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 Saint Therese of the Child Jesus

of the Holy Face

Entries in Marie Guerin (4)

An essay illustrated with 19th century photos to celebrate the annniversary of the day St. Therese of Lisieux entered Carmel, April 9, 1888

Therese Martin entered Carmel on Monday, April 9, 1888.  That year April 9 was the feast of the Annunciation, which had been transferred from March 25 because of Lent.  This photo essay is to celebrate the anniversary of her entrance.

Therese a few days before she entered on April 9, 1888

Let's listen to some accounts of her entrance.  First, Saint Therese's own:

"On the morning of the great day, casting a last look upon Les Buissonnets, that beautiful cradle of my childhood which I was never to see again, I left on my dear King's arm to climb Mount Carmel. Chapel entrance of Lisieux Carmel photographed shortly after Therese's death

 As on the evening before, the whole family was reunited to hear Holy Mass and receive Communion.  As soon as Jesus descended into the hearts of my relatives, I heard nothing but sobs around me. 

The sanctuary of the chapel of the Lisieux Carmel in the time of St. Therese

 I was the only one who didn't shed any tears, but my heart was beating so violently it seemed impossible to walk when they signaled for me to come to the enclosure door.  I advanced, however, asking myself whether I was going to die because of the beating of my heart!  Ah! what a moment that was.  One would have to experience it to know what it is.

 

Louis Martin, probably at age 58, about 1881

 My emotion was not noticed exteriorly.  After embracing all the members of the family, I knelt down before my matchless Father for his blessing, and to give it to me he placed himself upon his knees and blessed me, tears flowing down his cheeks.  It was a spectacle to make the angels smile, this spectacle of an old man presenting his child, still in the springtime of life, to the Lord!

 

Space where Louis knelt to bless Therese when she entered, April 9, 1888A few moments later, the doors of the holy ark closed upon me, and there I was received by the dear Sisters who embraced me.  Ah! they had acted as mothers to me in my childhood, and I was going to take them as models for my actions from now on.  My desires were at last accomplished, and my soul experienced a peace so sweet, so deep, it would be impossible to express it." 

(Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of LIsieux, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 3rd ed., 1996.  Used with permission).

 

Canon Delatroette

St. Therese writes "A few moments later."  She tactfully omits what other witnesses report happened in those few moments.  Canon Jean-Baptiste Delatroette, the parish priest of St. Jacques, was the ecclesiastical superior of the Lisieux Carmel (the priest charged with supervising, from the outside, this community of women religious).  He had bitterly opposed Therese's entrance, believing her too young, but was overruled by his bishop, who left the decision up to the prioress.  Before Therese crossed the threshold, and in the presence of her father and her sisters, Canon Delatroette announced "Well, my Reverend Mothers, you can sing a Te Deum.  As the delegate of Monseigneur the bishop, I present to you this child of fifteen whose entrance you so much desired.  I trust that she will not disappoint your hopes, but I remind you that, if she does, the responsibility is yours, and yours alone."  He could not have foreseen that twenty-two years later Pope St. Pius X would call this girl "the greatest saint of modern times."

Much less well known than Saint Therese's account of her entrance is Celine's description of her experience of the same moment. Celine and Leonie were present with their father at the short ceremony. 

Celine and Leonie the year after Therese enteredAfter writing of how inseparable she and Therese had been, Celine continued:

It took much yet to get to Monday, April 9, 1888, where the little Queen left her own, after we heard Mass together in the Carmel, to join her two older sisters in the cloister.  When I gave her a farewell kiss at the door of the monastery, I was faltering and had to support myself against the wall, and yet I did not cry, I wanted to give her to Jesus with all my heart, and He in turn clothed me in his strength.  Ah! how much I needed this divine strength!  At the moment when Thérèse entered the holy ark, the cloister door which shut between us was the faithful picture of what really happened, as a wall had arisen between our two lives."  (from the obituary circular of Celine Martin, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face, copyright Lisieux Carmel; translation copyright Maureen O'Riordan 2013).

