Marie Louise Joséphine Martin 1860-1940
Translation used with the courteous agreement of Fr Colaresi, O.Carm.
Marie's Infancy; School Days; Girlhood
LORD called to Himself on January 19, 1940, the eldest sister and godmother of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, and my own dear sister Marie, called in Religion, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. The Senior Professed of our Community, she was within a month of being eighty years old, and had spent fifty-three years, three months and three days in the Order of Carmel.
Marie was born at Alencon on February 22, 1860. It is not for me to speak in praise of her pious parents, who are also my own. However, since I have been requested not to hesitate in recalling, for the sake of interest, memories which I held in common with my beloved sister, I shall do so as simply as possible.
From her infancy, Marie proved to be a keen observer and a character of no small originality and independence. The first notable instance of this independence of spirit occurred when Louise, our very officious maid, who always had her own way with the younger girls, so that they never dared oppose her, attempted to bring Marie under her rigorous surveillance. But her commands were issued in too sharp a manner to suit Marie, who would fearlessly reply: "Let me alone, Louise, I am quite free." Hence the maid nicknamed her, "I-Am-Quite-Free."
Letters from Marie to Pauline
Marie's brief notes and letters written to me at my express command — Marie disliked setting forth her thoughts — and which I still enjoy reading, will give a clear understanding of my dear sister during her early years. She writes:
"When I was brought to church and heard the little bell at the moment of the elevation, seeing everyone bow their heads, I would say to myself: 'What a pity we have to bow our heads. I prefer to watch — "I am quite free!" ' And as a matter of fact, that is just what I did. I can still see the white Host in the hands of the priest. Later, when I understood why all heads were bowed, I continued to contemplate the Sacred Host, now not independently but devoutly.
"Moreover, I never liked to bow to persons of our acquaintance. It humiliated me to bow. I remember one day on the way to our summer house, such an occasion presented itself, and I turned my head away like a little savage. Mother was greatly pained to discern so eccentric a trait in me, and she told me I should never be loved. But this only helped to strengthen me in my pride. Convinced that politeness and bowing were necessary before others would love me, I said to myself, 'It is decidedly unpleasant to try to make others love me. No, I'll not so demean myself!' And I said to mother: 'I don't care if other people do not love me; if you love me, that is enough.' " Later, Marie speaks of her first sacrifice: "You have asked me to write about my first act of virtue. Here it is. I must have been about four or five years old. You probably remember that dried orange peel on the little table in father's store; he used to put pennies in it. I considered it so wonderful that one day I asked him to make a little saucer just like it out of an orange I had received. Then with a triumphant air, I showed it to you. At once you wanted it and, 'in order to have a pearl in my crown' (this was the means mother used of inducing us to make sacrifices), I gave it to you. How heroic this act seemed to me, because the value of my precious orange peel had been increased even more by the fact that you desired it! Then running quickly to mother, I told her: 'Mother, I gave my orange peel to Pauline; will I go to heaven, now?" and mother answered smilingly: 'Yes, my little child, you will go to heaven.'
This hope alone was able to console me for the loss of 'my treasure.'
"Alas, reflecting today on this little deed of my childhood I find that most of the time we have little more to offer to the good God. We are seldom called on to make great sacrifices; but the little ones — the little dried orange peels — those we have in abundance. Even at this very moment I have only my little yellow saucer to offer, and yet I am sure, very sure, that Jesus will fill it, not with pennies, but with diamonds for Paradise — souls. And do you know what my little orange peel is at the moment? It is the building that is being erected behind the trees and the wall opposite our cell. The whole countryside I used to love to view will be cut off from sight. Now, I can no longer see the little white houses whose windows sparkled in the evening at the touch of the setting sun. The sight reminded me of heaven. I used to say that even so the blessed in heaven reflect the Divine Sun, and even the simplest souls shine like suns. So I have offered up this little sacrifice to the good God together with all the sacrifices Jesus offered for poor sinners, that the fearful wall of His Justice might not rise to shut them off from their Sovereign Good. Oh, to think of this irreparable misfortune! How I desire to save souls! But for this, one must be holy, for only the saints have power over His Heart. But I am His spouse, and perhaps His love for me blinds Him."
First Communion and Confirmation
When Marie was eight and a half years old, she and I were sent to boarding school at the Sisters of the Visitation in Mans, where our maternal aunt, Sister Mary Dosithea, was stationed. As we shall see, Marie never became completely accustomed to this separation from the family.
Marie's First Communion was advanced a year because our aunt had become gravely ill, and since Marie was a favorite of the sick nun, it was planned to give her this consolation before
death. The Head Mistress of the boarding school promised Marie that if she learned her lessons well, she would be permitted to make her First Communion at the age of nine. This hope spurred her on, and she applied herself to learning her catechism with extraordinary diligence. It was an occasion of joy for her to go to the chaplain of the Monastery for catechism. When he asked questions the others could not answer, she would think, "Oh, how I wish he would ask me; I know it so well!" Most of the time he did ask her, and the venerable priest might well have called Marie, as St. Therese's instructor later called his pupil, "his little doctor."
In addition to this, Marie made many little sacrifices to prepare herself for the fruitful reception of the good Jesus. "Deep down in my heart," she writes, "I told myself that our Lord had led the rest to believe my aunt was going to die, just because He was eager to give Himself to me. This thought filled me with joy." And though we were repeatedly told that our aunt could not recover without a miracle, Marie persevered in unshaken faith.
One day, when the two of us went to see Sister Mary Dosithea in the infirmary, her pain was so severe she could hardly talk. The infirmarian tried to make Marie understand that above all it was necessary to be resigned to the will of God. Marie looked at her in astonishment: "But Sister, at that rate I would get nowhere. If, unfortunately, it were not God's will that my aunt be cured, I would be sure that my prayer would be refused. So I take care not to talk to Him about His will, but I try to change it instead." The good Sister smiled; she had no answer for that.
She turned also to St. Joseph with a naïve and persevering confidence. If on her way to the chapel she met a religious, she would always ask, "How is my aunt?" According to the answer she would glance at the statue of St. Joseph, either to rebuke or to thank him, yet she never doubted that a miracle would occur.
When her prayers were heard, in gratitude to good St. Joseph she took the name Josephine at her Confirmation. Meanwhile, our saintly aunt, now completely cured, was able to witness the First Communion of her fervent niece, and moreover lived on seven years longer.
How devout was the First Communion of our little Marie! She seemed a little angel, and was so well prepared! Great also was her joy when she was selected to recite the Act of Faith which so well summed up the sentiments of her soul! But that evening, before going to sleep, she was heard weeping. The Mistress hastened to her side to learn the cause of her sorrow. Marie finally managed to sob: "It is because the day of my First Communion is over."
We read in her diary:
"The following day our parents were permitted to visit us. Ah, that following day! How tinged with melancholy it was for me! Once more I was with father and mother — I who had suffered so much in being separated from them. In their company I seemed to be in heaven, but that heaven was to be very short, for they had to leave us that very evening. So my happiness was far from complete. We took a walk in the country, and I saw a field full of daisies and cornflowers. I wanted to pick them, but I would have had to let go of papa's hand, and I preferred
to remain at his side. I looked at him, I looked at mother...In my little heart of nine years there was a veritable abyss of love for them.
"Indeed, it would be impossible for me to say how much I suffered in being separated from my parents. I should try in vain to explain this martyrdom. Ah, had it not been for my aunt whom I did not wish to grieve, I would never have remained seven years behind a grill, for at that time I had no vocation to live behind grills. I had not yet heard the call of Jesus, that call 'which sweetens what is bitter' to nature. Has He not said Himself: 'No one comes to Me, except My Father draw him'? Now that He has drawn me, I find myself behind the grill, the happiest of creatures. I find myself in possession of true liberty. Ah, it is now that I can really say, 'I am quite free!' "
Incidents of School Days
Our dear aunt, who alone could persuade Marie to stay at the Visitation, loved her particularly for her straightforwardness and extraordinary frankness. The child was always running to her with her faults: "Aunt, I wasted my time again at the beginning of study. I did this and that"
Sister Mary Dosithea was charmed at this attitude, and yet at other times she had some rather singular experiences with her little niece. One day when Marie saw her placing large bouquets of artificial flowers on the altar of Our Lady of the Seven Dolors, of which she had charge, she broke out: "Aunt, why do we always arrange bouquets with their backs to the saints? We ought to face the flowers toward them. This way your Blessed Virgin sees nothing but iron wires." To this the aunt replied: "My little child, do you put your dress on inside out, in order to have the beautiful side toward you?" The child was silent; she understood.
"When I was about eleven or twelve," Marie writes, "I was often a source of annoyance to my aunt, who until then had been so pleased with me. For example, I once said to her in all sincerity: 'Aunt, I find that there are many words repeated in the Gospel, but our rhetoric teacher tells us to avoid repetition.' She took on a severe and almost indignant air, and said to me: 'Are you trying to improve the words of our Lord?' I who was only confiding in her, was taken aback by the very idea, and said to myself: 'Very well, I'll not attempt to reveal such ideas to her again, since she makes so much ado about it.' "
A Sister, thinking to please her, once said to her: "Your little sister Pauline is very well mannered." And she, in self defense, immediately answered: "That is true, Sister, but the others are well mannered, too."
