A timeline is like a pointillist painting, the technique used at the end of the twentieth century juxtaposed small dots of paint to bring out the subject. That's kind of what we try to do here for the last year of life of Teresa, not bringing a few events among these intense months of the young Carmelite.
A chronology of the last year of Thérèse’s life highlights two tendencies:
- on the physical level it’s frightful
- on a spiritual level it’s frightful
One tendency fuels the other and vice versa; it’s a fight to the death.
Let’s recall briefly Easter 1896. Thérèse evaluated it in these terms in June 1897, in Manuscript C 31 r: “He sent me the trial that added a salutary bitterness to my all my joys.” She described that night in January 1897 to Thérèse of St. Augustine in these terms: I don’t believe in eternal life; it seems to me after this mortal life there is nothing. I can’t explain to you the shadows into which I am plunged. (in Remembrance of a Holy Friendship, n° 12).
So Therese goes on with her daily tasks. Here are her jobs at the beginning of the last year of her life.
She is a sacristan
Assistant to Marie of the Angels in the sacristy since March 1896. She had spent two years from February 1891 to February 1893. Her work consisted of preparing everything necessary for worship such as we see in this painting (right) by Marie of the Holy Spirit: altar linens and vestments, vessels and things necessary for celebrations, the preparation of the incense, cutting of hosts. Altar bread was baked by another sister, at the time of the photo it was Marie-Philomène.She is in the laundry since March 1896
By her request. She convinced Marie de Gonzague to let her work with Marie of St Joseph, whom others found difficult, at times exhilarated then depressed-and very hot tempered. Gonzague and Mother Geneviève tried to make her feel balanced but it is Thérèse who helped her the most. She was attached to her from before her entrance. When Thérèse was 9 years old, Marie of St. Joseph met her in the parlor in 1882 and offered her a holy card: “To my nice little Thérèse!” This kindness lasted throughout the years; Sr. Marie of St. Joseph was then 38 years old and Thérèse 23. In March then with the complicity of Mother Marie de Gonzague, Thérèse attempted to bring her out of her depression by helping her in the linen room.
"If you knew how we must forgive him," she tells Marie of the Sacred Heart, according to her testimony to the Process, as it is pitiful! It's not her fault if she is poorly gifted." Marie St. Joseph will leave the Carmel in 1909, at the request of the new prioress Marie-Ange, who require Dr. La Neele a medical certificate justifying the removal of the community for serious neurasthenia.
She had the opportunity at times to help out Sr. St John the Baptiste with painting to illuminate holy cards and perhaps also a little work on stoles; the monastery sold them both.
As we see on the map of the monastery, the location of the sacristy was easy to get to for a person with breathing problems. For the linen room they had to climb up a floor. And yet another floor for painting which was in the attic with the laundry—obviously not heated.
It's on September 7 that Therese begins her annual 10 days of private retreat (the last), that would lead to very concentrate exchange of correspondence with Sr. Mary of the Sacred Heart, and result in the creation of what will be called the Manuscript B, which we see here an excerpt from the famous folio 3 verso. It is the trace of this intense insight on her vocation.
September 18th, Thérèse starts full community life again with all its schedule constraints. That is to say, rising at 4:45 am for prayer, 5 to 6 hours for all the other observances and activities of the day until bedtime around 11 pm. See here the timetable.
October 8-15 This is the community’s annual retreat with Godefroid Madelaine, Nobertine from Abbey of Mondaye, 80 kilometers west of Lisieux. He preaches a triduum June 22-24th, 1896 to prepare the sisters for the exceptional jubilee grace granted to French Catholics in honor of the 14th centenary of the baptism of Clovis in Reims. As he had already come on June 22-24 for a triduum, during this community retreat Thérèse dares to confide him her doubts about faith. The father advises her to wear the Credo permanently over her heart. A very tangible, very physical solution. Thérèse obeys and choses to write the text with her blood (click on the photo to the left).
October 21st Thérèse writes the first of a series of 11 letters to Fr. Bellière who resurfaces after his military service - LT-198. And ten days later, October 31, 1996 is the arrival of the first letter from Roulland in China, her second missionnary brother. The relationship of Thérèse with these two men will be very important for her until her death. Through writing them she defines and understands herself in the terrible things she is living through.
He writes her the important dates of his life (read here), among others, and Thérèse is astonished by his dates, more precisely by September 8th, 1890 when she made her profession and he on the same day received confirmation of his vocation at Notre Dame de la Délivrande.
On November 1, Therese answers him ans aks for a relic in advance: a lock of his hair! He kindly carries this out and the relic has been kept by the community after the death of Therese.
And to stay in the same framework of missionary life, the Carmel of Saigon (opposite right) in November 1896 asked for reinforcement. Thérèse would really like this to be her. She thinks she has a missionary vocation and the prioress and community were convinced of it. Her departure is planned…but to have a sign from God the community begins a novena to Théophane Vénard with that intention from November 21st to 30th.
