LT 221 - to Fr. Roulland - March 19, 1897.

Jesus +

March 19, 1897


Our good Mother just brought me your letters in spite of Lent (a time when we do not write in Carmel). She gladly allows me to answer you today, for we fear our November letter went to pay a visit in the depths of the Blue River. Your letters dated in September made a safe crossing and came to give joy to your Mother and little sister on the day of the feast of All Saints, and that of January reached us under the protection of Saint Joseph. Since you are following my example and writing on all the lines, I do not want to lose this good habit which, however, makes my ugly handwriting even more difficult to decipher.... Ah! when shall we no longer have any need of ink and paper to communicate our thoughts? You missed up, Brother, on going to visit already that enchanted country where one can make oneself understood without writing and even without speaking. With all my heart I thank God for having left you on the field of battle in order that you may win numerous victories for Him; already your sufferings have saved many souls. Saint John of the Cross has said: "The smallest movement of pure love is more useful to the Church than all other works put together." If it is so, how profitable for the Church must be your pains and trials since it is for the love of Jesus alone that you suffer them with joy. Truly, Brother, I cannot pity you since in you are realized these words of the Imitation: "When you find suffering sweet and when you love it for the love of Jesus Christ, you will have found paradise on earth." This paradise is really that of the missionary and the Carmelite; the joy that worldlings seek in the midst of pleasures is only a fleeting shadow, but our joy sought and tested in works and sufferings is a very sweet reality, a foretaste of the happiness of heaven.

Your letter which was filled throughout with a holy joy really in­terested me. I followed your example, and I laughed heartily at the expense of your cook, whom I can picture bashing in his cooking pot.'... Your visiting card also amused me. I do not know on which side to turn it, I am like a child who wants to read a book by turn­ing it upside down.

But to return to your cook, would you believe that at times in Carmel we also have amusing incidents?

Carmel, like Su-Tchuen, is a country foreign to the world where one loses the world's most elementary usages. Here is a little exam­ple of this. A charitable person gave us a present recently of a little lobster tied up in a basket; no doubt it was a long time ago that this marvel was seen in the monastery. Our good Sister Cook remembered, however, that she had to place the little beast in water to cook it; she did this, sighing at being obliged to carry out such cruelty on an innocent creature. The innocent creature appeared to be asleep and allowed her to do what she wanted. But as soon as it felt the heat, its meekness turned into fury, and, knowing its in­nocence, it asked permission from no one to leap into the middle of the kitchen, for its kind executioner had not placed the cover on the pot. Immediately the poor Sister armed herself with tongs and ran after the lobster which was making desperate leaps. The fight continued for a long time. Finally for the sake of peace and quiet, the cook, still armed with the tongs, came in tears to find our Mother and tell her the lobster was possessed by the devil. Her face said much more than her words (poor little creature so gentle, so innocent just now, here you are possessed! Truly, we must not believe in the com­pliments of creatures.) Our Mother could not refrain from laughing when listening to the declarations of the severe judge demanding justice. She went immediately to the kitchen, took hold of the lobster, which, having made a vow of obedience to no one, put up some resistance; then, having placed it in its prison, she left, but only after having firmly closed the door, that is, the cover. In the evening at recreation, the whole Community laughed itself to tears over the little possessed lobster, and the next day each one was able to enjoy a mouthful. The person who wanted to regale us did not fail in his purpose, for the famous lobster, or rather its story, will serve us more than once as a feast, not in the refectory but in recreation. My little story may perhaps not seem amusing to you, but I can assure you that you would not have remained serious had you assisted at the performance.... However, Brother, if I am boring you, I beg you to pardon me. Now I am going to speak more seriously. Since your departure, I have read the Life of several missionaries (in my letter which you perhaps did not receive, I was thanking you for the Life of P. Nempori). I have read, among others, the Life of Théophane Vènard, and it interested me and touched me more than I could express. Under its influence, I composed some couplets that are total­ly personal, however, I am sending them to you. Our Mother told me she thought these verses would please my brother from Su- Tchuen. The couplet next to the last requires an explanation: I say that I would gladly leave for Tonkin if God were to call me there. This will perhaps surprise you; is it not a dream that a Carmelite think of leaving for Tonkin? Well, no, it is not a dream, and I can assure you that if Jesus does not soon come looking for me for the Carmel of heaven, I shall one day leave for that of Hanoi, for now there is a Carmel in that city, the Saigon Carmel recently founded it. You visited the latter, and you know that in Cochin-China an Order like ours cannot support itself without French subjects. But, alas, vocations are very rare and frequently superiors are unwilling to allow Sisters to leave whom they believe capable of rendering ser­vice to their own Community. Thus, in her youth, our good Mother was prevented by her superior's will from going to help the Saigon Carmel. It is not up to me to complain about this. I thank God for having so well inspired His representative, but I recall that the desires of mothers are sometimes realized in the children, and I would not be surprised to go to the infidel shore to pray and to suffer as our Mother would have liked to do.... I must admit that the news they send us from Tonkin is not reassuring, however: at the end of last year, some thieves entered the poor monastery. They came into the cell of the prioress, who was not awakened, but in the morning she did not find her crucifix next to her (at night a Carmelite's crucifix always rests near her head attached to the pillow); a little cupboard had been broken into and the little money making up the whole Com­munity's treasure had disappeared. The Carmels of France, touched by the distress of the Hanoi Carmel, united together to give it the means of having a cloister wall built high enough to prevent thieves from entering the monastery.