When Sister Dosithea heard of it, attributing Marie's retort to jealousy, she scolded the child. Marie's response was: "But Aunt, I don't understand. I love Pauline so much, I feel that the compliments paid her in my presence are also meant for me. And so I thought I had to answer as I did."
Marie was a very good student, and came out well in her studies. She often carried off prizes, and well-merited ones at that, for at the Visitation they were not in the habit of giving many prizes, and often there was only one award.
Almost every quarter she received the Cross of Excellence, had her name inscribed on the Honor List, and received what were known as decorations, large ribbons of different colors with gold or silver borders. There was the ribbon of Christian Doctrine (white), the ribbon of Honor (blue), the ribbon of Application (violet). At the Sunday exercises favored students wore these ribbons over their shoulders.
Once the Head Mistress, in bestowing one of these ribbons on Marie, whispered to her: "We are being lenient." Thereafter Marie refused to wear it, not out of spite, but, as she said, "because I do not want to wear anything that is not absolutely deserved."
Birth of The Little Flower
Marie was approaching her thirteenth birthday when, during our Christmas vacation, the good God sent us our little Therese. On the morning of January 2, 1873, Marie approached the cradle with joyous awe.
"Don't be afraid to kiss your little sister," mother said to her.
Two days later, her former self-assurance returned, she became the happy godmother of the little sister who was one day to become one of God's chosen. The sweet and shining memory of this event was to remain with her, a lifelong grace.
That year she contracted typhoid fever, and had to leave the boarding school. On one of his visits, the doctor said to her parents: "This child must have been upset in some way. Her fever is due to a nervous condition rather than to typhus." The little invalid overheard, and whispered to herself, "Quite true!" And she was comforted to think that now there was proof of what she had suffered in being separated from her loved ones.
When she recovered, our good mother very seriously suggested that she give up her studies at Mans and continue them at Alençon. But Marie refused, manifesting that goodness of heart which was truly her outstanding quality: "No Mama, that would cause Aunt too much pain. I prefer to return to the Visitation at Mans." In spite of her homesickness, she had a high esteem for the convent-school, as our mother later wrote: "Despite all, Marie loved her dear Visitation, and thought no other boarding-school could compare with it."
A Girlhood Friendship
When she returned to school, Marie met a new student, a pious and charming girl of her own age, to whom she was instinctively drawn, and the two conceived a great love for each other. But gradually this affection took such hold of her that she lost her beautiful liberty of heart. Her chief desire became to be noble and rich like her friend. She wanted to learn more about the world, though she instinctively sensed its vanity.
Boastfulness Nipped in the Bud
She soon contracted a number of petty foibles, "the enchantment of baubles which ensnares even the innocent soul." She was proud of being trained at the Visitation, where most of her companions belonged to the nobility, and did not disdain to boast of their beautiful estates.
At the end of one of the summer vacations Marie was walking with our good father in our modest family estate, Roulee. She began plucking flowers, saying: "I am going to take these flowers to the Visitation as a souvenir of Roulee." Papa answered archly, "Ah, yes! Then you will put on airs with your friends, and show them flowers from your estate." Provoked at herself for allowing her motives to be so evident, she quickly cast her bouquet to the ground to show that she was quite indifferent.
But let us return to that inordinate affection for her friend. Later she wrote concerning it:
"Would, alas, instead of entertaining foolish dreams of creatures, I had flown straight to You, O my God, like my little Therese. For You also dream of creatures,... but You do not dream as we do... . You dream of the creature in order to deify it, and sometimes — O Mystery! — You dream of it to make it Your spouse! And this is the dream of love that has been realized in me."
Eleven years later, when about to enter Carmel, Marie saw her friend for the last time. For a while the girl had entertained the thought of entering religious life, but then decided on another course. Marie had difficulty recognizing her. "All her beauty," she tells us, "had withered like the flower of the field. For myself, I hastened to fly toward the unique Beauty which never fades. My dreams of nobility and grandeur had passed."
Marie Refuses to Pray for a Vocation
Marie left school when she was fifteen and a half years old. She was a tall and beautiful girl, pure as a lily with a purity she would never soil. Nevertheless she was quite resolved to enjoy her full liberty. Our aunt advised her to say daily the prayer to St. Joseph, "O Father and Protector of Virgins." But when she saw written on the leaflet, "Special Prayer for Priests and Religious," she said: "So, my aunt wants me to be a religious. There is no danger that I'll say that prayer!" However, when Marie was not quite sixteen, our mother happened to speak to her one day about marriage. At the very word she broke into tears, declaring that she would never marry, and begged that the subject be never broached again.
Her Dislike of Dress and Make-up
"Nor did I like to make myself up," she tells us. "But in this disdain of coquettishness there must have been some secret pride, for pride slips in everywhere, even in what seems to be humility. To put on a new dress was a genuine trial for me. I detested especially the little veils of white lace which were absolutely useless because they did not cover the face. When I wore one, I felt as though I were trying to appear beautiful. The day of Leonie's First Communion, coming out of the Church of Notre Dame rigged out in one of these veils, I met the stylist who had designed my hat. She thought I was ill, so crimson did I become beneath that much-vaunted veil which was supposed to temper my complexion. Thereafter I was relieved of this mask a la mode, as I called it."
A fashion that caused her further annoyance was the wearing of a medallion sewed to a velvet ribbon fastened about the neck. "I felt like a little parlor dog," she used to say, "when I wore that velvet neckband."
"Married Off at Any Cost!"
It was doubtless an incident of this nature that prompted mother to write to her sister-in-law, Madame Guerin, at Lisieux: "Marie is a little unsociable, and much too timid. She has some peculiar ideas. One day when she was trying on a new outfit, didn't she run out to the garden weeping — saying we were dressing her up as though she were to be married off at any cost!"
Teacher of Her Sisters
Marie's chief pleasure was to occupy herself with her little sisters, especially Leonie, who could not accustom herself to the Visitation school at Mans, and so attended school in Alençon.
Therese, the youngest, subjected herself completely to the authority of the eldest sister of the house. In fact, her respect for her sister was so great, that one day when she was in the garden admiring roses that Marie had cultivated, noticing that our mother was about to pluck one for her, the child called out: "Mama, the roses belong to Marie."
My eldest sister devoted her entire time to the education of Celine. "Had I twenty pupils," she declared, "I could not have taken greater pains. And Therese, who was scarcely three years old, wanted to follow Celine and attend the lessons. For fear of being sent off, she did not stir, and never said a word. What a cherub! What sweetness! Some authors have tried to make her appear different from what she really was, in order to emphasize her strength of character, but one must tell only the truth."
Moreover, at the Process which preceded the Beatification of St. Therese, Marie affirmed under oath: "From her tenderest years, Sister Therese of the Child Jesus seemed to me to have been sanctified in her mother's womb, or rather, like an angel whom the good God had sent to earth in a mortal body. What she calls her imperfections or faults were really not such. I never saw her commit the slightest fault."
Vocation and Life in Carmel
At that time she went to Mass every morning, but though she was deeply pious one could hardly accuse her of displaying too much devotion. This was so true that our mother, not finding her devout enough, wrote to Mans, to Sister Mary Dosithea. The latter then sent her niece what she called "pious exhortations," which, Marie avows with disarming simplicity, "never had much effect on her."
"Mama," she said one day, "I assure you I love the good God very much, even more than you think.... Thus, I love to look at the tabernacle. It is not worth the trouble moving my lips. I simply prefer to hide my feelings."
A year after leaving school, she returned to the Visitation to make a retreat, preached to the former students by a Jesuit Father. Our devoted aunt then counseled her to discuss her vocation with the retreat master, and in order to satisfy Sister Dosithea, she said to the priest that she was coming to him in order to know her vocation; would he please reveal it to her so that there could be no further question about it?
"But I did not even think of my vocation," she confided later, "I had none. I did the best I could, and asked this good religious to take me under his direction. He gave me his address. I was sincere, yet quite determined never to write to him. Behold the result of my retreat!"
In reality, our good aunt and dear mother were not mistaken. They had a secret presentiment of Marie's divine calling as this passage from one of our mother's letters at this time reveals: "I am quite satisfied with Marie. The things of this world do not penetrate her heart as deeply as do spiritual things. She is becoming very pious. I think that she will be a religious. I would like her to be a saint."
It was from heaven that mother and aunt were to bring this vocation to flower, after the holy death of Sister Dosithea on February 24, 1877, and of our admirable mother on August 28 of the same year. Marie was then seventeen and a half years old.
The following November the family left Alençon for Buissonnets, the home our father bought at Lisieux. With what great unselfishness and sacrifice did the eldest daughter and sister try to lighten the sadness of her poor father and sisters. I believe that she received this strength of soul at the mortal remains of our mother, beside which she spent an entire night in tears. While gazing at her, so beautiful and calm in the majesty of death, Marie suddenly experienced a profound feeling, an assurance that this dear mother was only apparently dead, that she was now more alive than ever, and that she would aid her in all the difficulties of her life.
The Separation of Pauline and Marie
Five years later a new separation occurred — the entrance of "her Pauline" into Carmel. This too she accepted unselfishly. And less than six months later, Pauline's departure was followed by the mysterious illness and sudden cure of Therese through the apparition and Smile of the Blessed Virgin (May 13, 1883) — an apparition and smile which the happy child affirmed to have been a response to the faith and confidence of Marie.
