The Story of a Soul (l’Histoire d’une Âme) is the autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux (1983-1897). She is probably the most loved Christian writer of all time.
Thérèse was a nun, a mystic, a saint, and a Doctor of the Catholic church.
Few spiritual figures have touched as many lives as her. Her book has had great influence on countless millions. Her book is one of the greatest Christian books of all time.
Thérèse of Lisieux almost certainly ties with Francis of Assisi as the two most loved saints since the apostles.
If you are not familiar with Thérèse, we suggest you begin with our brief biography of her life.
We’d like to share with you our chapter-by-chapter exploration of her great book.
TABLE OF CONTENTS
Thérèse did not want to write an autobiography. However, her religious superiors ordered her to write it. With no choice, she began to see her writing as a way to extol the mercies of the Lord.
Thérèse began with prayer. That brought her to the passage where Jesus calls his apostles. His decisions about who he would call were not based on who was “worthy.” Rather, it reflected the decision of God.
That explains why some people seem to receive more of God’s grace that others do. They are given more so they can accomplish whatever God has called them to do.
We see examples of this in nature. A rose is different from a lily or a violet. The rose is given whatever grace it needs to be a rose. It is not superior to the lily or the violet. For their part, the lily and the violet should not feel jealous that they are not roses. They should not covet the grace necessary to be a rose, or feel that God deprived them of the grace necessary to become a rose.
Thérèse resolved that her writing would not be about herself. Rather, it would be about the mercies of the Lord. She is merely a Little Flower gathered by Jesus.
God protected Thérèse, as if she were a Little Flower. He gave her a great family and a protective environment.
God awakened her intellect very early. She still recalls many events from her early childhood.
Thérèse was surrounded by love. She was very tender toward her own parents. She did not hide her failings at all. She loved her sisters.
But Thérèse did have one fault. It was her self-love. Her family helped her with this.
Thérèse was very excited when her older sisters returned from the Mass. They pretended to say a little Mass so that Thérèse could eat some blessed bread.
Thérèse wanted it all. She was not content to settle for less than all. That set the stage for her later life, when she wanted to be a saint. She wanted to be fully a saint. She wrote:
My God, I choose everything, I will not be a Saint by halves, I am not afraid of suffering for Thee, I only fear one thing, and that is to do my own will.
When she was four years old, Thérèse had a dream. There were two devils in the garden. But they fled from her. That taught her that a soul in the state of grace does not need to fear the devils.
When the family was out for a walk, if they encountered a poor person, they had Thérèse be the one to give an alm.
In these early years, the world smiled upon little Thérèse. Her path was strewn with flowers, and everybody was pleasant. But that was all about to change.
The death of the mother of Thérèse was approaching. Even though Thérèse was a young child, she saw that her mother would soon see the glory of God in heaven. Her mother received Extreme Unction. Thérèse kissed her one last time.
At the funeral, to glimpse the lid of the coffin, Thérèse had to stretch herself tall.
The death of her mother triggered a long period of sadness and decline in young Thérèse. It lasted from age four and a half until age 14. She was very unhappy and prone to crying. But her family loved her greatly. Through them, God shone warmth and light onto the Little Flower.
It was not difficult for Thérèse to leave rue Saint-Blaise in Alençon, for Lisieux. They settled near her cousins’ house, in a spacious home called Les Buissonnets (see below). It became a place of happy new memories for the family.
In the afternoons, her Dad took her for a walk. They often visited churches. One day they visited the chapel at the Carmelite monastery. Sometimes they went fishing together. While they fished, she would sit still and go into a prayerful state, dreaming of heaven. She knew that in heaven, she would experience unclouded joy.
On one of their walks, they met a poor old man. He was hobbling along on crutches. Young Thérèse felt great compassion for him. She resolved to dedicate her First Holy Communion for the poor old man.
Thérèse was considered too young to go to the May devotions. To make up for that, she improvised her own May devotion ceremony. She asked her sister Victoire to say a prayer while she lit the candles. Thérèse lit the candles, but her sister did not say the prayer. Thérèse flew into a rage, stomped her feet, and shouted that her sister was wicked.
