The Story of a Soul
The Project Gutenberg EBook of The Story of a Soul (L'Histoire d'une Âme): The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, by Thérèse Martin (of Lisieux)
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Title: The Story of a Soul (L'Histoire d'une Âme): The Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux With Additional Writings and Sayings of St. Thérèse
Author: Thérèse Martin (of Lisieux)
Translator: Thomas Taylor
Release Date: September 28, 2005 [EBook #16772]
Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1
Produced by David McClamrock
This electronic edition of the autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux (The Story of a Soul) includes much, but not all, of the content of Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1912; 8th ed., 1922), edited by Rev. T.N. Taylor. All the translated writings and sayings of St. Thérèse contained in that book are in this electronic edition, including the autobiography as well as "Counsels and Reminiscences," letters, and selected poems. Also included are the preface by Cardinal Bourne, the prologue relating Thérèse's parentage and birth, and the epilogue describing her final illness, her death, and related events. Not included are the illustrations, the list of illustrations, accounts of favors attributed to the intercession of St. Thérèse, documents related to her beatification, and some other material not written by her.
Footnotes have been re-numbered sequentially in each chapter. They are presented at the end of each chapter, and some have been slightly modified for ease of reference. A few footnotes, referring to page numbers in the original, have been modified or omitted. Citations to the Psalms, many of which were numbered differently in Catholic Bibles of St. Thérèse's time than they commonly are today, have the "new" number in brackets next to the "old" number from the original--e.g., "Psalm 22:1-4." Footnote numbers are shown in brackets, e.g., "."
The original page headers, page numbering, disclaimer of any intention to anticipate the judgment of the Church in calling St. Thérèse a "saint" before her canonization, and other extraneous matter, which were deemed suitable for a printed book in 1922 but not for an e-book in 2005, are not here. The French "oe" ligature, in words such as "soeur," is not available in the standard ISO-8859-1 character set, and obviously is represented here by the two-letter combination "oe." Italics are represented by underscores at the beginning and end, like this. The first word of each chapter is not set in all caps as it was in the printed book. A few obvious typographical errors have been corrected, with the changes in brackets, e.g., "[s]he" for "the" in Chapter IX. All else, including capitalization, punctuation, grammar, and British spelling, is intended to reflect the content of the eighth edition of Soeur Thérèse of Lisieux. If it does not, the fault is that of the transcriber (me, David McClamrock).
NIHIL OBSTAT JOANNES N. STRASSMAIER, S.J. Censor Deputatus
IMPRIMATUR EDMUNDUS Canonicus SURMONT Vicarius Generalis
WESTMONASTERII, die nonâ Decembris, 1912.
Chapter I. Earliest Memories " II. A Catholic Household " III. Pauline Enters the Carmel " IV. First Communion and Confirmation " V. Vocation of Thérèse " VI. A Pilgrimage to Rome " VII. The Little Flower Enters the Carmel " VIII. Profession of Soeur Thérèse " IX. The Night of the Soul " X. The New Commandment " XI. A Canticle of Love
LETTERS OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE To Céline To Mother Agnes of Jesus To Sister Mary of the Sacred Heart To Sister Frances Teresa To Marie Guérin To Jeanne Guérin To Missionaries
PRAYERS OF SOEUR THÉRÈSE Her Act of Oblation A Morning Prayer Act of Consecration to the Holy Face Prayer in Honour of the Holy Child Prayer to the Holy Child Prayer to the Holy Face Prayer in Honour of St. Joan of Arc Prayer to Obtain Humility
SELECTED POEMS My Song of To-day Memories I Thirst for Love To Scatter Flowers Why I Love Thee, Mary
SHOWER OF ROSES [omitted]
PROCESS OF BEATIFICATION [omitted]
LETTERS OF PIUS X AND OTHERS [omitted]
INDULGENCED PRAYERS [omitted]
THIS BOOK IS DEDICATED TO THE SERVANT OF GOD, SOEUR THÉRÈSE, IN THANKSGIVING FOR GRACES OBTAINED, AND TO HER "PETITE MÈRE," MOTHER AGNES OF JESUS, IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF INNUMERABLE KINDNESSES EXTENDING OVER MANY YEARS
As we become acquainted with the histories of those in whom, in long succession, God has been pleased to show forth examples of holiness of life, it seems as if every phase of human existence had in the history of the Church received its consecration as a power to bring men nearer to their Maker. But there is no limit to the types of sanctity which the Creator is pleased to unfold before His Creatures. To many, on reading for the first time the story of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, it came almost as a shock to find a very youthful member of an austere Order, strictly retired from the world, engaged in hidden prayer and mortification, appearing before us to reveal to the whole world the wonders of the close intimacy of friendship to which her Divine Spouse had been pleased to call her. Certainly the way by which Soeur Thérèse was led is not the normal life of Carmel, nor hers the manner whereby most Carmelites are called to accomplish the wondrous apostolate of intercession to which their lives are given. But no less certain is it that, in her particular case, her work for God and her apostolate were not to be confined between the walls of her religious home, or to be limited by her few years on earth.
