Rejoice! it is when all seemed lost that all is gained… We went to Naples and Pompeii yesterday and the day before with Mme. Bénard. During this time, Papa went to see the superior of the Brothers, to shake his hand and to thank him for the reception he had given him two years ago with M. l’abbé Marie. The Brother was charmed. Papa spoke to him frankly; he recounted the audience we had on Sunday, Thérèse’s desires, her request, all the ups and downs, the sadness she experienced. The superior knew that Marie, Papa’s oldest daughter, had entered Carmel. He had never seen such a thing and he was very much enthused about our family. He understood this very well, and he himself—if he had not entered the Brothers when young—believes that he would not have gone, and he thanked God every day for having called him when young (he is fifty years a Brother). He was noting down what Papa was saying about Thérèse, and he offered to speak about her to M. Révérony. But listen to the very end:
Papa stood up to leave and whom did he see enter but M. Révérony!… You may judge his surprise and that of the brother. M. Révérony was very much charmed by Papa; he seemed to be repentant. He reminded Papa that the Sovereign Pontiff had spoken to him particularly, because [M. Révérony] had introduced him by telling the pope that two of his daughters were Carmelites. Papa asked him if he had heard anything regarding the bishop’s decision, and he added: “You know very well that you had promised to help me.” What a good Father! Then he recounted Thérèse’s grief at the audience and especially when he had replied that the matter was being examined by the superiors, etc. M. Révérony was touched, I believe, and he is beginning to believe that Thérèse’s vocation is extraordinary. He even said: “Well! I will assist at the ceremony; I’m inviting myself.” Papa told him he would be happy to have him and all sorts of amiable things were exchanged between them. That is what Papa told us this morning—I could not keep this in and I am writing to you immediately. To show you the promptitude with which I am writing this, I hardly waited for Papa to finish and in the office of the hotel I seized a piece of paper and a pen and here I am!….
Are you happy, dear little sisters? Perhaps even before this letter, you have some rays of hope, perhaps you even know more good news than we do. I believe we have won M. Révérony’s sympathy. Thérèse was so pretty at the feet of the Holy Father. She was kneeling at his feet, her hands joined on the pope’s knees, and her eyes were so pleading! It was beautiful to see her this way, and then I followed, in tears, asking for a blessing for the Carmel. This scene was touching, I assure you.
It could have influenced M. Révérony. So all goes well, what joy! I believe the trials are quite close to being over. . . .
Au revoir my darlings. We must go to dinner.
Your little Céline
Pisa, Hôtel de la Minerve Nice, Beau Rivage Marseille, Grand Hôtel de Marseille, you know the dates.
Letter from Céline to Agnes of Jesus and Marie of the Sacred Heart
Dear little Aunt, since she has been on the mountain of Carmel, your little Thérèse feels still more deeply, if that be possible, the affection she has for you; the more she learns to love Jesus, the greater, too, becomes her tenderness for her dear relatives.
The little gift which our good Mother was happy to have made for your feast will tell you better than I, dear Aunt, what I am powerless to tell you. My heart is filled with emotion when seeing this poor hair which undoubtedly has no other value but the delicate workmanship and the gracefulness of its arrangement, but which nevertheless was loved by him whom God took away from us.
Dear little Aunt, do you understand? I am happy when seeing it is to her—who is dearest to me in this life, after my Father—this hair is offered, which he would have received with so much pleasure.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Letter 133 to Mme. Guérin (excerpt) 16 November 1891
I am asking Him that you may be not only a good missionary but a saint all on fire with the love of God and souls; I beg you to obtain also for me this love so that I may help you in your apostolic work.
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
Letter 198 to Abbé Maurice Bellière 21 October 1896
… I’m grief-stricken, my heart is as broken as when I lost my own children. I see you all in tears, next to your little loved one, who died under such distressing conditions [Paul Guérin was delivered stillborn on October 16, 1871]. And yet God has still granted you a great grace since he had time to be baptized. So, my dear friend, you have to have courage, and I don’t think you lack it. You have enough strength and faith to endure the afflictions of life.
I received your letter just as I was sitting down at the table with company because we had people over. I assure you, what I ate didn’t hurt me. I could eat nothing. My heart was so shattered, I couldn’t breathe. If I could only cry when I’m like this, but no, this relief is denied me. When I’m in great pain, I can’t cry.
I was supposed to be the godmother, and I was rejoicing so much over that! Well! It’s destined that all my celebrations turn out this way….