The enclosure door which shut between Celine and Therese on April 9, 1888Saint Therese continues, writing of her impressions that first day:  "Everything thrilled me; I felt as though I was transported into a desert; our little cell, above all, filled me with joy."  St. Therese occupied three cells in Carmel, and until now few people have seen even a photograph of that first cell, for the photo commonly published was of Therese's last cell.  Thanks to the generosity of the Archives of the Lisieux Carmel, we can at last see early photos of the room Therese saw that day.  It was on the corridor near the garden:

The corridor with the door to Therese's first cell standing openThis cell looked out on the roof of the "dressmaking building" where habits were made:

 Carmelite postulants wore a secular dress with a little capelet, and a small net bonnet on the head.  The photograph below of Marie Guerin as a postulant (she entered August 15, 1895) shows how St. Therese and all postulants dressed until they received the habit.

 Learn more about the Carmelite life Therese began to live on April 9, 1888.

The feast of the Annunciation is usually celebrated on March 25, just nine months before the feast of Christmas.  Celine wrote that Therese loved the feast on March 25 "because that's when Jesus was smallest."  Therese began her Carmelite life on the feast of Mary's "Yes" to her Lord.  May each of us enter every day of our own lives with Therese's fervor and joy, for every day is a doorway for each of us to intimacy with God, to wholeness, and to sainthood.

Note: the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux are being digitized and posted online in English at the Web site of the Archives of Carmel of Lisieux.  All the above photos are displayed courtesy of that site.  Please visit it here to see thousands of pages of photographs, documents, and information about St. Therese, her writings, her family, her environment, the nuns with whom she lived, and her influence in the world.  It is a true doorway to Saint Therese!

 

Saint Therese of Lisieux and the Blessed Sacrament: for the feast of Corpus Christi, May 29, 2016

In 1887, St. Therese visited the crypt of the Basilica of the Sacred Heart at Montmartre in Paris. Later she sent her gold bracelet to be melted down to form part of this monstrance

St. Therese of Lisieux shared with her whole family a passionate love for Jesus in the Eucharist. 

"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. 

Excerpts from "A Map of the Way of Confidence and Love of St. Therese of Lisieux"

As a gift for the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux I publish below an excerpt from my conference "A Map of Therese's Way":

During Thérèse’s illness Céline asked her

“Do you believe I can still hope to be with you in heaven?  This seems impossible to me.  It’s like e, xpecting a cripple with one arm to climb to the top of a greased pole to fetch an object.” 

Thérèse answered,

“Yes, but if there’s a giant who picks up the little cripple in his arms, raises him high, and gives him the object desired! This is exactly what God will do for you, but you must not be preoccupied about the matter; you must say to God, ‘I know very well that I’ll never be worthy of what I hope for, but I hold out my hand to You like a beggar, and I’m sure You will answer me fully, for You are so good!”[vi]

Thérèse’s littleness is not immaturity, but a complete detachment from self.  She outlines for us a program of searching interior asceticism.  She asks us to give up attachment to consolation in prayer, to beautiful thoughts, to complicated methods in the spiritual life, to all spiritual beauty-culture and all thought of ourselves as virtuous people. 

“You are very little; remember that and, when one is very little, one doesn’t have beautiful thoughts.”[vii] 

“For simple souls there must be no complicated ways.”[viii] 

“O Mother!  I am too little to have any vanity now, I am too little to compose beautiful sentences in order to have you believe that I have a lot of humility.  I prefer to agree very simply that the Almighty has done great things in the soul of His divine Mother’s child, and the greatest thing is to have shown her her littleness, her impotence.”[ix]

To be little does not mean to have little hope, or little desire, or little love; it means to have no conceit, no attachment to self, but great love and great confidence in the power of God.  “We can never expect too much of God, Who is at the same time merciful and almighty, and we shall receive from Him precisely as much as we confidently expect of Him.”  Thérèse’s “littleness” is an experiential knowledge of the wholly gratuitous action of grace.  What could be our frustration becomes our cause for joy.  A child cannot take care of herself, cannot earn her living, so no one expects the child to do so.  In the same way, if we acknowledge our littleness, God will accept full responsibility for us, but, if we try to go it alone, God may leave us to do so until we turn to God.