During the novena Thérèse reads and copies excerpts from the life of Theophane Venard; his letters in fact, interest her. “I am interested and touched more than I know how to say!”, she confided later in a letter to Roulland from March 19th, 1897 (LT 221).
The community asked for a sign to support the eventual departure of Thérèse. Right during the novena, Thérèse begins to cough again. There was another sign that the sisters perhaps couldn’t have read before the novena. On November 4th, a turn sister dies of tuberculosis, Sr Marie Antoinette, age 33. But the language of her death circular used the expression consumption (breast disease). In the 19th century, the word tuberculosis spread terror, being the cause of death of 1 out of 7 persons in Europe, 150,000 per year in France and one each week in Lisieux in 1897.
The community understands that Thérèse will not leave for Vietnam. We have a photo of this Thérèse who doubts if thesheath is as solid as the sword (LT-221 from March 19th, 1897). She looks like this in November 1896 where the family had fun creating two views of the sacristans at work - photos TH-39 et TH-40.
The sacristans asked that month for a poem from Thérèse. It was Marie-Philomène who asked for it in the name of all the sacristans. Marie-Philomène was in charge of the workshop for making altar bread and the sacristy itself. Marie of the Angels and Thérèse were found there too.
Thérèse offers them her poem PN-40, “The sacristans of Carmel”. She writes: "O supreme mystery, Heaven hides…" but it is lived in "a heavenly and deep peace that Jesus makes us enjoy, although we have to fight each day."
Stanza 1 and 8
With winter’s cold, her health doesn’t improve throughout December. Marie de Gonzague orders a special heater for Thérèse’s cell. We note that it is symbolic heat.
December 3rd Dr. de Cornière, who will be the community’s doctor from 1886 to 1920, because he worked for free. He treated Thérèse since July (he was then 54 years old). Friend of the Guérins, he was called to recognize the remains of the saint as a sworn doctor during the exhumations of 1910 and 1917-deceased on June 25th, 1922 in Lisieux. He ordered rubdowns and it was Céline in the position of nurse’s aide who carried out the rubdowns for Thérèse with a horsehair belt.
On December 3rd De Cornière prescribes a vesicatory which causes a lifting of the skin and of what is underneath-a removal of the internal illness, taking it away from the inside and taking it out of the body (with a base of medicinal Spanish fly). Take care to clean well the place where one wants to apply it, press it on the skin, attach it with a medical tape, cover it all with a towel. A vesicatory has done its work when after removing it, one or several blisters can be seen. In this case, the vesicatory is removed, the blister is pierced to allow the liquid inside to discharge and place a bandage. Ten to twelve hours are required to obtain the effect described above. Jacques Nauroy in: Revue d’histoire de la pharmacie, 73rd year, n. 265, 1985, pp. 113-115.
The vesicatory was applied to the skin for 12 hours. When Thérèse had one, she ate in her cell (here photo of this last cell). Marie Guérin described all this to her father in a letter dated Decembee 4th, 1896, 1896 by comparing Thérèse to a pauper. This pauper eats dishes from the table that the venerable matriarch, your spouse, figures out how to find, fine and appetizing dishes. This miserable pauper had a vesicatory on her chest yesterday because of her suffering. We also learn that Thérèse has a special diet.
On December 6th, Mother Agnès inquires about Diana Vaughan from Uncle Isidore with an innocent post scriptum: Do you have new documents about D. Vaughan? (letter of December 6, 1896). This shows us that Mother Agnes is very sensitive to the question. In August 1896 a German Jesuit Grüber declared that the texts of DV were certainly fakes. Another Jesuit, this one French, published on November 1st the first article in the journal Études claiming the same thing.
December 18th, the Revue Catholique de Coutances publishes an analysis by Cardinal Parrochi, His Holiness’s vicar who says that Diana seems to be a fictitious person. The previous year the same cardinal wrote to Taxil (photo to the right, at two different ages) on December 16th, 1895: “Your conversion is one of the most magnificent triumphs of grace that I know. I am reading your memoirs now which are of thrilling interest.”
While the outcome of this mystification is brewing in the shadows, Therese continues to write. Another poem will follow in December requested by St Jean de la Croix, maybe dated from December 8th, anniversary of her vesture. She is a sister who is very withdrawn, little expansive, who found “Sr. Thérèse is extraordinary, she ca teaches us all! She recognized as well and admired in all the sisters the qualities and talents that she believed she lacked. It was quite natural that she asked the poet of the community to express her thoughts in verse. Thérèse managed to get it in shape as a poem that would join many others. PN-41: How I want to love, dated end of 1896.
Thérèse is always ill but that doesn’t stop her from being attentive to the unfortunate, notably her laundry supervisor Marie of St Joseph. We have two little notes for her dated December 1896 that reveal the interior life of Thérèse.
