Newsletter of the District of Asia

 November 1997

in the Chapel of the Carmel of Lisieux on September 30, 1947 50th Anniversary of the Death of Therese

They are 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:

“Only 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!

How truly, 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.

The source is really that death by love which we are celebrating tonight.

There can 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.

Three breathless 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?

Allow me, 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.

Every time 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.

To speak 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 Jesus.

During the 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.

After Matins, 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!

All?  We 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!

Watched by 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 . . .

All that 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:

Oh my God! . .  I Love Him, the good God . . .

O my dear Virgin Mother, come to help me!

If this be the agony, then what is death?

O ma Mere, I tell you that my chalice is filled to the brim.

But the good God will not forsake me . . .  He will never forsake me! . . .

Yes, my God, all that You will; but have pity upon me . . .

My little sisters, my little sisters, pray for me . . .

My God!  My God!  You Who are so good.  O yes, You are good.  I know it . . .

At about 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:

O ma Mere, present me now to the Holy Virgin.  Prepare me to die well.

Mere Marie de Gonzague replied that having always understood and practised humility, her preparation was already made.  Therese thought for a moment and then said humbly:

Yes, I think I have never sought anything but the truth . . .

Yes, I understand lowliness of heart . . .

Then she declared:

All that I have written of my will to suffer, oh! it is true indeed.

Again, with firm confidence:

I do not repent of having delivered myself to Love.

From this 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:

O! no.  I do not repent of having given myself to Love; quite otherwise . . .

 A little later came this avowal:

I never believed it was possible to suffer so much!  Never!  Never!

I can only explain it by the fervent desire I have had to save souls . . .

In anguish:

  I am not able to breathe; I am not able to die . . .  I still wish to suffer. 

All my little wishes are granted; therefore, the greatest of all, to die of love, will be also.

At about 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 it.

For more 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.  Therese sobbed:

Ma Mere, is not this the agony?  Am I not going to die?

“Yes, my child, this is the agony; but the Good God may wish it prolonged for some hours . . .”

Ah well!  Let us go forward! . . .

Oh!  I would not have my suffering shortened!

She looked at her Crucifix:

  Oh! . . .  I love Him! . . .  My God! . . .  I . . . love . . . You!

Then, all at once, having said these words, she fell gently backward, her head inclined to the right.

  Was not 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.

The Nuns 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,

she had been, several times, struck by shafts of Love.”

The ecstasy 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.

We ought 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.

In this 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.

Therese is 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?

No, there 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.

She goes 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.

She therefore 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:

Do 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 His Spirit.

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 destiny.

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.

O Therese, 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 . . .

In the press of suffering

I will prove to Thee my love;

I would have no other joyfulness

Than 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.

Filled with 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.

Your life 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.

Your love 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 of France:

O Trinity!  You are the Prisoner
Of my love.

Convinced 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 had enchained.

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.

Since your 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.

Better than 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.

Because in 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 of consternation.

O Therese, 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.

May your 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...

O Therese, 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...

May there 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 Love.

To draw near to Jesus, we must be so little...

Oh! how few souls aspire to be little and unknown...”

From a letter written by Therese to her sister Celine.

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