THE DELICATE HEALTH of the Little Flower might have given her reason to seek exemption from the more rigorous tasks imposed by the rule of the Order and the will of her superiors. Therese did not ask to be excused. From the very beginning of her monastic career, she took her turn in weeding the garden, washing the linen, sweeping and scrubbing splintered floors, working in the kitchen, painting frescoes, mending clothes, doing the work of sacristan. She showed no preference for this work or that. She uttered no complaint and expressed no regret when the particular task to which she was assigned seemed heavy enough to crush her to the earth. In and about each of her daily duties, she saw the rough hands of the Carpenters Son beckoning her to follow Him along the sure, though rough way of labor.
Moreover, the little Saint tells us that it was chiefly in the midst of her daily duties that she received lights hitherto unseen, to guide her along her dark way.
"Ora et labora!" "Pray and work!" That has been the motto of the most successful religious orders of the world. That has been the secret of every saintly career.
100In the life of the Great Saint Teresa, (she is given this title to distinguish her from the Little Flower), who lived centuries before Saint Therese of Lisieux, we read the following interesting incident: "Despite her constant illness and duties as Prioress, Teresa (of Avila) was foremost in every mean and humble office. Her cleanliness and conscientiousness shone so conspicuously in the kitchen that her nuns laughingly remarked that she might have been born a cook and never had performed any other duty. They never fared so well as when Teresas turn came round to serve in the kitchen, even though she was sometimes found in an ecstasy, her face rapt and beautiful, her rigid hands grasping the frying pan. So true was it, she wrote, That God walks even among the pots and pipkins."
In this wise, a great Saint has told us that work and prayer are not to be divorced from each other. Work becomes a prayer when it is performed with the right intention; work becomes doubly a prayer when it is carried out in the spirit of cheerfulness and gratitude, which are always contagious in their effect upon our fellow-laborers.
Let us return to the Little Flower. Unlike her namesake in this, that she was not granted the grace of ecstasy, at least as far as we know, she had a special message to convey to us with regard to our work. She would have us know that no matter how insignificant any task may be to which we are assigned, it can be turned to an instrument of tremendous spiritual profit to ourselves and a source of immeasurable joy to the Creator. Nothing is insignificant or trivial in the sight of God and our humblest works, performed with a smile, are precious pearls which purchase for us the favor of the Lord of the world.
|The Saint of Lisieux, statue by R.P. Marie-Bernard in the cemetery of the Carmelites at Lisieux, France.|
101 This thought is superbly expressed by the Little Flower in a letter to her sister, Celine, dated April 25, 1893. It will refresh the reader to study this simple though sublime communication: "My Little Celine,I must come and disclose the desires of Jesus with regard to your soul. Remember that He did not say: I am the Flower of the gardens, a carefully-tended rose, but I am the Flower of the fields and the Lily of the valleys. Well, you must always be as a drop of dew hidden in the heart of this beautiful Lily. "The dewdropwhat could be simpler, what more pure? It is not the child of the clouds; it is born beneath the starry sky, and survives but a night. When the sun darts forth its ardent rays, the delicate pearls adorning each blade of grass quickly pass into the lightest vapor.... There is the portrait of my little Celine! She is the drop of dew, an offspring of Heavenher true home. Through the night of this life she must hide herself in the Field-flowers golden cup; no eye must discover her abode.
"Happy dewdrop, known to God alone, pay no heed to the roaring torrents of the world! Do not envy the crystal stream which winds among the meadows. The ripple of its waters may be most sweet, but it can be heard by creatures. Besides, the Field-flower could never contain it in its cup. One must be so lowly to draw nearto Jesus, and few are the souls that aspire to be lowly and unknown. Are not the river and the brook, they urge, of more use than the dewdrop? Of what avail is it? Its only purpose is to refresh for one moment some poor little field-flower.
