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

LETTERS TO HER BROTHER MISSIONARIES




I

1895.

Our Divine Lord asks no sacrifice beyond our strength. At times, it is true, He makes us taste to the full the bitterness of the chalice He puts to our lips. And when He demands the sacrifice of all that is dearest on earth, it is impossible without a very special grace not to cry out as He did during His Agony in the Garden: "My Father, let this chalice pass from me!" But we must hasten to add: "Yet not as I will, but as Thou wilt."[1] It is so consoling to think that Jesus, "the Strong God,"[2] has felt all our weaknesses and shuddered at the sight of the bitter chalice--that very chalice He had so ardently desired.

Your lot is indeed a beautiful one, since Our Lord has chosen it for you, and has first touched with His own Lips the cup which He holds out to yours. A Saint has said: "The greatest honour God can bestow upon a soul is not to give to it great things, but to ask of it great things." Jesus treats you as a privileged child. It is His wish you should begin your mission even now,[3] and save souls through the Cross. Was it not by suffering and death that He ransomed the world? I know that you aspire to the happiness of laying down your life for Him; but the martyrdom of the heart is not less fruitful than the shedding of blood, and this martyrdom is already yours. Have I not, then, good reason to say that your lot is a beautiful one--worthy an apostle of Christ?


II

1896.

Let us work together for the salvation of souls! We have but the one day of this life to save them, and so give to Our Lord a proof of our love. To-morrow 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 your sacrifice. He knows that the sufferings of those you hold dear increase your own; but He has suffered this same martyrdom for our salvation. He, too, left His Mother; He beheld that sinless Virgin standing at the foot of the Cross, her heart pierced through with a sword of sorrow, and I hope he will console your own dear mother. . . . I beg Him most earnestly to do so.

Ah! If the Divine Master would permit those you are about to leave for His Love but one glimpse of the glory in store, and the vast retinue of souls that will escort you to Heaven, already they would be repaid for the great sacrifice that is at hand.


III

February 24, 1896.

Please say this little prayer for me each day; it sums up all my desires:

"Merciful Father, in the name of Thy sweet Jesus, of the Blessed Virgin, and all the Saints, I beg Thee to consume my sister with Thy spirit of love, and to grant her the grace to make Thee greatly loved."

If Our Lord takes me soon to Himself, I ask you still to continue this prayer, because my longing will be the same in Heaven as upon earth: _to love Jesus and to make Him loved._


IV

. . . . . . .

All I desire is God's Holy Will, and if in Heaven I could no longer work for His glory, I should prefer exile to Home.


V

June 21, 1897

You may well sing of the Mercies of God! They shine forth in you with splendour. You love St. Augustine and St. Mary Magdalen, those souls to whom many sins were forgiven because they loved much. I love them too; I love their sorrow, and especially their audacious love. When I see Mary Magdalen come forth before all Simon's guests to wash with her tears her Master's Feet--those Feet that for the first time she touches--I feel her heart has fathomed that abyss of love and mercy, the Heart of Jesus; and I feel, too, that not only was He willing to forgive, but even liberally to dispense the favours of a Divine and intimate friendship, and to raise her to the loftiest heights of prayer.

My Brother, since I also have been given to understand the Love of the Heart of Jesus, I confess that all fear has been driven from mine. The remembrance of my faults humbles me; and it helps me never to rely upon my own strength--which is but weakness--but more than all, it speaks to me of mercy and of love. When a soul with childlike trust casts her faults into Love's all-devouring furnace, how shall they escape being utterly consumed?

I know that many Saints have passed their lives in the practice of amazing penance for the sake of expiating their sins. But what of that? "In my Father's house there are many mansions."[4] These are the words of Jesus, and therefore I follow the path He marks out for me; I try to be nowise concerned about myself and what Jesus deigns to accomplish in my soul.


VI

1897.

On this earth where everything changes, one thing alone does never change--our Heavenly King's treatment of His friends. From the day He raised the standard of the Cross, in its shadow all must fight and win. "The life of every missionary abounds in crosses," said Théophane Vénard. And again: "True happiness consists in suffering, and in order to live we must die."

Rejoice, my Brother, that the first efforts of your Apostolate are stamped with the seal of the Cross. Far more by suffering and by persecution than by eloquent discourses does Jesus wish to build up His Kingdom.

You are still--you tell me--a little child who cannot speak. Neither could Father Mazel, who was ordained with you, and yet he has already won the palm . . . Far beyond our thoughts are the thoughts of God! When I learnt that this young missionary had died before he had set foot on the field of his labours, I felt myself drawn to invoke him. I seemed to see him amidst the glorious Martyr choir. No doubt, in the eyes of men he does not merit the title of Martyr, but in the eyes of God this inglorious death is no less precious than the sacrifice of him who lays down his life for the Faith.

Though one must be exceeding pure before appearing in the sight of the All-Holy God, still I know that He is infinitely just, and this very Justice which terrifies so many souls is the source of all my confidence and joy. Justice is not only stern severity towards the guilty; it takes account of the good intention, and gives to virtue its reward. Indeed I hope as much from the Justice of God as from His Mercy. It is because He is just, that "He is compassionate and merciful, longsuffering, and plenteous in mercy. For He knoweth our frame, He remembereth that we are dust. As a father hath compassion on his children, so hath the Lord compassion on us."[5]

O my Brother, after these beautiful and consoling words of the Royal Prophet, how can we doubt God's power to open the gates of His Kingdom to His children who have loved Him unto perfect sacrifice, who have not only left home and country so as to make Him known and loved, but even long to lay down their lives for Him? . . . Jesus said truly there is no greater love than this. Nor will He be outdone in generosity. How could He cleanse in the flames of Purgatory souls consumed with the fire of Divine Love?