I don’t know why, but I had a vague premonition of some misfortune. Saturday night, on receiving the dress that I’d had made for the occasion, I said to myself, “I’m rejoicing too much, something terrible could very well happen.”
I wasn’t wrong. If the child had died after several days, I would feel less pain, but given the way things took place, I imagine that it was the doctor’s fault.
As you see, my dear friend, I’m giving you peculiar consolations, but I don’t know what I’m doing anymore. I can’t console you because I myself need to be consoled. When I saw our guests, during lunch, enjoying themselves as if nothing upsetting had happened, I felt a lot of bitterness. Don’t think, however, that Louis was one of them, because he was very sensitive to your pain and speaks of it constantly.
We’re going over in our minds all the suffering and all the troubles your poor wife has had to endure the last six months, and we’re bemoaning the sad ending. Yes, this is very hard. However, my dear friend, let’s not complain, God is the Master. For our own good, He may allow us to suffer a great deal, but never without His help and His grace.
Yesterday I received, at the same time, a letter from our aunt, Madame Frédéric Guérin, announcing the death of her husband (the brother of their father, Isidore, Sr.), who was struck down by a stroke last Tuesday. She invited us to the service that will take place on Thursday. She didn’t give me any detail. I don’t know if he had time to see a priest. This saddened me, but not nearly as much as the news you gave me.
If you can write once before I come to see you, you would make me happy. Tell me, above all, if the child was alive when he was baptized. The doctor should really have baptized him before his birth. When they see a child in danger, it’s always there that they should begin.
While waiting for a letter from you, I hug you with all my heart.
I asked Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus to write down what I called “her little way of trust and love,” which she did during her last retreat in September 1896, after having asked our Mother for permission. This letter is now a part of the printed manuscript (Manuscript B).
After having read these impassioned pages, I told her it was impossible for me to reach such heights.
It was then that she wrote me the letter dated 17th September 1896 (Letter LT 197), in which, amongst other things, she said:
“How can you ask me if it is possible for you to love God as I love Him?. . . My desires of martyrdom are nothing; I really feel that it is not this at all that pleases God in my little soul; what pleases Him is seeing me loving my littleness and my poverty, and the blind hope that I have in His mercy . . . .That is my only treasure”.
One day when she had prayed to obtain the twofold love of angels and saints, as Elisha had asked for a double portion of Elijah’s spirit, (cf. 2 Kgs 2:9), she added,
“Jesus, I cannot fathom my request, I would be afraid of being overwhelmed by the weight of my bold desires. My excuse is that I am a child, and children do not reflect on the meaning of their words. However, their parents, once they are placed on a throne and possess immense treasures, do not hesitate to satisfy the desires of the little ones whom they love as much as they love themselves. To please them, they do foolish things, even to the extent of becoming weak for them. Well, I am the Child of the Church and the Church is Queen since she is Your Spouse, O divine King of kings. . . . O Jesus! Why can’t I tell all little souls how unspeakable Your condescension is? I feel that if You found a soul weaker and littler than mine, which is impossible, You would take pleasure in granting it still greater favors, provided it abandoned itself with total confidence to your infinite Mercy”.
Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus loved God ardently and thought about Him constantly. One day, I said to her, “How do you manage to always think of God?”
“It’s not difficult,” she replied, “we naturally think of someone we love.”
“If God were to say to me, ‘If you die right now, you will have very great glory. If you die at eighty, your glory will not be as great, but it will please Me much more,’ then I wouldn’t hesitate to answer, ‘My God, I want to die at eighty, for I’m not seeking my own glory but simply Your pleasure’”(Last Conversations, 16 July).
Recalling her memories of when she was five or six years old, she said:
“I loved God more and more as I grew older. . . I strove to please Jesus in everything I did, and I was very careful never to offend Him”(Ms A, 15v).
In the aforesaid letter written during her last retreat, this passage is also of note:
“Above all, O my beloved Savior, I would shed my blood for You, even to the very last drop. Martyrdom was the dream of my youth and this dream has grown with me within the Carmel’s cloisters. But here again, I feel that my dream is a folly, for I cannot limit myself to desiring one kind of martyrdom. To satisfy me, I would need all of them” etc.—
Note from the blogger . . .
Whereas the English translation of Sister Marie’s testimony provides written, in-text citations to her many references, we offer our readers the actual links to find the texts on the Archives website itself for the Carmel of Lisieux. Were Sister Marie to submit any portion of her deposition today in electronic format, she might include links to the various resources, also.
