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Souvenirs autobiographiques de Mère Agnès

 

Autobiographical Recollections of Mother Agnes

 

Private Recollections

 

To Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart and to Sr Geneviève of the Holy Face and Saint Teresa, my beloved sisters.

 

                       JESUS 2nd March 1932

 

For the pleasure of my little sisters, who have loved me deeply and have grown old with me in the service of God, I have rewritten certain pages of the notebook I wrote in 1905. I have also torn up a good many, I admit, because they did not paint an accurate picture of my soul as it is today.

 

Over the past 27 years, so much has happened; so many different blessings have taught me and helped me to mature! I make no mention of them in this new notebook. I have stayed in the year of 1905. I have therefore said nothing of the great hardships that our community has undergone, or of the very hard yet very salutary experiences that we have shared, which have definitively placed us on the path of humility and truth and for which we have only to praise God . . .
I have also decided not to relate the quite extraordinary and dreadful persecutions that we endured for the sake of little Thérèse’s cause on the part of our Lexovien family, * (that is to say from Francis, and also from our poor cousin, Jeanne La Néele, who later repented and asked for our forgiveness. After his death, Doctor La Néele returned to beg, with quite extraordinary signs, for both forgiveness and prayers . . .) family which was pitted against us by enemies of Carmel. How we suffered at their hands! Not only in terms of the overall iconography, but also in terms of the organisation of Les Buissonnets, the small Boutique opposite the convent, and particularly the purchase of Thérèse’s birthplace in Alençon! . . .
Then there is Father Ubald! His name alone conjures up such dreadful memories for us!!! Not forgetting the machinations of the devil concerning the Basilica last year!

 

But if I were to provide a detailed reminder of all these crosses, then I ought also to provide a detailed reminder of all the sources of deep, indescribable joy we have had, notably the Beatification and Canonisation of Thérèse, and many other events involving her glory and worship. Then we would see (with much tender gratitude) that despite our past trials, and despite all the trials we may yet have to face, we must always agree that God’s balance has tilted largely in our favour, not in terms of His severity, but in terms of His mildness and ineffable predilections.
Your little Pauline, aged 70 and a half,

 


                          Sr Agnes of Jesus u.c.n.

 

Extracts from my recollections
When I was very small, Mamma would sit me on her lap and tell me stories of Saints’ Lives. It was the story of the Curé d’Ars which struck me the most because the devil called him “Vianney! Vianney!” And I would often ask Mamma to tell me the story of “Vianney!”

 

She once told me that in heaven, only the Virgins would follow Jesus, the spotless Lamb, wherever He went. They would wear crowns of white roses and sing a hymn that only they could sing. I told her that I wished to be a virgin and wear a beautiful white crown, and I asked her what colour her own would be, as she had pointed out to me that married people would not have white crowns. She answered that she would probably have a crown of red roses. “Oh, Mamma!” I exclaimed, “I shall never marry, so as not to have a red crown in heaven!”

 

At the age of 5 or 6, my guardian angel appeared to me in a dream. He was tall and very handsome, with white clothing and wings. He took my hand and led me down a little path, which was so shady that I could see nothing either side of me or above my head other than leaves. Our walk down the little path seemed to take a long time. I dared not speak, but I felt very happy. At last we reached a large, deserted and raised meadow. In the middle of the meadow I saw Our Lord nailed to the cross. The angel had me kneel at his feet and disappeared. When I joined the Carmelite convent and saw the cross in the inner courtyard, I immediately thought of my dream; and the small statue of the Guardian Angel at the end of the corridor leading to the workers’ door also reminded me of it very often, because the corridor evokes the shady path. I think that the dream is an image of my life in many respects . . . .
One night at about the same time, I saw, not in a dream but in reality, the Most Blessed Virgin. Oh, how beautiful she was! She gently leant over my little bed, and looked at me tenderly, as a mother watches over her child. I returned her gaze, delighted, thinking, “It’s the Blessed Virgin!” (Sr Marie of the Holy Spirit painted the scene as best she could from my instructions. I wish to keep the little painting for myself; I would be very upset if it were ever photographed.)
Without saying anything, she instilled in my heart wonderfully sweet sentiments of purity. It was a Saturday. The following morning, our servant Louise called to me and Hélène to change our nightshirts. She began with me, but I was very reverent and did not say a word to her, whereas she was in the mood for fun and laughter. I asked her to leave me be because “I had seen the Blessed Virgin.” She immediately began to mock me, tiring me with her questions. She insisted on knowing on what the Bl. Virgin had been walking. I answered naively, “I think she walked on pearls.” Another burst of laughter! “Ah, on two pearls! On two wheels!” I hadn’t said “on two pearls” and felt miserable, although I did not lose the conviction of having seen the Blessed Virgin.

 

(Enclosed:)

 


+ Jesus. Mary
One Saturday in my early childhood, during the night

 

I saw the Virgin and felt her presence, by my bed

 

Return Mary, in my old age, to my side;

 

And may my heaven of eternal youth near You be spent . . . . .
                        2nd October 1942
Sixtieth anniversary of my admission to Carmel,

Sr Agnes of Jesus u.d.c.

 

I said nothing to Mamma about my vision. A feeling of shyness held me back. Yet the Blessed Virgin let me remain silent, because our extremely pious Mamma would no doubt have made too much of the blessing I had been shown; I feel I might have lost a certain inner happiness, which time has not erased.

 

Here is an example of God’s manifest protection towards me. It was at about the same time, that is to say before I turned 7. Climbing the stairs one day, Louise, who was very young and inexperienced, began tickling my calves. At first I laughed good-naturedly, but she persisted, and I fell into a fit of uncontrollable laughter.
On seeing this, she took me to one of the second floor bedrooms, placed me on a bed, and continued tickling the soles of my feet. I laughed despite myself, but more and more weakly, because I could feel myself choking. At that very moment, Mamma opened the door. She looked at me stupefied and said to Louise severely, “What are you doing?! Can’t you see the danger the poor girl is in?” Everything was made as calm as possible and little by little the laughing subsided. This incident became engraved in my memory, to the extent that I can still remember every detail. Little Hélène and I were very frightened of Louise because she would severely scold us when we soiled our clothes. It was nothing short of tyranny. For instance, if, when a day-boarder at the Providence convent school with Marie, I happened to get the faintest stain on my tights, I would try to wash it off at the side of a small pond; but I would succeed only in making it worse and would go home trembling all over. After Hélène died, Louise deeply regretted having terrorised her. She would often go to pray and weep on her grave. As a consequence of her regret and remorse, she proceeded in the exact opposite manner with regards to Céline, spoiling her indiscriminately. Marie was never afraid of her and in fact dominated her.
As for Léonie, who was very difficult as a child, Louise always made her unhappy, no matter what attempts were made to take her off her hands. Twice Mamma tried to send her to the Visitation convent boarding school with us, but she was unable to stay, and when she left, it was only to find herself once more under the influence of Louise, despite all our poor mother’s signs of affection towards her. I think that this was due to some sly, devilish trickery, because Léonie has always had a good heart and good nature deep down.
At the Providence convent school, I was extremely docile, and did everything that was asked of me. The older boarders took advantage of this and made me do foolish things and teased me, but Marie would protect me fiercely and stand up for me. One day when, during recreation in the garden, a pupil had made me cry, she said to me, bristling with anger, “Show me who upset you,” and launched into pursuit of the culprit.
At that same time, one day off school, we took to amusing ourselves at home by jumping over obstacles we had placed in the middle of a room. Although the game was very innocent, I put a great deal of energy and passion into it. But suddenly, I realised that in some of my more acrobatic movements I was not being modest. In short, my conscience told me to stop. I was not to listen to it, because, to give me a healthy hatred of sin, no doubt, something happened to me the following night, and it was not a dream. I saw a tall man come into the bedroom where I was sleeping beside little Hélène and Louise. At first I took him for my grandfather, whilst thinking to myself, “How was Grandpa able to come in here when there is Mamma and Papa’s bedroom to pass through first?”