Her First Confession soon followed. For a child, she had a remarkable insight. She knew she was not confessing her sins to a man (the priest) but to God Almighty. When the time came, she entered the confessional and knelt. The priest opened the screen, but could see nobody. That was because she was so short. He had her stand so he could see her.
Thérèse loved the Feast Days, with their processions and throwing of flowers. She also loved Sundays, when she went to High Mass with her Dad. The first sermon she ever understood was on the Passion of Christ. She sometimes saw her Dad weep tears of joy over the words of eternal truth he was hearing.
She saw her Dad as a living saint, and loved him greatly. She admired everything about him.
Her sisters were key in helping her overcome her fears and other faults.
Thérèse wondered why some saints receive greater glory in heaven. Her sister had her go get a big drinking tumbler, and a tiny thimble. Then she was told to fill both with water. Next, she was asked which was more full. She saw that both were equally full.
One day little Thérèse had a prophetic vision of her Dad. She foresaw the great humiliation and suffering he would experience later in his life. The memory of this vision stayed with her all her days.
During a trip to the beach in Trouville, some strangers told her Dad that she was a pretty young girl. It was the first time she had ever heard such a thing. Her parents had tried to shield her from anything that would blemish her innocence or awaken her vanity.
On that day, little Thérèse resolved that she would never let herself wander from the gaze of Jesus.
When she was 8-1/2 years old, her school advanced Thérèse one year ahead of her peers. In her new class, a 14-year old girl bullied her. The reason was that Thérèse was intellegent, and that she was favored by the nuns. Thérèse cried, not knowing how to handle the situation. But her Dad listened and empathized. He rewarded her academic achievements with 4-sou coins.
Thérèse did not know how to fit in with her peers. But she fit in greatly with her cousin Marie. They were very close friends. They played a game where they pretended to be hermit monks. And contemplatives.
Thérèse was also close to her sister Céline. They both became happy or sad because of the same things. Even though Thérèse was younger, she shared in Céline’s joy at preparing for First Holy Communion. On the day when it happened, even though it was Céline’s day, it was also one of the happiest days of Thérèse’s life.
One day, her elder sister Pauline announced that she was going to join the Carmelite Monastery. Thérèse was horrified. What it seemed like to her was that Pauline was leaving her. But Pauline comforted her tenderly. At that moment, Thérèse became certain that she too would join the Carmelite Monastery. It was not out of love for Pauline, but out of love for Jesus.
Thérèse’s motive for joining the Monastery was love for Jesus.
Thérèse told Pauline. Pauline sensed it was probably the will of God. So she arranged for Thérèse to meet the prioress of of the Carmelite Monastery and tell her of God’s promptings. When the designated Sunday arrived, Thérèse met Mother Marie of Gonzaga. After listening to Thérèse, Mother Marie believed it was God’s will for Thérèse to join. However, it would need to wait for many years. Thérèse could not join until she was 16 years old. At the time, she was only nine!
FOR REFLECTION: Can you imagine having certitude about your calling in life, at a mere nine years old? Can you imagine being so calm and collected at age nine, that you could talk intelligently with the head of a Monastery?
On Thursdays, the family could go to the Carmelite Monastery and visit Pauline. She would sit behind a grille, and they were permitted to talk with her for 30 minutes.
To make the most of the limited time, they divided the minutes among each other. For Thérèse, it mostly felt as though she had lost her sister.
Soon Thérèse became ill. She had a constant headache. It lasted from October until Easter. Then it worsened.
Some people claim this illness was merely an emotional tantrum. They say Thérèse was rebelling because she lost her sister. However, that explanation does not fit the facts.
The day was approaching when Pauline would “take the veil.” That meant that the Monastery would advance her to the next stage of training. She would be permitted to wear a white habit. Thérèse very much wanted to be present for this.
And somehow she was, despite her illness.
The next day, her illness became much more severe. Thérèse was delirious and frightened. Her family tended to her like angels sent from God. Everybody gave of their time to tend to her.
In the flowery month of May, the Little Flower was wilting. Her Dad gave Marie some money and sent her to pay for some Masses to be said for Thérèse. Thérèse was touched by the love of her Dad.
During the time when the Mass was being said for Thérèse, Thérèse became even more delusional. Her sisters Marie and Léonie prayed urgently for her. Suddenly, Thérèse saw the statue of Mary glow. It became alive with beauty. And that suddenly, Thérèse was cured.