May we not think today, fifty-seven years after this memorable event, that the dying Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, gazing at that same statue of the Blessed Virgin, received through the grateful intercession of Therese the same celestial and maternal Smile — the beginning of her eternal happiness? But while waiting for that eternal happiness, how many graces she received, and how many Calvaries she had to scale!
Marie prepares Therese for First Communion
One of the greatest graces accorded Marie was to prepare Therese for her First Communion, to see her through the grill of the fervent Benedictines so recollected and bathed in tears of love.
Of that happy occasion we read in her personal notes:
"One day at the Buissonnets, Therese asked me to explain what it meant to love God purely, and to forget self. I read in her look an ardent desire to practice whatever I would teach her. She was like a warrior measuring the battlefield on which he wishes to fight and carry away the victory — the victory of love in the conquest of souls. Looking at her, I said to myself, What will become of this child? Truly she is unusual; a certain mystery of predestination seems to hover over her."
But it must also be said that Therese, while listening to Marie as she explained such beautiful things, was seized by a like thought concerning Marie, that she was later to put in writing:
"It seems to me that all her great and generous spirit... passed into mine. As the warriors of old taught their children the art of fighting, so she taught me about the combats of life, rousing my enthusiasm and pointing out to me the glorious palm. She told me further about the immortal riches that we can so easily amass each day, about the misfortune of trampling them beneath our feet when we have only, as it were, to stoop to gather them.
"How eloquent was this dear sister! I regretted being the only one to hear her profound teachings. I was convinced, in my simplicity, that the greatest sinners would have been converted by listening to her, and that leaving their perishable riches, they would have sought only those of heaven."
Was not the cloister a necessity to such a soul as Marie's? I can best answer such a question by quoting from private notes she wrote to me in 1909 and 1910, at my persistent request. They constitute a summary of her vocation and her happiness in Carmel. My dear sister writes:
"I was just twenty-two years old, when you told me, beloved Mother, that you wanted to be a Carmelite. We had the same confessor, and while you had no difficulty in opening your soul to him, I — I was as mute as a stone. What could I say about my soul? Your desire to enter Carmel did not arouse a vocation in me; therefore I had nothing to say.
"One day, later, an acquaintance of ours spoke enthusiastically about a Jesuit Father, the Reverend Father Pichon, who had just preached a retreat near Lisieux. 'He is a saint,' she said, 'a real saint such as one rarely meets. You will be able to see him; he is going to give a Mission soon at Lisieux.'
"Out of curiosity, I went to see 'the saint.' I attended his Mass, and, to let no opportunity escape, entered his confessional wondering whether I ought to go to confession, or tell him the true purpose of my visit. I decided in favor of the latter and said to him: 'Father, I came to you to see a saint.'
"He laughed a little at my simplicity and answered: 'All right, my child! Make your confession.'
"I made my confession, as usual, and left without saying anything further. On the way home I thought, 'Had I known, I would not have gone to all this trouble.' But that evening, an irresistible desire to see this good Father again took possession of me. How was it to be done? Unfortunately, I never went out alone, and I would have had to confide my project to Victoria [the maid] so that she might accompany me. But I finally found a way, and next day I again assisted at the Mass of the good religious. I entered his confessional again and said: 'Father, I have come to you again because I feel irresistibly drawn here. Why, I do not know.'
"After putting a few questions to me, he asked if I wanted to be a religious, to which I replied, 'No, Father.'
" 'Do you wish to get married, then?' Again, I said, 'Oh no, Father!'
" 'But what do you want to do — be an old maid?' And even more emphatically I answered, 'Oh, by no means!'
" 'Well, just now,' he continued, 'I am pressed because I have to catch a train in a few moments, but in two weeks I shall be back at Lisieux to preach a retreat at the Refuge. You can speak to me there. Write down for me all your impressions of the religious life, and why you do not want to become a religious. And, lastly, write down whatever thoughts you have had about your vocation during these last days. For my part, I very much hope to give you to Jesus.'
"I was caught in his net — the net of kindness! I returned to the Buissonnets with a light heart filled with a secret joy. So Jesus had cast a special glance of love upon me also. Oh, I was far from being tempted to imitate the young man of the Gospel and to depart sadly from Him!
"On the appointed day, I went to see Father Pichon with my eight full pages in which I had revealed all the most intimate sentiments of my heart. In order not to influence him, I had been careful to write only what I had thought since the time of my last visit. After making my confession, I passed my manuscript to him through the little grill and stood up to leave, but he kept me for an hour, while he then and there read and commented on the pages. So I who formerly had not wanted a director, now had one! And I had chosen him of my own will. Or rather, it was God Who had chosen him for me. He arrived at the moment I was about to lose my dear Pauline. For me, he was truly 'an angel of the Lord.' And he also helped our beloved father, who received him several times at the Buissonnets as 'friend and director of the Martin family,' as he happily put it.
"From time to time he wrote me some very fatherly letters. But overburdened by his correspondence and retreats (he preached more than nine hundreds of them), he sometimes left me quite a long time without an answer. I have written him as many as fourteen letters in succession without receiving a single word!
"In 1884, Father Pichon was called to Canada, and only the good God knows how much I suffered at his departure. He returned in 1886 and I wanted to go to Calais to meet him. When I asked papa to make the trip, he answered: 'I can refuse you nothing, my dear.' But we waited two days at Calais, and then at Douvres, in vain; we had been misinformed.
"Back in Paris, we found Father Pichon! I complained bitterly about my mistake, but papa, saint that he was, answered: 'Do not grumble, Marie. The good God has judged that you needed this trial and, as far as I am concerned, I am happy to have been His instrument in making this trip with you.'
"Ah! Mother, it was indeed true. The good God wished in this way to detach me further from things of earth, even from the most innocent joys. Now that I am older, I realize that during the early years of my life I was not free of illusions. Why, O my God, why indeed run distractedly after any creature, even if it be an angel from heaven?
. "Without knowing it, I was even then very near to entering Carmel. One day in the parlor, Mother, you had remarked to me that it was time to consider the matter. Since I did not feel the attraction of a vocation, I answered that I would enter when the good God told me, but He had not yet sufficiently made known His will to me. Then you said to me: 'Do not think that He is actually going to appear to you. You are almost twenty- six years old and you have to make a decision.' 'I will not make a decision,' I answered. 'Since the good God knows that I desire to do His will, He should rather send me a celestial messenger to make it known to me.'
"It was then, my little Mother, that you wrote to Father Pichon. And some days later, I received a letter in which he asked me how old Celine was, and whether it would soon be possible for me to answer the call of God. I had no inkling of your letter, and this left me nonplussed. The hour of sacrifice was about to strike. Ah, I saw this hour approaching without enthusiasm. It meant saying goodbye to a father whom I loved so much! It meant leaving my little sisters. But I did not hesitate a single moment and I told my great secret to papa. At such utterly unexpected news, he sighed. For there had been nothing that could have made him suspect that I wanted to be a religious. He stifled a sob and said brokenly: 'Ah ... ah ... but... without you!'
"He could not finish. In order not to upset him further, I answered with assurance: 'Celine is old enough to replace me. You'll see, Papa, everything will go all right.'
"Then he said: 'The good God could not have asked a greater sacrifice of me! I thought you would never leave me!' And he embraced me to hide his emotion. I am crying, Mother, as I write these memories. Have I not every reason to become a saint?
"Then I wrote to my uncle and aunt to acquaint them with my decision. They were absolutely astonished. I, the independent one! I who had always had an air of not being able to endure convents! I was going to become a nun! They could not recover from their astonishment.
Carmel at Last
"I entered Carmel on October 15, 1886. While passing through the cloister to enter the choir, I cast a glance at the cloister courtyard. It is indeed as I imagined, I thought. How austere it is! But after all, I did not come here to see cheerful things. That was the extent of my enthusiasm!
"In the choir, our venerable Foundress, Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa, was in adoration before the Blessed Sacrament, and her air of peace and holiness made a deep impression on me. Then, with you, my Pauline of old, I was sent to make a tour of the garden. I was still unimpressed. The garden seemed so small to me after the immense enclosure of the Visitation at Mans, and, besides, everything seemed to me to be so poor. I did not even think of the happiness of being with you. I just wondered how I would succeed in spending all my life within those four walls.
"Ah, Mother, I have found Jesus within these four walls and, in finding Him, I have found heaven! Yes, it is here that I have passed the happiest years of my life. They have not, however, been free of crosses, because you know how many have been sent to us!
"First the trial of our poor father's illness, that trial which Therese called 'our great treasure.'
"In thinking of papa I had often asked myself, how will his beautiful life end? I had a secret presentiment that it would end in suffering, but I was far from suspecting what that suffering would be. But after it came, one day at Mass I saw its value so clearly that I would not have wanted to exchange it for all the treasures of earth. And what merit our dear father must have acquired! Indeed, how right he was in saying, "My children, never fear for me, because I am a friend of the good God.'
"At that time, the story of Job came to my mind. It seemed to me that it was true of both father and us, and that Satan, presenting himself before the Lord, had said to Him: 'It is no wonder your servant praises You; You overwhelm him with good things! Strike his person and you will see that he will curse Your Name.' But the Name of the Lord was not cursed. On the contrary it was continually blessed amid the most bitter trials.