"Ah! they little know the true Flower of the field. Did they know Him they would better understand Our Lords reproach to Martha. Our Beloved needs neither our brilliant deeds nor our beautiful thoughts. Were He in search of lofty ideas, has He not His angels, whose knowledge infinitely surpasses that of the greatest genius on earth? Neither intellect nor other talents has He come to seek among us.... He has become the Flower of the field to show us how much He loves simplicity.
"The Lily of the valley asks but a single dewdrop, which for one night will rest in its cup, hidden from all human eyes. But when the shadows begin to fade, when the Flower of the field becomes the Sun of Justice, then the dewdropthe humble sharer of His exilewill rise up to Him as loves vapor. He will shed on her a ray of His light, and before the whole court of Heaven she will shine eternally like a precious pearl, a dazzling mirror of the Divine Sun."
LOVES SECRETAS GUIDING principle of her whole life, St. Therese adopted the motto: "Love can be repaid only by love." Could she spend a thousand years upon earth and could she combine into one vast army all the souls that dot the world and prevail upon them to love God with all their hearts, she would still feel that the total of it all would leave much to be desired. Consequently, she made use of every opportunity to love God to the utmost of her ability and to draw others to His love. At Les Buissonnets, that "shrine of love," she had learned from her darling father, in a most practical way, that there are two parts to the Commandment of Love, and that "the second is like to the first: Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself." It was only after her profession that the full significance of these words dawned upon her willing soul. From that time on, she saw Jesus in the depths of her neighbors soul. "Whatsoever you do to the least of these little ones you do it unto Me."
104 Her deep understanding of this important truth showed itself in many ways. If anyone asked her for anything, she considered herself honored by the request for service. Whenever she found it necessary to refuse a request, she did it so graciously that the refusal afforded almost as much pleasure as the gift itself. She had very specific views with regard to lending: "When a Sister comes to you and says: I have our Mothers leave to borrow your help for a few hours, and you may be assured that later on I will do as much for you, we may be practically certain that the time so lent will never be repaid, and therefore feel sorely tempted to say: I will give what you ask! The remark would gratify self-love, it being more generous to give than to lend, and in addition, it would let the Sister feel how little reliance you put in her promise."
Thereses heart, enlarged by charity, bore patiently with all her neighbors defects, was not surprised in seeing mistakes in others and was edified at the smallest virtues in her fellow-Sisters. She tells us candidly in her Autobiography, that when the devil brought before her the defects of one of the Sisters, she rather hastened to look for her virtues and good motives. "I call to mind that though I may have seen her fall once, she may have gained many victories over herself which in her humility she conceals, and also that what appears to be a fault may very well, owing to the good intention that prompted it, be an act of virtue." What a Paradise this world would be, if people would utilize the time which they spend in carping criticism for some more noble purpose in the interests of the welfare of mankind!
The Little Flower has bequeathed to the world some very important lessons in the art of giving. These teachings are all the more remarkable, when we consider that they came from the pen of one who was in her early twenties when she wrote them.
1) To give to everyone who asks is less pleasant than to give spontaneously and of ones own accord. The truth of this statement of the Saint of Lisieux is so evident, that words of explanation would only serve to befog it.
2) If a thing be asked in a courteous way, consent is easy; but if, unhappily, tactless words have been used, there is an inward rebellion, unless we are perfect in charity.
These words tell how well acquainted Therese of the Child Jesus was with human frailty. They reveal that she had grasped vigorously the broom of charity and had swept her soul diligently against the grain of personal inclinations, until she had rid herself of every trace of selfishness.
3) In the act of giving, the fewer the words that accompany the act, the more meritorious the act will be.
Any worded tag that is attached to a favor that we grant or a service that we render, can serve only to embarrass the one who asks for the favor, or to promote in ourselves the spirit of selfishness. Moreover, it is a waste of time for us to be explaining why we give or what difficulties we suffer in giving. To be Christlike, we must give without any consideration of personal gain.