This is a powerful testimony of the power of the prayers of children. Marie exclaimed that Thérèse was cured!
The Little Flower had come back to life. She resolved to keep the mystical vision a secret. However, Marie had guessed that the cure was due to Mary. Marie asked Thérèse about it. Thérèse was astonished that Marie could know the secret to her cure.
The fact that Thérèse wanted to keep the vision a secret suggests that it really happened. When people have an authentic vision, they almost always keep it secret. On the contrary, when somebody tells everybody they had a vision, that is a pretty strong indicator that their vision was not from heaven. It may have been from their own imagination.
Later, Thérèse visited the Carmelite Monastery. Mother Marie of Gonzaga treated her affectionately. Some nuns asked Thérèse about the grace she had received in her mystical vision.
Thérèse had wanted to keep the vision a secret. It pained her to need to talk about it.
When she visited the Carmelite Monastery, Thérèse wondered what name she would take as a nun. She liked her birth name (Thérèse). But she was also drawn to the name of a photo: “The Little Flower of the Divine Prisoner.”
Thérèse read lots of books. She especially liked reading the great French heroines, especially Joan of Arc.
While reading, an insight came to Thérèse. Her own glory would not be evident during her life. Rather, it would become clear after her death. She would become a great saint. She knew this would have nothing to do with her own merit. Rather, it would be due to Jesus Christ.
After Thérèse was cured of her illness (see Chapter 3), her Dad took her to see friends in Alençon. It was a marvelous place. But Thérèse soon grew underwhelmed with their worldliness.
For years, Thérèse had been very eager for her First Holy Communion. Along the way, her sister Marie helped her prepare by teaching her about prayer and holiness. As the time drew near, the local parish provided three months of intensive preparation, culminating in an overnight retreat with the nuns.
Then the day arrived. Holy Communion was like a kiss from Jesus, a kiss of love. The Jesus-Thérèse relationship was elevated from gazing to union.
At the moment of Holy Communion, Thérèse was given a mystical experience. It was of her own birth-mother who had passed away. Little Thérèse was filled with so much joy that she cried. Afterwards, she felt calm and happiness and peace.
From that day on, Thérèse knew that nothing but Jesus could ever satisfy her. At each Holy Communion, she wept with joy. She recited the words of St. Paul:
Galatians 2:20. I have been crucified with Christ, and it is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me. That life which I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself up for me.
FOR REFLECTION: A young child clearly understands that she has died to self and that Jesus Christ lives in her. Have you died to self? Does Jesus Christ live in you?
In the midst of her joy, little Thérèse felt drawn to suffering. Her love for God was so great that she wanted all other things to become bitter in comparison.
Not long after her First Holy Communion, Thérèse was in a two-day retreat to prepare for her Confirmation. She saw herself as being like the apostles, waiting in the Upper Room for the arrival of the Holy Spirit.
When the moment of Confirmation arrived, Thérèse did not feel a mighty wind or fire. Rather, she felt a gentle breeze like the prophet Elijah on Mt. Horeb. It filled her with new strength to endure suffering.
Then it was back to school. Thérèse found her classmates undisciplined and naughty. Instead of playing with them, she stood by a tree and thought about serious things. She began to bury the dead birds she found. Other girls joined her in this, and soon they had a bird cemetery.
Thérèse excelled in her catechism class. Her chaplain dubbed her his “little doctor.”
How prophetic that was! In the fullness of time, the Little Flower would be named a Doctor of the Church, one of the greatest teachers of the faith who ever lived.
There were two girls that Thérèse was closest to. However, even they did not understand her kind of love. This showed Thérèse that she was not skilled at getting into people’s good graces.
FOR REFLECTION: Are you unskilled at getting into people’s good graces? If so, that is OK. Neither was Thérèse of Lisieux, nun, mystic, saint, Doctor of the Church, and one of the two most-loved believers since the apostles.
So in these newfound friendships, Thérèse found only bitterness. But that freed her to know a more intimate union with God. She saw her ineptitude as a great outpouring of mercy from God. It prevented her from all sorts of trouble. It was as if a great father had foreseen trouble in her path and removed it before she had to deal with it.