The Carmelite Habit
"You also desire, Mother, that I speak of that distant time when I took the holy Habit and made my Profession. I know not by what privilege I find myself among these 'Virgins who need not seek where Wisdom dwells because they themselves walk in its ways.'
"It was especially during the days that followed my reception of the Habit that I best appreciated my good fortune. Every morning, it seemed, I put on a garment of liberty, and it was also a festive garment to me. Even as when I was a child, I could say, 'I am quite free.' To go to choir, the only toilette necessary was to let down one's sleeves. My happiness was unbelievable!
"As for my Profession-day, I have no other memory but that it completely resembled the day of my First Communion. My soul was in peace. Jesus had called me, and I had come to Him. What happiness can be compared to answering His voice? He had called me — He! Who can ever understand what it means to be called by God? What a mystery! Is He not the Master of His
creatures? And He invites the creature to love Him He asks if it will deign to love Him. But since He is Love, He cannot act otherwise, because love must be free. Only, the touching thing is that He desires to be loved, and that He appreciates the love of His poor little creatures. And it was Therese who crowned me! It was a pledge, and, as it were, an assurance of my eternal crown!
Therese had, before Marie's Profession, entered the Lisieux Carmel and, as a postulant there, was chosen to crown her sister Marie with the customary floral wreath placed on the head of the Sister being professed. (Editor's Note.)
"The evening of my Profession I cried as I had done on the day of my First Communion, because the second beautiful day of my life had passed.
Therese Joins Her Sisters in Carmel
"Now Mother, I want to tell you of the impression that Therese made upon me on the day of her entrance into Carmel. I cannot say that I was happy when I saw her cross the threshold of the cloister. No, because I was thinking of our father who was going to be deprived of his treasure. But she! What a heavenly creature! And how my little Therese had grown! Such things are hard to judge through the parlor grill. Yes, how she had grown, and how beautiful she was! The good God had endowed her with all graces. But in Carmel He allows that this beauty be veiled and secret, like a diamond hidden beneath stones. And now He is pleased to make it shine beside His Divine Face before the entire universe, 'even to the consummation of the world.'
"Mother and dearly beloved sister, what more shall I say? Ah, if trials have been multiplied for us, graces too, have fallen in torrents! The two little doves we left in the paternal nest, Celine and Therese, have flown after us to Carmel. We have seen them at our sides; they have come to share our life! We have seen Therese die — of love! And, not far from us, another sweet dove, Leonie, has found her place of rest in the Visitation. Tell me, has not the measure of our consolations outstripped that of our sorrows? But our life is not over, and more than one sorrow awaits us. Yet, why should we not abandon ourselves to Him who proportions His grace to the cross, to Him who has overwhelmed us with so many blessings! I too wish to say to Him like Therese, 'Dear Lord, You overwhelm me with joy in all You do!' Indeed, does not the cross conceal eternal joys?"
In 1915 we had the joy of again seeing our sister Leonie (Sister Frances Therese), a Visitation nun at the Monastery of Caen. She was called to Lisieux to bear witness before the ecclesiastical tribunal in session at Carmel. In the notes of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart we have found the ineffable impression produced by this meeting of the four sisters of St. Therese.
"We were," she writes, "seated together, all four of us, on the flight of steps near the infirmary. The sky was blue and cloudless. In a moment, time vanished before me: our childhood, the Buissonets, all seemed to me a single instant. I saw Leonie a religious, beside us ! Past and present were blended in a unique moment. The past was like a flash; I seemed already to live in an eternal present, and I understood eternity which contains all joys in the all-embracing now."
IN her revealing summary of a soul's way to God, my dear sister failed to mention the virtue which she always practiced in a hidden way — the perfume of charity, of goodness, of self- effacement and of humility which emanated from her during her fifty-three years of Carmelite life.
She had been "the angel" of our little Therese, when Therese entered the convent. Then their conversations became rare, and each knew how to lead her beautiful cloistered life of detachment, which is never without sacrifices. But even so, they appreciated each other. "Virtue shines naturally," our Saint used to say.
Marie s Tribute to Therese
Concerning Therese's presence among us, Marie has this to say:
"I have often pondered the time when Therese was among us, and I find that no words can recapture the reality we have seen. What perfection in every least act, and yet, what simplicity! How many times while watching her pass through the cloister, simple, modest and recollected, have I said to myself, 'Oh, to think that no one will ever know here below how much this soul loves the good God!' All that one can say and write of her does not give a true picture of her. It is necessary to have known her. I myself cannot describe her, but she is engraved in my soul like a celestial vision which nothing can alter."
Therese's Tribute to Marie
The goddaughter, in turn, wrote to her godmother during a retreat: "When I meet you, it seems to me that I encounter an angel. I see in you what others cannot see, for you know how to hide your true worth so well that on the day of eternity many will be surprised."
Marie's Cheerfulness and Solicitude
Sister Marie filled a number of offices during her years in Carmel. First, she was assistant infirmarian during the illness of our venerated Mother Genevieve of St. Teresa, who used to call her "her ray of sunshine." Then for a time she worked in the refectory and finally served as procurator for forty years and even longer, because even during the years of her infirmity she counseled the acting procurator and had charge of our dear white-veiled Sisters. The latter loved her as a mother. Indeed, by her hidden acts of tenderness, she made the whole Community love her. Her solicitude for the postulants was proverbial. She always obtained permission to suggest to them practical ways for accustoming themselves to the rigors of the Rule.
Her office of procurator gave her the opportunity to mortify her personal preferences. She herself would have been satisfied with less ordinary things, but the same did not hold for the Community. She would sometimes sigh, saying: "One must not fear to nourish these poor Sisters well; they are always abstaining." To this day I can see her passing from table to table, slipping this or that under the napkin of tired Sisters, and stealthily placing a piece of sugar in a bowl of milk.
Capacity for Forgiveness
The following incident gives us a deeper insight into her supernatural goodness. We have it from one of our extern Sisters who had received the white veil and even the holy Habit, but could not, because of weak health, remain within the cloister. This novice had just witnessed an action, on the part of one of the Sisters, which surely must have hurt Marie very much. But
when the time came to prepare the portions on the service table, what was her astonishment to see Sister Marie take particular pains with the portion of the nun who had just hurt her.
"Why," she exclaimed, "do you give extra attention to the Sister who offended you? I cannot understand that."
And she received this beautiful answer: "Don't you see, Sister, it is in such simple ways as this that one often restores peace to a suffering heart? This Sister is good at heart. She is doubtless sorry by now, and she will be consoled to see I hold nothing against her."
Since we owe the record of this act of fraternal charity to one of our extern Sisters, it is well to mention the attachment of Sister Marie for this child and for another of her companions who also passed several months in the cloister as postulant. Indeed, the devout and fervent group of our five extern Sisters was very dear to her. Two days before her death she received them with great kindness in the infirmary, and they will never forget her last heartfelt message to them.
Marie, the Gardener
We must return to the various occupations of my sister during her long life as a Carmelite. With the office of procurator went the care of the garden. She weeded out the couch-grass which had become so rampant that a gardener had refused the task. The vegetable garden received her assiduous care. Besides, she tastefully planted ivy, periwinkle and rose-bushes along the borders. While passing in the cloister one day, our dear little Saint Therese smiled at Marie as she was planting a small firtree in the corner of the courtyard. Today it is a magnificent tree which sets off a beautiful statue of Therese.
Her work in the garden and among the flowers inspired this thought: "A gardener is very pleased when the flowers he has cultivated respond to his care, and when they are rare flowers, they are for his glory.
"Thus it seemed to me that I was a rare flower, since Jesus had planted me in His chosen garden, Carmel. But, alas, I am a free flower, free to give more or less glory to the Divine Gardener. And I have desired to be holy that He may derive more joy in contemplating His flower, and that later He may show it to His saints as a marvel of His grace. I understand much better than I could ever say, the disinterested love of the elect. Their own glory is nothing to them; what touches them is to 'recount the glory of God.' It is He alone Whom they love; they forget themselves entirely. That is indeed true love, because as soon as we think of our own interests, love ceases.
"Although I have these beautiful inspirations, it is impossible for me to realize them. Like Therese, I wish also to put all my confidence in Him Who 'works in me both the will and the performance.' And I beg my Jesus for this confidence, hoping that my little Therese will obtain for me the ability to say as she did: 'The Lord has taken me and placed me there.' "
Our "mystic" gardener — may she pardon an adjective against which she would certainly have protested — knew how to continue praying even while engaged daily in baking altar breads. We recall with tender edification that on the very afternoon of St. Therese's death, when the Saint's agony was beginning, she did not ask to be replaced at her work.
But we should like to recall another moving memory — that of July 8, 1897, when the Saint was taken from her cell to the infirmary. Of that occasion Sister Marie writes: "I was seated beside her bed. The miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin had just been placed on a small table near the wall. Then I read her these lines of her own poetry:
" 'Thou who didst smile on me in the morning of life, Smile now again, Mother dear, for evening is here.' "Almost instantly her eyes filled with tears as she looked at the Blessed Virgin. I arose and approached, asking if I had caused her any pain. 'No,' she answered, 'but I cannot explain
to you just now, I would cry' Finally she confided to me in tears: 'I have never seen her so beautiful!' And when I asked: 'Are you weeping from joy?', she answered, 'Yes.'