106These thoughts, while they spring naturally and spontaneously from the heart of the Little Flower, are not claimed by her as private property. "Should any thought of mine please my Sisters, I find it quite easy to let them regard it as their own. It belongs to the Holy Ghost, not to me, for St. Paul assures us that without the Spiritof Love we cannot call God our Father, and is not the same Holy Spirit free to use me as a channel to convey a good thought to a soul, without my daring to look on that thought as my private property?" In all these passages which we have quoted so freely, there is proof that the soul of the Saint of Lisieux was immersed in love. She regarded love as the key to all spiritual progress, the path to happiness, the way to God. "For my part, I do not want to be little, mortified and humble that I may learn to love. That is not my way. I wish to love in order to be little, I wish to grow in love that I may be mortified, I wish above all to love much that I may be very humble." She saw that the best way to attain to the heights to which she aspired was "to begin by love, to go on by love and to reach the crowning point by love." Thereses strength of body was not equal to her strength of soul. The Lenten fasts which she observed in all their rigour, were too much of a tax for her delicate constitution. Her ever active mind, busy even during periods of recreation about the work of instructing and assisting other novices, needed more rest than its owner allowed it. She spared herself in nothing. She did not ask to be excused from any of the exercises which were enjoined upon the more healthy members of the community.
It is not surprising, then, nor did Therese consider it disastrous, that on one Good Friday morning, shortly after midnight, her frail body gave unmistakable sign that it was being overtaxed. The Little Flower had returned to her cell at midnight, after having spent some hours with Our Eucharistic Lord late on Holy Thursday evening. Scarcely had she laid her head upon the pillow when she felt a hot stream rise to her lips. She thought she was going to die, and, strange to say, her heart almost broke with joy. Her curiosity was aroused. She had already put out her lamp. Should she rise and investigate the cause of this unexpected happening? No! It was the anniversary of the great day on which her Beloved shed His Sacred Blood to save the world. Out of pure devotion to her dying Savior, she would suppress her curiosity until the morning when the sun would come stealing into her cell; that would be time enough to investigate the source of the trouble. Accordingly, she went peacefully to sleep.
At five oclock, the time for rising, she found as she had expected, that her handkerchief was saturated with blood. It was her first hemorrhage. Unlike thousands of worldly mortals who regard the first signs of deadly disease as a scourge, the Little Flower accepted this sign as a token of love from her Heavenly King. "What hope filled my heart! I was firmly convinced that on the anniversary of His death my Beloved had allowed me to hear His first call, like a sweet distant murmur, heralding His joyful approach."
Did this incident interrupt the routine of her life? By no means. She maintained that she felt no fatigue and experienced no pain and, therefore, she should begiven permission to finish Lent as she had begun it. Her request was granted. On that Good Friday, she shared in all the austerities customary in the Carmelite Convent and assures us that "never had they appeared sweeter."
The midnight hemorrhage of Good Friday eve repeated itself on the following evening just as the Little Flower was falling asleep. Again she regarded it as a second call announcing the sweet angel of Death, which others, less schooled than she, might call the grim spectre.
"Troubles come not singly." Scarcely had Therese thanked the Lord for having visited her with the second sign of a consuming disease, when He tried her still further by plunging her soul into thickest gloom. Her greatest consolation during the dark months that followed was the fact that Christ, the Lord of the sunlit country of Heaven, "had come to dwell for thirty-three years in the land of darkness, though alas! the darkness did not understand that He was the light of the world.
THE NOVICE MISTRESSIT WOULD SEEM that the more Therese tasted of exile, the more she longed to become exiled. She dreamt of a convent where she might be forgotten even by her companion Sisters, where she might be deprived of the many attentions which she received at the Carmel of Lisieux. She had heard of the need of Sisters in the convent of Hanoi and had resolved that she would volunteer to hasten thither, should she recover from her sickness and should her superiors be willing. God had other designs for her. Carmel of Lisieux was in need of a saint. Work awaited her there which was just as important as her activities might have been in the far-off convent of Hanoi.
Much as Therese sought to divert attention from herself and focus it upon her companions, it was decreed by Providence that she should play a very important role in the affairs of her community.