During her retreat, Thérèse somehow fell prey to the terrible disease of scrupulosity.
Scrupulosity is a spiritual sickness. It is a religious “obsessive-compulsive disorder.” The scrupulous person feels that everything is a sin. A grave sin. Absolutely everything. They cannot reason their way out of this condition. They cannot study their way out it. They suffer immensely. There is no apparent cure for it.
For her scrupulosity, Thérèse found slight relief by telling everything to her sister Marie, and to Madame Papineau.
People sometimes complemented Thérèse on her appearance. They admired her hair, or they told her she was pretty. In response, young Thérèse felt pleasure. She took that as a symptom that she was self-centered.
Thérèse had been a member of her school’s Association of Holy Angels. She liked their devotional practices. The normal progression for the members was that after their First Holy Communion, they would transfer to a different group called the Children of Mary. Somehow, though, Thérèse was disbarred from transferring. She was, as if it were, held back.
The head mistress put Thérèse through all sorts of extra scrutiny. It was pure misery. She found relief by going to the chapel and sitting before the Blessed Sacrament.
Her sister Marie was often sick. Marie would cry and complain that her heart ached, then people would fuss over her.
So Thérèse decided to imitate Marie. Thérèse sat in a chair and cried, since she had headaches every day. But nobody fussed over her. From this experience, Thérèse resolved to not imitate other people.
FOR REFLECTION: Do you imitate other people? Why not simply be yourself?
Shortly after Thérèse became a Child of Mary, her elder sister Maire joined the Carmelite Monastery. Once again, Thérèse had lost a key figure in her life. First it was her Mom. Then her elder sister Céline. And now, her elder sister Marie.
After Marie was gone, Thérèse prayed to her four sisters who had died. She asked them to pray for her. The intention was that she have peace. Not long afterwards, waves of delicious peace flooded Thérèse. This taught Thérèse to ask her friends in heaven to pray for her.
Thérèse knew she had many faults and did not deserve the great graces God was pouring out upon her. Sometimes she did little good deeds when nobody would see her. She did it out of love for God.
She was very sensitive. If she offended someone, she wept bitterly. Then when she ceased, she wept again, this time for having wept the first time. It seemed as though she needed a miracle in order to grow up.
On Christmas day in 1886, that miracle was given her. She accidentally overheard her Dad wish for they day when he didn’t have to set up the Christmas gifts. This totally transformed her. It restored her from the ten-year setback that had began when her mother passed away.
One Sunday Thérèse noticed a depiction of Christ on the cross. What captivated her was the Blood. It was dripping. She resolved to stay at the foot of the cross and receive it.
She was also captivated by his cry: “I thirst!” It ignited an intense longing within her to quench his thirst, his thirst for souls. That was the moment her thirst for souls was born.
Her longing for souls grew every day. The words of Christ to the Samaritan woman seemed directed right at Thérèse: “Give me something to drink.” She began, in a spiritual way, to give the Blood to lost souls, and to offer the lost souls to Jesus to quench his thirst. Somehow, that process increased her own thirst for souls.
FOR REFLECTION: Thérèse was what we would call an “Evangelical” Catholic. She very much wanted to evangelize people into faith in Christ!
For many years, Thérèse had been reading The Imitation of Christ. She knew it by heart. But at age 14, she discovered other spiritual books. They ignited her love for Jesus even more.
FOR REFLECTION: Do you read spiritual books?
Thérèse was united in these things with her sister Céline. They had long spiritual talks together in the evenings.
Thérèse was very shy about speaking frankly to her confessor. She withheld from him the full extent of her vast longing for God.
FOR REFLECTION: Can you tell people about your longing for God?
At age 14, she understood the secrets of perfection. She grasped clearly things that great scholars did not know. Her only secret was that she was poor. She had no other light or guide than the one that burned in her heart. It guided her to the place where Christ awaited her.
Pauline was the one who encouraged Thérèse to become a Carmelite nun. Marie thought she was too young and tried to stop her. She did not mention it to Céline, although Céline soon figured it out and welcomed it. Thérèse waited to tell her Dad until Pentecost. After Evening Prayer, he was sitting outdoors, at peace. She approached him with tears, and told him. Her Dad exclaimed that God had honored him by asking him to surrender his children. With joy, he freely accepted the sacrifice.