"I was very much impressed, for this scene recalled so many memories. Long ago as a child Therese had wept before this blessed statue — or rather before a true vision of her heavenly Mother who came to cure her. Then, at her bedside, I was thrilled by the sight of her ecstasy. Now at Carmel the good God allowed me to be at her bedside again to see these last tears and Our Lady's last smile to her 'Little Flower.'
" 'It is not like the first time,' she said. 'Today it is the statue I see; whereas the other time, as you well know, it was not the statue but Our Lady herself who smiled on me ...'
"She did not go on, but I understood and said, 'It is a great consolation for me to have been here this evening, alone with you.' To which she responded: 'I too am deeply moved.' "
It is to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart that we owe The Story of a Soul, for it was she who prevailed on me to order St. Therese of the Child Jesus to write her life, thus triumphing over my secret dread — which in the event proved so unfounded — of causing her to lose her simplicity. It was she also who for her personal consolation asked St. Therese to write down her "little way," and who received those admirable pages which form the Thirteenth Chapter of The Story of a Soul. Marie was likewise responsible for the letter of September 27, 1896, which has been called "the fundamental document of her doctrine, the true charter of her spirituality."
Marie's Reaction to Her Sister's Canonization
Not the least interesting aspect of my sister Marie's character concerns her reaction to the glorification of our little Saint. It is shown in her testimony at the Canonical Process, especially in her answer to the question: "Why do you desire the beatification of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus?"
"I desire it," she explained, "because I think the good God desires it, and will be glorified by it. He created us to know Him and to love Him, but few know Him, and consequently few love Him! He is regarded as a Judge, a Master, but how few think of Him as a Father!
"Sister Therese of the Child Jesus teaches us how to go to Him with confidence and love. If the Church approves her way of confidence which is so fruitful for souls, I think many more people will gather under the Church's banner and imitate her saints. For 'God is Love,' and it is by love that His creatures will give Him greater glory.
"Therefore I regard St. Therese of the Child Jesus as the apostle, the chosen messenger of the Lord in these times, who is to announce to all the infinite Love He has for us."
The intimate echoes of Sister Marie's soul after our grand festivals of the Beatification and the Canonization in 1923 and 1925, are revealed in her letters to me:
'March 19, 1924
"You have asked me what I think of the Beatification of our little Therese. Can I possibly describe how I feel? For one thing, my soul is like a lonely exile. We have suffered so much and in so many ways for her Cause! Yet, I cannot deny that I tasted real heavenly joy during the feasts of the May Triduum last year. How could I ever forget my impressions as Cardinal Vico, Prefect of the Congregation of Rites and Legate of the Holy Father, surrounded by his court of honor, and all the prelates and Religious thronged the sanctuary ...Yes, my eyes
were captivated by this unique glory. It was for me a 'vision of the Judgment.' The Holy Church with divine majesty was revealing our Savior’s judgment upon our little Therese. Words simply cannot express my feelings at that moment.
"But at the same time, I experienced a great trial. You probably remember, my Mother, that I could not kneel, due to the severe rheumatism which began on the evening of the 29th of April, the feast of the Beatification at Rome. My hands also were swollen. But on so great an occasion it was easy to forget my suffering. After the labors and interior trials I suffered during the days of testimony for the Process, these little infirmities of mine did not amount to much; indeed they were nothing at all, because they were engulfed in an ocean of infinite graces.
"Ah, I understand now better than ever that there is nothing true, nothing great, nothing noble, but sanctity. In all our crosses, let us repeat with our courageous little Saint: 'We can never do too much to carry off the palm!' The good God in His infinite goodness sometimes places us on a field of battle; He wants to see what we will do, or rather, He knows quite well that we are going to trust in Him, and He Himself is ready to fight for us. Poor little victories of earth which some day will have such far-reaching effects in the Kingdom of heaven!"
On October 20, 1925, she wrote again:
"The last glorious vision has disappeared, but it has sounded new depths in my heart, or rather, it has lifted me higher toward heaven! No longer shall we see the bishops setting out each day for the infirmary to celebrate Mass. No longer will we see our good Cardinal Vico with exquisite devotion placing the golden rose in the hand of our Therese. The feast-days of the Canonization have passed; now we can wait for those of heaven which shall never pass.
"What shall I say to you, dear little Mother? Ah, I know now why the Blessed Virgin 'kept all things in her heart!' It is impossible to express one's feelings in the face of all this grandeur succeeding so obscure a life.
"On the days preceding these grand celebrations I suffered much without telling you. I kept wondering how everything would turn out, after the continual bad weather and that storm on the eve which blew down all our decorations in the cloister. Everything might so easily have been a failure! But the good God did not wish it so. I prayed so often to Him in the secrecy of my heart! Oh, how inescapable is the knowledge of the Divine Presence in the depths of our souls! Yes, we feel the Divine Presence. We understand that God is in us, for when we speak to Him in anguish of heart, the answer is always peace.
"And yet at times a certain melancholy takes hold of us. Why? Is it because we are journeying toward the unknown; because our earthly life is drawing to a close; and because we tremble to see the end of all that is so dear to us in this world? Yes, that is it! But one should look at the other side of the picture. How? By peacefully enduring the trial of faith and the trial of death, because it is toward life that we journey. While thinking of death which is so distasteful to nature, it suddenly occurred to me that death is 'the day of great mercy.' How profoundly this truth came home to me! I understood that it is the moment when the good God floods the soul with the torrent of His mercies. Without any merit on its part He gives it all that He has resolved upon from eternity. It is the day of His great mercy. My little Mother, I love to dwell upon this consoling assurance, because I think it is true.
"You have asked me what I thought about the Canonization of our little sister. For the glory of the good God, I am very happy; but only for this glory, in so far as Therese will now have even more power to make Him known and loved, to lead souls to Him. I think He has made use of a child to show the great and learned of this world the true road to heaven. He first became a child in order to manifest Himself to us, but we had forgotten it, so He began the lesson over by means of our little Therese. — Your Marie who loves you so much."
In a letter to me which I shall presently quote, my dear sister alludes to the great sorrows which followed upon our beloved Therese's canonization.
The fame of St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the world at large attracted to her name a number of writers, lovers of the sensational, who claimed to have discovered in some secret archives events dishonorable to her family. Consequently, a manuscript was drawn up, and by a shameful negotiation the Carmel of Lisieux was invited to buy it at a very high price, if it did not wish to see it published.
Indignant at this procedure, several devoted and capable friends of the Monastery, with the hearty approval of ecclesiastical authority and even of Rome itself, undertook a profound research into the national archives and elsewhere, and proved the historical falsity of the documents presented.
In addition to this humiliation, by means of an arbitrary interpretation of a few passages of the Summarium (the resume of the Process), and certain inauthentic writings, we were accused of having falsified the character of our Saint and of having tampered with her pictures.
Misunderstanding and Misinterpretation
The following letter to me best expresses the sad reflections of Sister Marie on this very painful subject:
"Saturday, April 10, 1926 "Last Tuesday, just after we had spoken together of our trials, I was going to Vespers with a heavy heart, when on entering the fore-choir, I perceived a sweet perfume, especially while passing the first door near your stall. I stopped a moment, and tried to discover whence it came. It was the combined scent of many flowers. On entering the choir, I no longer perceived it, but I knew it was our dear little Saint's way of saying to us, 'Have no fear, I am with you.'
"It is true, Mother, that we have many sorrows, but I gladly say with our angelic Therese, 'I am strengthened by humiliations.' True greatness is to be found here, for it is an honor to be associated through suffering with the Passion of our Savior. Truly the disdain of the world is an honor. At times I see this truth so clearly! It is when the good God wishes to teach me the truth, the truth which scatters darkness concerning the false goods and honors of this world. But, I admit this stern truth is not always clear to the eyes of my soul. Nevertheless the Lord is able to rise in our defense.
"On opening the Old Testament, this passage of Isaiah struck me: 'Behold, all that fight against thee shall be confounded and ashamed, they shall be as nothing, and the men shall perish that strive against thee. Thou shalt seek them, and shalt not find the men that resist thee: they shall be as nothing: and as a thing consumed, the men that war against thee. For I am the Lord thy God, Who take thee by the hand, and say to thee: Fear not, I have helped' (Is. 41:11-13).
"Truly it is God Who comes to our aid. Whatever happens, I will trust completely in Him, even were we to be cast down into an abyss.
"Our little Therese must be exceedingly feared by hell, because it instigates so many plots against her! But we also will help her save souls by our sufferings. Do not be disturbed, little Mother. What evil can harm us since the Lord is our support?"
Note : Several times, especially during the months immediately following her death, our Saint revealed her invisible presence to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, after an act of charity, humility or obedience, by means of mysterious perfumes — especially the scent of violets. One day our dear sister even received from her "little Therese" a heavenly kiss. But at the most, we hardly believe these graces were more than ten in number during a period of 42 years.
In her letter of March 19, 1924, my dear sister spoke of a rheumatic attack she suffered on the night of the Beatification. This was not the first time she had experienced such attacks, but from thenceforth they became more serious.