 

All of a sudden I heard the man mutter something between his teeth, and I immediately thought to myself, “It’s the devil!” He walked over to my bed, then towards Hélène’s, where he said, “This one is very good . . .” Then he left the bedroom. My bed head leant against the side of the chest of drawers on which stood the statue of the Blessed Virgin that we now call, “the Virgin of the Smile”. I got up, trembling all over, and knelt on the chest of drawers right by the statue. I recited the Memorare extremely fervently, praying to the Blessed Virgin that I might never offend God. I don’t think I’ve ever recited a Memorare with such feeling in my whole life.

 

I was godmother to my little brother Marie-Joseph-Jean-Baptiste, who died at the age of nine months. When he was laid in our parents’ big bed in the mornings, I would climb on the end of the bed, and there I would dance, making the little boy roar with laughter. I can still hear his delightful little tinkling laugh. Oh, how I loved him! How devastated I was when, opening my bedroom door on the morning of 24th August 1868, Mamma said to me, “Your little brother is dead!” And so it was, he had flown to heaven in the night, having spent his last hours on Mamma’s lap in great suffering. I can still see him in his little coffin. He looked like an angel, and Mamma said, “Must this really be placed in the earth?” but she was very resigned! She received the lace-makers’ visits all the same, with the little coffin standing in front of her office window. This scene is engraved in my memory. It must have been the day prior to the burial.

 

At the beginning of October that year, 1868, I joined the Visitation convent school in Le Mans with Marie. I was all but 7 and one month old. If Marie had not been with me, I think I should have died of grief, so deeply did I love my parents.
However I did not weep when I left them, because Marie wept enough for both of us! I said to myself, “It is quite enough that one of us should cry like that. It would upset Papa and Mamma too much if I cried as well.”
I can remember the first time that I returned to Alençon particularly well. It was for the New Year holiday. A lady whom our parents knew brought us home. As we drew into our street, Rue du Pont-Neuf, I could no longer contain my emotion or my happiness. My heart was beating wildly. I could make out the lights of the clockmaker’s shop in the distance. I couldn’t speak! In no time at all I would see my parents again, throw myself into their arms, and be cuddled by them, after what to me had seemed like centuries of absence even though it had been only three months! (Written in 1932!)

 

Oh such sweet and pure sentiments of childhood! How well they apply to the advanced age that I have reached! For here I am, turning the last street corner and I can see my father’s house at last!! I have almost reached port, what bliss! What rapture! And there will be no returning to the boarding school of exile after a few days’ holiday! No! That time will come to an end, to be replaced by the eternal family reunion, with God, our relatives, and the whole of heaven!

 

After my first confession at the Visitation convent, I said to my aunt, “Aunt, it’s ever so sad! Now I’m going to have to commit sins in order to go back to confession!!!” “What are you talking about, dear child!” “Well, Aunt, I saw a list on the door to the confessional with the names of all the nuns on, and they pull a short cord next to their name every week when leaving the confessional. All the cords are gone by the end of the week, and the nuns go back to confession all over again the following week. That means, then, that they keep committing sins to receive absolution.” My aunt did not seem pleased at this remark and when I did not understand the explanations she gave me, she earmarked me as being "obstinate" in my opinions. It is true that I often stood up against her. Marie was much more docile and more humble than I was. She was also more expansive with our dear aunt. If she made the slightest blunder, she would run and tell our aunt about it. As for me, I was shrewd enough to realise that she would watch me from through a small arched classroom window at the top of a staircase she climbed every day. And whenever she said, “Pauline, you are talking instead of studying,” or “I know you are playing about with your neighbours,” it would frustrate me. I would say to myself, “It is not surprising she knows what I am doing because she can see me!” All the same, I was not always playing about in class. I did my best and I considered myself unlucky to be seen just as I was misbehaving.
It is true that my extreme liveliness got me into big trouble. When I did not win the “rosette” (small medal given to good pupils on Sundays) I would cry until I made myself sick. The class mistress said to me one day, “Come now, Pauline, do be sensible. Anyone would think you had lost your father and mother!”

 

When our little sister Hélène died, on 22nd February 1870, my aunt announced it to us with much gentleness and affection. Marie let out a wail of grief. I myself felt so shocked that I was unable to shed a single tear. My aunt said to me later that my reaction had surprised her, that I had less heart than Marie. This hurt me deeply. Little Hélène’s death had in fact left a very deep hole in my heart. I took a long time to recover from it. I was unable to play with others, and would often look to heaven where my little sister lived with the Angels. After her death, my holidays lost much of their charm. And what is more, Louise poisoned family life because we knew that Léonie was unhappy in her care.

 

I was inclined to piety. I loved everything relating to God. Very often, before falling asleep, I would bury myself beneath my bed-covers and think about how God had had no beginning and would have no end. That He would have no end, I could just about grasp, I think, but the fact that He had had no beginning awed me and escaped me, to the extent that there always came a moment when I would come out from under the covers to distract myself and to stop thinking about a mystery that was unfathomable to me.

 

Marie took her First Communion at the age of just 9 and four months. She was overjoyed that an exception had been made for her on account of our holy aunt being very sick. It was feared she may not be there the following year. Marie always reminded me of an angel, and she deserved this exception. On the day of her First Communion, she prayed so fervently for my aunt’s recovery that the latter immediately felt better and went on to live for another six years. The whole convent was in amazement. Oh, how it made me want to take my First Communion!

 


My heart was so pure then! Growing older, I had the misfortune of not doing as Thérèse did . . . When I noticed several pupils showing particular affection for one of our teachers, I chose to imitate them, and was able to succeed! Oh, wretched knowledge! It has been for me the source of great evils!   However, I made a very good First Communion, I think, and I was already considering becoming a nun. My First Communion was on 2nd July 1872, when I was almost eleven. Little Thérèse would be born 6 months later. In the afternoon, my friend Marie-Thérèse, who had been chosen to read the Consecration to the Blessed Virgin, was suddenly taken very ill. The class mistress looked among her fellow communicants to see who could replace her. She no doubt saw the ardent desire in my eyes, because she handed me the script saying, “Well, you try it!” I read out the act of consecration as best I could and I was the one who recited it at the chapel.

 



Since you have expressed the wish to know the names of my fellow first communicants, here is the list:

 

Marie Thérèse Pallu de Bellay, who became Madame de Feydeau and who still writes to me.

 

Blanche de Mailly
Marguerite de Cumont (Mother of a Carmelite nun in Caen)
Yvonne de la Piquerie, who is now with the Little Sisters of the Poor, with her ‘poor’ husband! Geneviève de Viennay (?) who died a very sorry death in dreadful circumstances! She is in particular need of God’s mercy. She was unfaithful to her husband, even though he was perfect. I never did like the girl...

 

Geneviève de la Porte, Edith’s sister (Madame de Mesmay)

 

Marie de Baglion who devotes her life to doing good works

 

Madeleine de la Charrie who became a Visitandine in Le Mans

 

Perhaps Eugénie Vérité (who had an aunt at the Carmel of Le Mans, I think), but I cannot be sure about her.

 

The young teacher of whom I was so fond, Sr Jeanne Charlotte de Beausse, who was then only a novice.

 

During the retreat prior to her religious profession, I would see her sitting in the inner courtyard every day and I thought, “Oh, how wonderful it would to be a nun! When will I be a nun, and in turn take my retreat in preparation for becoming Jesus’ spouse?” because I was considering becoming a Visitandine later on. The nun died soon afterwards.