In the first place, we know that it was by obedience that the record of God's dealings with her soul were set down in writing. And again, the long tale of graces granted in such strange profusion through her intercession is proof sufficient that it was not without Divine permission and guidance that the history of her special and peculiar vocation has become the property of all Catholics in every land. It is for God to keep, and for Him to make known the secrets of His Love for men. And in the case of Soeur Thérèse it has been His Will to divulge His secrets in most generous consideration for our needs.
What are the hidden treasures which Our Divine Master thus reveals to us through His chosen little servant?
It is the old story of simplicity in God's service, of the perfect accomplishment of small recurring duties, of trustful confidence in Him who made and has redeemed and sanctified us. Humility, self-effacement, obedience, hiddenness, unfaltering charity, with all the self-control and constant effort that they imply, are written on every page of the history of this little Saint. And, as we turn its pages, the lesson is borne in upon our souls that there is no surer nor safer way of pleasing Our Father Who is in Heaven than by remaining ever as little children in His sight. Doubtless for many of her clients whose hearts are kindled as they read this book, Soeur Thérèse will obtain, as she has done so often in the past, wonderful gifts for health of soul and body. But may she win for all of us without exception a deep and fruitful conviction of the unchanging truth, that unless we become as little children in the doing of our Heavenly Father's Will, we cannot enter into our Eternal Home.
FRANCIS CARDINAL BOURNE, Archbishop of Westminster.
Feast of the Presentation of Our Blessed Lady, 1912.
In the month of September, 1843, a young man of twenty climbed the mountain of the Great St. Bernard. His eyes shone with a holy enthusiasm as the splendour of the Alps stirred to the depths his responsive nature. Presently, accustomed as they were to discern God's beauty in the beauty of His handiwork, they glistened with tears. He paused for a space, then, continuing his journey, soon reached the celebrated monastery that like a beacon on those heights darts afar its beams of faith and magnificent charity.
The Prior, struck by the frank and open countenance of his guest, welcomed him with more than wonted hospitality. Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin was the pilgrim's name. He was born on August 22, 1823, at Bordeaux, while his father, a brave and devout soldier, was captain in the garrison there. "God has predestined this little one for Himself," said the saintly Bishop of Bordeaux on the occasion of his baptism, and events have proved the truth of his words. From this town, by the banks of the Garonne, his parents went to Alençon in lower Normandy, and there in their new home, as in their old one, Louis was the cherished Benjamin.
It was not the loveliness of Swiss lakes and mountains and skies that had drawn the traveller from distant Alençon. He came to the monastery --and his journey was chiefly on foot--to consecrate his days to God. On learning his purpose the Prior questioned him upon his knowledge of Latin, only to discover that the young aspirant had not completed his course of studies in that language. "I am indeed sorry, my child," said the venerable monk, "since this is an essential condition, but you must not be disheartened. Go back to your own country, apply yourself diligently, and when you have ended your studies we shall receive you with open arms."
Louis was disappointed. He set out for home--for exile he would have said--but ere long he saw clearly that his life was to be dedicated to God in another and equally fruitful way, and that the Alpine monastery was to be nothing more to him than a sweet memory.
* * * * * *
A few years after the vain quest of Louis Martin, a similar scene was enacted in Alençon itself. Accompanied by her mother, Zélie Guérin--an attractive and pious girl--presented herself at the Convent of the Sisters of Charity in the hope of gaining admission. For years it had been her desire to share the Sisters' work, but this was not to be. In the interview that followed, the Superioress--guided by the Holy Ghost --decided unhesitatingly that Zélie's vocation was not for the religious life. God wanted her in the world, and so she returned to her parents, and to the companionship of her elder sister and her younger brother. Shortly afterwards the gates of the Visitation Convent at Le Mans closed upon her beloved sister, and Zélie's thoughts turned to the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. "O my God"--she repeated constantly-- "since I am unworthy to be Thy Spouse, like my dear sister, I shall enter the married state to fulfill Thy Holy Will, and I beseech Thee to make me the mother of many children, and to grant that all of them may be dedicated to Thee."
God gave ear to her prayer, and His Finger was visible in the circumstances which led to her becoming the wife of Louis Martin, on July 12, 1858, in Alençon's lovely Church of Notre Dame. Like the chaste Tobias, they were joined together in matrimony--"solely for the love of children, in whom God's Name might be blessed for ever and ever." Nine white flowers bloomed in this sacred garden. Of the nine, four were transplanted to Paradise ere their buds had quite unfolded, while five were gathered in God's walled gardens upon earth, one entering the Visitation Convent at Caen, the others the Carmel of Lisieux.
From the cradle all were dedicated to Mary Immaculate, and all received her name: Marie Louise, Marie Pauline, Marie Léonie, Marie Hélène, who died at the age of four and a half, Marie Joseph Louis, Marie Joseph Jean Baptiste, Marie Céline, Marie Mélanie Therèse, who died when three months old, and lastly, Marie Françoise Thérèse.