However, there were many roadblocks to overcome. One was her uncle. He did not give his consent, and he forbade her to speak of this until age 17. Thérèse felt demolished. But she prayed for a miracle. Four days later, she was to visit her uncle again. He gave his consent!
FOR REFLECTION: Thérèse believed in miracles. She prayed for them and she acted accordingly. Do you believe in miracles? Can you pray for them? Can you act accordingly?
Thérèse babysat two young girls. She saw those innocent souls as soft wax, upon which anything could be impressed, evil or good.
On October 31, 1887, her Dad took Thérèse to the palace of the bishop in Bayeux.
Thérèse was 15 years old. She needed to explain her reasons for becoming a Carmelite. To do that, she had to overcome her shyness. Thérèse was directed to sit in an enormous chair, even bigger than the bishop was sitting in. She explained that she had longed to give herself to God since she was three years old.
The bishop tried to persuade her to stay home a little longer. Perhaps he was trying to defend her Dad. However, her Dad spoke in favor of what she asked. In fact, he said that if her request was not granted, they would petition the pope in-person.
The bishop delayed, saying he needed to discuss it with the person in charge of the Monastery. He expected to have an answer for Thérèse while she was on Holy Pilgrimmage in Italy.
As they were leaving the palace of the bishop, the vicar general remarked that he had never seen a father as eager to give his child to God as the child was to offer herself.
After meeting the bishop of Bayeux, Thérèse and her Dad and her sister Céline went on their pilgrimmage to Rome. Some people thought her Dad had arranged the pilgrimmage in order to dissuade her from entering Carmel. But that was not the case.
Many of the pilgrims were of wealth or prominence. However, Thérèse was not intimidated by them. This was thanks to what she and Céline had learned from their readings of The Imitation of Christ.
The train took them from Lisieux to Italy. Along the way, she saw many places that were home to saints: Paris, Montmartre, Milan, Venice, Padua, Bologna, and Loreto. Thérèse was under the impression that there was a particular house in Loreto where the actual Holy Family had stayed.
Then they arrived in Rome. At the Coliseum, Thérèse was disappointed that the arena was covered by eight yards of soil. And nobody was allowed to go to the arena. But she and Céline somehow snuck down to the arena. They knelt in the location where Christians had been martyred for their faith. She prayed that she too could be a martyr. Thérèse was only 15 years old.
FOR REFLECTION: Thérèse was on fire for Jesus Christ! Do you have that fire?
Finally the day arrived when Thérèse would meet pope Leo XIII. They went to the Mass, then to the Mass of Thanksgiving, and then stood in line. The pope was sitting on a dais. They were to approach him individually, when told. They were to kneel and kiss his foot. Then they were to kiss his hand. Finally, they would receive his blessing. Then a guard would indicate that they should leave. At no time were they to speak.
What Thérèse saw would have looked like this:
When it was Thérèse’s turn, she broke the decorum and spoke. She asked the pope a favor. He leaned forward to listen. She asked to be allowed to enter Carmel at age 15. He told her to do whatever they say. He said it would happen if it was God’s will. The priests standing nearby expressed their annoyance with Thérèse.
FOR REFLECTION: Young Thérèse humbly knelt before the most powerful Christian in the world. She was unknown; he was famous. But in the years that followed, things reversed. Now, hardly anybody knows about Leo XIII was. But Thérèse is a mystic, saint, Doctor of the Catholic Church, one of the most popular spiritual writers of all time, and almost certainly, one of the two most loved Catholic saints since the apostles.
Thérèse’s had done absolutely everything she could in order to answer God’s call upon her. She simultaneously felt great peace within, yet also great sorrow. To her, it felt like Jesus had fallen asleep and was ignoring her.
Then the pilgrimmage took them to Naples and Pompeii. There was an option to continue on to Jerusalem. But Thérèse was wearled of the earthly pilgrimmage. Instead, she longed for the hardships of Carmel.
Back home, Thérèse wrote her bishop. To her dismay, there was no reply.
Finally, she received a letter from Carmel. She had been granted permission to enter! But it was to take place after Easter. That was three long months away.
She used the time to prepare. She was preparing to be the bride of Jesus Christ.