It is regrettable that Céline’s wonderful collection of words of advice and counsel that she gathered from her memories of novitiate, and which she later recorded in a volume called Conseils et Souvenirs, has not yet been translated into English. We will make an effort to share tidbits from her recollections in the month of October as time permits.
In the morning, I was with her during the Mass. She didn’t speak a word to me. She was exhausted, gasping for breath; her sufferings, I thought, were indescribable. One moment she joined her hands and looked at the statue of the Blessed Virgin.
“Oh! I prayed fervently to her! But it’s the agony, really, without any mixture of consolation.”
I spoke a few words of sympathy and affection and I added that she had edified me very much all through her illness:
“And you, the consolations you’ve given me! Ah! they are very great!”
All through the day, without a moment’s respite, she remained, we can say without any exaggeration, in veritable torments.
She appeared to be at the end of her strength and nevertheless, to our great surprise, she was able to move, to sit up in her bed.
“You see the strength that I have today! No, I’m not going to die! I still have strength for months, perhaps years!”
“And if God willed it, ” asked Mother Prioress, “would you accept it?”
She began to answer in her agony: “It would really have to be . . .”
But checking herself immediately, she said with a tone of sublime resignation, falling back on her pillows: “I really will it!”
I was able to gather these exclamations, but it is impossible to express the tone in which they were said:
“I no longer believe in death for me. … I believe only in suffering. . . . Well, so much the better! . . .” “O my God! . . .” “I love God!”
“O good Blessed Virgin, come to my aid! ” “If this is the agony, what is death?! . . .”
“Ah! my God! . . . Yes, He is very good, I find Him very good. . . .”Looking at the statue of the Blessed Virgin: “Oh! you know I’m suffocating!”
“God is going to aid you, poor little one, and it will soon be all over. “
“Yes, but when?”
“. . . My God, have pity on Your poor little child! Have pity on her!”
To Mother Prioress:
“O Mother, I assure you, the chalice is filled to the brim! …”
“But God is not going to abandon me, I’m sure. . . .”
“He has never abandoned me.”
“Yes, my God, everything that You will, but have pity on me!”
“Little sisters! little sisters! pray for me!”
“My God! my God! You who are so good!”
“Oh, yes, You are good! I know it. . . .”
After Vespers, Mother Prioress placed a picture of Our Lady of Mount Carmel on her knees. She looked at it for a moment and said, when Mother Prioress assured her she’d be soon caressing the Blessed Virgin and the Child Jesus:
“O Mother, present me quickly to the Blessed Virgin; I’m a baby who can’t stand anymore! . . . Prepare me for death.”
Mother Prioress told her that since she had always understood humility, her preparation was already made. She reflected a moment and spoke these words humbly:
“Yes, it seems to me I never sought anything but the truth; yes, I have understood humility of heart. . . . It seems to me I’m humble.”
She repeated once more:
“All I wrote about my desires for suffering. Oh! it’s true just the same!”
“And I am not sorry for delivering myself up to Love.”
“Oh! no, I’m not sorry; on the contrary!”
A little later:
“Never would I have believed it was possible to suffer so much! never! never! I cannot explain this except by the ardent desires I have had to save souls.”
Towards five o ‘clock, I was alone by her side. Her face changed all of a sudden; I understood it was her last agony.
When the community entered the infirmary, she welcomed all the Sisters with a sweet smile. She was holding her Crucifix and looking at it constantly.
For more than two hours, a terrible rattle tore her chest. Her face was blue, her hands purplish, her feet were cold, and she shook in all her members. Perspiration stood out in enormous drops on her forehead and rolled down her cheeks. Her difficulties in breathing were always increasing, and in order to breathe she made little involuntary cries.
All during this time, so full of agony for us, we heard through the window—it made me suffer very much—the twittering of robins, and other little birds, but this twittering was so strong, so close, and so prolonged! I prayed to God to make them keep silent; this concert pierced my heart, and I feared it would tire out our poor little Thérèse.
At one moment, her mouth seemed to be so dry that Sister Geneviève, thinking to relieve her, placed on her lips a little piece of ice. She accepted it, giving her a smile which I’ll never forget. It was like a last farewell.
At six o’clock, when the Angelus was ringing, she looked at the statue of the Blessed Virgin for a long time.
Finally, at a few minutes past seven, Mother Prioress dismissed the community, and she sighed:
“Mother! Isn’t this the agony! . . . Am I not going to die? . . .”
“Oh! I would not want to suffer for a shorter time!”