Until then, her sound health had allowed her not only to follow the Rule rigorously, but also to perform additional penances. But at the end of the year 1924, she contracted such a severe case of pneumonia that we were advised to provide the Last Sacraments for her. But she protested, saying: "No, Mother, believe me, I am not going to die. I have not had enough bodily suffering at Carmel; life will be longer and harder for me now."
She wrote to me in 1933:
"Nine years ago, when I was so ill that the Last Sacraments were prescribed, I said to myself, 'How strange! I am to die without having suffered. I cannot understand this design of the good God.' And I experienced a certain regret. Now I see that I was not mistaken, and that He loved me too much to deprive me of suffering, because it is such an efficacious way of showing Him our love. So I thank Him for it with all my heart."
She recovered completely from the pneumonia, but the rheumatism lingered on, until she was obliged on January 25, 1929, to leave her cell and live in a little infirmary on the ground floor. We furnished it as best we could with a little altar and, almost directly opposite the bed, a beautiful reproduction of Our Lady of the Smile.
Alas, how many sacrifices she was called on to make in that place! First of all, she was able to walk only very slowly on the arm of a charitable infirmarian; then gradually she was confined to an armchair. Her legs and feet were swollen, and became festered with sores. How we pitied our dear sister! How could so active a person ever endure this trial — and for nearly eleven years! But she remained ever serene, despite her hidden pain, and prayed incessantly. She used to tell us: "Prayer is the state of my soul. I cry to the good God day and night; 'My God, come to my aid! Hasten! Hasten to help me!' And to persuade Him the more, I add, 'Thou Who art my tender Spouse, have mercy on me!' "
Referring to her suffering and to the support which she expected from God alone, she confided to us: "I often think of Our Lady, who took pity on the married couple at the wedding feast of Cana, and said to our Lord, 'They have no wine.' And I say: 'My good Mother, I too have no more wine! In my youth I had it always; I knew neither infirmity nor illness. But today I am without resources; I have no more wine! Beseech your divine Son, my Spouse, to have pity on my distress.' " Then on second thought she added: "But is it really true to say that He gave me the better wine when I was young? No,... today He is giving me the best wine — the wine of trial. Thus He has made no mistake as the banquet of life draws to a close. 'He has kept the good wine until now.' "
Each morning on entering the infirmary we used to say to her: "Blessed be Jesus Christ, Blessed be His Cross!" And her generous soul would burst forth joyously: "Is it not fitting that we love Him?"
She kept the salvation of souls ever uppermost in mind, lamenting heroically: "I am as one in chains. I am fettered and constrained; my arms pain me. But I offer this to the good God in order that some poor soul may not be fettered and lost for all eternity."
Her own words sum up her two great desires: "All is vanity, except to love the good God, and to sacrifice myself for the salvation of sinners."
Marie's Zeal for "The Little Way" of Therese
It would be apropos to speak here of her great zeal for certain souls whom she wished to enroll under the banner of the "little victims of the Merciful Love of the good God." Here are two instances among many. The first concerns the husband of her former friend, now long dead. He was gently attracted by the letters and exhortations of my holy sister, and was moved to pronounce the Act of Offering, kneeling at the parlor grill in our convent, his voice shaken with tears. She made a similar conquest of our former maid, Victoria, under the same conditions.
Hers was a soul eminently apostolic, whom our Mother St. Teresa would have been happy to acknowledge as her true daughter. For, did Marie not say: "Ever since our Therese has become Patroness of the Missions, the good God alone knows my ardent desire to help by filling her hands with roses"?
And what did our little Saint do for her dear big sister whose eyes so often turned toward her statue seated with the Gospel on her knees, which we had placed in the courtyard opposite Marie's window? What did she obtain for this beloved godmother who with her poor misshapen hands worked diligently and painfully all day long on the little reliquaries of her goddaughter — even to the last week of her life? "I pray to her, but she does not answer me!" Marie often sighed. But twice St. Therese came to her aid in a tangible way.
On February 15, 1939, the sufferer wrote to her sister Leonie, a Visitation nun:
"On the night of January 29 I was suffering much from rheumatic pains in my knees, and the devoted white-veiled Sister, who slept in a room near me, had done her best to relieve me of the twisted feeling in my legs and knees, but it was useless. After many unsuccessful attempts, she said to me, 'I am going to ask our Saint to come to your aid.' And she withdrew, sorrowful but confident.
"A few moments later, I felt as though someone were gently and easily straightening out my legs, and I had no doubt that it was a supernatural intervention. The prayer of my infirmarian had been heard, and my little Therese had truly come to my aid. My suffering ceased, and I was able to sleep soundly that night."
On a similar occasion when she was suddenly seized with a sharp rheumatic pain in her shoulder, and was unable to draw the covers about her, Therese "descended," and with affectionate hand pulled the covers up over the sick member. After thanking her, her godmother said to her quite simply: "Now go back to heaven."
While she received these signs from heaven, the devil in spiteful rage attacked her with a subtle kind of "despair," as she termed her great anguish. But she met these temptations with heroic acts of confidence and abandonment, going so far as to say that "if it were the will of God, she would consent to remain on earth in her painful state of soul and body to the end of the world, in order to save more souls."
One night the enemy of all goodness avenged himself on her great zeal, faith and courage. He rapped on the door of the
infirmary, entered invisibly and tormented her. But at the worst moment, her infirmarian, thinking she had been called, appeared on the scene and peace was restored. Yet there had been no summons.
Three years ago, in 1937, Marie's condition suddenly took a turn for the worse, and a physician from Lisieux declared the case hopeless. We hastened to notify a doctor in Paris who had been attending her during the past few years. He arrived during the night and saved her. This good doctor had frequently benefited by her grateful prayers, and he venerated her so deeply that at her death he wept for her "as for a mother." After her death he rushed from a military hospital in Savoy to Lisieux in order to get a last glimpse of her as she was laid out in the choir.At the beginning of the long years of her ever-increasing infirmities, Sister Marie, supported by her infirmarian, was still able to go to the refectory, which was quite close to the infirmary. In the morning she was led to the choir for Office and Mass, and later in the day, in a wheel-chair, for Vespers and recreation — a practice she observed almost to the end. In the last days of her life, she received Holy Communion in the Oratory at the grill for the sick, and assisted at Mass there. She loved the recitation of the Divine Office, and after her removal to the infirmary, her enforced absence from Matins caused her great sorrow. We discovered this from the notes we found after her death, in which she expresses her fear of not being sufficiently resigned to this deprivation from which she suffered so much.
Marie's Golden Jubilee
On October 15, 1936, we celebrated the Golden Jubilee of the entrance of our holy sister into the Religious life. In honor of the occasion, one of our Sisters prepared a beautiful water-color, showing St. Therese of the Child Jesus as a postulant, crowning Sister Marie on the day of her Profession. In a corner of the picture there is a representation of His Holiness Pope Pius XI blessing Marie and Therese. It was sent to the August Pontiff in the hope that he would send some few words of reply, and great was the emotion and joy of our venerable Jubilarian on seeing the inscription which the Holy Father wrote on the painting — an invitation to the Eternal Jubilee: Veni coronaberis, "Come, you will be crowned" (Cant. 4:8).
His Excellency Picaud, our bishop and devoted Superior, presided at the ceremony, and in his eloquent sermon recalled the mutual assistance which St. Therese and Sister Marie had accorded each other. He held Sister Marie in the greatest esteem and even today regrets her loss . "I miss her,"
During the ceremony our beloved Jubilarian was led before the choir grill by the white-veiled Sisters. One carried a crown of roses ; a second a baton wreathed with flowers. Two others gently wheeled her chair, which had been draped in white and garlanded with flowers, as was the whole Monastery. Sister Marie might well have said here, the words with which she addressed her faithful attendants in her last illness: "I am attended by angels."
The members of the Community vied with one another in celebrating her Jubilee and singing her praises as did our dear Carmelite monasteries in other lands. She was presented with large paintings representing the Beatitudes, which were later to be reproduced in mosaics in the crypt of the Basilica. But among the Jubilee gifts special mention should be made of the white marble bas-relief, now attached to the house of the Buissonnets, which pictures the apparition of the Blessed Virgin to the Child Therese. This remarkable work of Father Bernard was presented to the Jubilarian by generous friends from Canada. The moment she saw it, her eyes filled with tears, and she became silent... One would have said she was again gazing on the child Therese in ecstazy ; that the scene of May 13, 1883, had occured only yesterday.
Marie Meets the Future Pius XII
The following year the National Eucharistic Congress occurred at Lisieux. On that occasion the Basilica was blessed. From the cloister and the garden Marie could see its great dome illumined by the sun, and she often stopped her wheel-chair, tocontemplate this "vision of peace."
On July 12, she was taken to the infirmary of our Saint to assist at Mass and receive Holy Commun from the hand of the Legate of Pius XI, His Eminence, Cardinal Pacelli . She had previously said: "I have a great desire to meet all the Cardinals who stop at the Monastery, because one of them may some day become Pope, and I should be happy to receive at Carmel the blessing of the future Vicar of Jesus Christ." In meeting Cardinal Pacelli, the future Pius XII, her desire was fulfilled. That morning, when the Legate was visiting the cloister, our venerable bishop presented her to His Eminence, who approached her graciously and smiled paternally when our Bishop remarked: "Your Eminence, it is to Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, the eldest sister and godmother of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, that we owe The Story of a Soul."
