even now drawing to their end, these days of shared fervour and
of inexpressible glory! . . . Those lives, too, which God alone
has filled with infinite mercy and never-ending love, they too
sob out their final breaths! . . . How well our Therese knew
her subject when she sang:
a moment is my life, on passing hour . . .”
And see how
the final shaft of brilliant light from the great festivals which
have crowned the Theresian year now rests on the last moment of
that fleeting life!
in drawing us here at this hour to this holy Chapel, how truly
has that flood of mighty waters sought again its source, after
these eight days during which it has borne us from Paris to Lisieux
in sacred ardour.
is really that death by love which we are celebrating tonight.
be nothing of greater importance, after we have learned to know
the incomparable greatness of Therese better than ever before,
after we have testified that the most vital, the most courageous
movements in the Church Militant have a patroness in Therese of
Lisieux as they find inspiration in her teaching, after we have
heard the Cardinal Archbishop of Paris proclaim Therese patroness
of all humanity, as well as of France and of all missions, after
we have been struck by the astounding impression left by this
little Nun upon the most disparate congeries of men and women
- how Biblical in flavour was the appearance of the shrine surrounded
by torches in the Parc des Princes! - there is now nothing of
greater importance than to return to the sources of this influence
that we may seek and discern the radical reasons for it.
It is in
the plain little hospital room from which only a few steps separate
us that the source of all we are commemorating first sprang up,
all at once, after a long-concealed journey, just fifty years
back, day for day and hour for hour.
words, a final sigh of love, a short and glorious ecstasy and
little Therese Martin, having most perfectly carried out her life's
work, became in unexampled magnificence, the immortal co-operator
of God the Redeemer. What a wondrous history is hers! It is
indeed at all possible to recall it without being overcome by
the strongest of emotions?
Very Reverend Mere Agnes de Jesus, venerated Soeur Genevieve de
la Sainte-Face-for you are there, quite near us, on this fiftieth
anniversary, which is a family solemnity for the whole Church,
you are there behind that grille whence have emanated in the last
half-century, such floods of resurrection and of life, that grille
before which so many are come tonight in veneration, homage and
gratitude! . . . allow me by a simple avowal, to expose to you
what these words aim to do.
I have sought to turn over in my mind what I ought to say this
evening, I have been unable to hold back my tears and I have felt
myself to be incapable of speaking on this subject.
here, in this Chapel where the living Therese rests, living that
is to say, the very life of the God Who gave us the Eucharist;
to speak here, in the presence of her own sisters, whom the slightest
inexact or maladroit word might easily cut to the heart; here
in this Temple seemingly small but whose true dimensions embrace
all humankind; to speak after those many eloquent discourses or
those even more striking musical offerings have been hears; and
to speak of that great and decisive confrontation when the adored
Eagle swooped down upon her soul, so entirely consecrated to His
Love, to make it everlastingly His own; no - this would be an
impossible task, for it would be to attempt the expression of
what is beyond expression; it would be to try to put into words
that ineffable thing which is enough to snatch us out of ourselves
and plunge us into silent adoration - a state which is, indeed,
the only fitting attitude before the purest of all masterpieces
of the Living God.
Ought I to
try, nonetheless, to conquer my feelings - to master my tears?
I would have to attempt to recall to you, in a few words, all
that transpired on the evening of September 30, 1897; to show
you how those few moments which marked the end of Therese's life,
opened a new era in the understanding of the Christian revelation
itself, in its inner meaning; and to explain how Therese now expects
of you that these feasts of jubilee may meet her intentions, which
are the same as those of God . . .
Let us betake
ourselves in spirit to that 30th day of September from which we
are parted by fifty years. Since the day before, the whole Community
had been in readiness for the death of Soeur Therese of the Child
whole course of September 29 - a day so trying to her - the exhausted
patient let fall from her panting lips three words shining with
all the brightness of an infallible teaching and a love which
nothing could deceive or destroy. At the head of her bed, Soeur
Genevieve de la Sainte-Face, her dear Celine, the sister of her
soul, asked for a word of farewell. “I have said all,”
murmured Therese in a faithful echo of the great words of Jesus,
“all is finished; it is love alone that matters.”
What a reply
is this! In time we shall better understand its bearing.
tortured in a real martyrdom, she joined her hands and in a sweet
and plaintive voice she murmured: “Yes, my God; yes, my God,
indeed I wish all!”
shall see what she meant. And when, disturbed by so much visible
suffering, Mere Marie de Gonzague asked her pityingly: “Is
what you are suffering so atrocious?” - “No; ma Mere, not
atrocious; but so much, so much . . . all that I
can bear.” What exquisite gentility is this, even to the end;
and even to the end, what love of the pure and simple truth!