 

I therefore grew wildly attached to another of my teachers (Sr Aloysia Vallée) whom I already liked very much. As had happened with Sr Jeanne-Charlotte, she loved me back. But how wretched such excessive affection is! Oh my God, why did I not love You alone! Why did I let my wings be clipped and burnt so many times on the fickle flame that is creatures’ vain affection! I mistook that faint flame for the light of true happiness, but it died out, and I was left wounded, dependant on Your mercy for “new wings which are more brilliant and delicate with which to fly towards You, Jesus, that Divine Fire which burns and does not consume.”

 

Sr Marie-Aloysia died in 1904. The Mother Superior of the Visitation Convent of Le Mans sent me her crucifix. I put it on display in the storeroom, and often when I look at it, I remember a passage from The Imitation of Christ, “Love Him, then; keep Him as a friend. He will not leave you as others do . . . .”  

 

One Christmas I was given a beautiful bound book with a gilded spine. It was the story of Saint Fabiola. I enjoyed reading it immensely. All depictions of heroes and martyred virgins delighted me. I read the writing below the pictures over and over again. For example, “Agnes seemed in reverie . . . Then the moon shone brightly . . . .” Ah, the moon was bright in the era of persecutions. It certainly lit some beautiful scenes!
I was deprived of my book when I joined the boarding school, but at a lottery one day, Marie de Baglion won a small edition of Fabiola’s story, and I won a pretty porcelain rose. I suggested we swap and she accepted, because her tiny book was worth less than my rose apparently.

 

When Mary left the school, I alone remained at the Visitation and never were Mamma’s letters so dear or precious to me as they were then. Handing me one such letter one day, having just received it, the class mistress said to me, “Take this Pauline, it’s a letter from your Mamma. To my knowledge, no other pupil at this school receives the like.” (Sr Marie Louis de Gonzague Vétillard was a real saint. She had succeeded Sr Marie Paula, who had been sent to Angers.)
My dear mother, who certainly knew how to cheer me, told me all manner of details relating to my little sisters, Céline and Thérèse. She wrote in very small letters, without leaving any of the paper blank, otherwise I would not have been pleased.
During that last year of boarding school, I had some very alarming news of her health, even though she would tell me as little as possible about it. Incidentally, it was after my aunt’s death that her illness worsened.
My aunt died on 24th February 1877. A few days later, I saw her in a dream. She was very beautiful and wore a crown of roses. We were in the cloister of a monastery, by the nuns’ choir, and she walked towards me with her arms outstretched. I told Mamma about my dream in a letter and she wanted to know more, but a teacher to whom I had related it teased me, and so I was ashamed and said no more about it. Mamma said in a letter that she believed in it nevertheless: “What can I say, Pauline, I like to ponder spiritual matters. It lifts my soul closer to heaven.”
As soon as I arrived home for the Easter holidays, she took me aside and begged me to tell her more about that famous dream. Poor Mother! She couldn’t get anything out of me. It still pains me to think about it. Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart kept a letter in which I talk about the dream. There is a lengthy description written on a note to which my aunt had just replied. I have no memory of the dream now other than what I have just written down. I cannot remember what the note said. On our pilgrimage to Lourdes in June 1877, Mamma relied heavily on my prayers for her recovery. It was incredible how much faith she had in me and how much she loved me! But I was not very fervent on the trip, and I could tell that she was disappointed . . . . Léonie irritated Marie and me, and moreover we had to sing hymns that we did not know . . . and we were not in the mood for singing.
At the entrance to the pool, we anxiously waited for the miracle to happen. “Mamma,” we asked as soon as she left the pool, “are you healed?” Alas, she was not cured until two months later, when the Blessed Virgin took her to heaven and had her drink from the fountain of living water that no longer flows from the rock in the wilderness but from the heart of God. In the grotto, I saw her bathe Léonie’s forehead with the miraculous water several times. This was not in vain, for Léonie has become very holy. When my darling mother noticed how sad I was on the homeward journey, she tried to comfort me by saying, “Do not expect joy on earth, Pauline. The words that the Blessed Virgin said to Bernadette apply to you too: ‘I will not make you happy in this world, but in the other.’”

 


A small recollection of my trip

 


Mamma wished to pay a visit to Mgr Peyramale, with whom I believe she had corresponded. He was absent. The housekeeper who answered the door was strikingly modest, especially as she was of distinguished background. As she did not see us out at once, Mamma mentioned the grotto and the deep impression that it had made upon her. “Oh, Madam,” replied the housekeeper, “I can assure you that it is nothing to what it was! When you have seen Bernadette in rapture as I saw her, you have seen enough for a lifetime!” She dried a tear and related how, on several occasions, she had watched young Bernadette kneeling as though by miracle on the rock’s rough slope, and had seen the candle flame licking the girl’s fingers without burning them, her face radiant as she contemplated the Blessed Virgin. . .

 

Remembering this account always does me good; it inspires me with a deep love for Lourdes.

 

A Visitation School pupil’s little story of the “white crown”

 


Upon returning to Le Mans, I had only a few weeks left before my perpetual holidays began; yet I was hoping that my awards would include the “white crown”. This was the highest distinction in terms of overall satisfaction that could be given to a pupil leaving the school. I had seen it awarded only once in my nine years at the school. To achieve it, it was necessary that, for the duration of the last year, the pupil obtained consistently very high marks, was always on the Honour Roll, always achieved the medal for politeness, etc.
I studied my marks-sheet in silence, and realised that the white crown would not to fall to me, but extraordinarily enough, no one except me gave it a thought.
The time came for the award presentation, and there was no white crown for Pauline, or for anyone! I wept as I went up to embrace the Mother Superior at the end, and told her the reason for my tears: “Mamma is very sick and I would have been ever so pleased to win the white crown for her.” The dear Mother Superior looked most surprised. Afterwards she tried to explain the matter to me. I was short of one point for politeness in the last term. I knew this, but as it had been acknowledged that I was not personally to blame in a little incident involving a novice, because the entire top class had been at fault, I had thought, “I will have the white crown all the same.” How foolish I was to remain silent! All I had needed do was tell the class mistress of my hopes!
Mamma saw how disappointed I was about it and said, “Do not upset yourself so, little Pauline. It makes no difference to me. I am very pleased with you, and if you like, I will buy you a white crown.” This was all very well, but there was no other crown I wanted!!

 

It was on the 28th of that same month of August that Mamma was to die! Oh, what sadness descended on the household! One day when Mamma was in bed and I was tending her in silence, she took my hands, kissed them and said, “Poor darling, what a terrible holiday this is for you! And there I was so looking forward to having you all to myself! O Pauline, you are my treasure. I know you will be a nun some day, and that you will become a saint. I am not worthy to have a daughter such as you. You are my pride and joy.” Those might not be her exact words but they were along those lines. I felt rather embarrassed at such praise, because I knew how far I was from deserving it!
Mamma instructed me and Marie to bring up our little sisters well and above all to make Léonie happy. “If there was regret to be had in life,” she told us, “then it would be for that poor child.” It had been only a few months since, thanks to Marie’s courage, Léonie had been freed from Louise’s frightful oppression.
However, credit where credit’s due, the maid nursed Mamma very well throughout her illness. She was deeply fond of her.

 

Our poor Mamma sorely needed comfort. One day I received a letter from the Visitation convent in which the Mother Superior quoted the following passage from St Francis de Sales. “An ounce of virtue practiced in adversity is worth more than a thousand pounds exercised in prosperity.” Mamma made me repeat it several times before reciting it over and over again.
When my uncle and aunt arrived, I went to bed with Céline and Thérèse in the little house in the garden, above the laundry room. It was there, from under the window of that bedroom that, at about midnight on 28th August 1877, my uncle called to me and said, in a voice I’ll never forget, “Pauline, your mother is no longer sick! She is dead!”
I wanted to go to him, but he forbade me. I had not gone to sleep, I had been writing to the Visitation convent. I went over to my little sisters, who were both asleep and thought, “However will I break the sad news to them in the morning!” The previous day, we should have realised that Mamma was dying. I know better now! She was in agony when we left her in her armchair at about 9 o’clock in the evening. Oh, what a sweet smile she managed to give my aunt when she arrived that evening from Lisieux . . . yet she could no longer speak. I cannot remember what little Thérèse said upon her painful awakening! But she conveys her feelings well in Story of a Soul.