Thérèse said her way was related to the doctrine St. John of the Cross set forth in his The Ascent of Mount Carmel: “To come to possess all, desire the possession of nothing.  To desire to be all, desire the possession of nothing.”  At seventeen Thérèse wrote to her cousin, Marie Guérin:

Marie, if you are nothing, you must not forget that Jesus is All, so you must lose your little nothingness in His infinite All and think only of this uniquely lovable All. . . . You are mistaken, my darling, if you believe that your little Thérèse walks always with fervor on the road of virtue.  She is weak and very weak, and every day she experiences has a new experience of this weakness, but, Marie, Jesus is pleased to teach her, as He did St. Paul, the science of rejoicing in her infirmities  This is a great grace, and I beg Jesus to teach it to you, for peace and quiet of heart are to be found there only.  When we see ourselves as so miserable, then we no longer wish to consider ourselves, and we look only on the unique Beloved! . . .

Dear little Marie, as for myself, I know no other means of reaching perfection but (love).[xii]

The teenaged Thérèse turned away from the classical ideal of sanctity: that a saint must be perfect, a brave, vigorous person who “walks always with fervor on the road of virtue.”  The ideal of sanctity set before her at Lisieux Carmel included physical mortification, anxious attention to one’s state of soul, and collecting “good deeds” to enrich one’s reward in heaven.  Thérèse said firmly that these methods were not for her or for “little souls.”  And the life Thérèse led was not what most of the people around her expected of a saint.  Sister Anne of the Sacred Heart, a nun from Saigon who lived with Thérèse for seven years before returning to Vietnam, was often asked about Thérèse after she became famous.  She invariably answered:  “There is nothing to say about her, she was very good and very self-effacing, one would not notice her, never would I have suspected her sanctity.”[xiii] 

Most of the nuns who lived with Thérèse did not venerate her during her lifetime.  She was misunderstood and rejected just as we are.  Pauline said that Thérèse “often had to suffer from people’s dislike of her, from clashes of temperament or of mood, and, indeed, from spite and jealousy on the part of certain sisters . . .”[xiv] 

Sister Marie-Madeleine, the novice who used to run away and hide when it was time for her to see Thérèse for spiritual direction, testified: 

“She was unknown and even misunderstood in the convent.  About half the sisters said she was a good little nun, a gentle person, but that she had never had to suffer and that her life had been rather insignificant.  The others . . . had a more unfavorable view of her . . . they said she had been spoiled by her sisters.”[xv] 

Sister Vincent de Paul once said: 

“I cannot understand why they talk about Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus as if she were a saint.  She does nothing extraordinary; we do not see her practicing virtue; it cannot even be said that she is a really good nun.”[xvi] 

 

“She does nothing extraordinary.  We do not see her practicing virtue.” This testimony speaks volumes about the way of confidence and love.  In place of extraordinary deeds, Thérèse proposes a way of deep interior detachment, a childlike and spousal intimacy with God, and a life of hidden love.

 “I am not always faithful, but I never get discouraged.”

Like us, Thérèse was not perfect.  Unlike many of us, she never lost confidence that in the end she would be consumed by the fire of love:

After seven years in the religious life, I still am weak and imperfect.  I always feel, however, the same bold confidence of becoming a great saint because I don’t count on my merits since I have none, but I trust in Him who is Virtue and Holiness.  God alone, content with my weak efforts, will raise me to Himself and make me a saint, clothing me in His infinite merits.[xvii]

Some have interpreted Thérèse’s way to mean simply offering every little thing to God, a kind of constant “morning offering.”  But a focus on Therese's little acts distorts the way, as if, instead of concentrating on doing great things for God, we should worry about doing little things for God.  Thérèse does not allow us to become preoccupied with trivialities; she challenges us to let nothing escape us, to realize that the smallest happenings of our lives are all fuel for the fire of love which will transform us.  She turned away from focusing on any deeds of her own, big or small, and concentrated on trusting in the action of Jesus. 