The two boys were the fruit of prayers and tears. After the birth of the four elder girls, their parents entreated St. Joseph to obtain for them the favour of a son who should become a priest and a missionary. Marie Joseph soon was given them, and his pretty ways appealed to all hearts, but only five months had run their course when Heaven demanded what it had lent. Then followed more urgent novenas.
The grandeur of the Priesthood, glorious upon earth, ineffable in eternity, was so well understood by those Christian parents, that their hearts coveted it most dearly. At all costs the family must have a Priest of the Lord, one who would be an apostle, peradventure a martyr. But, "the thoughts of the Lord are not our thoughts, His ways are not our ways." Another little Joseph was born, and with him hope once again grew strong. Alas! Nine months had scarcely passed when he, too, fled from this world and joined his angel brother.
They did not ask again. Yet, could the veil of the future have been lifted, their heavy hearts would, of a surety, have been comforted. A child was to be vouchsafed them who would be a herald of Divine love, not to China alone, but to all the ends of the earth.
Nay, they themselves were destined to shine as apostles, and we read on one of the first pages of the Portuguese edition of the Autobiography, these significant words of an eminent Jesuit:
"To the Sacred Memory of Louis Joseph Stanislaus Martin and of Zélie Guérin, the blessed parents of Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus, for an example to all Christian parents."
They little dreamed of this future apostolate, nevertheless they made ready their souls day by day to be God's own instruments in God's good time. With most loving resignation they greeted the many crosses which the Lord laid upon them--the Lord whose tender name of Father is truest in the dark hour of trial.
Every morning saw them at Mass; together they knelt at the Holy Table. They strictly observed the fasts and abstinences of the Church, kept Sunday as a day of complete rest from work in spite of the remonstrance of friends, and found in pious reading their most delightful recreation. They prayed in common--after the touching example of Captain Martin, whose devout way of repeating the Our Father brought tears to all eyes. Thus the great Christian virtues flourished in their home. Wealth did not bring luxury in its train, and a strict simplicity was invariably observed.
"How mistaken are the great majority of men!" Madame Martin used often to say. "If they are rich, they at once desire honours; and if these are obtained, they are still unhappy; for never can that heart be satisfied which seeks anything but God."
Her whole ambition as a mother was directed to Heaven. "Four of my children are already well settled in life," she once wrote; "and the others will go likewise to that Heavenly Kingdom--enriched with greater merit because the combat will have been more prolonged."
Charity in all its forms was a natural outlet to the piety of these simple hearts. Husband and wife set aside each year a considerable portion of their earnings for the Propagation of the Faith; they relieved poor persons in distress, and ministered to them with their own hands. On one occasion Monsieur Martin, like a good Samaritan, was seen to raise a drunken man from the ground in a busy thoroughfare, take his bag of tools, support him on his arm, and lead him home. Another time when he saw, in a railway station, a poor and starving epileptic without the means to return to his distant home, he was so touched with pity that he took off his hat and, placing in it an alms, proceeded to beg from the passengers on behalf of the sufferer. Money poured in, and it was with a heart brimming over with gratitude that the sick man blessed his benefactor.
Never did he allow the meannesses of human respect to degrade his Christian dignity. In whatever company he might be, he always saluted the Blessed Sacrament when passing a Church; and he never met a priest without paying him a mark of respect. A word from his lips sufficed to silence whosoever dared blaspheme in his presence.
In reward for his virtues, God showered even temporal blessings on His faithful servant. In 1871 he was able to give up his business as a jeweller, and retire to a house in the Rue St. Blaise. The making of point-lace, however, begun by Madame Martin, was still carried on.
In that house the "Little Flower of Jesus" first saw the sunshine. Again and again, in the pages of her Autobiography, she calls herself by this modest name of the Little Flower, emblematic of her humility, her purity, her simplicity, and it may be added, of the poetry of her soul. The reader will learn in the Epilogue how it was also used by one of her favourite martyr-saints--the now Blessed Théophane Vénard. On the manuscript of her Autobiography she set the title: "The Story of the Springtime of a little white Flower," and in truth such it was, for long ere the rigours of life's winter came round, the Flower was blossoming in Paradise.
It was, however, in mid-winter, January 2, 1873, that this ninth child of Louis Martin and Zélie Guérin was born. Marie and Pauline were at home for the Christmas holidays from the Visitation Convent at Le Mans, and though there was, it is true, a slight disappointment that the future priest was still denied them, it quickly passed, and the little one was regarded as a special gift from Heaven. Later on, her beloved Father delighted in calling her his "Little Queen," adding at times the high-sounding titles--"Of France and Navarre."
The Little Queen was indeed well received that winter's morning, and in the course of the day a poor waif rang timidly at the door of the happy home, and presented a paper bearing the following simple stanza:
"Smile and swiftly grow; All beckons thee to joy, Sweet love, and tenderest care. Smile gladly at the dawn, Bud of an hour!--for thou Shalt be a stately rose."