LT-205 How awful to spend one’s time moping instead of sleeping on the heart of Jesus!... If the night frightens the little child, if she complains at not seeing Him who is carrying her, let her close her eyes, let her WILLINGLY make the sacrifice that is asked of her, and then let her await sleep. . .when she keeps herself peaceful in this way, the night which she is no longer looking at will be unable to frighten her, and soon calm, if not joy, will be reborn in her little heart.... Is it too much to ask the little child to close her eyes?. . .not to struggle against the chimeras of the night?.. .No, it is not too much, and the little child will abandon herself, she will believe that Jesus is carrying her, she will consent not to see Him and to leave far behind the empty fear of being unfaithful (a fear not fitting for a little child). Signed (an ambassador) — note returned miraculously in 2011.
LT-206 The little A. [Ambassador] has no desire to jump from the boat, but he is here to show heaven to the little child. He wills that all the child's glances, all her attention be for Jesus. So he would be very happy to see the little child deprived of consolations too infantile and unworthy of a missionary and a warrior. ... I love my little child very much... and Jesus loves her even more.
Furthermore, she composes a poem for her, perhaps a Christmas present: PN 42 “Child, you know my name” that she copies with great care. She is affected by the attentions of Therese.
But the most beautiful present that Thérèse gave her for Christmas she speaks of in Ms. C, folio 13 recto. This would be on a rather tedious day of recreation to allow Marie of St. Joseph to go and serve as the third party in her place at the workers’ door to receive the pine branches used to decorate the nativity scene. Thérèse of St. Augustin is portress. She requests help for the branches and workers’ door. Thérèse allows Marie of St. Joseph, 15 years older, to get up first.
Christmas is coming. Thérèse’s last Christmas. To the right, a baby Jesus in wax offered by Guerin enchanted the novitiate. Teresa thinks to continue her education with young people. Christmas Eve, Céline receives a letter from the Blessed Virgin, LT-211 where the Blessed Virgin asks for help with lodging: “If you want to bear in peace the trial of not pleasing yourself, you will give me a sweet home; true, you will suffer since you will be at the door of your house, but do not fear, the poorer you are the more Jesus will love you!”
And Marie of the Trinity receives a letter too but hers is a letter from Jesus himself, LT-212, who offered her to play with the top with him: “If you wish you will be my top. I am giving you one as a model.” The Carmel had received these knickknacks for the missions, of which was a top (photo left). Several sisters had never seen one so Marie of the Trinity gave a demonstration during recreation. The top has been kept.
At Christmas evening, they will sing a poem by Thérèse for the community for Christmas night: PN- 43, “The Aviary of the Child Jesus.” It is a long poem of 15 stanzas.
As we note, Thérèse doesn’t stay in bed with her fever and exhaustion. And it doesn’t stop; the day after Christmas she writes to Bellière (LT 213), where she explains to her what she is living: It is very consoling to think that Jesus, the Strong God, knew our weaknesses, that He trembled at the sight of the bitter chalice, this chalice that He had in the past so ardently desired to drink ... I hope, Monsieur l'abbé, that you will continue to pray for me who am not an angel as you appear to believe, but a poor little Carmelite, who is very imperfect and who in spite of her poverty has, like you, the desire to work for the glory of God.
December 28, three days later the communaity begins the feast of the Holy Innocents. The novitiate sings a poem by Thérèse in the chauffoir. Thérèse composed this poem for the Holy Innocents, PN-44: “To my little brothers in Heaven” without being ordered. It was rather a powerful poetic supplement - spontaneous - of a memento holy card she had made in September during her famous retreat that would give rise to Manuscript B. She had then made a holy card remembrance of her four brothers and sisters who died at a young age (Jean-Baptiste with an open mouth).
That night, Mother Agnès Jesus tells us, Mother Marie de Gonzague was worried this 3 day gap when they sang Thérèse’s poems. Could this be dangerous for feeding Thérèse’s pride ? (NPPPA-AJ)
Notice the development of a fighting attitude in that poem PN-44:
Without fighting you achieved the glory
The Savior won the victory for you,
We have this even more in Therese's Prayer 17, that dates from the end of 1896, prayer inspired by a holy card representing Joan of Arc:
Lord, God of hosts, in the Gospel you told us: "I have not come to bring peace but the sword." Arm me for battle; I burn to fight for your glory but I beg you to strengthen my courage…You alone are my sword, You, Lord train my hands for war... You alone are my sword, You, Lord train my hands for war... My sword is nothing but Love—with it I will chase the foreigner from the kingdom…I will fight then, for your Love, until the evening of my life…”
A review, in images from the poem, of Thérèse’s physical and spiritual combat: at the end of 1896 Thérèse understood her combat in the light of Joan of Arc’s. She has studied her a few years ago for the writing of her two plays (RP 1 and RP 3).
Here is Thérèse’s little almanac, saved - 5 cm high.