Thérèse was about to leave her family for the rest of her life.
The night before, they dined together. That day, they went to the Mass together. She asked her Dad for a final blessing. And then she entered the Carmelite Monastry.
This was the moment she had longed for. For years.
Her new sisters embraced her.
Thérèse found that a nun’s life was pretty much what she had imagined. None of the sacrifices surprised her. And it was not lacking in hardships.
Thérèse fell into great spiritual darkness. And the Prioriess treated her with severity. It was as if suffering itself reached out and embraced Thérèse.
Often those entrusted with training newcomers resort to cruelty and belittlement and harshness. Think of a Drill Sergeant screaming at his recruits. Such cruel treatment is rarely fruitful. One would be hard-pressed to envision Jesus Christ treating people so horribly. Yet it persists even in the Christian community.
At one point, Thérèse was required to state why she had entered Carmel. She said it was to save souls and to pray for priests. For those ends, she would be willing to embrace hardships and sufferings.
FOR REFLECTION: Would you be willing to offer your life that souls might be saved?
Thérèse was assigned to a Father Pichon for spiritual direction. Unexpectedly, he trusted her fervor. She found comfort in their talks. His assurances seemed to come from God himself. But then, Pichon was suddenly uprooted and sent to far-away Canada.
It was then that Thérèse was awakened to the treasure of the Holy Face of Jesus. That is an image that some Catholics believe was miraculously formed as a true representation of the face of Jesus Christ.
Later that year, a tragedy struck the family. Thérèse’s Dad was became paralyzed. Thérèse recalled that he had never spoke an uncharitable word, and that his faith was never shaken. Later, there was a second attack of paralysis. It took place shortly before the ceremony where Thérèse was authorized to start wearing the habit of a Carmelite nun.
After the ceremony, Thérèse noticed the statue of the Child Jesus. In a mystical vision, it smiled at her.
Recall that her official name as a nun is Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Now we see where those two additions came from:
- The Child Jesus: a mystical vision at the ceremony where she was authorized to start wearing the habit of a Carmelite nun.
- The Holy Face: from when she lost her spiritual director
After the ceremony, her Dad fell into great suffering. Then a month later, he was hit with cerebral paralysis.
Her blood sisters came to visit her in the parlour. They were separated by the grille. But they were stirred by the same thoughts and desires, the same love for Jesus Christ and for souls.
Thérèse’s spiritual dryness increased. She no longer found comfort in anything.
The duration of her time as a Novice was lengthened. Instead of being finished in a year, she was told it would take 20 months. That was a difficult pill for Thérèse to swallow. Yet God gave her some divine light, and she was able to use the extra time to focus on growing in holiness.
Prior to professing her vows as a Carmelite nun, Thérèse went on a special retreat. For her, it was barren. All it brought her was spiritual dryness. Yet somehow, by some unknown means, Jesus kept feeding her with fresh spiritual provisions.
Shortly before she professed her vows, news arrived of a special blessing from the pope. It was probably Leo XIII, whom she had met during her pilgrimage to Rome.
However, the devil arrived as well, convincing her she was not called to become a Carmelite nun. Thérèse told her novice mistress, who laughed and reassured her. That drove the devil away.
FOR REFLECTION: Even in our ordinary spiritual conversations, there is an element of spiritual warfare going on beneath the surface.
On the day of her profession, Thérèse asked great things of God in prayer. She asked that every person be converted to faith in Jesus Christ, and that purgatory be emptied.
FOR REFLECTION: In prayer, Thérèse asked God for things that were gargantuan. Can you imagine asking God for the conversion of every person on earth? There is no reason not to. Why not ask him for that right now?
Thérèse also asked God to let her die a martyr for Jesus Christ.
Have you ever asked God to let you die a martyr’s death?
Thérèse received an announcement that her cousin Jeanne Guérin was getting married. She resolved to love Jesus more than any woman loved her husband. She even wrote a marriage announcement about it.
We found her “marriage announcement” so inspiring that we duplicate it for you here in its entirety:
Creator of Heaven and Earth
Sovereign Ruler of the Universe
THE GLORIOUS VIRGIN MARY
Queen of the Heavenly Court
announce to you the Spiritual Espousals of their August Son
KING OF KINGS and LORD OF LORDS
little Thérèse Martin
now Princess and Lady of His Kingdoms of the Holy Childhood and the Passion, assigned to her as a dowry, by her Divine Spouse, from which Kingdoms she holds her titles of nobility—OF THE CHILD JESUS and OF THE HOLY FACE.