It was a charming prophecy, for the bud unfolded its petals and became a rose--a rose of love--but not for long, "for the space of a morn!"
* * * * * *
On January 4, she was carried to the Church of Notre Dame to receive the Sacrament of Baptism; her eldest sister, Marie, was her godmother, and she was given the name of Marie Françoise Thérèse.
All was joy at first, but soon the tender bud drooped on its delicate stem: little hope was held out--it must wither and die. "You must pray to St. Francis de Sales," wrote her aunt from the convent at Le Mans, "and you must promise, if the child recovers, to call her by her second name, Frances." This was a sword-thrust for the Mother. Leaning over the cradle of her Thérèse, she awaited the coming of the end, saying: "Only when the last hope has gone, will I promise to call her Frances."
The gentle St. Francis waived his claim in favour of the great Reformer of the Carmelite Order: the child recovered, and so retained her sweet name of Thérèse. Sorrow, however, was mixed with the Mother's joy, when it became necessary to send the babe to a foster-mother in the country. There the "little rose-bud" grew in beauty, and after some months had gained strength sufficient to allow of her being brought back to Alençon. Her memory of this short but happy time spent with her sainted Mother in the Rue St. Blaise was extraordinarily vivid. To-day a tablet on the balcony of No. 42 informs the passers-by that here was born a certain Carmelite, by name, Sister Teresa of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Fifteen years have gone since the meeting in Heaven of Madame Martin and her Carmelite child, and if the pilgrimage to where the Little Flower first saw the light of day, be not so large as that to the grave where her remains await their glorious resurrection, it may nevertheless be numbered in thousands. And to the English-speaking pilgrim there is an added pleasure in the fact that her most notable convert, the first minister of the United Free Church of Scotland to enter the True Fold, performs, with his convert wife, the courteous duties of host.
* * * * * *
It will not be amiss to say a brief word here on the brother and sister of Madame Martin. Her sister--in religion, Sister Marie Dosithea--led a life so holy at Le Mans that she was cited by Dom Guéranger, perhaps the most distinguished Benedictine of the nineteenth century, as the model of a perfect nun. By her own confession, she had never been guilty from earliest childhood of the smallest deliberate fault. She died on February 24, 1877. It was in the convent made fragrant by such holiness that her niece Pauline Martin, elder sister and "little mother" of Thérèse, and for five years her Prioress at the Carmel, received her education. And if the Little Flower may have imbibed the liturgical spirit from her teachers, the daughters of St. Benedict in Lisieux, so that she could say before her death: "I do not think it is possible for anyone to have desired more than I to assist properly at choir and to recite perfectly the Divine Office"--may it not be to the influences from Le Mans that may be traced something of the honey-sweet spirit of St. Francis de Sales which pervades the pages of the Autobiography?
With the brother of Zélie Guérin the reader will make acquaintance in the narrative of Thérèse. He was a chemist in Lisieux, and it was there his daughter Jeanne Guérin married Dr. La Néele and his younger child Marie entered the Carmel. Our foreign missionaries had a warm friend in the uncle of Thérèse--for his charities he was made godfather to an African King; and to the Catholic Press--that home missionary--he was ever most devoted. Founder, at Lisieux, of the Nocturnal Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, and a zealous member of the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, he was called to his abundant reward on September 28, 1909. Verily the lamp of faith is not extinct in the land of the Norman.
The Father of Thérèse, after the death of his wife, likewise made his home in the delightful town which lies amid the beautiful apple orchards of the valley of the Touques. Lisieux is deeply interesting by reason of its fine old churches of St. Jacques and St. Pierre, and its wonderful specimens of quaint houses, some of which date from the twelfth century. In matters of faith it is neither fervent nor hostile, and in 1877 its inhabitants little thought that through their new citizen, Marie Françoise Thérèse Martin, their town would be rendered immortal.
* * * * * *
"The cell at Lisieux reminds us of the cell of the Blessed Gabriel at Isola. There is the same even tenor of way, the same magnificant fidelity in little things, the same flames of divine charity, consuming but concealed. Nazareth, with the simplicity of its Child, and the calm abysmal love of Mary and Joseph--Nazareth, adorable but imitable, gives the key to her spirit, and her Autobiography does but repeat the lessons of the thirty hidden years."
And it repeats them with an unrivalled charm. "This master of asceticism," writes a biographer of St. Ignatius Loyola, "loved the garden and loved the flowers. In the balcony of his study he sat gazing on the stars: it was then Lainez heard him say: 'Oh, how earth grows base to me when I look on Heaven!' . . . The like imaginative strain, so scorned of our petty day, inhered in all the lofty souls of that age. Even the Saints of our day speak a less radiant language: and sanctity shows 'shorn of its rays' through the black fog of universal utilitarianism, the materiality which men have drawn into the very lungs of their souls."