And looking at her Crucifix, the prioress replied: “Yes, my poor little one, it’s the agony, but God perhaps wills to prolong it for several hours. “
She answered with courage:
“Well . . . All right! . . . All right!”
“Oh! I love Him! …
“My God … I love you! . . .”
Suddenly, after having pronounced these words, she fell back, her head leaning to the right. Mother Prioress had the infirmary bell rung very quickly to call back the community.
“Open all the doors, ” she said at the same time. These words had something solemn about them, and made me think that in heaven God was saying them also to His angels.
The Sisters had time to kneel down around her bed, and they were witnesses to the ecstasy of the little, dying saint. Her face had regained the lily-white complexion it always had in full health; her eyes were fixed above, brilliant with peace and joy. She made certain beautiful movements with her head as though someone had divinely wounded her with an arrow of love, then had withdrawn the arrow to wound her again…
Sister Marie of the Eucharist approached with a candle to get a closer view of that sublime look. In the light of the candle, there didn’t appear any movement in her eyelids. This ecstasy lasted almost the space of a Credo, and then she gave her last breath.
After her death, she had a heavenly smile. She was ravishingly beautiful. She was holding her Crucifix so tightly that we had to force it from her hands to prepare her for burial. Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart and I performed this office, along with Sister Aimée of Jesus, and we noticed she didn’t seem any more than twelve or thirteen years old.
Her limbs were supple right up to her burial, on Monday, October 4, 1897.
Sr. Agnès of Jesus, r.c.i.
(unworthy Carmelite religious)
Words that I found in my notes
… All my little desires have been fulfilled… Now this great one (to die of love) should be fulfilled!
In the afternoon:
Ah! I have such strength today!… I’ve got enough for months! And tomorrow, every day, it will still be worse!…
… Oh well! So much the better!
I can’t breathe, I can’t die!…
(Mother Agnès adds in the margin, “she never had oxygen, I believe that it wasn’t popular back then.”)
…I will never know how to die!. . . . . . . . . . . . .
… Yes, my God!… Yes! . . . . . . . . . .
… I really want to keep suffering … ………….
Toward 5 o’clock, Mother Marie de Gonzague had the relics of Bl. Théophane and Mother Anne of Jesus brought down, that had been pinned to her curtain on the right-hand side. They brought them to her and she gave them a little caress.
But she was inspired by the good God to say this to me in a very particular way so that later, because of the authority that would be given to me, one might rely entirely upon that which I would say and write about her.
Sr. Agnès of Jesus, c.d.i.
(unworthy Discalced Carmelite nun)
28 August 1940
Note from the blogger . . .
We present for our readers an idea of what Mother Agnès’ yellow notebook actually looks like. Neither Father John Clarke’s translation of the Last Conversations that was published by ICS Publications in 1977 (print edition out of stock) nor the same translation that appears on the English pages of the Archives website for the Carmel of Lisieux include these images of the notebook. Only the French version of the website provides photographic images of Pauline Martin’s months of note-taking and bedside companionship.
On the English pages of the Archives website, the Yellow Notebook ends with Mother Agnès’ comment concerning the body remaining supple until 4 October. The Appendix is not included.
The entire Appendix—with photographic images—is found only on the French version of the Archives website. The translation of the Appendix for 30 September is our own. Thus, we encourage our readers to explore the links in the caption of each photo to see the complete pages of Mother’s Yellow Notebook, or to view the images for the entire month of September here. For further, in-depth analysis of St. Thérèse’s last conversations with her family and community at her bedside, as well as Mother Agnès’ record-keeping in her notebook, you can read an English translation of historian Claude Langlois’ commentary and analysis here. It is subdivided into 16 sections; click next at the bottom of each page or navigate back to the top of his analysis.
sainte petite Thérèse, pray for us!
de l'Enfant Jésus, T 1977, St. Thérèse of Lisieux: Her Last Conversations, translated from the French by Clarke, J, ICS Publications, Washington DC.
The English translation of the Appendix is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission and proper attribution.
Sr. Thérèse of Saint-Augustine: “Tell me, have you had any struggles?”
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “Oh! yes, I have had some. I’ve had a nature that wasn’t easy going; this wasn’t apparent exteriorly, but I know it well, and I can assure you that I wasn’t a day without suffering, not a single day.”
Sr. Thérèse of Saint-Augustine: “But some think you had none. “
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “Ah! the judgments of creatures! Because they don’t see, they don’t believe!”
Sr. Thérèse of Saint-Augustine: “There are some Sisters who believe you will experience the fears of the dying. “
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus: “These haven’t come to me as yet. If they should come, I’ll bear them; but if I should have them, they would not be sufficient to purify me, they would be no more than bleach. What I need is the fire of love.”
Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustine was the one nun of whom St. Thérèse wrote, “There is in the Community a Sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me. And still, she is a holy religious who must be very pleasing to God.” (Ms C 13v)
She played an instrumental role in assisting St. Thérèse through her dark night of faith. In January 1897 Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustine had a prophetic dream of a dark apartment with a heavy black door “under which a very bright ray of light came through.” On the other side of the door, she could hear a voice calling from the light asking for St. Thérèse. When Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustine awoke from her dream, she was convinced that the saint soon would die.
A few days later, Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustine shared her dream with St. Thérèse. The saint’s response gives us a striking indication of the depths of her crisis of faith.
“How beautiful! It’s not a dream, it’s a fantasy and it’s for me that you had it. (…) If you knew what good you do for me; haven’t I spoken to you about the state of my soul? (…) I don’t believe in eternal life, it seems to me after this earthly life, there is nothing more. I can’t describe to you the shadows into which I’ve sunk. What you just told me is exactly the state of my soul. The preparation they are doing with me and especially the black door is really the picture of what is happening in me. You saw nothing but red in that door that is so dark, that is to say, that all has vanished for me and there is nothing left but love. Your dream is my only ray of light, I have no other. I know it by heart down to the smallest details.”
Months later in the infirmary, when Sister Thérèse asks if her dying companion has had any struggles, January’s dream certainly must have been on her mind.
Learn more about Sister Thérèse of Saint-Augustine here.
Read more of her last conversations with St. Thérèse here.
Léonie Martin—Sr. François-Thérèse, V.H.M.—was the seventh witness at the diocesan inquiry for the cause of beatification of her sister, Thérèse. In her response to the 21st question concerning the theological virtue of faith, she mentioned this incident…
Her spirit of faith allowed her to see all things from a spiritual point of view. The letters she wrote to me spoke only of God and she only ever considered events from the point of view of faith. When our father died, she wrote (20th August 1894):
“I am thinking more than ever about you ever since our dear Father went up to heaven… Papa’s death does not give me the impression of a death but of a real life. I am finding him once more after an absence of 6 years, I feel him around me, looking at me and protecting me. Dear little Sister, are we not more united now that we gaze on the heavens to find there a Father and a Mother who offered us to Jesus? … Soon their desires shall be accomplished, and all the children God gave them are going to be united to Him forever.”
Saint Louis Martin died 29 July 1894
Read more from Léonie, Witness 7 at the Diocese of Lisieux Interrogatory
My dear Mother, now I would like to tell you what I understand by the fragrance of the perfumes of the Beloved.
Since Jesus has re-ascended to Heaven, I can only follow him through the footprints that he left, but how illuminated are these footprints, how aromatic they are! I only have to cast my eyes on the holy gospel; all of a sudden I’m breathing in the perfumes of the life of Jesus and I know on which side to run…
It’s not the first place, but the last place that I aim for; rather than moving forward with the pharisee, I repeat, full of trust, the humble prayer of the tax-collector;
but above all I imitate the conduct of Magdalene: her astonishing—or rather her loving audacity—that charms the Heart of Jesus, seduces mine.
Yes, I feel it, even if I had on my conscience all the sins that can be committed, I would go—my heart, broken in repentance—throw myself in the arms of Jesus because I know how much he cherishes the prodigal child who comes back to Him.
It’s not because the good God, in his prevenient mercy, has preserved my soul from mortal sin that I raise myself to Him through trust and love…
Renowned Discalced Carmelite scholar Father François-Marie Léthel concluded Meditation 8 of the 2011 Lenten Exercises for the Roman Curia by citing this final paragraph from Manuscript C. He also notes that, “at the same moment, Thérèse writes to her spiritual brother Bellière:
“You love St. Augustine, St. Magdalene; these souls to whom “many sins were forgiven because they loved much”. Me too, I love them; I love their repentance, and especially… their loving audacity! When I see Magdalene come forward in the midst of the numerous guests, showering the feet of her adorable Master with her tears, that she’s touching for the first time, I sense that her heart has understood the abysses of love and mercy of the Heart of Jesus and that, total sinner that she is, this Heart of love is not only disposed to pardon her but still more to lavish upon her the benefits of his divine intimacy, to lift her up to the highest summits of contemplation. Ah! my dear little Brother, since it was given to me also to understand the love of the Heart of Jesus, I admit to you that has chased away all fear from my heart. The memory of my faults humiliates me, it brings me to never learn on my strength, which is only a weakness, but even more this memory speaks to me of mercy and love. How—when you throw your faults with total, filial trust in the burning all-consuming brazier of love—how wouldn’t they be consumed without coming back?”