It was not possible to invite you to the Wedding Feast which took place on the Mountain of Carmel, September 8, 1890—the Heavenly Court was alone admitted—but you are requested to be present at the Wedding Feast which will take place to-morrow, the day of Eternity, when Jesus, the Son of God, will come in the clouds of Heaven, in the splendour of His Majesty, to judge the living and the dead.
The hour being still uncertain, you are asked to hold yourselves in readiness and watch.
A year after she professed her vows, there was a general retreat for the nuns. It was a “preached” retreat. That means there was a priest who preached lengthy messages. Ideally, they would be encouraging to the nuns. However, the priest had a poor reputation for preaching. Nonetheless, he turned out to be unexpectedly consoling for Thérèse.
This showed her that Jesus was more tender than a mother.
Two months later, the foundress of the Monastery passed away. Thérèse recalled that she told her to serve God with peace and joy. At the moment of the death of the foundress, Thérèse felt indescribable joy, for the foundress was now in heaven.
A month later, an influenza epidemic raged through the Monastery. It lasted three weeks. Several nuns died from it. But they died quite peacefully.
Thérèse tended the needs of the other nuns. She was permitted to receive Holy Communion. It brought her great consolation and mystical union with God.
The spiritual path of Thérèse was not that of fear. She did not live a fear-based spirituality. Rather, she lived a love-based spirituality. She felt showered by divine favor. All her desires were granted. Except one.
In those days, many Catholics heard sermon after sermon telling them that Jesus was a stern judge who would damn them to Hell for their slightest faults. That was defective preaching, and it prodded Catholics everywhere to avoid Jesus and instead go to Mary for tenderness. But Thérèse has it right.
Thérèse wished for her sister Céline to enter Carmel. But one of the nuns opposed it. So Thérèse asked God to change the heart of that nun. Right after Thérèse finished praying, that nun approached her with tears in her eyes, and said she now wished for Céline to enter Carmel.
FOR REFLECTION: Do you see prayer answered? Some people find it helps when they ask God for very specific things instead of generalities.
With that prayer answered, the only desire remaining within Thérèse was that she love Jesus with more abandon. She was no longer longing for suffering or death, but only for love.
In those days, many people were captivated by the notion of the justice of God. They felt that due to his justice, God absolutely had to dole out divine wrath on sinners. A few people offered themselves as “victims of divine judgment.” That meant they were willing to receive divine wrath so that other people would not have to.
Thérèse saw it in reverse. To her, God was far more eager to dole out his merciful love. Thérèse offered herself as a “victim of divine love.” After that, she was engulfed in love. It renewed and cleansed her. She no longer feared purgatory, as the fire of divine love was cleansing her more than purgatory every could.
FOR REFLECTION: Which stands out to you: God’s justice, or God’s mercy?
Of the Carmelite Monastery of Thérèse of Lisieux
We’d like to share with you two video tours of the Carmelite Monastery where Thérèse lived. The videos are from the Monastery itself.
The scenes portrayed in these videos are the exact places that Saint Thérèse would have seen each day of her life as a cloistered Carmelite nun.
These are exceptionally rare glimpses into the completely hidden lives of cloistered Carmelite nuns.
The first video is very brief. It shows a few scenes from the Monastery:
The second video is a little longer. It shows the courtyard area of the Carmelite Monastery where Thérèse lived. Toward the end, the camera pans from the courtyard into her exact room. A cloistered Carmelite nun pretends to be Thérèse, and hides a manuscript under the pillow.
We see Thérèse of Lisieux as a hero of drawing people out. She has drawn out countless people from around the world.
Drawing people out is one of six important ways to nurture the personal relationships in your own Small Group. Read more »
Text of “The Story of a Soul” edited by T. N. Taylor, December 1912, courtesy of Christian Classics Ethereal Library
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Unless otherwise noted, all Bible quotations on this page are from the World English Bible and the World Messianic Edition. These translations have no copyright restrictions. They are in the Public Domain.