This is not true of the sainted authoress of the chapters that follow-- "less radiant," in the medium of a translation. In her own inimitable pages, as in those of a Campion or an Ignatius, a Teresa of Avila, or a John of the Cross--the Spirit of Poetry is the handmaiden of Holiness. This new lover of flowers and student of the stars, this "strewer of roses," has uplifted a million hearts from the "base earth" and "black fog" to the very throne of God, and her mission is as yet but begun.
The pen of Soeur Thérèse herself must now take up the narrative. It will do so in words that do not merely tell of love but set the heart on fire, and at the same time lay bare the workings of God in a soul that "since the age of three never refused the Good God anything." The writing of this Autobiography was an act of obedience, and the Prioress who imposed the task sought, in all simplicity, her own personal edification. But the fragrance of its pages was such that she was advised to publish them to the world. She did so in 1899 under the title of L'Histoire d'une Âme. An English version by M. H. Dziewicki appeared in 1901.
This new translation relates more fully the story of the childhood, girlhood, and brief convent days of Soeur Thérèse. It tells of her "Roses," and sets forth again, in our world-wide tongue, her world-wide embassy--the ever ancient message of God's Merciful Love, the ever new way to Him of "confidence and self-surrender."
 The baptismal entry, with its numerous signatures, is shown to visitors, and a tablet in the baptistry of the beautiful Gothic church tells the pilgrim that here the "Little Queen" was made a child of God. [Ed.]
 "As Little Children": the abridged life of Soeur Thérèse. Published at the Orphans' Press, Rochdale.
 Francis Thompson.
It is to you, dear Mother, that I am about to confide the story of my soul. When you asked me to write it, I feared the task might unsettle me, but since then Our Lord has deigned to make me understand that by simple obedience I shall please Him best. I begin therefore to sing what must be my eternal song: "the Mercies of the Lord."
Before setting about my task I knelt before the statue of Our Lady which had given my family so many proofs of Our Heavenly Mother's loving care. As I knelt I begged of that dear Mother to guide my hand, and thus ensure that only what was pleasing to her should find place here.
Then opening the Gospels, my eyes fell on these words: "Jesus, going up into a mountain, called unto Him whom He would Himself."
They threw a clear light upon the mystery of my vocation and of my entire life, and above all upon the favours which Our Lord has granted to my soul. He does not call those who are worthy, but those whom He will. As St. Paul says: "God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
I often asked myself why God had preferences, why all souls did not receive an equal measure of grace. I was filled with wonder when I saw extraordinary favours showered on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine, St. Mary Magdalen, and many others, whom He forced, so to speak, to receive His grace. In reading the lives of the Saints I was surprised to see that there were certain privileged souls, whom Our Lord favoured from the cradle to the grave, allowing no obstacle in their path which might keep them from mounting towards Him, permitting no sin to soil the spotless brightness of their baptismal robe. And again it puzzled me why so many poor savages should die without having even heard the name of God.
Our Lord has deigned to explain this mystery to me. He showed me the book of nature, and I understood that every flower created by Him is beautiful, that the brilliance of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not lessen the perfume of the violet or the sweet simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all the lowly flowers wished to be roses, nature would lose its springtide beauty, and the fields would no longer be enamelled with lovely hues. And so it is in the world of souls, Our Lord's living garden. He has been pleased to create great Saints who may be compared to the lily and the rose, but He has also created lesser ones, who must be content to be daisies or simple violets flowering at His Feet, and whose mission it is to gladden His Divine Eyes when He deigns to look down on them. And the more gladly they do His Will the greater is their perfection.
I understood this also, that God's Love is made manifest as well in a simple soul which does not resist His grace as in one more highly endowed. In fact, the characteristic of love being self-abasement, if all souls resembled the holy Doctors who have illuminated the Church,
3 it seems that God in coming to them would not stoop low enough. But He has created the little child, who knows nothing and can but utter feeble cries, and the poor savage who has only the natural law to guide him, and it is to their hearts that He deigns to stoop. These are the field flowers whose simplicity charms Him; and by His condescension to them Our Saviour shows His infinite greatness. As the sun shines both on the cedar and on the floweret, so the Divine Sun illumines every soul, great and small, and all correspond to His care--just as in nature the seasons are so disposed that on the appointed day the humblest daisy shall unfold its petals.
You will wonder, dear Mother, to what all this is leading, for till now I have said nothing that sounds like the story of my life; but did you not tell me to write quite freely whatever came into my mind? So, it will not be my life properly speaking, that you will find in these pages, but my thoughts about the graces which it has pleased Our Lord to bestow on me.
I am now at a time of life when I can look back on the past, for my soul has been refined in the crucible of interior and exterior trials. Now, like a flower after the storm, I can raise my head and see that the words of the Psalm are realised in me: "The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing. He hath set me in a place of pasture. He hath brought me up on the water of refreshment. He hath converted my soul. He hath led me on the paths of justice for His own Name's sake. For though I should walk in the midst of the shadow of death, I will fear no evils for Thou are with me."
Yes, to me Our Lord has always been "compassionate and merciful, long-suffering and plenteous in mercy."