 

She went on to relate how she chose me as her “second mother,” how we went to live in Lisieux, and what family life was like in our new home at Les Buissonnets. I took care of her beautiful, angelic soul, her early schooling, and every aspect of her life. Whenever I noticed she was slightly unwell, which would sometimes happen in winter because her colds easily developed into bronchitis, I would worry sick. Yet I was inexperienced. I should have put her to bed immediately; she would have recovered much more swiftly. I thought about doing so, but I would have to have thought her at death’s door to put her to bed. She would therefore sit on her little chair opposite the chest of drawers we had kept from the old house. She would spend hours there, with her head in her hands. I’m sure she had a high fever. Once she felt a pain in her chest, and we did put her to bed then. She described how I brought her up, but I regret having at times been unnecessarily strict with her, because she was a heavenly little creature. I realise now that, when Mamma would write to me at the Visitation convent about, for example, her little tantrums, it was only to have something juicy to tell me, because all that interested me was hearing about my little sisters. “I’m racking my brains trying to think of something to tell you about Thérèse,” she wrote one day.

 

If Thérèse said that, from the age of 3 onwards, she had refused God nothing, then it must be concluded that as soon as she reached the age of reason, she did nothing wrong. I looked after Céline too, and I prepared her for her First Communion. I was well rewarded because on that day, Céline resembled a lily of innocence. Everyone was struck by it. Upon returning to Les Buissonnets that evening, my uncle said to me, “What a good First Communion this child made! It’s thanks to your work, Pauline.” I have never forgotten this compliment; I like to think it came from God Himself.

 

Léonie had become very kind and very good. She stood out for her good heart. Marie was the angel in the house. Selfless, as she had been her entire life, she was Papa’s delight, and she was my most devoted and dearest sister. She took it upon herself to take sole care of the house in order to let me paint the famous alb for Fr Ducellier, who was our joint confessor. I began the alb in October 1880, and worked on it for 8 hours a day until 1882, when I gave it to him before joining the Carmel. She let me carry out this work only because she knew it brought me joy. In 1878, Papa took Marie and me to Paris to see the Universal Exhibition. We stayed for a fortnight. Montmartre basilica was no higher than the ground; only the foundations were visible. I enjoyed every aspect of the trip. We also went to Versailles.
There is nothing much to say about it, other than perhaps that coming back from the Trocadero one day, I saw two white halos in the sky over the Seine River and have never found an explanation for them. They were so clear and perfectly round!
In any case, those halos inspired me with devotion. They reminded me of the martyrs, unless they were heralding Thérèse’s canonisation and patronage of missions. Little sisters, do not mention this to anyone. People would mock me. I gasped, pointing out the halos to Papa and Marie but I do not think they saw anything and I did not labour the point.

 

I remember that for the duration of that fortnight, my heart was filled with feelings of piety and detachment from earthly things, even in the theatre to which Papa once took us upon our uncle’s request. He had been worried about the play, which, although very suitable, held little interest for us. When I was 19, I wrote to the Visitation Convent of Le Mans, asking at what age I could be admitted there. The reply was “between 22 and 23.” I waited patiently until 16th February 1882, when the following happened: I was attending the 6 o’clock Mass at the church of St Jacques, in the chapel of Our Lady of Mount Carmel with Papa and Marie. Suddenly, my soul was filled with a bright light, and God showed me clearly that He wanted me not at the Visitation convent, but at Carmel. I must also say that the memory of a friend, Clémentine Saal, who was predestined for Carmel but had died the preceding year, came to mind. She must certainly have prayed for me. I had been assured that she was thinking of joining Carmel and would have chosen the name Agnes of Jesus. I remember feeling my cheeks grow red with emotion and being afraid that my emotion was visible on my way to and from Communion. I had never given Carmel a thought, and then in an instant I found myself irresistibly drawn to it!

 

As soon as we had returned to Les Buissonnets, I shared my secret with Marie. She pointed out only the austerity of the Carmelite Order, saying that my health was not strong enough for me to embrace that life. Papa, to whom I made my request that very day, while he was in the belvedere, said much the same as Marie. Yet I could tell that, deep down, he was very proud to see that vocation in me.

 

That afternoon, I met him on my way upstairs. He looked a little sad. “Do not think, Pauline,” he said, “that while I am happy to offer you to God, I will not suffer to part from you,” and he embraced me affectionately. All his words and actions were simple, like his beautiful patriarchal soul. I spoke to Father Ducellier, and to my uncle and aunt. But alas, by keeping it from little Thérèse, I caused her most tender and loving heart to bleed. Ah, had I but known the pain I was causing her, how differently I would have gone about things! I would have told her everything! Did she not, at the age of 9, possess a wisdom beyond my reckoning? . . . However, I take comfort today from thinking that my error served God’s designs: He demonstrated this by way of the blessings that followed.
On my first visit to the Carmel of Lisieux, I was intending only to ask the Mother Prioress to present me to the Carmel of Caen, for I had been informed that there were few places at Lisieux. Mother Marie de Gonzague, the Prioress, seemed very kind and told me not to give Caen a thought, for she would succeed in finding me a cell in her convent.

It was, I believe, the next time I visited her that she gave me a small holy card which I found delightful:

 

Dream of youth: the shepherdess

 


“A shepherdess dreamt . . . .” etc. and she told me I would be called Sr Agnes of Jesus. I was admitted on the morning of 2nd October 1882. I admired my poor father’s abnegation when he let me take my uncle’s arm to walk from Les Buissonnets to the Carmel. This pained me. It was strange indeed; Marie should have been walking in front with our uncle, and I behind on Papa’s arm. It was completely back to front.
At the convent door, Father Delatroëtte the Superior presented me to Fr Ducellier, who said a few touching words. Then the door closed and all the nuns gave me a kiss as is customary. I could not have been happier. As they thought me very pale, I was invited to sit down but I declined, saying, “I am not sick!” They laughed at this, but I did not understand why.

 

I grew very fond of Mother Marie de Gonzague. She was tall, distinguished, and particularly affectionate towards me. Yet I soon noticed her terrible penchant for jealousy. Sometimes I would go weeping to Mother Geneviève, my novice mistress, and by and by, the holy Mother’s confidence in me grew, and she would confide private matters to me once I was professed. One day, she laid her hand on my head and said with a kindly smile, “My child, I can’t help but open up my soul to you!” I took advantage of her advice to learn, and also to restore some peace to the convent, because, alas, Mother Prioress’ scenes often caused disturbances. I held great sway over the latter; Mother Geneviève called me an angel of peace. One day, a few months before she died, I went into the infirmary whilst she appeared to be conferring with Mother Marie de Gonzague. The latter looked at me in a way that had me realise they were talking about me, and told me afterwards in veiled terms that Mother Geneviève had designated me as future prioress material.
Here are the names of my fellow novitiates: Sr Marie of St Joseph,

 

Sr Marie Emmanuel (the widow), Sr Marie of Jesus, and a postulant, Sr Isabelle of the Angels, who did not stay at the Carmel.

 

Sr Marie of St Joseph was my guardian angel. She gave me much to suffer, as did Thérèse later on. She had no vocation whatsoever; that much was clear. To hear the advice she would give me!! I wondered what I had gotten myself into, I who had come to idealise Carmel so! She returned home on 29th June 1909 during Mother Marie-Ange’s time as prioress.