Read Father John Clarke’s translation of Letter 247 from Saint Thérèse to Abbé Maurice Bellière (21 June 1897) here.
Nota Bene: We have elected to be as faithful to the original text as possible in our translation, avoiding a re-cast into contemporary idioms. There is the age-old question among translators of French: does avoir confiance mean to be confident, to have confidence, or does it mean to trust? As an example, again and again today, theological translators agree: the best and truest translation of Jésus, j’ai confiance en toi is, Jesus, I trust in you.
Remember that your holy will
Is my rest, my only happiness.
I abandon myself and I fall asleep without fear
In your arms, O my divine Savior.
If you also fall asleep when the storm rages,
I always want to stay in deep peace.
But, Jesus, while you are asleep,
For the awakening!
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux Jesus, My Beloved, Remember!… “Rappelle-toi” (PN 24), Stanza 32
Read the full text of the poem in French here and in English here. Read this and more entries from Mother Agnès’ yellow notebook of her last conversations with Saint Thérèse during July 1897 here. You can explore the English website of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux here.
We arrived yesterday afternoon at four-thirty. My brother was waiting for us at the station and was delighted to see us. He and his wife are doing everything they can to entertain us. This evening, Sunday, there’s a beautiful reception in their home in our honor….
As for me, I’m finding it hard to relax! None of that interests me! I’m absolutely like the fish you pull out of the water. They’re no longer in their element and they have to perish! This would have the same effect on me if I had to stay a lot longer. I feel uncomfortable, I’m out of sorts. This is affecting me physically, and it’s almost making me sick. However, I’m reasoning with myself and trying to gain the upper hand. I’m with you in spirit all day, and I say to myself, “Now he must be doing such and such a thing.”
I’m longing to be near you, my dear Louis. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection so much more when you’re not here with me. It would be impossible for me to live apart from you.
Saint Zélie Guérin Martin Letter CF 108 to Saint Louis Martin (excerpt) Lisieux, 31 August 1873
Explore more of the correspondence of Louis Martin and Zélie Guerin here.
She went for the last time before the Blessed Sacrament in the oratory in the afternoon; but she was at the end of her strength. I saw her look at the Host for a long time and I guessed it was without any consolation but with much peace in her heart.
I recall that in the morning after the Mass, when the community was going to the oratory to make thanksgiving, no one thought of helping her. She walked very quietly close to the wall. I didn’t dare offer her my arm.
Mother Agnès of Jesus (Pauline Martin) Yellow Notebook, 2 July 1897
You can’t be sort of a saint, you have to be a total saint
or not at all.
This quote comes from St. Thérèse’s letter to seminarian Maurice Bellière, written 21 June 1897. Thérèse had been corresponding with the seminarian since October 1896.
Thérèse’s remark falls within the context of Bellière’s comments to Mother Agnès in his initial letter of 15 October 1895 that he had aspirations of sanctity as a seminarian, but in the awareness of his weakness, he requested that one of the nuns should pray for him.
Thérèse describes Bellière’s letter in Manuscript C and makes mention of that letter when she writes to him on 21 June:
Sometimes Jesus likes “to reveal his secrets to infants“; the proof is that after having read your first letter from 15 Oct 95, I thought the same thing as your Director: you can’t be sort of a saint, you have to be a total saint or not at all.
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 Thérèse 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:
Now, I’m not afraid anymore, and I feel in my heart a new passion that will prevail. I will be a saint, I want to be a saint — besides that, a priest, a missionary, especially a Saint — and if I say saint, why not say martyr. What an ideal, Mother — priest, apostle, and martyr!
To cast the words of Thérèse in the 21st-century context, the translator researches the use of the modifier à demi in the previous centuries. How did André Gide and Georges Bernanos use the expression? In the examples given in the University of Lorraine’s online masterpiece, the 16-volume dictionary Trésor de la Langue Française, Gide and Bernanos evoke concepts such as somewhat, partial, tentative, and incomplete. The TLF couldn’t be any clearer when it states that the antonym is tout à fait (which was the choice of Thérèse), i.e., completely or totally.