In February, 1893, Mere Marie de Gonzague had finished her term of office as Prioress. The rules of the Order called for a change. By an interesting coincidence, Thereses sister, Pauline (Soeur Agnes de Jesus) was elected to the important position of Prioress.
110 As might be expected of a member of the Martin family, the new superior felt no inclination to relegate her predecessor to the rank of an ordinary nun. Sister Marie de Gonzague had rendered outstanding services to the community and it was only logical and just that this should be taken into consideration. Finally it was decided that the former Prioress should become Mistress of Novices. This office stood in need of one who was possessed of an evenness of disposition, which was sometimes lacking in its newly appointed occupant. Accordingly, Mere Agnes de Jesus decided on giving the Novice Mistress an assistant and for this office she chose none other than the Little Flower. This move is an important indication of the spiritual progress which Therese had made and of the high regard in which she was held by the members of the community. Keep in mind that the Little Flower was but twenty years old, when she was entrusted with the work of counseling and directing and correcting novices, some of whom were older than herself. How did Therese accept her new responsibility? Her thoughts on that memorable occasion are beautifully preserved for us in the eleventh chapter of her Autobiography. "I am the brush our Lord has chosen to paint His likeness in the souls you have confided to my care. But an artist must have at least two brushes: the first, which is the more useful, gives the ground tints and rapidly covers the whole canvas; the other, a smaller one, is employed for the details of the picture. You, my dear Mother, represent the valuable brush Our Lord holds lovingly in His hand when He wishes to do some great work in the souls of His children; and I am the little one He deigns to use afterwards to fill in the minor details."
Oh sweet simplicity of the Little Flower! Far be it from us to debate with her whether or not she should have called herself the "little brush." Her method might be termed the Little Way and her littleness and childlikeness of spirit might justify her in giving herself the title of "little artist"; but only on Judgment Day when her masterpieces, the souls. whom she directed, are arrayed before us, shall we comprehend the tremendous power of her touch and understand the devotion with which she applied herself to her work.
It was not easy for her to correct companions who were older than herself. But she had not picked the path of ease. Her business was to lead the novices to God and that she would do, no matter how steep and stony the road might be.
One of her first tasks in her new capacity of Novice Mistress, was to reprove one of her closest friends for an altogether too natural affection for the Prioress. The correction was ministered with such tact and tenderness, that the guilty Novice admitted herself to be wrong and promised to begin a new life.
Therese was blessed by God with clear-sightedness and prudence in dealing with souls. "From the beginning I realized that all souls have more or less the same battles to fight, but on the other hand I saw that since no two souls are exactly alike, each one must be dealt with differently. With some I have to humble myself and not to shrink from confessing my own struggles and defeats; by this means they have less difficulty in acknowledging their faults, being consoled by the discovery that I know of their trials from my own experience. In dealing with others, my only hope of success lies in being firm and in never going back on what I have said, since self-abasement would be mistaken for weakness."
She was too concerned about the spiritual progress of her subjects to spare them discomfiture. Some of them tried to convince her that she should be less severe. Her only answer to such a suggestion was: "No one is a good judge in his own case. During a painful operation a child would be sure to cry out and say that the remedy was worse than the disease, yet how great would be the little ones delight if at the end of a few days he should find himself cured and able to run about and play. The same thing happens with souls."
In all her work of correcting and perfecting others, the Little Flower strove constantly for her own improvement. What would it profit her if she were a mere sign post pointing to others the way to Heaven, if she herself would make no progress thither?
"When I am talking with a Novice," she tells us, "I am ever on the watch to mortify myself, avoiding all questions which would tend to gratify my curiosity. Should she begin to speak on an interesting subject, and leaving it unfinished pass on to another that wearies me, I am careful not to remind her of the digression, for no good can come from self-seeking."