 

I, however, continued to love Mother Marie de Gonzague all the same, for in her good moments she really was very good-natured. She was pious, too, and very frank, and she had a certain candour, which had its charms!
The day of my Habit Reception, 6th April 1883, my poor little Thérèse, who was very sick at that time, came to embrace me before the ceremony. I sat her on my knees, as she relates in her manuscript. I can still picture her coming into the visiting room. She was so meek, so beautiful! She was wearing a sky blue cashmere dress, a silk sash of the same colour, and a large white hat with an ostrich feather in it.
In the sacristy, prior to my admittance to the convent, my sisters were visibly very upset, and in a moment of anguish, Papa as he embraced me said, “Will I not see you again?” I replied that he would always see me, as the Rule allowed visits . . . but my heart was very heavy.

 

It was very heavy also when Thérèse would weep after visiting Marie, but I was powerless to comfort her! I did not know what deep sadness had consumed her soul following my departure. I see clearly now that the five minutes she was allowed with me could only have distressed her further. What is more, I would be overly courteous with my aunt when she came with my young cousins, which was extremely foolish of me! Céline and Thérèse were as though invisible, because all my attention was directed away from them, and if I said something to my little sisters, or to Thérèse, it was only to . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . or to make other such comments. That was all she got from me on family visits!

 

Furthermore, I believed my behaviour appropriate, and that Marie would understand me and explain things to my poor little Thérèse, whose eyes I would always see fill with tears! And then there was that trembling lower lip, which showed she was trying not to cry! Oh, then again, had I but known! Fortunately, other very pleasant visits are engraved in my heart. There was the time when Marie related Thérèse’s healing and her vision of the Blessed Virgin! And there were two others, the one where Thérèse came by herself to see me after being healed; I can remember she was then in mourning over Grandmamma’s death, and that she looked even prettier than usual in black. And then there was her visit on the day of her First Communion.

 

When the time came for me to appear before the chapter for profession, Mother Geneviève was once again prioress, and Mother Marie de Gonzague, then novice mistress, made no mention of the matter to Mother Prioress out of subconscious jealousy. It was incomprehensible! After all, how could she reasonably make me wait two years until the next elections to have me make my vows in her hands?
Finally, Mother Geneviève said to her, “Dear Mother, you have not spoken to me of the profession of Sr Agnes of Jesus. Soon it will be too late and we have no reason to delay it. I will therefore put the matter forward at chapter.”
Poor Mother Prioress had to concede, and she confessed her sadness to me. I nevertheless sympathised with her. I was admitted unanimously, apparently, but that does not say much and happens more often than not. To think that Thérèse had two fewer votes! Or was it three? I cannot quite remember what I was told at the time, because I was not present at the vote. That afternoon, I went into the garden with a lump in my throat! And I went to pray before the picture of the Holy Face in the Hermitage . . .
My profession was fixed for 8th May. And so for having been held back for one month, I had the pleasure of offering myself to Jesus on the same day and at the same time as Jesus offered Himself to Thérèse for the first time.

 

On the eve of my profession, which I had to spend in the oratory because Mother Geneviève was already too frail to climb to the chapter room, Mother Sub-Prioress (Sr Marie of the Angels) and several other Sisters spent all day decorating our small sanctuary, touched as they were by the coincidence of the two celebrations.
After Matins, Mother Sub-Prioress invited Mother Marie de Gonzague to come with me and admire the decorations. She appeared displeased and refused to follow me.
She was seized with jealousy. She therefore stayed in the nun’s choir, and I went to the oratory alone, my heart broken. Finally, she made up her mind to come, but only to criticise everything and to say that it was over the top, that the like had never been seen, and so on. Then she returned to the nun’s choir whereas I, to please our Sisters, had to wax lyrical over two interweaving crowns hanging above the tabernacle and other emblems and symbols relating to the next day’s double celebration. These included two doves and two crests with the monograms of Thérèse and Agnes on them. The altar was decorated with flowers, relics and lamps. It was really delightful. But I was so upset that I left as soon as I could. I took refuge in the Hermitage of the Sacred Heart, and there I wept bitterly. I turned towards the statue of the Blessed Virgin and out loud begged my heavenly mother to have mercy on me and to detach my heart from my mistress, because I was angry at myself for allowing her to upset me so, instead of feeling joyful anticipation at my upcoming union with Jesus. (I exclaimed, sobbing, “To think tomorrow is the best day of my life!!!”)

 

At last I returned to the nuns’ choir, where I found Mother Marie de Gonzague still looking distraught. At midnight, upon leaving the nuns’ choir, I tried to embrace her. I felt sorry for her somehow. I thought how miserable she must have been! She seemed to soften then, and looked ashamed. I begged her to accompany me to my cell, which she did. Sr Marie of St Joseph had covered the mattress with little daisies.

 

In the words of the woman in Song of Songs, I may well have sung, “our bed is covered with flowers” but I did not speak Thérèse’s words, “I gratefully accept the thorn amid my flowers.” What is more, after having wept and suffered sorely, I was so tired that I could think of nothing but the bother of having to thank Sr Marie of St Joseph and removing the flowers.
When I awoke, I felt stronger and pronounced my vows filled with deep peace.

 

Mother Geneviève spoke of me as though of a saint (On the back of a holy card that Sr Marie of the Holy Spirit painted for my jubilee of 18th May 1944, I wrote one little detail of her exhortation. I do not think I have mentioned it elsewhere).

 

When I went to embrace Marie de Gonzague, she hugged me back rather coldly, but it bothered me less than the previous day. Oh, if only I could have remained in that blessed indifference! It is true that indifference is a blessing we cannot give ourselves. In the late afternoon, I saw little Thérèse in the visiting room “with her white veil like mine.” Her gaze was so penetrating and so gentle! What a special moment it was for us both! The outer petals of this pure little flower, that is to say her muslin clothes, looked creased and off-white to me. I mentioned this to the community, who had come to see her, but nobody else had noticed; quite the opposite in fact. I realise today that, even if it is as white as snow, material whiteness cannot compare to the spiritual whiteness of the heart in which God delights and in which He dwells through Communion. As I had seen the divine whiteness of an angel’s heart, the other looked dull in comparison. I left the visiting room reassured, much like the apostles when they came down from Tabor. A celestial atmosphere surrounded me.
O God, if the sight of an earthly angel was able to strengthen and comfort me so, then how much greater will be the eternal sight of your uncreated beauty, from which the immense beauty of the Saints flows!

 

I was elected Prioress for the first time on 20th February 1893. Thérèse said that for those three years I imitated David playing the harp for Saul . . . . Poor Mother Marie de Gonzague! Yet she was the one who had laboured for my election, but only to fear I would assume too much authority. She would have wanted me under her thumb constantly. How I suffered and wept during those three years! But I realise that it was a necessary burden for me: it helped me to mature and to detach my soul from earthly glory.