Our desire as a translator is always to preserve fidelity to the original text by thoroughly researching the context, the setting, and the historical record of the language. Today’s tools, such as ATILF and the invaluable online Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux, offer many expanded options to achieve these goals. We are grateful to our Discalced Carmelite predecessors who labored long and hard over the past century to bring the words of Thérèse to English-speaking readers. From time to time, we will continue to add our small contributions to their monumental work.
As St. Thérèse herself noted in her letter, “I sensed that you might have an energetic soul and it’s for that reason that I was happy to become your sister.” Translators need energetic souls to undertake and persevere in their work, too. Thanks for being our sister, Thérèse!
Quelquefois Jésus se plaît «à révéler ses secrets aux plus petits», la preuve, c’est qu’après avoir lu votre première lettre du 15 oct. 95, j’ai pensé la même chose que votre Directeur: Vous ne pourrez être un saint à demi, il vous faudra l’être tout à fait ou pas du tout. J’ai senti que vous deviez avoir une âme énergique et c’est pour cela que je fus heureuse de devenir votre soeur.
You can read the complete text of Letter 247 here in French and the English translation by Fr. John Clarke, OCD here. The complete text of Abbé Bellière’s 23 October 1895 letter to Mother Agnès is found here in French. Studies on the 15 October correspondence and the subsequent reply were published in the scholarly journal Vie Thérèsienne, nos. 12, 13, 14, October 1963 — April 1964; and nos. 66-69, October 1963 — April 1964.
Translation from the French is the blogger’s own work product and may not be reproduced without permission. This blog post is dedicated in honor of Père François-Marie Léthel, O.C.D. —sine qua non
The third stage is… communion with the greatness of Jesus, the infinite greatness of his Divinity in the Trinity. It is the sense of the Offering to Merciful Love (9 June 1895), in the account of the final pages of Manuscript A (Ms A, 83v-84v), and in the Act of the Offering itself (Pri 6). Here the Christocentrism of Thérèse becomes explicitly Trinitarian: to the love of the Father who gave his Son to Thérèse as Savior and Spouse, and who looks upon her and always loves her through the Face of Jesus, and in his Heart burning with love in the Fire of the Holy Spirit, Thérèse responds through the total gift of herself as “victim of holocaust” for the salvation of all: she offers herself to the Father through Christ in the Spirit, through the hands of Mary. This Offering is central within the doctrine of Thérèse. It is her fundamental proposition of holiness for all the baptized. We also can say that it is at the heart of her theological methodology because this total gift of self to Jesus through Love is absolutely indispensable in order to know, in-depth, the Mystery of the Love of Jesus.
François-Marie Léthel, O.C.D. La Lumière du Christ dans le Coeur de l’Église
I have come to bring you news of our sick, and it is quite satisfactory. Uncle is having great difficulty recovering from his last attack. His breathing is very heavy at times like someone out of breath, then there are two minutes when he has no air to breath at all. He has been looking very exhausted and despondent since his last attack, so his condition is still very precarious….
Your little sister
Marie Guérin Sister Marie of the Eucharist (1870-1905)
On 5 June 1894, St. Louis Martin suffered the first of two serious heart attacks that ultimately led to his death on 29 July 1894 at 70 years of age. Read the account of his heart attack here and the rest of Marie’s letter here.
we had the happiness of going to com[muni]on, the Same hour as before. mr neale receiv’d it from mr P. after having given it to us. the weather fine wind fair, some part of the day was almost a calm. I was dressed in a fine Silk petticoat and a chince jacket th[a]t had been given me in alms — w[hi]ch was So becoming & made me look So Extraordinarily fine th[a]t all my companions were jealous of me.
Mother Clare Joseph of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D. (Frances Dickinson, 1755-1830) Journal of a Trip to America, 3rd June 1790
Mother Clare Joseph of the Sacred Heart, O.C.D. was one of four foundresses of the Teresian Carmel in the United States of America in the summer of 1790. To her fell the task of keeping a daily journal of their ocean voyage aboard the three-masted, square-sailed, merchant frigate Brothers from Texel, Netherlands— departing 25 April — to New York, where they arrived on “friday Morning the 2d of July”. Although she makes no mention of it in her diary entry on the third of June, Mother Clare Joseph was quietly celebrating the anniversary of her profession in the Carmel of Antwerp on 3 June 1773. As for the mention of the petticoat and jacket: the nuns traveled in civilian attire.
You make me feel that it’s not impossible
To follow in your footsteps, O Queen of the elect.
You made visible the narrow road to Heaven
While always practicing the humblest virtues.
Near you, Mary, I like to stay little.
I see the vanity of greatness here below.