Soeur Marie du Sacre-Coeur and Soeur Genevieve de la Sainte-Face,
and later during the Mass, by Mere Agnes de Jesus, Therese though
worn out and panting for breath, joined her hands and, looking
at the figure of the Holy Virgin placed over her bed, she said:
“Oh! I have prayed fervently! But this is pure agony, without
any admixture of consolation . . .”
day, without a moment's respite, she dwelt in torment. She seemed
at the end of her strength and yet was able to fidget about, to
sit up in bed. She confided to Mere Marie de Gonzague: “See,
ma Mere, how strong I am today. No; I am not going to die. I
may have another few months. I do not think any more that death
is for me; I think only that I shall suffer more! . . . And
tomorrow, it will be even worse . . .” And then, directly
afterward, came this Theresian reflection: “Ah well, so much
the better !”
And here are the cries that her sister remembers:
my God! . . I Love Him, the good God . . .
my dear Virgin Mother, come to help me!
this be the agony, then what is death?
ma Mere, I tell you that my chalice is filled to the brim.
the good God will not forsake me . . . He will never forsake
me! . . .
my God, all that You will; but have pity upon me . . .
little sisters, my little sisters, pray for me . . .
God! My God! You Who are so good. O yes, You are good.
I know it . . .
3 o'clock, she formed her arms as a cross. Mere Marie de Gonzague
placed on her knees a statue of Our Lady of Mount Carmel. Therese
looked at it for a moment:
ma Mere, present me now to the Holy Virgin. Prepare me
to die well.
de Gonzague replied that having always understood and practised
humility, her preparation was already made. Therese thought for
a moment and then said humbly:
I think I have never sought anything but the truth . . .
Yes, I understand lowliness of heart . . .
that I have written of my will to suffer, oh! it is true indeed.
do not repent of having delivered myself to Love.
time, it seemed that she was not bearing her suffering alone.
Mere Agnes de Jesus was moved irresistibly to think of the martyrs
made ready for the executioners, but strong with a divine force.
Therese said again, very ardently:
no. I do not repent of having given myself to Love; quite
otherwise . . .
later came this avowal:
never believed it was possible to suffer so much! Never!
I can only explain it by the fervent desire I have had to
save souls . . .
am not able to breathe; I am not able to die . . . I still
wish to suffer.
my little wishes are granted; therefore, the greatest of
all, to die of love, will be also.
5 o'clock, Mere Agnes de Jesus was alone with her. Therese's
face suddenly changed. The agony was beginning. The Community
entered the infirmary. Therese greeted all the Sisters with a
sweet smile. She clasped her Crucifix and gazed constantly at
than two hours, a dreadful rattling tore her throat. Her face
was consorted, her hands were violet in colour and her feet seemed
made of ice. All her body trembled. A profuse sweat covered
her brow in great drops and flowed over her face. The ever-increasing
tightness in breast and throat turned her efforts to breathe into
weak cries. Her mouth seemed so very parched that Soeur Genevieve
de la Sainte-Face, thinking to soothe her, put a little piece
of ice on her lips. As if in high encouragement and as a final
farewell, a look - a celestial smile - which no-one could ever
forget, recompensed Celine for this.
At six, the
Angelus rang. Therese raised supplicating eyes to the statue
of the Holy Virgin. A few minutes after seven, thinking her condition
would not change, Mere Marie de Gonzague sent the Community away.
Mere, is not this the agony? Am I not going to die?
my child, this is the agony; but the Good God may wish it
prolonged for some hours . . .”
well! Let us go forward! . . .
I would not have my suffering shortened!
at her Crucifix:
. . . I love Him! . . . My God! . . . I . . . love . .
at once, having said these words, she fell gently backward, her
head inclined to the right.
all over? Mere Marie de Gonzague hastily ordered the bell to
be rung to recall the Community. “Open all the doors,”
she cried. The infirmary had three doors but Mere Agnes de Jesus
thought quickly that in Heaven, the Lord was saying the same words
to His Angels.
knelt around the bed. Suddenly, Therese's normal appearance was
restored. Her eyes opened again. Fixed on high, radiant, they
betrayed a happiness beyond all her hopes. She made certain movements
of her head as if, as Mere Agnes de Jesus said,
had been, several times, struck by shafts of Love.”
lasted for about the time of a Credo. Immediately thereafter,
Therese closed her eyes and breathed her last. It was then about
twenty minutes past seven.
not to refuse, now, to face the problem which this heart-piercing
scene poses: Why so much suffering for a soul so pure? We must
not refuse, because Therese herself had known how to reply magnificently
to this basic question.
