[N]ow I must speak of the sorrowful trial that broke little Thérèse’s heart when Jesus took away her dear Mama, her tenderly loved Pauline! I had said to Pauline, one day, that I would like to be a hermit and go away with her alone in a faraway desert place. She answered that my desire was also hers and that she was waiting for me to be big enough for her to leave.
This was no doubt not said seriously, but little Thérèse had taken it seriously; and how she suffered when she heard her dear Pauline speaking one day to Marie about her coming entrance into Carmel. I didn’t know what Carmel was, but I understood that Pauline was going to leave me to enter a convent. I understood, too, she would not wait for me and I was about to lose my second Mother!
Ah! how can I express the anguish of my heart! In one instant, I understood what life was; until then, I had never seen it so sad; but it appeared to me in all its reality, and I saw it was nothing but continual suffering and separation. I shed bitter tears because I did not yet understand the joy of sacrifice. I was weak, so weak that I consider it a great grace to have been able to support a trial that seemed to be far above my strength! If I had learned of my dear Pauline’s departure very gently, I would not have suffered as much perhaps, but having heard about it by surprise, it was as if a sword were buried in my heart.
I shall always remember, dear Mother, with what tenderness you consoled me. Then you explained the life of Carmel to me and it seemed so beautiful! When thinking over all you had said, I felt that Carmel was the desert where God wanted me to go also to hide myself. I felt this with so much force that there wasn’t the least doubt in my heart; it was not the dream of a child led astray but the certitude of a divine call; I wanted to go to Carmel not for Pauline’s sake but for Jesus alone.
I was thinking very much about things that words could not express but which left a great peace in my soul.The next day, I confided my secret to Pauline; she considered my desires as the will of heaven and told me that soon I would go with her to see the Mother Prioress of the Carmel and that I must tell her what God was making me feel.
A Sunday was chosen for this solemn visit, and my embarrassment was great when I learned that Marie Guérin [cousin of the Martin girls] was to stay with me since she was still small enough to see the Carmelites. I had to find a way, however, to remain alone with the Prioress and this is what entered my mind: I said to Marie that since we had the privilege of seeing Mother Prioress, we should be very nice and polite and to do this we would have to confide our secrets to her. Each one in turn was to leave the room and leave the other all alone for a moment. Marie took me on my word, and, in spite of her repugnance of confiding secrets she didn’t have, we remained alone, one after the other, with Mother Prioress.
Having listened to my great confidences, Mother Marie de Gonzague believed I had a vocation, but she told me they didn’t receive postulants at the age of nine and that I must wait till I was sixteen. I resigned myself in spite of my intense desire to enter as soon as possible and to make my First Communion the day Pauline received the Habit.
It was on this day I received compliments for the second time. Sister Teresa of St. Augustine came to see me and did not hesitate to say that I was pretty. I had not counted on coming to Carmel to receive praises like this, and after the visit, I did not cease repeating to God that it was for Him alone I wished to be a Carmelite.
I took great care to profit from my dear Pauline during the few weeks she still remained in the world. Every day, Céline and I bought her cake and candy, thinking that later on, she would never eat these anymore; we were always by her side and never gave her a moment’s rest. Finally, [Monday, 2 October 1882] arrived, a day of tears and blessings when Jesus gathered the first of His flowers, who was to be the Mother of those who would come to join her a few years later.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus relates that from the age of two, she heard that Pauline would be a nun and that from that time she said to herself: “I will be a nun too.” No one showed any surprise therefore when M. Martin’s perle fine on reaching her 20th year wrote to the Visitation Nuns at Le Mans to know at what age she could be admitted. The reply was: between 22 and 23.
The young girl was waiting quite tranquilly for this time to arrive when an urgent grace came and suddenly changed her plans. This was on 16 February 1882, and she relates it thus:
I was at the 6 o’clock Mass at St. Jacques, in the Chapel of Notre Dame du Mont Carmel with father and Marie. Suddenly a light flashed through my soul, and God showed me clearly that He did not wish me to go to the Visitation but to Carmel… I must say that the memory of a friend, predestined to die the preceding year, came to my mind. She must certainly have been praying for me. They had told me that she thought of entering the Carmel and would have taken the name of Agnes of Jesus. I remember that I felt myself blush with emotion, and in going up and returning from receiving communion I feared that this would be seen.
I had never thought of the Carmel, and in one moment I found myself being impelled there with an irresistible attraction. As soon as we were back at Les Buissonnets I confided my secret to Marie. She only pointed out to me the austerity of the Carmel, saying that she doubted whether my health was strong enough to stand it. My father, to whom I went the same day while he was on the belvedere to make my request, said much the same thing to me; but I saw that in his heart he was very proud to find that I had this vocation.
In the afternoon I met him mounting the stairs, and he seemed a little sad. “Do not think, my Pauline,” said he, “that if I am happy to give you to God I shall not suffer in parting with you,” and he embraced me with tender emotion. All his ways of speaking and acting were simple like his beautiful patriarchal soul.
This praise is a faithful echo of Pauline’s feelings for her father. In the letters she wrote to him we have the same convincing proof. “Oh, what happiness to have a father like you, what happiness and what an honor! We will all become saints to reward your zeal and to thank God.” Or, “Father, if you only knew how your little Pearl loves you. You will never know all that is in my heart for you till you are in heaven. If, as the good Curé d’Ars says, one must be in heaven in order to understand divine love, one must be in heaven also to understand filial love as I feel it. Farewell, our all here below after Jesus!”
Once Pauline had made her decision she brought her untiring will to carry it out. Having obtained the consent of her father and Marie, she spoke to her director, and then to M. and Mme. Guérin [St. Zélie’s brother Isidore and his wife, Céline] without meeting any opposition.
“But, alas,” she admitted later, “I made our little Thérèse’s deep and tender heart bleed by my silence. Had I but realized what suffering I was causing her, how differently I should have acted—I should have told her all! But at nine years old she had a wisdom I could never have guessed. In any case I console myself today by thinking that my error served God’s purpose. He showed it by the graces which followed.”
At her first visit to the Carmel Pauline thought only to make a request to be presented to the Convent at Caen, for she imagined that there was no vacancy at Lisieux. But the Mother Prioress, Mother Marie de Gonzague, attracted doubtless by the charm of the “aspirante” welcomed her kindly, and assured her that they would find her a cell in their convent. At the following “parloir” [visit with the nuns in the monastery speakroom] they gave her the name of Agnes of Jesus.
On 2 October 1882, led by her father, Marie, and M. Guérin [Uncle Isidore], Pauline crossed the threshold of the cloister.
Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux
Circular of Agnès of Jesus (excerpts)
II. Call to Carmel
We always refer to the website of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux for the vast majority of our quotes concerning Saint Thérèse, Saint Zélie, and Saint Louis Martin, but if you would like to purchase any of the English translations that appear on the Archives website, please visit the website of our Discalced Carmelite friars at ICS Publications.
Featured image: Portrait of Pauline Martin at age 20 (detail). Image credit: Isidore Hendrix / Wikimedia Commons (Some rights reserved)
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