 

I was once again prioress when she died. Looking back on her election in 1896 following 7 rounds of votes, (an election which incidentally was not canonical) one needs to have witnessed what happened. It no doubt resulted from our Father Superior’s ignorance, but also, I’m convinced, from God’s impenetrable design, for many reasons. (March 1932) In the last years of her life, her cruel illness made her very unhappy and she knew well I was her only support and that the other Sisters were distancing themselves from her more and more. She always came to me for help, and would accept no one but me. She loved me as much as she was able, and I loved her with a sincere and unselfish love. I was also grateful, in a sense, because without her and her ascendancy over the Sisters, and even over our Father Superior, the four of us would never have been admitted to the Carmel, not forgetting our cousin Sr Marie of the Eucharist! We were the ones to stay with her in her last night . . . . The previous day, poor Mother Prioress had said to me, “When I leave this life, I will miss only you, my Darling Mother.” She died on 17th December 1904. I said a good deal more in my famous trial testimony. I spoke of her edifying death and of the regrets that she shared with me. (March 1932)

 

As for what I saw in the convent with regard to Thérèse, her virtues, and her sufferings, everything is recorded in God’s notebook; we shall read it in heaven. I spoke about these things also at the trial, and you will find that my testimony completes these pages with regard to Thérèse. (March 1932)
I dearly wanted her to be admitted here! How hard I worked to make it happen!!! It is fortunate I did not know the martyrdom awaiting me! She was to be extremely neglected, and very little attention was paid to her health! I witnessed unbelievable acts of carelessness, and was powerless to stop them. I will admit that on many occasions, I could not help what happened. I spoke out, but I lacked virtue, that much is certain. May God, Who has a mother’s heart, forgive me!
It pained my poor little Thérèse to see me suffer, and I was the cause of many heroic sacrifices on her part, I know. Yet surely some of the responsibility lies with the convent’s nuns for placing a weak and easily influenced prioress at their head, one who lacks the energy to remedy abuse! When inferiors have no more force of character than me, they may very well be driven to despair.

 

How I thank God for always having kept me from sliding down that slippery slope, for making sure my faltering foot never hit hard on the stones of scandal that were on my path!

 

Therefore I was Thérèse in action, in suffering and in silence. I saw her die; all three of us saw her die and what a death it was! My memories of it are both sublime and painful at once! During her religious life, she was simple of heart, and unknown, as though “alone on earth”. She was a heavenly pearl, one that was yet hidden. The world is beginning to appreciate her value . . . .

 

Something springs to mind regarding Thérèse’s last cell, which I occupied several years before her, before becoming prioress. I experienced great suffering in that same cell. One night in particular, I can remember moaning and weeping all night long on her account . . . . It was because I had fresh reason to believe she was being neglected, malnourished, and badly treated, at the risk of losing her health. Unable to console myself, in faith I went to see Mother Marie de Gonzague after Matins, to tell her how worried I was and to hear some words of comfort. Yet she met me with very harsh words.
Sister Marie-Philomène, whose bed was next to mine in what now is the little oratory, heard my sobs and wondered, “What can be the matter with poor Sr Agnes of Jesus?” She will make herself sick!” The following day, I was indeed shattered. It must have been a Sunday, because I can remember walking in the garden to get some air. I walked up and down, sighing, and begging God to come to my aid. I doubtlessly lacked courage, but I will say again, I saw some extremely serious and appalling acts of negligence in terms of this very virtuous and young child’s health! As provisor, I had to tolerate abuse so scandalous regarding her food portions that thinking about it pains me still today. To tell the truth, I was much too timid; I should have imposed myself in the kitchen. Had she been in my shoes, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart would never have surrendered her rights in such a way.

 

I wish to add that, when I lived in that famous cell, I often heard some very strange noises. When Thérèse occupied it, she heard all sorts of things, too. Sometimes she could hear what sounded like a clock ticking very quickly on the other side of her window. One Easter night, as I lay awake awaiting the 2:30 wake-up call, having got not a minute’s sleep, I clearly heard a window open noisily downstairs near the infirmary. Shortly afterwards, somebody climbed the stairs, and came to the cell door (Sr Marie Philomène was no longer by my side). I distinctly heard the first door to the dormitory open and close. Then there was a long silence. It is a wonder I did not die of fright.
I thought, “If only I could be in any doubt!” But I could not, and even now, after all these years and after all that has happened, I am still certain of the noises I heard. The following morning, I asked the nurses and Sisters who slept downstairs whether somebody had opened a window in the night. They replied that I had dreamt it! However, Mother Marie de Gonzague appeared a little startled. What can be concluded from all this, I do not know. Satan is so foolish! He was no doubt already furious as to what the future held. Little Thérèse had not yet joined the convent, and despite the feeling of fear that I felt, I can imagine it having been a heavenly herald of the many pilgrims that would visit the blessed cell! (Note written on 8th June 1943, at Sr Geneviève’s request)

 

(Continuation of pages 76 and 77) I do not wish to relate this strange occurrence without also conveying my feelings when the fine feast of Easter comes round each year. Since I have been at the convent, this “feast of feasts”, this “solemnity of solemnities” has always thrilled my soul. Not even the tiredness and fatigue of Holy Week or the sung Office at 2 o’clock on Easter morning can detract from my spiritual happiness; quite the opposite. These austerities are like an aftertaste of exile, increasing their power and divine charm.
The reading from The Liturgical Year, which explains the splendours of the mystery with such deeply penetrating words, is largely responsible for this fervour, I’m sure.
 Every year, when we sing the Exultet, my spirit rejoices. This, I realise, is a blessing, but then again, “everything is grace”, even when we feel nothing on Easter Day or any feast day. God has His designs, and we must praise Him for everything in faith, until we are called to the heavenly feast and eternal rapture.
On the day that Marie was professed, being the newest postulant, it was Thérèse’s duty to crown her darling sister and mother. The roles were therefore reversed, because the one who so many times had crowned “Papa’s little Queen” before sending her to strew rose petals over the Sacred Monstrance, now found herself being crowned by that same angelic hand.
The same will be true for all of us “at the hour of our death”, I am sure. Thérèse told me that we were born crowned, and she is the one ensuring that we keep that crown. How might we take our crowns to Purgatory? Thérèse will pin our predestined crown so tightly upon our head that it will stay there for eternity!
Now shall I share my thoughts on Marie? But I cannot, because my heart is too full for words! She is a beautiful diamond! She has such a pure and righteous heart! And she is always so selfless! I could give any number of touching examples to prove it! Oh, Marie, I could not get by without her, either on earth or in heaven. I do not know how I managed to stay one year at the Visitation school and four years at the Carmel without having her at my side . . . .

 

I will now say a few words about our family ordeal, even though it is difficult to paint a thorn bush when the thorns have transformed into roses and brought us pride and blessings. The thorns lasted for several long years, but the beginning was particularly trying what with all those agonising letters and visits! Prior to some such visits, I can remember kneeling and saying this prayer: “Dear God, I do wish to hear all that I will be told, but please help me to bear it!” Then, even were my heart crushed, I remained truly strong. The community in general had little discretion or consideration. Very often, when a person lacks tact, instead of offering comfort, they twist the knife further, even with the best of intentions. This is what happened several times, except where Mother Geneviève is concerned. From the very first moment of our most difficult ordeal, when Papa was lost we knew not where, she awaited us all day long in her infirmary, that she might comfort us. We were so devastated that we stayed for hours in the storeroom where Mother Marie de Gonzague had kindly seated us. At last, in the evening, we went to see Mother Geneviève.
She held out her arms to us and said, her voice catching with tears, “Come my poor children! Oh, what a long day today has seemed without seeing you!” And she spoke to us as someone who knows what it is to suffer. Then she added, “Do not weep, your Father is being well-looked after. After praying for you and for him this morning, I received these words: “Tell them he will come back tomorrow, and that he is unscathed.” And that is what happened, against all expectations.

 

Out in Le Havre, poor little Céline was searching for our poor father. He could have been lost anywhere, or perhaps murdered! How dreadful! Mother Geneviève’s prayer helped her immensely! Céline’s anguish on that day calls to mind that of the Blessed Virgin and St Joseph in their three day search for the Child Jesus in Jerusalem.
With all the humiliation and heartbreak that it brought with it, Papa’s illness strengthened our hearts. I myself did not once walk the Way of the Cross without recalling the following passage from The Imitation: “
No one understands the passion of Christ so thoroughly or heartily as the man whose lot it is to suffer the like himself.”
Although it was short-lived, as are all things temporal, our cross did not last for a single day but for three long years. During that time, the venerated name of the one we cherished gradually fell into silence. Were his name spoken among the community, where it had until then held a certain prestige, it was in a whisper, as though it were that of a dishonoured man. It reminded me of the friends of Job who, cautious in their friendship, said that God could not treat anyone but a sinner in such a way. This is an exaggeration, but you will understand. Many outside the convent blamed us for his affliction, saying that Thérèse’s entrance to the Carmel finally broke his heart. Furthermore, Céline reported certain details from Caen which saddened us, for example, Papa’s solicitor requested his signature renouncing the management of his estate in favour of his children at a time when he was still perfectly lucid. “My children have lost faith in me. They have abandoned me,” he exclaimed tearfully.