In the very
paroxysm of her sorrows, we can learn from her the reason for
this test which stretched her powers of resistance to the limit.
It is the price of the ransom of souls which she begins to pay.
final hour, she achieves the perfection of the work, to do which
she had chosen the life of Carmel. For the sake of souls, those
souls so dear to her that she gave all for their salvation, she
wrought in her own flesh whatever was wanting in the sufferings
of Christ in order that His redeeming work might effectively reach
all the souls who make up His Mystical Body, His Holy Church.
crucified with Jesus and in Jesus, in this dreadful agony, so
that she may draw all souls to their Saviour, to that Saviour
so humble that He has not wished to be Himself alone their salvation.
What a magnificent
calling is this! Yet within due proportions, this is the calling
of every Christian. Is this the only explanation of the sufferings,
the agony and the death of Therese?
is another, not less deep but more special - one which concerns
what little Therese was able to contribute more personally, more
generously, more beneficently.
At all times,
or at least ever since that day in July, 1887, when her heart
knew the thirst of the Crucified, this lovely girl had been stirred
as has been, perhaps, no-one else by an impassioned love of the
God-made-Man, immolated, bleeding on Calvary. Always she wished
to live and to die of love for Him whose infinite Love had gone
before her in so many testimonies of predilection and special
tenderness. At all times, she desired to make of her life and
her death, a martyrdom of love - that is to say, a heroic confession
which would establish before the eyes of all men that God deserves
to be loved as He asks to be loved, even at the cost of total
sacrifice, even unto death.
even further. She is convinced that this God whom she loved with
all the trust of a child in the best of fathers is only Love,
infinite Love; is so perfectly, so exclusively Love that everything
that He has done is the special work of His unfailing Love.
offers herself as a Victim in holocaust to this infinitely merciful
Love, in order to become, in this world, not the victim of a justice
which eagerly waits to punish sin wherever it may be found but
the witness who affirms and unceasingly repeats to all:
not deceive yourselves. Our God feels not severity in His
nature; nor does He cherish reprisal. Our God is a burning
brazier of infinite Love wherein is consumed all the weaknesses
which He humbled Himself to raise to the devouring fire of
At the very
heart of the Gospel revelation, Therese has, therefore, the mission
of expressing with overwhelming clarity and definitiveness the
never-failing loving kindness of a God Who is a Father and more
than a Father; and to inspire all men the resolve to surrender
themselves as little children to the infinitely wise and salutary
guidance of Him Who, alone, knows the certain paths of their everlasting
It is required
that as such, she should be a faithful witness. This fidelity
she has proved by her sufferings - those sufferings which would
have been unbearable had they not been in confession of infinite
mercies. It is this fidelity which she has proved by her death--by
that death which would have been forlorn and cruel beyond expression
had it not been the final seal upon a testimony which had never
been found wanting.
heroic sister of our weak timidity, have we ever really understood
you? We have found pleasure in thinking of you treading a rose-strewn
path, in imagining that you breathed your last sigh in a transport
of love, in love which warmed your heart and made sweet even the
bitterness of death.
What an illusion
is this; and what an injustice!
It was ever
‘in the press of suffering’ that you proved your love and it was
in the anguish of sheer agony, abated . . .
the press of suffering
will prove to Thee my love;
would have no other joyfulness
that each day I may sacrifice to Thee
. . . by
no admixture of consolation, that you made to the Father Who is
Love, your final confession of unfailing love, despite all that
sought to mislead it.
sufferings as though you had been delivered over to Justice, you
never wavered for an instant in your faith that all had happened
under the hand of that paternal loving-kindness of which you had
made yourself the victim.
was broken in the hour of its flowering; your purest hopes were
extinguished by an early and dreadful death; all worked against,
or rather brought to nothing, your most noble plans and your most
reasonable hopes; what matters it! You judged nothing on the
plain of human wisdom; your love had in it no limitation or deceit.
is so pure that is invincibly strong. This you had said in a
bit of verse for which I would willingly barter all the poetry
Trinity! You are the Prisoner
Of my love.
of the reality of Almighty Power, bearing in your heart the real
Presence of the Three Divine Persons, nothing was able to threaten
the certainty of your witness - nothing could weaken the strength
of your belief. “My God,” you say again, “You have
made me overflow with joy in all You have done” and you have
lovingly explained yourself in words which tell all: “It is
what He has done that I love.”
