her Story of a Soul, great graces await you in her letters).
In 1910 Msgr. de Teil, the vice-postulator for Therese's cause, showed this letter to Pope St. Pius X, the Pope who gave us frequent communion, and said to him "This little sister has made a commentary in advance on Your Holiness' decree on frequent communion." "Est opportunissimum! Est magnum gaudium por me!" ["This is most opportune! This is a great joy to me"], cried the Pope. He ended "We must hurry this cause." Ibid., p. 569. At the Web site of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, read the full text of Therese's letter to Marie Guerin about the Eucharist.
May our love for the Eucharist continue to grow and deepen, and may the transformation it brings us express itself not only in adoration and in frequently joining with the Christian community to celebrate the Eucharist but also in satisfying, with Jesus, all the hungers of the human family.
On August 7, 2010, St. Therese answered the prayer of Pope Francis, then Cardinal Bergoglio. CNA reported that the Cardinal's press secretary, Federico Wals, gave an interview saying that on that date Cardinal Bergoglio had presided at a Mass at the shrine of St. Cajetan for the feast of his death. After Mass he wanted to walk down the line of thousands of pilgrims, which sometimes extended 15 blocks, but was in such pain that he decided to go only two blocks before turning back. But he prayed to Therese for a sign, and a man in the crowd suddenly handed him a white rose, saying
"This is the sign you are waiting for." The Pope turned to his press secretary and said:
"Federico, Santa Teresita did not abandon me; I'm going to walk until the end of the line [of the faithful." . . . . Bergoglio's countenance changed; he was radiant and continued until the end.
Read the full story at "A history of little miracles - behind Pope Francis' devotion to Saint Therese" by Elise Harris. Catholic News Agency.
The shrine (the tomb) of St. Therese in the little side chapel at the Carmelite monastery in Lisieux. It was unveiled on the day of her beatification, April 29, 1923. (Photo courtesy of Dee Cursi)
Ninety-three years ago, on April 29, 1923, Venerable Therese of the Child Jesus was beatified at St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. At the same hour a special Mass was offered in the chapel of the Carmelite monastery of Lisieux. The next day Marie of the Sacred Heart, Therese's oldest sister, wrote to their sister Leonie, describing vividly the ceremonies at Carmel and quoting from a telegram sent to the Carmelites from Rome to tell them about the beatification. Read Marie's letter.