Saint Thérèse explains how her radical revolution of trust, daring, and holy audacity, her limitless confidence in the love of God, began to take shape, and was strengthened and crystallized within her.
She shares her story with her beloved sister, Pauline – not only her blood sister, but her sister in the convent. Saint Thérèse writes that during a private retreat, and under obedience, she is asked to share the secrets of divine intimacy, of what Jesus had been doing and how He had been sweetly guiding her soul in tenderness.
Disclosing herself and laying her heart bare, St. Thérèse writes this account a little over a year after she has written The Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, a little over a year before she actually dies. She shares the awakening and discovery of her identity, and her journey of being able to make sense and understand the daring desires that God was inspiring in her.
It is important to know that when Thérèse wrote her autobiography, she had already begun her dark night of faith. She was not reveling in consolations and enjoying them in her life. She was going through a terrible storm in her soul. Previously, she had described that the experience was as if the sun had been hidden by the clouds of a great storm. She didn’t experience and feel the warmth of God’s rays of love in her life in any sensible way. Yet behind all of that – deep, deep down in her spirit – Jesus was still teaching her, coaching her, and leading her to the summit of this perfect marriage and total union with His love.
The context of her discovery of vocation was love, and it was Jesus who prepared the way for this discovery in her soul. This awakening and awareness didn’t just happen all at once; through other graces, Jesus led her through the mystery of what He was doing in her.
Our spiritual life often progresses and unfolds in the same way, through all these different seeds of how God is present to us, making Himself known and available. Little by little, we begin to grow in our own self-understanding. We realize that who we are is part of God’s grace, and that who we are is also a part of who He is. One grace at a time, God allows us to grow in the understanding of this mystery of love that we have been all wrapped into. We don’t understand it all at once. The knowledge and love of Him gradually begins to make sense to us as we trust and proceed with patience.
The particular grace that preceded Saint Thérèse’s vocation was a dream about Blessed Anne of Jesus; she was the first Carmelite nun and prioress who established the first foundation in France. Thérèse had no personal devotion to Anne of Jesus at all. She admits herself that she was practically indifferent to Anne of Jesus. She hardly thought about her or asked for her prayers.
But on the eve of the anniversary of the Blessed Mother appearing to Saint Thérèse and smiling, she dreamt about Anne of Jesus. When Saint Thérèse was a little child of about twelve, Our Blessed Mother appeared to her. At that time, she was going through the traumatic effects of the accumulation of suffering in her life, and was being tormented by attacks and affliction by the devil. She was going through a spiritual storm. Fortunately, Our Blessed Mother of Victory appeared, and through the radiance of her smile, granted Saint Thérèse this supernatural healing that brought rest to her heart and soul, and freed her from her affliction. This vision was a monumental moment in Saint Thérèse’s life.
Several years later, on the anniversary of that first dream, Saint Thérèse has another memorable dream. She found herself in a gallery among many people, sitting next to the Mother Prioress. Suddenly, she saw three nuns walking in, and she became very aware that they were three Carmelite nuns, with their white mantles and their long black veils. She also knew, without a doubt, that they were from heaven.
As they walked towards her, she was captivated by their beauty and she thought, ‘I would be so happy if I could see their faces.’ The tallest one of the three understood her intentions and knew what she desired. She lifted up her veil, put it around Thérese, and in that secret glance that Thérèse alone could see, an inner radiance glowed from her face and exuded a beauty that was out of this world. Anne looked upon her with so much affection. In that exhilarating joy and confidence brought on by the tenderness of Anne of Jesus’s glance upon her, Thérèse had the courage to ask, ‘Will Jesus take me soon from this life?’
She had this intuition because she had already started her final agony of suffering from the physical sickness that would eventually take her life. She felt that the end was near. With total tenderness, Anne of Jesus says, ‘Yes, soon and very soon, Jesus will come for you.’ In the audacity and spontaneity of a child, Thérèse asks, ‘Is Jesus content with all my actions? Are the little things I have to give Him enough?’
In other words, she was asking, ‘Am I deceiving myself? I have these huge desires, but I only have these little works and sacrifices that I offer to Him. Is He pleased with that? Am I on the right track?’ Blessed Anne of Jesus’s face transfigured with even more affection, love and divine compassion. With a look of supernatural approval and total joy, in response to this one question, ‘Is Jesus content with all that I feel He has been inspiring in me,’ Anne of Jesus replies, ‘Yes, He is very content.’
Saint Thérèse writes,
‘”Mother, tell me further if God is not asking something more of me than my poor little actions and desires. Is He content with me?’ The saint’s face took on an expression, and incomparably more tender than the first time she spoke to me. Her look and her caresses were the sweetest of answers. However, she said to me, ‘God asks no other thing from you. He is content. Very content.’”
She wakes up, but this dream leaves an indelible mark, a strong imprint in her soul, for she knew with certainty that the vision was supernatural and that it came from heaven.
This dream was very prophetic, because not only did it foresee and confirm her intuition that she would die at a young age, in the prime of her life, but that all the desires Jesus had inspired in her soul were not just for herself. The wisdom, the science of love that Jesus was teaching her about the little way was going to be for a legion of other people, other disciples, who would learn what it meant to make Jesus loved (to be continued).
Saint Thérèse, pray for us.
(SOURCE: Cristo Rey Retreat, San Francisco, September 2015)
Copyright 2016, Fr. Robert Barcelos. All rights reserved
Feast Day Novena Prayer
(This prayer is used by the Carmelites during the Feast Day Novena)
St. Therese, Flower of fervor and love, please intercede for us. Fill our hearts with your pure love of God. As we approach and celebrate your feast day, make us more aware of the goodness of God and how well He tends His garden. Instill in us your little way of doing ordinary things with extra-ordinary love.
Give us the heart of a child who wonders at life and embraces everything with loving enthusiasm. Teach us your delight in God’s ways so that divine charity may blossom in our hearts. Little Flower of Jesus, bring our petitions (mention in silence here) before God, our Father.
With your confidence, we come before Jesus as God’s children, because you are our heavenly friend. As we celebrate the Feast Day of your homecoming in heaven, continue to shower roses and grace upon us.
Editor’s note: Those of you who want to learn more about Saint Thérèse can also visit Maureen O’Riordan’s blog, “Saint Thérèse of Lisieux: A Gateway,” at http://www.thereseoflisieux.org/.
The Santa Clara OCDS will be sponsoring A Day of Recollection with St.Thérèse, with Maureen as our guest speaker on Saturday, November 11, 2017 at Santa Clara Monastery (1000 Lincoln Street). To register, please go to thespeakroom DONATE tab. ($20 donation suggested, but any amount is appreciated!)