I have used many words to express my thought, and yet I fear I have failed. What I wish to convey is, that in my opinion all missionaries are Martyrs by will and desire, and not even one should pass through the purifying flames.

This, then, is what I think about the Justice of God; my own way is all confidence and love, and I cannot understand those souls who are afraid of so affectionate a Friend. Sometimes, when I read books in which perfection is put before us with the goal obstructed by a thousand obstacles, my poor little head is quickly fatigued. I close the learned treatise, which tires my brain and dries up my heart, and I turn to the Sacred Scriptures. Then all becomes clear and lightsome--a single word opens out infinite vistas, perfection appears easy, and I see that it is enough to acknowledge our nothingness, and like children surrender ourselves into the Arms of the Good God. Leaving to great and lofty minds the beautiful books which I cannot understand, still less put in practice, I rejoice in my littleness because "only little children and those who are like them shall be admitted to the Heavenly banquet."[6] Fortunately--"there are many mansions in my Father's House":[7] if there were only those--to me--incomprehensible mansions with their baffling roads, I should certainly never enter there . . .


VII

July 13, 1897.

Your soul is too great to cling to the consolations of earth, and even now its abode should be in Heaven, for it is written: "Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also."[8] Is not Jesus your only treasure? Now that He is in Heaven, it is there your heart should dwell. This sweet Saviour has long since forgotten your infidelities. He sees only your longing after perfection, and the sight makes glad His Heart.

Stay no longer at His Feet, I beseech you, but follow this first impulse to throw yourself into His Arms. Your place is there, and I see clearly--more clearly than in your former letters--that all other heavenly route is barred to you save the way your little sister treads.

I hold with you when you say that the Heart of Jesus is more grieved by the thousand little imperfections of His friends than by the faults, even grave, which His enemies commit. Yet it seems to me, dear Brother, it is only when those who are His own are habitually guilty of want of thought, and neglect to seek His pardon, that He can say: "These Wounds which you see in the midst of My Hands, I have received in the house of those who love Me."[9] But His Heart thrills with you when He had to deal with all those who truly love, and who after each little fault come to fling themselves into His Arms imploring forgiveness. He says to His Angels what the prodigal's father said to his servants: "Put a ring upon his finger, and let us rejoice."[10] O Brother! Verily the Divine Heart's Goodness and Merciful Love are little known! It is true that to enjoy these treasures we must humble ourselves, must confess our nothingness . . . and here is where many a soul draws back.


VIII

1897.

What attracts me towards our Heavenly Home is the Master's call--the hope of loving Him at last to the fulfilling of all my desire--the thought that I shall be able to win Him the love of a multitude of souls, who will bless Him through all eternity.

I have never asked God that I might die young--that to me were a cowardly prayer; but from my childhood He has deigned to inspire me with a strong conviction that my life would be a short one.

I feel we must tread the same road to Heaven--the road of suffering and love. When I myself have reached the port, I will teach you how best to sail the world's tempestuous sea--with the self-abandonment of a child well aware of a father's love, and of his vigilance in the hour of danger.

I long so much to make you understand the expectant love of the Heart of Jesus. Your last letter has made my own heart thrill sweetly. I learnt how closely your soul is sister to mine, since God calls that soul to mount to Himself by the _lift of love,_ without climbing the steep stairway of fear. I am not surprised you find it hard to be familiar with Jesus--one cannot become so in a day; but this I do know, I shall aid you much more to tread this beautiful path when I lay aside the burden of this perishable body. Ere long you will exclaim with St. Augustine: "Love is my lodestone!"


IX

July 26, 1897.

When you read these few lines I shall perhaps be no more. I know not the future; yet I can confidently say that my Spouse is at the door. It would need a miracle to keep me in exile, and I do not think that Jesus will work that miracle--He does nothing that is of no avail.

Brother, I am so happy to die! Yes, happy . . . not because I shall be free from suffering: on the contrary, suffering combined with love seems the one thing worthy of desire in this vale of tears; but happy to die because far more than on earth I shall help the souls I hold dear.

Jesus has always treated me as a spoilt child. . . . It is true that His Cross has been with me from the cradle, but for that Cross He has given me a passionate love . . .


X

August 14, 1897.

I am about to go before God, and I understand now more than ever that one thing only is needful--to work for Him alone, and do nothing for self or creatures. Jesus wishes to own your heart completely. Before this can be, you will have much to suffer . . . but oh! what joy when comes the happy hour of going Home! I shall not die--I do but enter into Life . . . and whatsoever I cannot tell you here upon earth I will make you understand from the heights of Heaven. . . .







[1] Matt. 26:39.

[2] Isa. 9:6.

[3] This letter and the following are addressed to a Seminarist. [Ed.]

[4] John 14:2.

[5] Ps. 102[103]:8, 14, 13.

[6] Cf. Matt. 19:14.

[7] John 14:2.

[8] Luke 12:34.

[9] Cf. Zach. 13:6.

[10] Cf. Luke 15:22.





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