Now, at this
point, it is indeed true to say that it is love alone that
matters, because at this level of purity and fervency, love
makes of God Himself the prisoner of a heart which wishes for
nothing but the full accomplishment of His eternal economies.
Such is your
heart, O Therese - that heart which implacable evil seems to break
but whose final beatings nothing can prevent from being the pulses
of pure love for that adorable Will which stopped your heart's
earthly rhythm only to free the soul which its own perseverance
Such is your
heart, O Therese and because in that heroically faithful heart,
there reigned only the pure love of the supreme Will of God, your
final sigh made of you what you had dreamed of being: the martyr
of Merciful Love.
heart's pulsings have ceased, something has happened in this world
that has laid waste our egoism. Two wars have flooded the world
with blood and sown it with ruins. The outlook remains dark and
ever more menacing . . . All this is true! But it is also true
that faith and hope are come to revive your spirit of martyrdom.
ever, thanks to that spirit, do we know that whatever be our trials,
this world is a testing ground of souls wherein eternity is adumbrated.
We know that to those who seek before all else to lay hold on
the Kingdom of God and His justice, all else is given by way of
increase and our Gospel itself is from henceforth clearer in our
eyes because of the bright light which your last words and your
farewell glances have shed upon its centres of truth and life.
dying as the poor prey of most severe sufferings, you were able
to recognise the infallible plan of love of that God Who is Love
Itself, even in what seemed to contravene it; because at the final
moment, when you felt your earthly life slipping away, you poured
out your whole soul in a declaration of love to the Will that
crucified you; because fixing on the Crucified Jesus, Who had
so lately called you to co-operate in His redemptive work, fixing
on Him the last glance of your failing eyes, you murmured to Him
your last stammerings of love . . . “My God! ”- ah yes,
in your God, Therese, we know our God. “My God! I Love You!
. . . ” Ah! Therese, heroic Therese, you have deserved that
the veils should quickly fall away from the eyes of your soul;
and even more - what a wonderful favour! - away from the eyes
of your Sisters, for while the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit
- that adorable Trinity that your love held prisoner in mysterious
concealment revealed to your blessed soul that infinitely merciful
Love of which you are, for all ages, the martyr - and allowed
you to begin at once what you have since continued to accomplish
- doing good upon the earth - the Trinity reassured, by
the sight of your final ecstasy, your Sisters whom so much unrelieved
suffering as you had borne might otherwise have left in a state
may our love reply in kind to such pure love! Your most cherished
desire was that we should follow the path you had trodden. This
is the way of that impassioned confidence and that total abandonment
which make us pliant instruments of the Divine Mercies.
example draw us in its train! May your glory detach us from all
the attractions of our deceitful surroundings and from our own
mediocrity. Teach us that but one thing really matters: that
superhuman love which delivers us over to the Holy Trinity and
makes us able worthily to serve our brothers by putting God Himself
at their service. Cleanse our hearts of self-centredness, indifference
and weak fear. And, as you have so well known how to wield with
delicate precision and with strength, the sword of the Word of
God, be yourself our leader after you have touched our hearts.
Light in the young a burning wish for a life which is true. Raise
up among them many fervent Priests, many Religious who may know
how to love Jesus as you love Him, to suffer with Him in His agonies.
More than ever before, incline unto our wrethchedness...
our faithful Therese, we have come here to think upon the mystery
of your soul, to weep over the magnificence of your sacrifice,
to share in the sorrows and in the hopes of your Sisters...
not be even one among us, this evening, but will learn from the
lessons of your life; but will yield to the present call of your
love, so certain in its everlasting truth. May none of us, from
henceforth, ever hesitate to commit himself wholly to the unfailing
wisdom of the Father whom you loved even to your holy death, so
that the half-century now beginning may see you leading in the
victories of the Lord, a great legion of little souls, faithfully
and generously bent upon saving the world as they alone can save
it, in the Spirit which Jesus gives us and which leads us to the
Father - souls who will not shrink from becoming martyrs to Merciful
draw near to Jesus, we must be so little...
how few souls aspire to be little and unknown...”
a letter written by Therese to her sister Celine.