Perhaps you want to know what our Mother thinks of my desire to go to Tonkin? She believes in my vocation (for really it has to be a special vocation, and every Carmelite does not feel called to go into exile), but she does not believe my vocation may ever be realized. For this it would be necessary that the sheath be as solid as the sword, and perhaps (our Mother believes) the sheath would be cast into the sea before reaching Tonkin. It is not really conve­nient to be composed of a body and a soul! This poor Brother Ass, as Saint Francis of Assisi called it, often embarrasses its noble Sister and prevents her from going where she would like.... However, I do not want to condemn him [the body] in spite of his faults; he is still good for something since he makes his companion win heaven and wins it for himself.

I am not at all worried about the future; I am sure God will do His will, it is the only grace I desire. One must not be more kingly than the king.... Jesus has no need of anyone to do His work, and if He were to accept me, this would be out of pure kindness; but to tell you the truth, Brother, I rather believe Jesus will treat me like a little lazy thing. I do not want this, for I would be happy to work and suffer a long time for Him. So I am asking Him to be content with me, that is, to pay no attention to my desires of loving Him in suffering or of going to enjoy Him in heaven. I hope, Brother, that if I were to leave this exile, you would not forget your promise of praying for me. You have always welcomed my requests with such great kindness that I am daring to make one more request from you. I do not want you to ask God to deliver me from the flames of purgatory; Saint Teresa said to her daughters when they wanted to pray for her: "What does it matter to me to remain until the end of the world in purgatory if through my prayers I save a single soul?'’ These words find an echo in my heart. I would like to save souls and forget myself for them; I would like to save them even after my death. So I would be happy if you were to say then, in­stead of the little prayer you are saying and which will be always realized: "My God, allow my sister to make you still loved.'" If Jesus answers you, I shall be able to show you my gratitude.... You ask me, Brother, to choose between the two names Marie or Thérèse for one of the little girls whom you will baptize; since the Chinese do not want two protectors but only one, we must give them the more powerful one, so the Blessed Virgin wins. Later on, when you will baptize many children, you would please my sister (a Carmelite like me) by naming two little sisters Celine and Thérèse; these are the names we had in the world. Céline, almost four years older than I, has come to join me, after having closed the eyes of our good father; this dear Sister does not know about the intimate relation­ship I have with you. Since we speak often in recreation of our Mother's missionary'

(the name you have in the Carmel of Lisieux), she was telling me recently of her desire that, by means of you, Céline and Thérèse might go to begin life again in China.

Pardon me, Brother, for my requests and my too lengthy chatter and please bless

Your unworthy little Sister, Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face 

© Washington Province of Discalced Carmelite Friars, Inc