Two and a half years later, on January 17, 1940, our dying sister was to receive the special blessing of the Holy Father through the intermediacy of a Roman Prelate who was a great friend of the Monastery. And on the day after her death, we received this second touching telegram from the Vatican: "His Holiness deeply shares your sorrow, and extends to the Community condolence and Apostolic Blessing.". Cardinal Pacelli, now Pope Pius XII, had remembered my beloved sister.
The Last Years
AND now, what of those two and a half years which separated our generous sister from her eternal reward? Her sickness increased steadily, but there was always the same sweetness, the same patience, the same radiation of favors, even beyond the monastery to the souls who were so dear to her. She preferred the humble, but all were dear to her. She encouraged them, sustained them with advice, and even saved them. We have in mind one especially whom her maternal solicitude led to the religious life, and many others whom she induced to change their life. "Do you think I am snatching souls from hell?" she often asked us.
All that redounded to the glory of the Church was of interest to her. Often we have seen her weeping secretly as she prayed the Lord to grant the full light of faith to the upright and sincere soul of the Chief Pastor, whoever manifested a respectful and grateful admiration for her. The Holy Father himself had urgently recommended his intention to the prayers of our Carmel, and on the eve of her death, she gave us to understand by a sign that she would surely intercede concerning it in heaven.
The thought of the war and the evils it brought with it caused her great anguish. However, as we have noted, her desire for the glory of the good God, prevailed over all. "Ah, provided His kingdom come," she often repeated, "nothing else matters!"
She received great consolation from repeating to us these words of our Father, St. John of the Cross: "Never be saddened by the troublesome events of this world; for you do not realize the good they effect, nor by what secret judgments of God they contribute to the eternal joy of His elect."
Simplicity of Marie's Piety
Sister Marie was very simple in her piety, and consequently few books found the way to her heart and her taste. I remember once that a certain book, dealing with a certain very complicated form of union with God, had been sent to her. "But I soon got rid of it," she told me. "In this book it was stated: 'If one wishes to reach the state of union, it is absolutely necessary that one take jealous care never to abandon, not even for an instant, the government of one's interior potencies.... The one necessary thing is to recollect one's potencies in God.' And I find in myself nothing but impotencies! My Mother, how then could you desire me to collect my potencies? So I simply turn to my little Therese, she alone points out to me 'the way, the truth and the life.' "
This humility exercised a particular charm over the heart of God, Who favored her with several manifestations of His love.
On July 5, 1898, she wrote to me:
"I was praying to my little Therese to prepare me to receive the good God, when I was seized with so lively and penetrating a faith that I wondered how I would manage to take a step toward the grill for Communion. Had I seen our Lord with my own eyes, I could not have had more faith. When I received the Sacred Host, I seemed to hear an interior voice telling me: 'This is your Creator, your God, your Father and your Savior.' But that does not really express what I felt at the time. Ah! I felt as though I possessed all things in myself."
Again, on November 15, 1914, she wrote:
"I had a consoling dream about an hour before I arose this morning. I perceived our Lord near me without seeing Him distinctly. He said to me: 'Your soul is My tabernacle.' These words filled me with joy, but, not wishing to deceive Him, I showed Him a hopelessly tangled skein from which not a single thread could be drawn. In my mind I said, 'Such is my poor
soul! Can it really be Your tabernacle?' But He paid no attention. So I put down my skein and said, 'I understand; You must needs be merciful....' And I laid my head on His Heart, surrendering myself to confidence and love."
My pious sister lost none of her originality of expression in Carmel. Witness her impression of the retreat in May, 1915:
"The good God has again bestowed on me the grace I received a few months ago. I awoke during the night feeling that there was Someone in my heart Whose love kept vigil while I slept. Then I said: 'It is no longer I that live, but Christ lives in me.'
"It was a very sweet consolation, but the good God has never since renewed it, because He knows that the life of faith is more profitable to my soul. I am far too imperfect to experience these heavenly consolations. Then too there is always the danger that the devil might ensnare me.... So it is better for me to stay in the category of blockheads."
She must have imbibed this beautiful spirit of faith from our good father who used often to repeat, "My God, increase our faith!", for she used to say: "An ounce of faith can remove all evils."
She disliked subtle inquiries into the mysteries of the Faith and the discussion of religious problems concerning which even theologians could not agree. She occasionally discussed religious matters with Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face, our sister Celine, whose views were in perfect accord with her own. One day — it was December 26, 1937 — instead of refuting a theory which to her seemed false, or at least much exaggerated, she said quickly: "I cannot understand it; let us speak no more about it. I am like a stammering child, and can only say, a ... a ... a...."
Toward morning of the following night, Sister Marie had a symbolical dream, which she described in these words: "I saw the Blessed Virgin, bathed in the rays of the sun, seated on a mountain, and smiling. She had before her a child whom she lovingly shielded. It was so simple and sweet a picture! Then I beheld the striking figure of a man standing and contemplating them in wonder. He reminded me of some venerable monk or prophet who had suddenly come forth from his solitude to contemplate this beautiful spectacle. Then I awoke and I understood that a new era had been opened for souls; yes, it was 'The Little Way,' the mystery of mercy, explained by a child. Do not speak to me about other mysteries, that is the only one I understand."
But there were "mysteries" which she did understand, and, we dare say, explained very well. The following letter will serve as an example of the truth of the words St. Therese spoke to her, "Ah, were you to write what you know of the secrets of the good God, we would have some beautiful pages to read." I submit one of these "beautiful pages":
"The other day, my Mother, you remarked to me with a look of great compassion, 'The hand of the Lord has touched you.' I was reminded of poor Job's complaint, 'Have pity on me, for the hand of the Lord has touched me!'
"I cannot understand such a complaint, for the hand of the Lord is sweet and tender; it is the hand of a Father, and if it touches us, it can only be to comfort us, not to make us suffer. It does not prevent evils from coming upon us, because we are in the land of evils.
"I cannot walk; rheumatism is ruining my health. If my own constitution gives rise to these miseries, must a miracle intervene to remove them? Then this would no longer be a time of trial, were our afflictions always to disappear as though by magic. The real magic consists in the fact that our Heavenly Father turns all things to our own profit. But it is not His hand which makes the evils. It is His hand which dresses our wounds, both of soul and body. How then can we say, 'Have pity on me! For the hand of the Lord has touched me ' May this Paternal
Hand lead me to the end of my exile; may It keep all dangers from me, and lead me to experience Its tenderness."
She was gifted with an exceptional, but very simple gift of prayer and confidence. I cannot resist setting down two more of Sister Marie's retreat notes to me:
"February 10, 1931
"Yesterday, during ten o'clock prayer, I felt as though I could have thus spent the whole day in intimate union with God. What did I say to Him? Nothing. I was with Him, and that was enough. He knew all my thoughts; I had no need of expressing them. I told myself that a soul who loves the good God is never alone; she has near her a Friend to Whom she can turn at any moment. Hence there is no solitude for such a soul — I mean a morbid solitude where one feels only the void, and finds no sympathetic heart. This happy soul speaks without words to the One Who knows that she knows not herself. She can rest in silence; to know that He is present is happiness enough....
"It is true that the good God alone can give us this attitude of heart, since without Him we cannot even have a good thought. When we feel as though we are in a desert, we should humbly say, 'Do not take away Your consolation for fear my soul without You be like a desert land where there is no water.' "
"November 1, 1933
" I know....' These two little words I repeat to Jesus to show my confidence in Him. It makes me very happy to say 'I know.' I want Him to know that I know He is storing up an unfathomable happiness after my poor little trial on this earth. I know... Do not explain Your plans to me, my Jesus:
I know-- 1 have full confidence in Your love for me. Surely You are happy when I tell You: I know!"
The above extracts abundantly reveal the character of my venerable senior sister. We have said that at Carmel she lost none of her characteristic originality — an originality which was genuine and set off by a wit that not only offended no one, but added real charm to her virtue.
The Superior of the Major Seminary of Bayeux, Canon Dubosq, of happy memory, had known Sister Marie and observed her closely during the meetings of the Canonical Process, when he was Promoter of the Faith. In August 14, 1922, he wrote to me:
"Tomorrow, if I remember rightly, is the feast-day of dear Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart. Tell her that I join wholeheartedly with your prayers and all the manifestations of sympathy with which you shall surround her on that day. Each one must strive to please the good God in his own way, thus faithfully utilizing the talents and good dispositions which he has received; hence, not all serve in the same manner. There is indeed a common basis, which is formed by obedience to the Rule and to the spirit of the religious and Carmelite life. But let each one build on this foundation according to his aptitudes and grace; the good God rejoices in these varied efforts. This is all by way of telling you that I am asking the Blessed Virgin to encourage and sustain our dear Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart in the fervor of generous devotion, of cheerful self-effacement, of frank, simple and direct service of God and neighbor — these, I firmly believe, are her ways of responding to grace. Nor do I wish to overlook those brusque sallies of originality which so agreeably season all the good she does."
This description could not be more faithful, and yet I prefer another, a poem done by her saintly little sister and goddaughter Therese, twenty-eight years before:
The Portrait of a Soul I Love
The portrait of a Soul I love
M I know a very loving heart, a soul
The heart of a grateful child
Feast of the Sacred Heart, June 1, 1894."