And so it gives me great joy, dear Mother, to come to you and sing His unspeakable mercies. It is for you alone that I write the story of the little flower gathered by Jesus. This thought will help me to speak freely, without troubling either about style or about the many digressions that I shall make; for a Mother's heart always understands her child, even when it can only lisp, and so I am sure of being understood and my meaning appreciated.
If a little flower could speak, it seems to me that it would tell us quite simply all that God has done for it, without hiding any of its gifts. It would not, under the pretext of humility, say that it was not pretty, or that it had not a sweet scent, that the sun had withered its petals, or the storm bruised its stem, if it knew that such were not the case.
The Little Flower, that now tells her tale, rejoiced in having to publish the wholly undeserved favours bestowed upon her by Our Lord. She knows that she had nothing in herself worthy of attracting Him: His Mercy alone showered blessings on her. He allowed her to grow in holy soil enriched with the odour of purity, and preceded by eight lilies of shining whiteness. In His Love He willed to preserve her from the poisoned breath of the world--hardly had her petals unfolded when this good Master transplanted her to the mountain of Carmel, Our Lady's chosen garden.
And now, dear Mother, having summed up in a few words all that God's goodness has done for me, I will relate in detail the story of my childhood. I know that, though to others it may seem wearisome, your motherly heart will find pleasure in it. In the story of my soul, up to the time of my entry into the Carmel, there are three clearly marked periods: the first, in spite of its shortness, is by no means the least rich in memories.
It extends from the dawn of reason to the death of my dearly loved Mother; in other words, till I was four years and eight months old. God, in His goodness, did me the favour of awakening my intelligence very early, and He has imprinted the recollections of my childhood so deeply in my memory that past events seem to have happened but yesterday. Without doubt He wished to make me know and appreciate the Mother He had given me. Alas! His Divine Hand soon took her from me to crown her in Heaven.
All my life it has pleased Him to surround me with affection. My first recollections are of loving smiles and tender caresses; but if He made others love me so much, He made me love them too, for I was of an affectionate nature.
You can hardly imagine how much I loved my Father and Mother, and, being very demonstrative, I showed my love in a thousand little ways, though the means I employed make me smile now when I think of them.
Dear Mother, you have given me the letters which my Mother wrote at this time to Pauline, who was at school at the Visitation Convent at Le Mans. I remember perfectly the events they refer to, but it will be easier for me simply to quote some passages, though these charming letters, inspired by a Mother's love, are too often full of my praises.
In proof of what I have said about my way of showing affection for my parents, here is an example: "Baby is the dearest little rogue; she comes to kiss me, and at the same time wishes me to die. 'Oh, how I wish you would die, dear Mamma,' she said, and when she was scolded she was quite astonished, and answered: 'But I want you to go to Heaven, and you say we must die to go there'; and in her outburst of affection for her Father she wishes him to die too. The dear little thing will hardly leave me, she follows me everywhere, but likes going into the garden best; when I am not there she refuses to stay, and cries so much that they are obliged to bring her back. She will not even go upstairs alone without calling me at each step, 'Mamma! Mamma!' and if I forget to answer 'Yes, darling!' she waits where she is, and will not move."
I was nearly three years old when my Mother wrote: "Little Thérèse asked me the other day if she would go to Heaven. 'Yes, if you are good,' I told her. 'Oh, Mamma,' she answered, 'then if I am not good, shall I go to Hell? Well, you know what I will do--I shall fly to you in Heaven, and you will hold me tight in your arms, and how could God take me away then?' I saw that she was convinced that God could do nothing to her if she hid herself in my arms."
"Marie loves her little sister very much; indeed she is a child who delights us all. She is extraordinarily outspoken, and it is charming to see her run after me to confess her childish faults: 'Mamma, I have pushed Céline; I slapped her once, but I'll not do it again.' The moment she has done anything mischievous, everyone must know. Yesterday, without meaning to do so, she tore off a small piece of wall paper; you would have been sorry for her--she wanted to tell her father immediately. When he came home four hours later, everyone else had forgotten about it, but she ran at once to Marie saying: 'Tell Papa that I tore the paper.' She waited there like a criminal for sentence; but she thinks she is more easily forgiven if she accuses herself."
Papa's name fills me with many happy memories. Mamma laughingly said he always did whatever I wanted, but he answered: "Well, why not? She is the Queen!" Then he would lift me on to his shoulder, and caress me in all sorts of ways. Yet I cannot say that he spoilt me. I remember one day while I was swinging he called out as he passed: "Come and kiss me, little Queen." Contrary to my usual custom, I would not stir, and answered pertly: "You must come for it, Papa." He refused quite rightly, and went away. Marie was there and scolded me, saying: "How naughty to answer Papa like that!" Her reproof took effect; I got off the swing at once, and the whole house resounded with my cries. I hurried upstairs, not waiting this time to call Mamma at each step; my one thought was to find Papa and make my peace with him. I need not tell you that this was soon done.