Thereses place at meditation was near a Sister who fidgeted constantly either with her Rosary or with some other object. The irritating noise caused by the Rosary scraping over the kneeling-bench, became a source of great annoyance to the Little Flower. She was tempted to turn around and "with one glance silence the offender." The distraction grated so upon Thereses nervous sensibilities, that she became bathed with perspiration and she could not even pray. Here was a chance for self-conquest. The little Saint did not try to muffle the displeasing sound. She rather tried to regard it as sweet-sounding music. And she succeeded so well that, within a short time, she welcomed the opportunity of putting up with this "music" for the sake of Christ and of souls.
In the more menial tasks of her career, the Little Flower manifested to those around her that she had traveled far along the road of self-abasement.
"On another occasion when I was engaged in the laundry, the Sister opposite to me, who was washing handkerchiefs, kept splashing me continually with dirty water. My first impulse was to draw back and wipe my face in order to show her that I wanted her to be more careful. The next moment, however, I saw the folly of refusing treasures thus generously offered, and I carefully refrained from betraying any annoyance. On the contrary I made such efforts to welcome the shower of dirty water that at the end of half an hour I had taken quite a fancy to the novel kind of aspersion, and resolved to return as often as possible to the place where such precious treasures were freely bestowed."
Thus did a "very little Saint" teach her novices, and the world, how to turn the homely stones of daily routine into the golden steps of her Little Way leading to God.
THE GOLDEN WAND OF PRAYERTHE TWO KEYS by which the Little Flower found her way into the hearts of her novices, and later into the hearts of millions of men and women, the two swords by which she drove back every evil spirit that menaced her, the two supports upon which she mounted to her Calvary on earth, the two wings by which she soared aloft to the highest summits of perfection were prayer and sacrifice. "My whole strength," she told her sister, Mere Agnes de Jesus, "lies in prayer and sacrifice: these are my invincible weapons, and experience has taught me that the heart is won by them rather than by words." She likened prayer to a queen, who having free access always to the king can obtain whatsoever she asks. Her prayer was simple and childlike. She admits that she did not have the courage to search through ponderous volumes for beautiful prayers. She could never recite them all and it would make her head ache to choose between them. It was enough for her to say what she wanted to say to God quite simply. Her prayer was "the uplifting of the heart, a glance towards Heaven, a cry of gratitude and of love in times of sorrow as well as of joy." When her soul felt dry and incapable of bringing forth one prayerful thought, she would repeat slowly the "Our Father" and the "Hail Mary." In these she found sufficient consolation and food for her soul.
116 The sentiments of the Little Flower with regard to prayer, have been beautifully embodied in the writings of Father Faber, who lived long before the world dreamed of St. Therese: "Oh, for faith in prayer! for only faith in prayer! for faith in simple prayer! and the interests of Jesus shall spread like a beneficent conquest all over the world, and the glory of God shall cover the earth as the abounding waters cover the bed of the sea, and the choirs of the redeemed souls shall multiply and multiply, till the Good Shepherd should be, were it any other than He, overladen with the sheaves of His prolific Passion!" What modern engineers and mechanics have done to speed up production in the material order, St. Therese accomplished in the spiritual order. Hers was a simple, though advantageous method of producing abundant spiritual results. She realized that "the zeal of a Carmelite ought to embrace the whole world." By what magic power could she reach the millions of souls scattered throughout the vast expanse of this worlds circumference? She wanted her prayers to extend to all times and to all climes. Of her Beloved it could be said: "There is no one who can hide himself from the heat of His Love." That too was her desire: to make her influence felt in the remotest corners of the globe. Her simple device for bringing this wish into fulfillment was: Prayer for the intentions of the Pope and of priests throughout the world.
Marble group in Narthex of Shrine of the Little Flower, Royal Oak, Mich.
