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The Story Of A Soul
The Autobiography of St. Therese Of Lisieux

LETTERS TO MOTHER AGNES OF JESUS
Selections




I

(Written in 1887, shortly before Thérèse entered the Carmel.)

MY DARLING LITTLE MOTHER,--You are right when you tell me that every cup must contain its drop of gall. I find that trials are a great help towards detachment from the things of earth: they make one look higher than this world. Nothing here can satisfy, and we can find rest only in holding ourselves ready to do God's will.

My frail barque has great difficulty in reaching port. I sighted it long since, and still I find myself afar off. Yet Jesus steers this little barque, and I am sure that on His appointed day it will come safely to the blessed haven of the Carmel. O Pauline! when Jesus shall have vouchsafed me this grace, I wish to give myself entirely to Him, to suffer always for Him, to live for Him alone. I do not fear His rod, for even when the smart is keenest we feel that it is His sweet Hand which strikes.

It is such joy to think that for each pain cheerfully borne we shall love God more through eternity. Happy should I be if at the hour of my death I could offer Jesus a single soul. There would be one soul less in hell, and one more to bless God in Heaven.


II

(Written during her retreat before receiving the habit.)

January, 1889.

Dryness and drowsiness--such is the state of my soul in its intercourse with Jesus! But since my Beloved wishes to sleep I shall not prevent Him. I am only too happy that He does not treat me as a stranger, but rather in a homely way. He riddles his "little ball" with pin-pricks that hurt indeed, though when they come from the Hand of this loving Friend, the pain is all sweetness, so gentle in His touch. How different the hand of man!

Yet I am happy, most happy to suffer! If Jesus Himself does not pierce me, He guides the hand which does. Mother! If you knew how utterly indifferent to earthly things I desire to be, and of how little concern to me are all the beauties of creation. I should be wretched were I to possess them. My heart seems so vast when I think of the goods of earth--all of them together unable to fill it. But by the side of Jesus how small does it appear! He is full good to me--this God who soon will be my Spouse. He is divinely lovable for not permitting me to be the captive of any passing joy. He knows well that if He sent me but a shadow of earthly happiness I should cling to it with all the intense ardour of my heart, and He refuses even this shadow . . . He prefers to leave me in darkness, rather than afford me a false glimmer which would not be Himself.

I do not wish creatures to have one atom of my love. I wish to give all to Jesus, since He makes me understand that He alone is perfect happiness. All!--all shall be for Him! And even when I have nothing, as is the case to-night, I will give Him this nothing . . .


III

1889.

. . . . . . .

I have a longing for those heart-wounds, those pin-pricks which inflict so much pain. I know of no ecstasy to which I do not prefer sacrifice. There I find happiness, and there alone. The slender reed has no fear of being broken, for it is planted beside the waters of Love. When, therefore, it bends before the gale, it gathers strength in the refreshing stream, and longs for yet another storm to pass and sway its head. My very weakness makes me strong. No harm can come to me since, in whatever happens, I see only the tender Hand of Jesus . . . Besides, no suffering is too big a price to pay for the glorious palm.


IV

(Written during her retreat before profession.)

September, 1890.

MY DEAREST MOTHER,--Your little hermit must give you an account of her journey. Before starting, my Beloved asked me in what land I wished to travel, and what road I wished to take. I told him that I had only one desire, that of reaching the summit of the _Mountain of Love._

Thereupon roads innumerable spread before my gaze, but so many of these were perfect that I felt incapable of choosing any of my own free will. Then I said to my Divine Guide: "Thou knowest where lies the goal of my desire, and for Whose sake I would climb the Mountain. Thou knowest Who possesses the love of my heart. For Him only I set out on this journey; lead me therefore by the paths of His choosing: my joy shall be full if only He is pleased."

And Our Lord took me by the hand, and led me through an underground passage where it is neither hot nor cold, where the sun shines not, and where neither wind nor rain can enter--a place where I see nothing but a half-veiled light, the light that gleams from the downcast Eyes of the Face of Jesus.

My Spouse speaks not a word, and I say nothing save that I love Him more than myself; and in the depths of my heart I know this is true, for I am more His than mine. I cannot see that we are advancing toward our journey's goal since we travel by a subterranean way; and yet, without knowing how, it seems to me that we are nearing the summit of the Mountain.

I give thanks to my Jesus for making me walk in darkness, and in this darkness I enjoy profound peace. Willingly do I consent to remain through all my religious life in this gloomy passage into which He has led me. I desire only that my darkness may obtain light for sinners. I am content, nay, full of joy, to be without all consolation. I should be ashamed if my love were like that of those earthly brides who are ever looking for gifts from their bridegrooms, or seeking to catch the loving smile which fills them with delight.