 

This is true, yet in another sense. We did abandon him completely but into the hands of God. Children of martyrs had abandoned their parents in this way in the arena, as parents had their own children. This thought was then familiar to me and calming. My feelings were the same when Thérèse died. Seeing as I had no way of relieving the indescribable suffering that she endured in her long illness, I pictured her as nothing less than a martyr in the arena and I fully consented to her death. This feeling could have come from nowhere but God and it gave me great strength.

 


Marie desperately wanted for Papa to return to Lisieux. I myself desired neither his recovery nor his return. I believe this was another blessing. However I am very pleased that Marie’s prayer was answered. She was right to ask God for his return. It was necessary for many reasons . . . .

 


A few days before Thérèse died, imagine my astonishment to hear a Sister at recreation say, “What will become of our Sisters when Sr Thérèse of the Child Jesus dies? We saw what happened when their father died!” I related what I had heard to Thérèse, who betrayed no emotion. She had long known the injustice and ignorance of men. She looked at me, her gaze full of wisdom, and said simply, “And we were so brave! It is of no importance, God knows everything.”

 

I think I have already said that, without Mother Marie de Gonzague’s ascendency over certain souls, never would the community have consented to letting a fourth blood sister join the convent. God evidently used her to bring us together and to try us! Yet what storms of jealousy I had to endure before I had the rightful pleasure of professing my own little sister Céline! The celebration seemed only more delightful as a result. Not a single cloud was in the sky that day. Equally cloudless was the day of Thérèse’s profession, when at dawn thousands of swallows chirped on the roof of our cells. We had never seen such a huge army of the little migrants before. That year they had chosen our convent as the departure point for their flight to warmer climates. (Was this not an early foreshadowing of the many souls who would later come here and leave behind their earthly sins for the blue sky of faithfulness, to enjoy the holy freedom of God’s children? - March 1932)

 

May Céline and Thérèse ask Jesus to grant me their simplicity of heart and sweet humility! Céline is very artistic; she has an angel’s brushstroke. She is the one who conveyed so faithfully and so divinely the Holy Face of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
I too have painted it on holy cards (though less faithfully, I admit!). I have also painted the Blessed Virgin and Saints on vestments! At the beginning of my religious life I agreed to do the work for the sake of community, which was poor, and I went to considerable trouble. I also painted the various sentences on the convent’s walls, except those in the Chapter. In the season of First Communions, I would sometimes paint up to 4 parchment paintings in a day. These pictures depicted the First Communion of St Louis de Gonzague, and were composed of three figures. Following this I went on to paint miniatures on ivory. Yet my hand has not picked up a brush for a long time. The community no longer needs my work. It needs only saints; living copies of our beloved spouse. How far I am from being one such copy!

 

Sr Marie of the Eucharist brought me considerable unhappiness. She loved me too exclusively. Her extremely sensitive nature caused many an internal struggle and considerable fatigue for not only herself, but also me and our little Saint Thérèse. And yet she was most intelligent, mild and pious! I think that her health had much to do with her hyper-sensitivity. However, by dying a holy death, she demonstrated to us the wealth of merciful love that God reserves for His little victims in the supreme moment. Since her death, we have witnessed the holy deaths of Sr Marthe and Sr Marie-Madeleine. Sr Marthe was particularly angelic on the eve of her death. Yet neither of them was perfect, far from it! It ought to fill us with confidence! And Sr Marie of the Trinity, who is “one of the family”, so to speak, ought to be filled with confidence also, because she was extremely fond of Thérèse and gave an admirable testimony at the trial!

 

She stated, “Our Second Mother will be drained like a dewdrop. Thérèse said as much, and she also said that she would be the last to die . . . .” We shall see!
Through a prophet the Lord said, “
the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all that do wickedly shall be burnt to stubble, leaving them neither root nor branch.” He added that a sun of righteousness will rise for those who love Him, and that healing will be in His rays. The littledewdrop will therefore not be destroyed but only drained and drawn by the sun of love, and healing for her soul will be in His rays, that is to say, she will be both drained and purified. I pray that God might also grant this grace to my dearly beloved little sisters!
In 1903, I had to leave the convent for two days and go to Valognes, and I obtained permission to go to my darling Thérèse’s grave in the cemetery of Lisieux and pray. It was the first grave. It seemed that the angels’ message to the women who sought Jesus in the tomb was also for me:
“Why do you seek the living among the dead?” I was moved to tenderness as I drew close to the patch of earth where Thérèse’s “little envelope” and her seed of immortality lay. I also obtained permission to make a stop at the Visitation convent on my way through Caen. How happy I was to see Léonie again, and to hear from her that she was happy and was giving Jesus everything that she had, for she was born “crowned” as well. We exchanged confidences; I found her very fervent. She beamed when she saw me and wanted to kiss my feet at first, but it was I who should have kissed hers.
During the benediction that evening, as I gazed from afar upon the image of the Holy Face beside the oratory grate, I thought I should write about it (Today it is no longer there. It has a more prominent place above the painted shroud near the large reliquary – note dated March 1932).
Mother Geneviève was the one who inspired me with devotion towards it when I first joined the Carmel. She told me how very touched she had been to read in the Life of Sr Mary of St Peter that Our Lord had chosen Carmel to reveal His Holy Face to the world. Immediately I was moved. I realised that, through His Holy Face, Jesus was revealing to us all the love in His Heart, and I sought for a way to honour it. The picture above Mother Prioress’ stall in the nuns’ choir soon had a little lamp shining on it, and at a later date, it had real lighting on special days.
That picture is now above the door in the infirmary. Our Little Saint was very fond of it, and the large painting above the grate replaced the one in the nuns’ choir (March 1932). Céline, our little artist, added a lovely fringed red wall-hanging with tassels on it. It looked marvellous. One night, after a particularly trying day, I saw in a dream our picture of the Holy Face in the sky; it was the kind of reddish sky that can be seen after a storm. I was with Sr Geneviève on what seemed to be a deserted beach contemplating the spectacle when I heard a voice whisper in my ear, “Be patient!” . . . . I remembered Jesus’ words to Sr Marie of St Peter: “Your pilgrimage is drawing to an end. Soon you shall see my Face in the sky.” I would recite these words in times of difficulty. I inspired devotion for the Holy Face in my little sisters. Thérèse mentions this in her book. Soon a second lamp burned perpetually before the blessed image in the sanctuary. During our great family ordeal, we had an ex-voto placed between two candlesticks that were lit on feast days. It was engraved with the following inscription:

 

“Sit nomen domini benedictum. M. F.” (Martin family)
It seemed to me that praising God in this way for having gratified us with our heavy cross was bringing Him great glory.

 

How happy I am that, from the Holy Shroud of Turin, Céline managed to paint such a perfect copy of the true Holy Face of our beloved spouse! But, O Jesus, we have not yet seen Your glorious Face! Oh, “When shall we behold Your Face in joy?” for “We shall not be fully satisfied until Your glory is manifested to us . . . .”

 

18th June 1905

 

I finished this abridged copy on Sunday 6th March 1932 during my retreat.

 

This incomplete hotchpotch

 

I offer to you in legacy;

 

But the many years passed since

 

Will have silence for their inheritance. . . . .

 

Sr Agnes of Jesus u.c.n.