At the home of Saint Elizabeth, receiving your visit,
I learn how to practice ardent charity.
~ ~ ~
Saint Thérèse of Lisieux Why I Love You, O Mary (PN54, Stanza 6)
Saint Thérèse’s first draft of the poem is featured in the image above. Stanza 6 is the second stanza on the right side of the page. Lines 5-6 and 7-8 of the stanza appear in brackets.
View the complete image of St. Thérèse’s first draft of the poem, an image of her second draft, details of her corrections, and images of the finished poem and its full text in English or French at the website of the Archives of the Carmel of Lisieux.
I’m writing to recommend myself to your prayers, because I’m beginning my annual retreat this very evening. Pray also for our little Sr Louise of Jesus, a Lay Sister who is taking her profession on 5th June.
I’ll quickly reply to your question. We were not paid a visit by Cardinal di Belmonte, fortunately! I was dreading it.
Sr M. of the Trinity must tell Sr Marguerite afterwards that we went to Les Buissonnets, and I assure you, it was a worthwhile visit. It would take too long to give you the reasons for it, and they wouldn’t interest you anyway, but what a trip it was! I thought I was going to suffocate in the car because Sr M. of the S.H. had to half stand half sit on us. She was crushing us and we were crushing each other! Then we had to go up the path on foot! Fortunately, we were wearing Turn Sisters’ veils over our own and very loose black cloaks! Otherwise, we would have been lost! I met a lady who said something to me about taking advantage of our arrival to visit Les Buissonnets, because she had found the house closed. Boldly, I said, “Madam, we are strangers and the door will open for no one but us, because we cannot come back.” etc. and the lady left saying, “Oh, I understand!” Had she but known!
The Mother Superior of the Refuge and her assistant along with Sr Scholastica and Miss Mikaëlle welcomed us with open arms. It was thanks to the Mother Superior of the Refuge that we had the car and a very discreet person to drive us.
This was at about 4 o’clock. We stayed until about 6 o’clock, and didn’t waste a moment, as Sr Geneviève had to take measurements for the altar in Thérèse’s bedroom and for putting the bed that Jeanne is giving back to us in the alcove, etc. etc. There will be a railing in front of it to stop pilgrims from cutting it into little pieces. Since then, we have been advised to arrange things as they are currently, with the altar in the alcove and the bed with the keepsakes.
The path leading to Les Buissonnets was absolutely filthy! You have no idea, and apparently the Mayor is expecting us to pay to clean it up. I assure you, it’s scandalous and we’re going to seek His Lordship’s advice to find a clever solution, one that spares us a flogging. The house is very well kept. What memories! Truly, I wasn’t lying to the lady when I said that we were strangers. Yes, we really have become strangers to things here below. Nothing moves us and nothing interests us other than God’s glory.
This visit was a blessing for the three of us and made us feel that through God’s grace, we were indeed detached from everything.
When we arrived back at the Carmel, the Community was waiting for us in the garden, wearing long veils because the car came into the enclosure through the workers’ entrance (we had our faces uncovered of course).
And when the entrance closed again after the car left, there was an eruption of joy as though we had come back from China!
I was very touched by this welcome.
Goodbye, much-loved little sister. This letter is bound to make you laugh. I send my love and our little sisters do the same. Your little sister and mamma
The Mother Superior of the Refuge was very discrete and left us alone after a while. Sr Marie-Emmanuel was with us. There were 5 of us with Sr M. of the S.H. and myself. Sr M. of the S.H. and I looked at ourselves in the bedroom mirror. We laughed out loud at the transformation that has been wrought over the last 40 years!!!! It was before this very mirror that we gazed at ourselves as young girls!
The garden looks delightful.
This letter from Sister Agnes of Jesus (Pauline Martin) to her younger sister Sr Françoise-Therese (Léonie Martin) at the Visitation Monastery in Caen tells the story of the trip the three sisters of St. Therese in the Carmel of Lisieux — Pauline, Marie (Sr M. of the S.H.), and Céline (Sr Geneviève) — took to Les Buissonnets to prepare their childhood home to become a place of pilgrimage.
Note Pauline’s comment, “Sr M. of the S.H. and I looked at ourselves in the bedroom mirror. We laughed out loud at the transformation that has been wrought over the last 40 years!!!!” It was the custom among Discalced Carmelites prior to the conciliar reforms of the 20th c. not to keep any mirrors in a monastery, a custom that is still observed in many monasteries today. Was this the first time that Pauline and Marie had seen a mirror since they entered Carmel? A question that may remain unanswered…