Thérèse, the little Spouse of Jesus, loves Him for Himself; she only looks on the Face of her Beloved to catch a glimpse of the Tears which delight her with their secret charm. She longs to wipe away those Tears, or to gather them up like priceless diamonds with which to adorn her bridal dress. _Jesus!_ . . . _Oh! I would so love Him! Love Him as He has never yet been loved!_ . . .

At all cost I must win the palm of St. Agnes; if it cannot be mine through blood, I must win it by Love.


V

1891.

Love can take the place of a long life. Jesus does not consider time, for He is Eternal. He only looks at the love. My little Mother, beg Him to bestow it upon me in full measure. I do not desire that thrill of love which I can feel; if Jesus feel its thrill, then that is enough for me. It is so sweet to love Him, to make Him loved. Ask Him to take me to Him on my profession-day, if by living on I should ever offend Him, because I wish to bear unsullied to Heaven the white robe of my second Baptism.[1] Now Jesus can grant me the grace never to offend Him more, or rather never to commit any faults but those which do not offend Him or give Him pain; faults which serve but to humble me and strengthen my love. There is no one to lean on apart from Jesus. He alone faileth not, and it is exceeding joy to think that He can never change.


VI

1891.

MY DEAREST LITTLE MOTHER,--Your letter has done me such good. The sentence: "Let us refrain from saying a word which could raise us in the eyes of others," has indeed enlightened my soul. Yes, we must keep all for Jesus with jealous care. It is so good to work for Him alone. How it fills the heart with joy, and lends wings to the soul! Ask of Jesus that Thérèse--His _grain of sand_--may save Him a multitude of souls in a short space of time, so that she may the sooner behold His Adorable Face.


VII

1892.

Here is the dream of this "grain of sand": Love Jesus alone, and naught else beside! The grain of sand is so small that if it wished to open its heart to any other but Jesus, there would no longer be room for this Beloved.

What happiness to be so entirely hidden that no one gives us a thought--to be unknown even to those with whom we live! My little Mother, I long to be unknown to everyone of God's creatures! I have never desired glory amongst men, and if their contempt used to attract my heart, I have realized that even this is too glorious for me, and I thirst to be forgotten.

The Glory of Jesus--this is my sole ambition. I abandon my glory to Him; and if He seem to forget me, well, He is free to do so since I am no longer my own, but His. He will weary sooner of making me wait than I shall of waiting.


VIII

[One day when Soeur Thérèse was suffering acutely from feverishness, one of the Sisters urged her to help in a difficult piece of painting. For a moment Thérèse's countenance betrayed an inward struggle, which did not escape the notice of Mother Agnes of Jesus. That same evening Thérèse wrote her the following letter.]

May 28, 1897.

MY DEAREST MOTHER,--I have just been shedding sweet tears--tears of repentance, but still more of thankfulness and love. To-day I showed you the treasure of my patience, and how virtuous I am--I who preach so well to others! I am glad that you have seen my want of perfection. You did not scold me, and yet I deserved it. But at all times your gentleness speaks to me more forcibly than would severe words. To me you are the image of God's Mercy.

Sister N., on the contrary, is more often the image of God's severity. Well, I have just met her, and, instead of passing me coldly by, she embraced me and said: "Poor little Sister, I am so sorry . . . I do not want to tire you; it was wrong of me to ask your help; leave the work alone." In my heart I felt perfect sorrow, and I was much surprised to escape all blame. I know she must really deem me imperfect. She spoke in this way because she thinks I am soon to die. However that may be, I have heard nothing but kind and tender words from her; and so I consider her most kind, and myself an unamiable creatures.

When I returned to our cell, I was wondering what Jesus thought, when all at once I remembered His words to the woman taken in adultery: "Hath no man condemned thee?"[2] With tears in my eyes, I answered Him: "No one, Lord, . . . neither my little Mother--the image of Thy Mercy--nor Sister N., the image of Thy Justice. I feel that I can go in peace, because neither wilt Thou condemn me."

I confess I am much happier because of my weakness than if--sustained by grace--I had been a model of patience. It does me so much good to see that Jesus is always sweet and tender towards me. Truly it is enough to make me die of grateful love.

My little Mother, you will understand how this evening the vessel of God's Mercy has overflowed for your child. . . . _Even now I know it! Yea, all my hopes will be fulfilled_ . . .

VERILY THE LORD WILL WORK WONDERS FOR ME, AND THEY WILL INFINITELY SURPASS MY BOUNDLESS DESIRES.







[1] Soeur Thérèse here alludes to the probable opinion of theologians that--as in Baptism--all stain of sin is removed and all temporal punishment for sin remitted, by the vows taken on the day of religious profession. [Ed.]

[2] John 8:10.





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