“Let us not refuse Him the least sacrifice.  Everything is so big in religion . . . to pick up a pin can convert a soul.  What a mystery! . . . Ah!  It is Jesus alone who can give such a value to our actions; let us love Him with all our strength. . . .[xviii]

In the texts Thérèse wrote we find a radical doctrine with cosmic reverberations.  The “way of confidence and love” is not something we do.  The heart of the little way is to revision our relationship with God, to touch the heart of God, and, above all, to let the heart of God touch our own hearts

To Thérèse sanctity is not perfection; it is bearing with one’s imperfections. 

“If you want to bear in peace the trial of not pleasing yourself, you will give me a sweet home. . . . do not fear, the poorer you are the more Jesus will love you.”[xix] 

“How happy I am to see myself always imperfect and to have such need of God’s mercy at the moment of my death!”[xx] 

To Thérèse the holy person is not the perfect one, the superhero who has conquered weakness and limitation.  To Thérèse, holiness is not a victory, but a surrender.  It’s a loving acceptance of our own fragility, our weakness, our impotence, our inability to do any good on our own.  And this loving acceptance is an invitation to the creative action of love and mercy in our hearts.

 copyright 1988-2010 by Maureen O'Riordan.  All rights reserved.

 


 

[vi] Last Conversations of St. Therese of Lisieux, tr. John Clarke, O.C.D.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1977, , p. 221.

[vii] Ibid. , p. 218.

[viii] Story of a Soul (Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1976), p. 254.

[ix] Ibid., p. 210.

[xii] Letters of Saint Thérèse, Volume I.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1982, p. 641.

[xiii] Letters of Saint Thérèse, Volume II.  Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988, p. 1091.

[xiv] St. Thérèse of Lisieux by those who knew her.

[xv] St. Thérèse of Lisieux by those who knew her, p. 264.

[xvi] Last Conversations

[xvii] Story of a Soul, p. 72.

[xviii] Letters, Volume II, May 22, 1894, p. 855.

[xix] Letters, Volume II, December 24, 1896, p. 1038.

[xx] Last Conversations, July 15, 1897, p. 98.



Meditations on the anniversary of the death of Blessed Louis Martin, father of St. Therese

Blessed Louis Martin, the father of St. Therese of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face, died on Sunday, July 29, 1894 at Chateau La Musse near Evreux. 

A meditation for the anniversary of his death from his niece, Marie Guerin, later Sister Marie of the Eucharist in the Carmel of Lisieux: 

In May 1895, when Marie returned to Chateau La Musse for the first time after her uncle's death, she wrote to her cousin, Louis's daughter Celine:  "I made my little pilgrimage as soon as I had alighted from the carriage.  I have been in my uncle's room, and there all the memories came back to me.  I saw it all again . . . I was overwhelmed with the impression that there, in that chamber, something so great had taken place; that there my uncle had seen God and had been so well received.  It seemed to me that I was also going to see something of Heaven, and my uncle has given me this thought, when thinking of the particular judgement:  "Judge not, and you will not be judged!"

On July 28, 1895, the vigil of the first anniversary of his death, Marie Guerin wrote again:  "I cannot pass by that room without being seized, in spite of myself, with a solemn, calm feeling that speaks to me of the other world and fills my soul.  That happens to me very often and without any preparation on my part.  I am "seized"--it is the correct word to use.  I do not now why but this anniversary, sad in itself, has not at all that effect upon me.  I feel so sure that my uncle entered Heaven that day, that I have rather a feeling of happiness when I think of his deliverance.  How happy he is now, but he has well deserved it . . . !  Tomorrow, I mean to ask many graces from him, and I am sure I shall obtain them on that day.  When one recalls, and has imprinted on one's mind his beautiful expression, calm and full of such happy peace, it is impossible not to be led to love God."  (Story of a Family, by Stephane-Joseph Piat, O.F.M.  New YorK: P. J. Kenedy & Sons, 1947, pp. 417-418).