[Poem n° 6 © Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc]
© Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc - See more at: http://archives-carmel-lisieux.fr/english/carmel/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=48:pn6&catid=977:pn-et-ps&Itemid=800#sthash.PdyT31OT.dpuf
Our good father in days gone by used to call his dear Marie "his diamond." This is another true portrait. How many different facets there were to this beautiful diamond of so pure a water! We have already seen several — except the one "that is from within," and shone for Jesus alone.
It remains now to describe the last illness and death of my virtuous sister. First came the great sacrifice which God asked of her on November 27, 1939, six weeks before her death. One of the "angels" who cared for her, and whom she loved tenderly, was obliged to undergo an urgent and unexpected operation. Day and night for eight years she had had complete charge of my sister, though for the last three years she had been given another and no less devoted "angel" to assist her.
We cannot describe the expression on the face of my venerable sister at the moment of the separation, an expression of suppressed grief and silent resignation. She thought she would never again see her dear little infirmarian who, however, was restored to her two weeks before her death. Still, she was not forsaken. The "angel" who remained redoubled the filial tenderness of her care.
Sister Marie had for some months been afflicted with a severe cough, from a cold probably contracted while walking in the garden. This condition, which caused us some concern, gradually developed into serious pulmonary congestion. On Monday, January 16, we still had hope, but the next morning the signs were unmistakable. That afternoon, seated in her wheel-chair, she received the Sacrament of Extreme Unction and the Papal Indulgence in articulo mortis.
At our invitation the Chaplain visited her, and spoke a few words of encouragement. The look, the smile, the word he then received remain indelibly impressed on his memory. He had heard her last confession on the Wednesday of the preceding week, and we learned from Sister Marie how in her self-contempt she had humbled herself deeply, calling herself the most imperfect of creatures. When we spoke of this to the good Father, he answered: "Ah, the dear godmother! It is always thus with her,... and yet, it is really she who guides me." This worthy priest had recently comforted her with the words, "Never fear; your lamp is burning brightly," a reassurance which was a great consolation to her.
On Wednesday and Thursday he brought her Holy Communion. On the afternoon of the latter day, January 18, she sat up for a few hours, but appeared as in a trance, and spoke very
little. Once she gazed on me for a long time and said tenderly: "My dear Mother!" A moment later she added: "I haven't an ounce of courage!"
I answered: "Still you are very close to heaven, and I think you will go there directly." She sighed: "Oh, how 1 desire that!"
"Have you any fear of death?" I asked. "None at all," she replied.
On this last afternoon, she was made supremely happy by an autographed letter of His Holiness, Pope Pius XII, who deigned to bless the Community, and charged us to convey a paternal message to certain souls that were particularly dear — precisely, those for whom our venerable patient had so much prayed and suffered.
Roused from her half-sleep to hear of the Supreme Pontiff's kindness, she murmured, deeply moved: "Oh, how good the Holy Father is! What great love he has for souls!"
While she was being put back to bed with great difficulty, we spoke to her of the merits she might still acquire for the conversion of sinners by her sufferings in these last hours of trial. "Ah yes," she answered in a dying voice, "souls! souls!... There are so many who do not love the good God! Oh, how sad it all is!"
This exclamation reminds us of another cry which had previously surged from her heart: "Ah, how is it possible not to love so powerful, so great, so good a God Who does all for our welfare? Were I to go to hell, I would say to Him throughout eternity, My God, I love you!"
In the evening, we assured her that our saintly little sister would be at her side to help her at the end. She could do no more than answer with a sign which meant, "Yes, I am sure of it."
After Matins, we summoned the Community. She smiled tenderly and kindly at all. She did not seem in the least downcast. On the contrary, her firm attitude revealed rather the heart
of a warrior valiantly engaged in decisive battle. Just as we were remarking that she was no longer strong enough to hold the crucifix which had been placed before her on the coverlet, she suddenly put out her hand, grasped and kissed it, saying fervently: "I love you!"
This was her last audible word. Thereafter most of the Sisters retired with the assurance that they would be summoned for the final hour. It came much sooner than we thought, at two o'clock in the morning.
A little before this, my good sister made a little farewell gesture to a deaf white-veiled Sister who was kneeling beside the bed, her head resting upon it. A few moments later, she closed her eyes and began a rather long prayer but we could not clearly catch the words. However, the infirmarian who was close by, thought she heard the words of the Our Father, "Thy
Kingdom come" And as her prayer continued, we thought we could distinguish the words of the Hail Mary followed by the Act of Offering to Merciful Love, so appropriate for this last hour — "and let my soul fly directly to the eternal embrace of Your merciful love."
When she stopped, she suddenly lifted up her head. She opened her large eyes, filled with light and assurance, glanced upward, and then gazed steadily at the statue of Our Lady of the Smile. Then she bowed her head, and with an expression of peace and joy on her face that filled us with great consolation, expired. With this, we began the Subvenite.
The Community would have been greatly disappointed on the morrow to find that we had been forced to break our promise of calling them; so we summoned the Sisters anyway — not in the usual manner, but as on the great days of the Beatification and Canonization and the other feast-days which followed them, by means of the special little bells suspended from an iron ringlet surmounted by a handle.
"This heavenly awakening will remain forever etched in our memory," our Sisters told us. Deeply moved, they all hastened to the room. There they knelt, and intently contemplated the fresh countenance, so gentle and resigned, of their Sister who had just departed from the earth.
After the Angelus and the ringing of the bells at six o'clock in the morning, Sister Genevieve of the Holy Face was gazing sorrowfully at the nearby statue of our little Saint when she suddenly perceived a sweet and very penetrating odor of incense, which filled her with consolation.
Later, two Sisters also experienced mysterious perfumes; one of them, Mother Sub-Prior, while praying at Marie's tomb; the other, the white-veiled Sister of whom we have just spoken, while washing the linen of her who had edified her for so long by her patience and her desire "not to go to heaven alone."
We think that our Saint Therese in honor of the joyous occasion, must have obtained from God the favor that for a while, "the roses might belong to Marie."
It only remains to add that during the agony of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, I whispered to her: "Have you written me the traditional little letter for my feast of St. Agnes, as you always did?" She gave me to understand that she had.
Marie's Last Letter to Pauline
A few hours later, alone, by the side of our happy Sister asleep in the peace of death, I opened the little envelope which I found easily after her death. I read, not without tears, this last letter, dated in advance, January 21, 1940: "My dear little Mother:
"For your feast-day you have asked me to discuss a passage of the Gospel which has been a guide for me. I used often to wonder, 'What shall we do in heaven for all eternity?' These words of our Lord suddenly came to my mind: 'Now this is everlasting life, that they may know Thee, the only True God, and Him Whom Thou hast sent.' Eternity is not long enough for us to know the infinite goodness of the good God, His infinite power, His infinite mercy, His infinite love for us. These are our eternal delights which will never be exhausted. Our heart is made to understand them and to be nourished with them.
"Often before Communion I like to recite this act of contrition: 'My God, I am sorry for having offended You, because You are infinitely good and lovable, and because sin displeases You... It is not that I fear Your reproach or Your punishments, but because You are infinitely good, infinitely perfect, and through love, I ought always to try to please You. This ought to be my only purpose, my sole happiness.
" 'Here below I understand in a slight measure what You are; but in the life eternal, when I shall see You face to face, I will have a clearer knowledge of You, my God, Who art my Creator and my Father, and Who hast given me such great proofs of Your love.' Formerly, little Mother, I used to like to think that in heaven I would know all the marvels of nature, all the beauty of the stars and their immensity. Now, all that holds little interest for me, and I desire only one thing — to lose myself in Him Who has done so many wonderful things....
"Happy feast-day to my dear Mother — whose happy sister and child I am.
We cannot begin to describe the eagerness of those who came to see the mortal remains of my dear sister laid out in the choir before the grill during the three days preceding her interment, Tuesday, January 23. Our good bishop was pleased to preside in person at the funeral, and spoke of Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart and of her relations with her saintly sister and goddaughter in terms which moved all present.
Our Holy Order was worthily represented by Father Eliseus of the Nativity, Vicar-Provincial of Paris, who celebrated the Requiem Mass in the regretted absence of our Very Reverend Father Provincial, Louis of the Trinity, who was in the army at Cherbourg. Many priests had arrived, and entered the choir for the absolutions, preceded by the whole retinue of the Little Clerics of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. As on January 10, 1888, the courtyard was covered with snow.
The first absolution was given by Monsignor Germain, Director of Pilgrimages, from whom our beloved sister had received a special blessing on the very eve of her death. She had desired us to leave him in her name a word of confidence and gratitude for his devotion.
Monsignor Adam, Vicar General, sang the second absolution, and His Excellency Monsignor Picaud, Bishop of Bayeux and Lisieux, the third.
Today, the one whom the Community is pleased to call "the incomparable sister and godmother of St. Therese of the Child Jesus," rests under the shrine of her glorious goddaughter, in a vault which opens into the interior of the Monastery, close to the choir where we daily sing the praises of Him Whom this blessed soul always loved most generously. She is now experiencing the reward which her faith under trial has earned for herself and souls.
She now knows!
Given at Lisieux in our Monastery of the Sacred Heart of Jesus and of the Immaculate Conception under the protection of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, February 22, 1940.