Carmel of Lisieux
In Carmel on November 1, 1896
Your interesting missive, which arrived under the patronage of all the Saints, gives me great joy. Thank you for treating me like a true sister; with the grace of Jesus I hope to make myself worthy of this title which is so dear to me.
I also thank you for sending us “The Soul of a Missionary”, this book interested me greatly, it allowed me to follow you during your distant journey. The life of Father Nempon is perfectly titled, it is indeed the soul of a missionary that it reveals, or rather, the soul of all the apostles truly worthy of the name.
You ask me (in the letter written in Marseilles) to pray to Our Lord to remove from you the cross of being named director in a seminary or even that of returning to France. I understand that this prospect is not pleasant to you; with all my heart I ask Jesus to deign to let you fulfill the laborious apostolate as your soul has always dreamed of it. However, I add with you: “God's will be done”. Only there is rest, apart from this loving will we would do nothing, neither for Jesus nor for souls.
I cannot tell you, my Brother, how happy I am to see you so completely abandoned in the hands of your superiors, it seems to me that this is certain proof that one day my wishes will be realized, that is to say say that you will be a great Saint.
Allow me to confide in you a secret which has just been revealed to me by the sheet on which the memorable dates of your life are written.
- On September 8, 1890, your vocation as a missionary was saved by Mary, Queen of the Apostles and Martyrs; on that same day a little Carmelite woman became the wife of the King of Heaven. Saying an eternal farewell to the world, his only goal was to save souls, especially the souls of apostles. To Jesus, her divine Spouse, she particularly asked for an apostolic soul, unable to be a priest, she wanted a priest in her place to receive the graces of the Lord, to have the same aspirations, the same desires as her...
My Brother, you know the unworthy Carmelite who made this prayer. Don't you think, like me, that our union, confirmed on the day of your priestly ordination, began on September 8? this Beloved Saviour, lifting a little the mysterious veil which hides the secrets of eternity, deigned to give me from exile the consolation of knowing the brother of my soul, of working with him for the salvation of the poor infidels.
Oh ! how great is my gratitude when I consider the delicacies of Jesus!... What does he have in store for us in Heaven if here below, his love dispenses us from such delicious surprises?
More than ever, I understand that the smallest events of our life are led by God, it is He who makes us desire and who fulfills our desires... When our good Mother proposed to me to become your auxiliary, I confess to you, my brother, that I hesitated. Considering the virtues of the Carmelite saints around me, it seemed to me that our Mother would have served your spiritual interests better by choosing a sister other than me; only the thought that Jesus would not have regard for my imperfect works but for my good will, made me accept the honor of sharing your apostolic works. I did not know then that Our Lord Himself had chosen me, he who uses the weakest instruments to work wonders!... I did not know that for 6 years I had a brother who was preparing to to become a Missionary; now that this brother is truly his Apostle, Jesus reveals this mystery to me in order no doubt to further increase in my heart the desire to love him and to make him loved.
Do you know, my brother, that if the Lord continues to answer my prayer, you will obtain a favor that your humility prevents you from requesting? This incomparable favour, you guess it, is martyrdom...
Yes, I have the hope, after long years spent in apostolic works, after having given Jesus love for love, life for life, you will also give him blood for blood...
While writing these lines, it comes to my mind that they will reach you in the month of January, month during which we exchange happy wishes. I do believe that your little sister's will be the only ones of their kind... indeed, the world would call such wishes madness, but for us, the world no longer lives and "our conversation is already in Heaven", our only desire is to resemble our Adorable Master whom the world did not want to recognize because He annihilated Himself, taking the form and nature of a slave. O my brother! how happy you are to follow the example of Jesus so closely... Thinking that you have put on the Chinese costume, I naturally think of the Savior putting on our poor humanity and becoming like one of us in order to redeem our souls for eternity.
You may find me a good child, but no matter, I confess that I committed a sin of envy when I read that your hair was going to be cut and replaced by a Chinese braid. It's not the latter that I coveted, but quite simply a small strand of hair that has become useless. You will doubtless ask me, laughing, what I will do with it? Well, it's quite simple, this hair will be relics for me when you are in Heaven, the palm of martyrdom in your hand. You no doubt find that I set about it a long time in advance, but I know that it is the only way to reach my goal, because your little sister (who is only recognized as such by Jesus) will be certainly forgotten in the distribution of your relics. I'm sure you're laughing at me, but that doesn't matter to me. If you agree to pay for the little recreation that I am giving you with: "The hair of a future Martyr" I will be well rewarded.
On December 25, I will not fail to send my angel to place my intentions with the host that will be consecrated by you. It is from the depths of my heart that I thank you for offering for Our Mother and for me your mass at dawn; while you are at the Altar, we will sing the Christmas matins which immediately precede midnight mass.
My Brother, you were not mistaken in saying that without doubt my intentions would be “to thank Jesus for the day of grace among all”. It was not on that day that I received the grace of a religious vocation. Our Lord, wanting my first look for Him alone, condescended to ask my heart from the cradle, if I can express myself thus.
Christmas Eve 1886 was, it is true, decisive for my vocation, but to name it more clearly I must call it: the night of my conversion. On this blessed night which it is written illuminates the delights of God himself, Jesus, who became a child out of love for me, deigned to bring me out of the swaddling clothes and imperfections of childhood, He transformed me in such a way that I no longer recognized myself. Without this change I would have had to stay many more years in the world. Saint Thérèse who said to her daughters: "I want you to be women in no way, but in everything to equal strong men", Saint Thérèse would not have wanted to recognize me as her child if the Lord had not clothed in his divine strength, if he had not himself armed me for war.
I promise you, my Brother, to commend to Jesus in a very special way the young girl of whom you are speaking to me and who encounters obstacles to her vocation, I sincerely sympathize with her pain, knowing by experience how bitter it is not to to be able to respond immediately to God's call. I wish her not to be obliged like me to go as far as Rome... No doubt you do not know that your sister had the audacity to speak to the Pope?... It is true however, and if I had not had this audacity, perhaps I would still be in the world.
Jesus said that "the kingdom of Heaven suffers violence and only the violent can ravish it", it was the same for me in the kingdom of Carmel. Before being the prisoner of Jesus, I had to travel far to snatch the prison that I preferred to all the palaces on earth, so I had no desire to make a trip for my personal pleasure, and when my incomparable father offered to take me to Jerusalem if I wanted to delay my entry for two or three months, I did not hesitate (despite the natural attraction which led me to visit the places sanctified by the life of the Savior), rest in the shade of the one I had longed for. I truly understood that one day spent in the house of the Lord is better than a thousand anywhere else.
Perhaps, my Brother, you would like to know what obstacle I encountered in the fulfillment of my vocation; this obstacle was none other than my youth, our good Father Superior formally refused to receive me before I was 21, saying that a child of 15 was not capable of knowing what she was committing herself to. His behavior was prudent and I have no doubt that by testing me he was accomplishing the will of the good God who wanted me to conquer the fortress of Carmel at the point of the sword, perhaps Jesus also allowed the devil to hinder a vocation which should not, I believe, be to the liking of this villain deprived of love as our Holy Mother called him; fortunately all his tricks turned to his shame, they only served to make the victory of a child more brilliant. If I wanted to write to you all the details of the fight I had to sustain, I would need a lot of time, ink and paper; Told by a more skilful person these details would, I believe, be of interest to you, but it is not mine that knows how to give charm to a long story, so I beg your pardon for having perhaps bored you already.
You promise me, my Brother, to continue each morning to say to the Holy Altar: "My God, set my sister ablaze with your love", I am deeply grateful to you and I have no difficulty in assuring you that your conditions are and will always be accepted. Everything I ask Jesus for me, I also ask for you; when I offer my weak love to the Beloved, I allow myself to offer yours at the same time. Like Joshua you fight in the plain, I am your little Moses, and my heart is constantly lifted up to Heaven to obtain victory. O my Brother, how much you would be pitied if Jesus Himself did not support the arms of your Moses!... But with the help of the prayer that every day you address for me to the Divine Prisoner of love, I hope that you will never be pitied, and that after this life during which we will have sown together in tears, we will find ourselves joyful carrying sheaves in our hands.
I very much liked the little sermon you addressed to Our good Mother to exhort her to remain on earth; it is not long but, as you say, there is nothing to reply, I see that you will not have much difficulty in convincing your listeners when you preach, and I hope that an abundant harvest of souls will be picked up and offered by you to the Lord.- I realize that I am at the end of my paper, which forces me to stop my scribbling. However, I want to tell you that all your birthdays will be faithfully celebrated by me. July 3 will be particularly dear to me since on this day you received Jesus for the 1st time and on this same date, I received Jesus from your hand and attended your 1st mass in Carmel.
Bless, my Brother, your unworthy sister.
Therese of the Child Jesus. rel.carm.ind.
(I recommend to your prayers a young seminarian who would like to be a missionary, his vocation has just been shaken by the military year).