I said to myself: I’m going to write to a Carmelite Community and I’ll ask that a nun devote herself particularly to the salvation of my soul, and obtain for me the grace to be faithful to the vocation God has given me, that of a priest and a missionary.
So I’m asking you, Mother, to propose that task to one of your Sisters.
Letter to the Reverend Mother Prioress
Carmel of Lisieux
15 October 1895
Maurice Bellière, just twenty-one at the time, was a seminarian at Sommervieu, not far away in Normandy. He wanted to give his life entirely to God and the salvation of others. From his letter we gain the impression of a young man who was open and simple, unsure of himself but filled with high ideals. He strikes us as a man to be taken seriously, yet also as one very much in need of help. In comparison with Thérèse, who was fully mature, Maurice was a callow youth, impetuous and naive.
We shall learn from a later letter that he had heard some of his fellow seminarians discussing the Carmelite cloister in Lisieux, where the Martins moved after the death of Zélie. They spoke of a remarkable family by the name of Martin who lived there and of the amazing fact that four of the five daughters had entered that Carmel. Maurice did not know that the Prioress to whom he addressed his letter was a member of this family, nor did he know that the nun she would select to pray for him was her youngest sister, Thérèse. All he knew was that he was in desperate need of the prayers of someone holy. He was about to interrupt his seminary training for a mandatory year of military service and was very much afraid that his vocation to the priesthood might not survive the test of that year.
In 1894 Maurice had entered the seminary at Sommervieu to prepare for the priesthood in the local Diocese of Bayeux-Lisieux, and in his first year he had applied to the Foreign Missionary Society of Paris (Missionaires Étrangères de Paris, or the MEP’s as they were called), a fast-growing band of missionaries who went to Third World countries. They were not a religious order, but a society of secular priests similar to the Maryknoll Society in the United States. It was a time of great religious fervor in France, and although new communities of missionaries were forming, they could not keep pace with the number of applications they received.
Maurice had just made a very prayerful retreat and he was ready for a bold step. Glancing at his calendar, he noticed that it was the feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, October 15. St. Teresa, the great sixteenth-century reformer of the Carmelite order, had called her nuns to a strictly cloistered regime of penance and prayer. They had only one apostolate: prayer and sacrifice for the Church’s mission in the world. They were to give everything of themselves for the world’s salvation, and especially they were to pray for priests. Where better to turn for the help he needed than the nearest Carmel he could find, the one in Lisieux?
Bishop Patrick Ahern
I. A Leap of Faith: Someone to pray for me
Mother Agnès responded to Bellière’s initial letter of 15 October with words of encouragement for his spiritual life and tells him that she has assigned “an angel” to accompany him in prayer and sacrifice.
On 23 October 1895, the young seminarian — bursting with hope and renewed spiritual energy — replied to Mother Agnès.
How good God is, my dear Mother, and how I admire, in giving thanks to Him, His admirable and merciful Providence, which does such great things for me! But after Him, how I thank you, Mother, for having shown me so much charity, I who deserved it less than anyone else. It is only in souls filled with God that we find this.
Now I am no longer afraid, and I feel a new ardor in my heart and it will prevail. I will be a saint, I want to be a saint—besides, I say priest, I say missionary above all, I say saint—and if I say saint, why not say martyr. What an ideal, Mother! Priest, apostle, and martyr!
But how many graces, how many virtues, finally how much holiness to deserve this unworthy favor. And I have so little of all this—but I will have it—my sister and I will rise up to heaven and the sweet Queen of the Apostles and Martyrs will deign to receive me in her elite battalion.
And it will be to you, Mother, that I will owe it, to you who have condescended to my desperate request. Thank you, I can only say thank you. At least it is with all the outpouring of my grateful heart. Moreover, who did you give me for a sister? A saint, an angel, as you yourself say! […]
Child of Mary and Joseph
Honor Guard of the Sacred Heart
Letter to Mother Agnès of Jesus
23 October 1895
Ahern, P V, Bellière, M, & Thérèse, St. 2001, Maurice and Thérèse: the story of a love, The Crown Publishing Group, New York.
Translation from the French text is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission.