March 19, 1897
Our good Mother has just given me your letters despite Lent (a time when we do not write to Carmel). She wants to allow me to answer you today, because we fear that our November letter has gone to visit the depths of the Blue River. Yours dated in September made a happy crossing and came to rejoice your mother and your little sister on the feast of All Saints; that of January 20 comes to us under the protection of Saint Joseph. Since you take example from me to write me on all lines, I don't want to lose this good habit which however makes my ugly handwriting even more difficult to decipher... Ah! when will we no longer need ink and paper to communicate our thoughts to us? You missed, my brother, already going to visit this enchanted country where one can make oneself understood without writing and even without speaking; with all my heart, I thank God for having left you on the battlefield so that for Him you may win many victories; your sufferings have already saved many souls. Saint John of the Cross said: "The smallest movement of pure love is more useful to the Church than all the works put together." If so, how profitable your sorrows and your trials must be to the Church, since it is for the love of Jesus alone that you suffer them with joy. Truly, my brother, I cannot pity you, since in you are realized these words of the Imitation: "When you find suffering sweet and you love it for the love of Jesus Christ, you will have found the Heaven on earth". This Paradise is indeed that of the missionary and the Carmelite; the joy that worldlings seek in pleasures is only a fleeting shadow, but our joy, sought and tasted in labors and sufferings, is a very sweet reality, a foretaste of Heaven's bliss .
Your letter, imbued with holy gaiety, interested me very much, I followed your example and I laughed heartily at the expense of your cook who I see smashing his pot... your business card so amused, I don't even know which way to turn it, I'm like a child who wants to read a book by turning it upside down.
But going back to your cooking, would you believe that sometimes in Carmel we also have fun adventures?
The Carmel, like the Sutchuen, is a foreign country in the world, where one loses its most primitive uses, here is a small example. A charitable person recently gave us a small well-tied lobster in a basket. Doubtless it had been a long time since this marvel had been seen in the monastery, our good cook Sister remembered, however, that it was necessary to put the little beast in water to cook it; she did so with a groan at being forced to exercise such cruelty on an innocent creature. The innocent creature seemed asleep and let herself be done as we wanted; but as soon as she felt the heat, her gentleness changed to fury, and knowing her innocence, she asked no one's permission to jump into the middle of the kitchen, for her charitable executioner had not put a lid on the pot. Immediately the poor Sister armed herself with tweezers and ran after the lobster which made desperate leaps. The fight goes on for quite a long time, finally weary of the struggle, the cook, still armed with her tweezers, comes in tears to find our Mother and tells her that the lobster is frenzied. His face said even more than his words. (Poor little creature so sweet, so innocent just now, so you're devilish! really, you must not believe in the compliments of creatures!) Our Mother cannot help laughing while listening to the declarations of the severe judge who demands justice, she immediately went to the kitchen, took the lobster which, having not done vow of obedience made some resistance, then having put him in his prison, went away but after having closed the door, that is to say the lid. In the evening at recreation, the whole community laughs to tears at the devilish little lobster and the next day everyone can taste a bite. The person who wanted to treat us did not miss his goal, because the famous lobster or rather his story will serve us more than once as a feast, not in the refectory, but at recreation. My little story may not seem very amusing to you, but I can assure you that if you had attended the session, you would not have kept your seriousness... finally, my brother, if I bore you, please forgive me, now I will speak more seriously. Since your departure, I have read the lives of several missionaries (in my letter, which you may not have received, I thanked you for the Life of Father Nempon). I read, among others, that of Théophane Vénard which interested and touched me more than I can say; under this impression, I have composed a few couplets which are completely personal to me. I am sending them to you, however, our good Mother told me that she thought these verses would be pleasant to my brother from Sutchuen. The penultimate verse calls for some explanation: I say that with happiness I would leave for Tonkin if the good Lord deigned to call me there. This may surprise you, isn't it indeed a dream that a Carmelite nun thinks of leaving for Tonkin? Well ! no, it's not a dream and I can even assure you that if Jesus does not come to get me soon for the Carmel of Heaven, I will leave one day for that of Hanoi, because now there is a Carmel in this city , it is that of Saigon which founded it recently. You have visited the latter and you know that in Cochinchina an order like ours cannot sustain itself without French subjects, but alas! vocations are very rare and often the superiors do not want to let go of the sisters whom they believe capable of rendering service to their own community. Thus, in her youth, our good Mother was prevented by the will of her superior from going to support the Carmel of Saigon, it is not for me to complain about it, I thank God for having inspired so well her representative, but I remember that mothers' wishes sometimes come true in children and I would not be surprised to go to the unfaithful shore to pray and suffer as our Mother would have wanted to do... It must be admitted that the news sent to us from Tonkin is not, however, very reassuring: at the end of last year, thieves entered the poor monastery, they entered the cell of the prioress who did not awake, but in the morning she did not find her crucifix next to her (at night the crucifix of a Carmelite woman always rests near her head attached to the pillow), a small cupboard had been broken and the little money making up all the material treasure of the Community had disappeared.
Perhaps you want to know what our Mother thinks of my desire to go to Tonkin? She believes in my vocation (because really, one needs a separate one and not every Carmelite feels called to go into exile) but she does not believe that my vocation can ever be fulfilled, for that the scabbard would have to be as solid as the sword and perhaps (our Mother believes it) the scabbard would be thrown into the sea before arriving in Tonkin. It's really not convenient to be composed of a body and a soul! this miserable brother the donkey, as Saint Francis of Assisi called him, often gets in the way of his noble sister and prevents her from going where she wants... Anyway, I don't want to curse him despite his faults, he is still good for something since he makes Heaven win for his companion and wins it for himself and is just as pleasing.
I don't worry at all about the future, I'm sure that the good Lord will do his will, it's the only grace I want, you can't be more royalist than the king... Jesus doesn't needs someone to do his work and if he accepted me, it would be out of pure goodness, but to tell you the truth, my brother, I rather believe that Jesus will treat me like a lazy little girl; I do not want it, because I would be very happy to work and suffer for a long time for Him, so I ask Him to be content in me, that is to say, to pay no attention to my desires, either to to love while suffering, or to go and enjoy Him in Heaven. I do hope, my brother, that if I left exile, you would not forget your promise to pray for me, you have always accepted my requests with such great kindness that I still dare to make one to you. I do not want you to ask the good Lord to deliver me from the flames of purgatory; Saint Thérèse said to her daughters when they wanted to pray for herself: "What does it matter to me to remain until the end of the world in purgatory if by my prayers I save a single soul!" This word finds an echo in my heart, I would like to save souls and forget myself for them; I would like to save some even after my death, so I would be happy if you would then say instead of the little prayer that you make and which will be fulfilled forever: "My God, allow my sister to make you still loved". If Jesus listens to you, I will know how to express my gratitude to you... You are asking me, my brother, to choose between the two names Marie or Thérèse for one of the little girls whom you will baptize; since the Chinese do not want two protectors instead of one, they must be given the most powerful one, so it is the Blessed Virgin who wins. Later, when you baptize many children, you would please my sister (a Carmelite like me) by calling two little sisters Céline and Thérèse, these are the names we bear in the world. Céline, almost four years older than me, came to join me after closing our good father's eyes; this dear Sister does not know the intimate relations that I have with you, only as we often speak in recreation of the missionary of our Mother (name that you bear in the Carmel of Lisieux), she told me lately her desire that, through you, Céline and Thérèse go to live again in China.
Excuse, my brother, my requests and my too long chatter and condescend to bless
Your unworthy little Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face