How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love Him?…Letter 197
St. Thérèse to her sister Marie
17 September 1896
Each year, countless souls turn to Saint Thérèse of Lisieux for her intercession during the annual novena that honors this great Saint and Doctor of the Church. She said that she would spend her Heaven doing good on earth (17 July 1897), and for more than a century we have seen her promise fulfilled.
Yet on that same day she indicated what her heavenly mission would be: “to make God loved as I love Him, to give my little way to souls.”
But let’s take a moment to reflect — when we ask St. Thérèse for a favor in prayer, do we simply stop and say, “please help…” and go on our way? Or, do we actually pause to listen to Thérèse and learn about her way? After all, her greatest desire is to help us to love God as she did.
In this year’s novena, our reflections will focus on St. Thérèse’s mission to help us love God as she did. Our readings will come from Letter 197, which Thérèse wrote on 17 September 1896 to her sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Many of us are familiar with Letter 196, which Thérèse also wrote to Marie. This letter was attached to the famous “Manuscript B” in her autobiographical manuscripts, the collection which became The Story of a Soul.
Marie had asked for a souvenir of her sister’s private, annual retreat and the inestimable jewels that Thérèse gave to Marie, — the retreat notes — are filled with the Saint’s most beloved quotes, including her well-known proclamation, “MY VOCATION IS LOVE!”
But after reading these retreat notes and their accompanying Letter 196, Marie still had doubts that she could love Jesus as much as her sister, Thérèse. Don’t we share her doubts, too? Here is an excerpt from what Marie had to say in her note to the Saint (17 September 1896):
[…] Simply one word concerning myself. Like the young man in the Gospel, a certain feeling of sadness came over me in view of your extraordinary desires for martyrdom. That is the proof of your love; yes, you possess love, but I myself! no, never will you make me believe that I can attain this desired goal, for I dread all that you love.
This is a proof that I do not love Jesus as you do. Ah! you say you are doing nothing, that you are a poor weak little bird, but your desires, how do you reckon them? God himself looks upon them as works. […]
I would like you to tell your little godmother, in writing, if she can love Jesus as you do. But only briefly, for what I have is sufficient for my joy and my sorrow. For my joy, when I see to what a degree you are loved and privileged; for my sorrow, when I have a foreboding of the desire that Jesus has to pluck His little flower! Oh! I wanted to cry when I read these lines that are not from earth but an echo from the Heart of God…. Do you want me to tell you? Well, you are possessed by God, but what is called… absolutely possessed, just as the wicked are possessed by the devil.
I would like to be possessed, too, by good Jesus. […]
Therefore, let us pause each day to listen to St. Thérèse tell us if we can love Jesus as she does. “But only briefly”, as Marie herself requested.
“Loving my littleness“
“Ready to suffer“
“Poor in spirit“
“Possessed by Him“
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus,
remember your promise to do good on earth;
send your shower of roses in abundance
on those who call upon you,
and obtain for us from God the graces
we are waiting to receive from His infinite goodness.
mention your intentions here
God our Father,
you have promised your kingdom
to those who are willing to become like little children.
Help us to follow the way of Saint Thérèse with confidence
so that by her prayers
we may come to know your eternal glory.
Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
God, forever and ever. Amen.
All scripture references are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Catholic Edition, copyright © 1989, 1993 the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America as accessed from the Bible Gateway website.
Don’t become discouraged and give up prayer, says St. John of the Cross. We offer varying novenas to Our Lady of Mount Carmel, as well as novenas to St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin, St. Elizabeth of the Trinity, St. Edith Stein and St. Joseph.LET US UNITE IN PRAYER