 

SHORT APPENDIX

 


Sr Geneviève has expressed the wish that I relate “Sirius” and other short stories . . . “I shall not refuse so little . . . .”

 

                          SIRIUS

 


At the Visitation convent school, I loved having a part in the plays that we would perform for Mother Superior’s feast day. One year, when the class mistress chose the pupils who were to perform, I was not among them! I was sadly making my way to recreation in the garden when I saw the mistress quickly walk towards me:
“Pauline,” she said, “I almost forgot, you have the main part in the play!” How happy I was!
As for Sirius, I cannot remember the title of the play. All I can remember is that I played the brightest star in the sky, SIRIUS, and that I was dressed in a velvet costume, much like a page boy, with red stockings, and I had a red feather in my velvet hat. I looked very sweet and I was proud! I had a long monologue to say, one passage of which I can remember:
“Certainly I admire the beauty of the uniform lawn, of the peaceful ripple, and of the innocent heart, but that is not enough; I need the hundreds of flowers that bejewel the meadow, the waves that stir up the ocean and, above all, the thousands of stars that glitter in the dark vault of the sky . . . .” At one point, I say to Love (Yvonne de la Picquerie), “Dawn’s rosy fingers, be quiet!” Going to embrace Mother Superior and the nuns at the end of the play, I expected some compliment from my aunt, but instead, sounding disappointed she said, “Poor darling, you had such a lovely part, but you rushed through it like a whirlwind! It’s such a shame!” That was my story of Sirius!

 

               Cosmography and arithmetic.
I was always top of the class when it came to the science of astronomical movements and I would win the end of year prize for it. I even willingly learnt by heart certain lessons that I only half understood. For example, I have never forgotten this one: “A ray of light changes direction every time it meets matter of a different density, which is why the rays emitted by the stars do not travel in a straight line, but bend in a concave curve towards the earth.”
As for arithmetic, that was another matter entirely! I was so inept that I could never reach the eldest class for that subject. What is more, at my last prize-giving ceremony before leaving the school, I obtained only a certificate of merit, even in the second class!
                    
                     The yellow settee
Almost all of my schoolmates at the Visitation were from noble families, and it is unbelievable what vanity lodges itself in boarders’ little heads; I know this from experience.
One little girl kept asking me whether I at least had one noble relative in our family. I thought hard and fortunately was able to give her the name of Mr de Lacauve. She did not leave the matter there: “What colour are your parents’ lounge and settee?” Oh my God, I thought to myself, what is to become of me? I do not know of any lounge or settee at home! But I do not dare tell her so! Fortunately I was quick-thinking, and I immediately remembered a little straw chaise-longue that had been at the Pavilion, and which had recently been returned there. It’s yellow, I thought to myself, and it looks like a settee. So I voiced my finding: “Our settee is yellow!” “That’s very elegant!” replied the pupil . . . Vanity of vanities!!

 

                     Toot, toot!                     
When I could not wait for the holidays for a second longer, I went and found Marie at recreation, and said, “Marie, tell me about the holidays!”
She never refused me anything, and so she immediately began the story of our return to Alençon . . . The school doorbell rings; it’s Mrs Martin asking for Marie and Pauline. We go outside, we give Mamma a hug! We go to the train station, and then:
Toot, toot, toot! The locomotive whistles. The train is waiting for us! We board and then we are away. Marie went through all the station names, until finally, “Bourg le Roi” which is the last before ours, and my heart leapt. Marie grew excited too, but I sighed heavily when, after calling out, “Alençon! Alençon,” and having described our reunion with Papa and our little sisters, she added sadly, “but Hélène is no longer there!”

 

              Evening prayers in the field
When the weather was very hot, in June or July because, alas, the summer holidays did not begin until the first week of August, our teacher had us say our evening prayers in the field. (There was a field with some cows inside the vast enclosure) It was most poetic to pray together under that beautiful, pure sky. I would gaze at a beautiful silver star that delighted me and whose name I knew. My heart sang with a sweet harmony.

 


                     
                 On evenings when we were to take Communion the following day, our teacher would have us stand opposite the rostrum near the nuns’ choir and sing a hymn. Do you remember it, Sr Marie of the Sacred Heart?

 


             My Beloved, through love most tender

 

            Has made His home on this altar

 

……………………………….
Sweet memory full of freshness and piety!

 

Sister Geneviève, are you pleased with my six little stories from boarding school?

 

I shall now recount some more recent, private ones to conclude.

 

                     Anxieties of the soul
I experienced some moments of very acute anxiety following the death of little Thérèse. At present they are all but over. I felt something resembling an awful void, was tempted to fear the future, to fear everything in fact. It brought me great suffering during my sickness in 1923. From 1907 onwards, I also had something that needed elucidating and pacifying in my conscience. In the first retreat he led, Father Desbuquois did this, without realising it, in one of his teachings. The painful turmoil then left, as easily as if a hand had plucked it from me.

 

                       The storm
Since the day prior to the Habit Reception of Sr Marie of the Incarnation, I have had a terrible fear of windstorms (thunderstorms less so). Our cell at that time was right by the path that no longer exists, and by misfortune, on that particular evening, there was a violent windstorm. After Matins, I heard what sounded like a whirlwind, then a dreadful noise, as though a part of the roof had fallen onto the path. I began trembling uncontrollably and my teeth began chattering. Since that day, I have been unable to overcome my fear when there is a storm at night. It is worse than an ordinary fear; it is a terror so great that it makes me ill. I am very ashamed of my weakness, but what can I do? No matter how hard I have prayed, I have not been delivered from it. It comes with crushing thoughts concerning God’s justice towards impenitent sinners: “Wandering stars to whom is reserved the blackness of darkness forever.” These words always come back to me on such nights of mortal anguish!
               
                A lovely dream of the Blessed Virgin 28th December 1924
On 27th December of this year, 1924, I felt upset at having shown a lack of virtue in a difficult circumstance. The following night, in the early morning, I had a lovely dream: I was still in bed, and at one end of the room, I could see a statue of the Blessed Virgin similar to the one that stands in the cloisters near the sacristy.
Suddenly, the statue was gone and the Blessed Virgin herself walked towards me, kissed me on the forehead, and said softly, “Open your mouth.” I immediately tasted the heavenly freshness of the mysterious food that she had just placed on my lips, and it filled me with holy exhilaration. And I replied, “O purity, O purity!”
I awoke, thinking to myself, “Truly, I have tasted something divine, something like the foretaste of eternal life.”
This blessing left me with the inner conviction that all of heaven’s delights will be given to us for nothing, provided we are humble of heart, we never rely on any of our poor deeds, and we practice fraternal charity. 7th March 1932

 

                  One last confidence
God is currently teaching us a great and valuable lesson at, concerning what I would call “the race for honours on the altars.” Even children are being made to compete, children who would never have been put forward to Holy Church had it not been for Little Thérèse. It is evident that people have been thinking to themselves, “She did nothing extraordinary and yet she was canonised so quickly; why not submit such or such a person?” Requests have increased and it would seem that miracles have taken place in response to this movement of devotion, even though it is a very earthly movement!    

 

I am beginning to think that even this supreme reward given by Holy Church, this act of placing an elect few on a pedestal, might be one of “those riches that could well make us unrighteous” . . . And I no longer wish to rejoice in the fact that “our names are written in the heavens,” or that Thérèse’s fame here below is necessary for her great and providential mission. If we did, we would no longer be in the way of truth, because the truth, I am sure, is that many souls on earth who remain hidden until judgement day will be placed higher than canonised saints in heaven. At certain times, I consider it even a hardship that we, including little Thérèse, are so well known here below. Was it not for her mission, I would commit all the ineffable memories above to deep silence.

 

9th March 1932, last day of my retreat

 


Better is the END of a thing than the beginning thereof.”