117 The Little Flower was thoroughly convinced of the Catholic teaching that, as Karl Adam says, "the whole Church rests on Peter." In other words, the Pope of Rome is steward of the entire house of God upon earth. He alone has the charge of the keys of Christs kingdom on earth. He has to supervise every department of the Church. By praying for his intentions, one can promote the interests of the millions of souls who come under his care. St. Therese was church-minded enough to see this. "Like our Holy Mother, St. Teresa (of Avila) ," she said, "I wish to be a true daughter of the Church, and to make prayer for all the intentions of Christs Vicar the one great aim of my life." Little did she dream at that time, that she would one day be recognized by one of the Popes as the guiding star of his pontificate. Little did she suspect, that she would be proclaimed by him as patroness of the Missions of the entire world. The cause of the Holy Father is the cause of the priests throughout the world. Though they labor in one particular field, they labor for the salvation of the world. Otherwise they could not be called other Christs. While the Little Flower seemed to be especially interested in the work of the missioners in distant lands, she did not forget to pray for those zealous apostles who labor in our large cities and in our rural districts against all manner of odds. "I pray for all, without forgetting our priests at home, whose ministry is often as full of difficulties as that of the missionary preaching to the heathen." 118 Thereses mindfulness of the priesthood and her desire to help priests is beautifully reflected in the letters which she penned to the two brother missionaries who were given to her as spiritual brothers. She constantly admonished them to "sing the mercies of God," to preach the love of the Sacred Heart, to "work together for the salvation of souls. We have but the one day of this life to save them, and so to give to Our Lord a proof of our love. Tomorrow will be eternity. Then Jesus will reward you a hundredfold for the sweet joys you have given up for Him. He knows the extent of our sacrifice."
Resigned suffering has been called the most efficacious form of prayer. The Flower of Carmel did not fail to utilize this in behalf of priests.One day at the beginning of her last illness, when she was spending part of her time in bed and part on her feet, she was strolling in the convent garden and taking the customary quarter of an hours recreation prescribed by the Sister infirmarian. One of her companion Sisters observed that this compliance with the rule was costing Therese much effort and accordingly tried to persuade her to take a rest. "Sister Therese, it would be much better for you to rest. Walking like this can not do you any good. You only tire yourself!" "Yes, that is true," replied the little Saint, "but do you know what gives me strength? I offer each step for some priest in the missions. I think that possibly over here, far away, one of them may be weary and tired in his apostolic labors, and to lessen his fatigue, I offer mine to the Good God."
119 The very thought of the vocation of a priest caused the Little Flower to burst forth into exclamations of highest admiration: "The vocation of the Priesthood! With what love, my Jesus, would I bear Thee in my hands when my words brought Thee down from Heaven! With what love, too, would I give Thee to the faithful! And yet, with all my longing to be a priest, I admire and envy the humility of St. Francis of Assisi and feel drawn to imitate him by refusing that sublime dignity. "Like the prophets and doctors, I would be a light unto souls. I would travel the world over to preach Thy Name, 0 my Beloved, and raise on heathen soil the glorious standard of the Cross. One mission alone would not satisfy my longings. I would spread the Gospel in all parts of the earth, even to the farthest isles. I would be a missionary, but not for a few years only. Were it possible, I should wish to have been one from the worlds creation and to remain one till the end of time." Besides praying for the Pope, priests and missionaries, the Little Flower had another unique mode of prayer. It was suggested by the words of Solomon: "Draw me; we will run after Thee in the odor of Thy ointments." Therese knew that if she were drawn to the Sacred Heart of Jesus, her loved ones would also be drawn to that same sacred Source of Life. Consequently, one of the most cherished intentions of all of her prayers was that she might more and more powerfully be magnetized toward God. "When a soul has been captivated by the odor of Thy perfumes, she cannot run alone; as a natural consequence of her attraction towards Thee, all those whom she loves are drawn in her train."
So many forget this important truth that in order to magnetize others, it is necessary that we first become magnetized ourselves.
This thought was forcefully expressed by Pope Benedict XV on the occasion of the Promulgation of the Decree concerning the virtues of the Venerable Therese of the Child Jesus. "We have every reason to hope," he wrote, "that the example of this new French heroine will be the means of swelling the ranks of perfect Christians, not only in her own country, but wherever the children of the Catholic Church are to be found."
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