I could not bear to think I had grieved my beloved parents, and I acknowledged my faults instantly, as this little anecdote, related by my Mother, will show: "One morning before going downstairs I wanted to kiss Thérèse; she seemed to be fast asleep, and I did not like to wake her, but Marie said: 'Mamma, I am sure she is only pretending.' So I bent down to kiss her forehead, and immediately she hid herself under the clothes, saying in the tone of a spoilt child: 'I don't want anyone to look at me.' I was not pleased with her, and told her so. A minute or two afterwards I heard her crying, and was surprised to see her by my side. She had got out of her cot by herself, and had come downstairs with bare feet, stumbling over her long nightdress. Her little face was wet with tears: 'Mamma,' she said, throwing herself on my knee, 'I am sorry for being naughty--forgive me!' Pardon was quickly granted; I took the little angel in my arms and pressed her to my heart, smothering her with kisses."
I remember also my great affection for my eldest sister Marie, who had just left school. Without seeming to do so, I took in all that I saw and heard, and I think that I reflected on things then as I do now.
I listened attentively while she taught Céline, and was very good and obedient, so as to obtain the privilege of being allowed in the room during lessons. She gave me many trifling presents which pleased me greatly. I was proud of my two big sisters; but as Pauline seemed so far away from us, I thought of her all day long. When I was only just learning to talk, and Mamma asked: "What are you thinking about?" my answer invariably was: "Pauline." Sometimes I heard people saying that Pauline would be a nun, and, without quite knowing what it meant, I thought: "I will be a nun too." This is one of my first recollections, and I have never changed my mind; so it was the example of this beloved sister which, from the age of two, drew me to the Divine Spouse of Virgins. My dearest Mother, what tender memories of Pauline I could confide to you here! But it would take me too long.
Léonie had also a very warm place in my heart; she loved me very much, and her love was returned. In the evening when she came home from school she used to take care of me while the others went out, and it seems to me I can still hear the sweet songs she sang to put me to sleep. I remember perfectly the day of her First Communion, and I remember also her companion, the poor child whom my Mother dressed, according to the touching custom of the well-to-do families in Alençon. This child did not leave Léonie for an instant on that happy day, and in the evening at the grand dinner she sat in the place of honour. Alas! I was too small to stay up for this feast, but I shared in it a little, thanks to Papa's goodness, for he came himself to bring his little Queen a piece of the iced cake.
The only one now left to speak of is Céline, the companion of my childhood. My memories of her are so many that I do not know which to choose.
We understood each other perfectly, but I was much more forward and lively, and far less ingenuous. Here is a letter which will show you, dear Mother, how sweet was Céline, and how naughty Thérèse. I was then nearly three years old, and Céline six and a half. "Céline is naturally inclined to be good; as to the little puss, Thérèse, one cannot tell how she will turn out, she is so young and heedless. She is a very intelligent child, but has not nearly so sweet a disposition as her sister, and her stubbornness is almost unconquerable. When she has said 'No,' nothing will make her change; one could leave her all day in the cellar without getting her to say 'Yes.' She would sooner sleep there."
I had another fault also, of which my Mother did not speak in her letters: it was self-love. Here are two instances: --One day, no doubt wishing to see how far my pride would go, she smiled and said to me, "Thérèse, if you will kiss the ground I will give you a halfpenny." In those days a halfpenny was a fortune, and in order to gain it I had not far to stoop, for I was so tiny there was not much distance between me and the ground; but my pride was up in arms, and holding myself very erect, I said, "No, thank you, Mamma, I would rather go without it."
Another time we were going into the country to see some friends. Mamma told Marie to put on my prettiest frock, but not to let me have bare arms. I did not say a word, and appeared as indifferent as children of that age should be, but I said to myself, "I should have looked much prettier with bare arms."
With such a disposition I feel sure that had I been brought up by careless parents I should have become very wicked, and perhaps have lost my soul. But Jesus watched over His little Spouse, and turned even her faults to advantage, for, being checked early in life, they became a means of leading her towards perfection. For instance, as I had great self-love and an innate love of good as well, it was enough to tell me once: "You must not do that," and I never wanted to do it again. Having only good example before my eyes, I naturally wished to follow it, and I see with pleasure in my Mother's letters that as I grew older I began to be a greater comfort. This is what she writes in 1876: "Even Thérèse is anxious to make sacrifices.
Marie has given her little sisters a string of beads on purpose to count their acts of self-denial. They have really spiritual, but very amusing, conversations together. Céline said the other day: 'How can God be in such a tiny Host?' Thérèse answered: 'That is not strange, because God is Almighty!' 'And what does Almighty mean?' 'It means that He can do whatever He likes.'
"But it is more amusing still to see Thérèse put her hand in her pocket, time after time, to pull a bead along the string, whenever she makes a little sacrifice. The children are inseparable, and are quite sufficient company for one another. Nurse has given Thérèse two bantams, and every day after dinner she and Céline sit by the fire and play with them.
