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From sr Marie of the Sacred Heart to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - July 16, 1913

From sr Marie of the Sacred Heart to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - July 16, 1913                                                      

Jesus +                                                                              

Darling little sister,

You’re going to be wondering why I’m writing to you so soon; it’s because Our Mother doesn’t want me to give your letter to Sr. Geneviève. She would be too upset at what you said about the 1st Communion portrait, and as it’s been a long while since you last wrote to us, you will ask your dear Mother Prioress for permission to write another little letter, one which we can show her.

Dear little sister, you understand that it’s not once a portrait has been around three years and has been reproduced in all different sizes that you can begin criticising it. It would discourage poor little Sister Geneviève when she went to a great deal of trouble over these portraits of Thérèse. Besides, I would understand it if her hair hadn’t been curly on the day of her 1st Communion, but you know as well as I do that it was always like that, even when she went to the Abbey, and that on Sundays I took the trouble of curling her hair around her forehead as well. I didn’t do it for show; it was only to please our dear father who, if you remember, couldn’t bear a single lock of his little queen’s hair to be cut off. She was his pride and joy. As for Thérèse, she didn’t think she was pretty. She said so herself and in fact we made sure that vanity didn’t enter into her heart.

However, coming back to the portrait of her 1st Communion, I’m not saying there aren’t too many curls. Nothing is perfect here on earth. However, that is not what detracts from her angelic air and simplicity. Look at her dress; it’s her own. If only you saw the lacing around the waists of girls taking their 1st Communion nowadays!

So I don’t think that Sr. Geneviève was wrong to draw her hair like that. Artists are free to look through whichever lens they like, as an artist’s talent consists in reproducing their subject’s soul, that is to say, interpreting it and not slavishly copying it.

So, if it’s true that Thérèse always had curly hair, and that we used to place a crown on her head when she was dressed in white for the feast of Corpus Christi, we can conclude that Sr. Geneviève’s painting is very, if not extremely, true to life. It’s not supposed to be a historical document, which it could be, but we don’t intend it to be one, which is why we have had the following words engraved at the bottom of the heliography: “After a portrait painted by her sister”. These words excuse everything; everyone knows that artists are free to let their inspiration guide them.

Besides, darling little sister, even if we were to start this portrait over again, we would never have shown her in a bonnet. At the Visitation of Le Mans, we wore crowns, which was much more befitting of virgins. Mgr. de Teil himself told us he didn’t understand why 1st Communicants wear bonnets!

Make no mistake, there are very few people who think the portrait is too worldly. Even in the most austere convents, people say it has a celestial quality, that they can’t take their eyes off it and that it has to be hidden because otherwise they waste time looking at it.

In a word, dear little sister, let people say what they like and, when you have done your best, don’t worry about what others think or say. If we had listened to what everyone said about Story of a Soul, there would have been nothing left of it, as everyone would have torn out such or such a page. If we had listened to our poor uncle, who certainly thinks differently now he is in heaven, no portrait would have been made of Thérèse during her lifetime,and yet we know these pictures have worked conversions and miracles.

Lastly, our dear uncle even predicted that “Thérèse wouldn’t work a single miracle”.

Believe me, little sister, when we’re gone, they’ll be portraits and statues and medals and pictures and everything you could ever imagine, but they’ll be so awful that while we’re still alive, we risk nothing producing articles that we consider useful.

If only you knew what tasteless things people send us. A statue of Thérèse was made in England that isn’t quite right either. I’m not talking about her facial features (because it’s not easy or rather it’s practically impossible to copy them when the person wasn’t known to you), but it bears as little resemblance to her as I do to the Pope. Someone else has made a statue of Thérèse on her death-bed, and Mgr. de Teil, who showed us the photograph of it, says it looks like a mason’s blunder. So don’t complain about Céline reproducing an idealised picture of our little saint. I personally think that none of her portraits make her look as beautiful as she was in real life. It’s an impossible task. Do you remember what Mrs. Prevel, who was nevertheless a worldly lady, said about her one day as she looked at her: “You can see heaven shining in that child’s eyes.”

This is turning into a long epistle. And now, little sister, I must scold you a little more because I’m your eldest sister and in a sense your mother.

Well, our little Visitandine mustn’t be annoyed when she doesn’t receive letters from her little sisters quickly enough. No, she must say to herself that her little sisters are always with her, that they are not far away at all, and that they are in boarding school just for a few days (as are you) to learn the only desirable science; “the science of love,” which should lead them straight to heaven. The long holidays are approaching; the eternal holidays. Then we won’t be able to give any more proof of our love to our spouse. We only have our present life to do that. Let’s not think of our little problems or consolations, as that would be to act like sparrows, who always want to be pecking here and there. Let’s imitate the larks, which awake singing. Let us, too, sing our love songs to our Beloved. They are our little sacrifices and they, for better or worse, raise us higher by dint of our good and honest will alone.

Finally, darling little sister, one last piece of advice. The time for illusions is over for us… fortunately! Our path has been clearly outlined for us. We have no need to question the future to find out which road we should take. If we feel sad or disheartened, let’s go and tell Jesus in the Tabernacle so, and our Mother Prioress, who is a visible version of Jesus for us, or otherwise our Confessor to seek some good advice. But aside from this, let’s not seek anything more. I’m going to tell you a little story. – A few weeks ago, Fr. Robert came to say Mass at the Carmel. Our Mother didn’t have time to go to the visiting room; she goes there as rarely as possible. And it so happened that the priest said to the sacristan, unceremoniously: “Please tell the Mother Prioress to pray for Léonie because she feels disheartened.”

I assure you I found this was most indiscreet of him; it was very tactless. It doesn’t stop this good Father from being a saintly priest, but it was frankly quite inconsiderate. It was a discordant note which, alas, resounds in each creature in one way or another when you come too close to it. Little sister, may Jesus be your all, because only He loves you as you thirst to be loved. Your kind Mother and little sisters love you deeply, too, but don’t seek anything else outside of this love.

It’s not surprising that your strength is coming back at a snail’s pace. At our age we can only expect to see it not come back, but take giant strides in the opposite direction! All this will help us get to heaven, as will even carrying our crosses feebly, because it keeps us humble and it is humility and love that Jesus loves the most. Did he not say to us: “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart and you will find rest.” Our little Thérèse loved to repeat those words when she was sick.

We’re going to try and send you the glasses when we have the opportunity, for we are never happier than when we are able to bring you pleasure. – So it hurts me to think that my letter is hardly going to bring you pleasure, and yet, little sister, it is dictated by my deep love, I assure you.

I would prefer you to answer me and write me a meaningful letter than write for the sake of writing. I won’t show it to Sr. Geneviève, you can be sure of that, tell me if I’ve upset you.

Farewell darling little sister. I love you tenderly. May Jesus make you a saint, as we can’t do this divine work. And it’s better when we let him work within us without protesting loudly.               

Your poor eldest sister

                                                                                  Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart

                                                                                                           u. c. n.                                                                                   

Our dear little Mother sends you lots of love.

Don’t look at this picture with a magnifying glass, as the Bl. Virgin would appear quite ugly. Germaine Hassebroucq entered the Carmelite convent of Belgium today. She wrote a very kind little letter to Our Mother announcing the news.

As for Les Buissonnets, we don’t have the front of the house. It was reproduced on postcard a long time ago.