"One morning Thérèse got out of her cot and climbed into Céline's. The nurse went to fetch her to be dressed, and, when at last she found her, the little thing said, hugging her sister very hard: 'Oh, Louise! leave me here, don't you see that we are like the little white bantams, we can't be separated from one another.'"
It is quite true that I could not be separated from Céline; I would rather leave my dessert unfinished at table than let her go without me, and I would get down from my high chair when she did, and off we went to play together. On Sundays, as I was still too small to go to the long services, Mamma stayed at home to take care of me. I was always very good, walking about on tip-toe; but as soon as I heard the door open there was a tremendous outburst of joy--I threw myself on my dear little sister, exclaiming: "Oh, Céline! give me the blessed bread, quick!" One day she had not brought any--what was to be done? I could not do without it, for I called this little feast my Mass. A bright idea struck me: "You have no blessed bread! --make some." Céline immediately opened the cupboard, took out the bread, cut a tiny bit off, and after saying a Hail Mary quite solemnly over it, triumphantly presented it to me; and I, making the sign of the Cross, ate it with devotion, fancying it tasted exactly like the real blessed bread.
One day Léonie, thinking no doubt that she was too big to play with dolls, brought us a basket filled with clothes, pretty pieces of stuff, and other trifles on which her doll was laid: "Here, dears," she said, "choose whatever you like." Céline looked at it, and took a woollen ball. After thinking about it for a minute, I put out my hand saying: "I choose everything," and I carried off both doll and basket without more ado.
This childish incident was a forecast, so to speak, of my whole life. Later on, when the way of perfection was opened out before me, I realised that in order to become a Saint one must suffer much, always seek the most perfect path, and forget oneself. I also understood that there are many degrees of holiness, that each soul is free to respond to the calls of Our Lord, to do much or little for His Love--in a word, to choose amongst the sacrifices He asks. And then also, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: "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. Accept the offering of my will, for I choose all that Thou willest."
But, dear Mother, I am forgetting myself--I must not tell you yet of my girlhood, I am still speaking of the baby of three and four years old.
I remember a dream I had at that age which impressed itself very deeply on my memory. I thought I was walking alone in the garden when, suddenly, I saw near the arbour two hideous little devils dancing with surprising agility on a barrel of lime, in spite of the heavy irons attached to their feet. At first they cast fiery glances at me; then, as though suddenly terrified, I saw them, in the twinkling of an eye, throw themselves down to the bottom of the barrel, from which they came out somehow, only to run and hide themselves in the laundry which opened into the garden. Finding them such cowards, I wanted to know what they were going to do, and, overcoming my fears, I went to the window. The wretched little creatures were there, running about on the tables, not knowing how to hide themselves from my gaze. From time to time they came nearer, peering through the windows with an uneasy air, then, seeing that I was still there, they began to run about again looking quite desperate. Of course this dream was nothing extraordinary; yet I think Our Lord made use of it to show me that a soul in the state of grace has nothing to fear from the devil, who is a coward, and will even fly from the gaze of a little child.
Dear Mother, how happy I was at that age! I was beginning to enjoy life, and goodness itself seemed full of charms. Probably my character was the same as it is now, for even then I had great self-command, and made a practice of never complaining when my things were taken; even if I was unjustly accused, I preferred to keep silence. There was no merit in this, for I did it naturally.
How quickly those sunny years of my childhood passed away, and what tender memories they have imprinted on my mind! I remember the Sunday walks when my dear Mother always accompanied us; and I can still feel the impression made on my childish heart at the sight of the fields bright with cornflowers, poppies, and marguerites. Even at that age I loved far-stretching views, sunlit spaces and stately trees; in a word, all nature charmed me and lifted up my soul to Heaven.
Often, during these walks, we met poor people. I was always chosen to give them an alms, which made me feel very happy. Sometimes, my dear Father, knowing the way was too long for his little Queen, took me home. This was a cause of grief, and to console me Céline would fill her basket with daisies, and give them to me on her return. Truly everything on earth smiled on me; I found flowers strewn at every step, and my naturally happy disposition helped to make life bright. But a new era was about to dawn.
I was to be the Spouse of Our Lord at such an early age that it was necessary I should suffer from my childhood. As the early spring flowers begin to come up under the snow and open at the first rays of the sun, so the Little Flower whose story I am writing had to pass through the winter of trial and to have her tender cup filled with the dew of tears.
 Ps. 88:1.
 This statue twice appeared as if endowed with life, in order to enlighten and console Mme. Martin, mother of Thérèse. A like favour was granted to Thérèse herself, as will be seen in the course of the narrative.
 Mark Mc 3,13
 Cf. Exodus Ex 33,19
 Cf. Rom. Rm 9,16
 Cf. Ps 22,1-4 .
 Ps 102,8 .
 The custom still prevails in some parts of France of blessing bread at the Offertory of the Mass and then distributing it to the faithful. It is known as pain bénit. This blessing only takes place at the Parochial Mass. [Ed.]
The Story of a Soul