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From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - June 8 and 9, 1907

From sr Genevieve (Celine) to sr Francoise-Therese (Leonie) - June 8 and 9, 1907

  

+Jesus  J.M.J.T.                                    8th and 9th June 1907

Darling little sister,

It’s my turn to write to you and it’s with great joy that I do so. However, my joy is tainted with sadness, because what I have to say is going to upset you.

Before telling you about the many trials and tribulations I’ve faced, I’m immediately going to tell you the end result, which is that I haven’t painted the Sacred Heart. In fact, I’ve given up on it . . . It’s true, and for good. You’ll see what gradually led me to this decision. I think it’s what God wants, because He could have arranged things differently and given me a little sign, even a tiny one, to second my efforts and encourage me. But the opposite happened.

As you know, last year I spent 3 months working on the Sacred Heart. I devoted all my time to it. Humanly speaking, I could have painted it three times over if my hard work had paid off. I was so intent on succeeding that nothing could deter me, not even exhaustion. I took more than 30 photographs of hand and arm postures. I made poor little Sr Madeleine of Jesus sit for me, and despite being very devoted to me, it troubled her so much that it made her weep once. Even so, she esteemed the Sacred Heart worth the extra effort. As for me, because it was summer, I was suffering from my sore heels as usual, due to the inflammation of the . . . I can’t remember the technical name for it, but it’s the elastic “thing” in the heel. It’s very painful and I can’t stay on my feet for long without suffering enormously, it’s so excruciating. Even so, I continued the portrait of the S.H., with an energy proportionate to the difficulties I had to surmount. At times, unable to take the pain any longer, I worked bare feet and St Thérèse of St Augustine, who was my work companion and was doing my share of the sacristy work to allow me more time for painting, would bring me a bucket of cold water for me to soak my poor burning feet in. I’m telling you all this to show you not only in what conditions I painted the Sacred Heart, but also everyone’s spirit of faith, and the joy with which we worked for God’s glory.

Ultimately it didn’t turn out well, and you should have heard the harsh criticism I received from Uncle! I’ll repeat his words in all their cruelty. His greatest reproach was that it resembled the Holy face too closely. He was “a king in name only”, and had “a horse’s head” (I’ve cross out this epithet because I don’t want you to read it) etc. Uncle even said recently, “So, whatever happened to that thing you did, you know, the one with the ‘dressing-gown’?” I didn’t even know what he was talking about. As you can imagine, all these fine compliments were like daggers to my heart, but they didn’t discourage me! On the contrary!!! So I sought advice from an artist who spends her holidays at the Abbey, and she promised to draw me a sketch when she went to Paris. She telephoned her sitters but came back empty handed. She told me to make her a great big robe and to find her a sitter in Lisieux. As you can imagine, this wasn’t easy. I don’t know anyone any more, much less youngsters. She needed him to be thin etc. etc. An idea struck me: Mrs Bernier’s domestic servant! Everything was arranged. During the hour’s sitting, I lit a candle and prayed with incredible fervour, but the artist’s rendering of the pose was no better than mine. I paid her many compliments, but deep down I felt completely disheartened. It cost me time, I can tell you, and much letter-writing, not counting the presents I gave in return for help received, and it all came to nothing.

There I was, having spent all of autumn and winter preparing and testing when, last February, I went on a long annual retreat. There, God made me realise that He would never be a “glorious king” on earth, in the sense that He would never have a crown and ermine cloak. He once said, “I am King,” but only when He was wearing a crown with thorns before Pontius Pilate’s court. After the miracle of the loaves, when the people had wanted to take Him away and make Him their King, He escaped them.

I’m telling this as I thought it. That was the end of it, and I renounced painting the Sacred Heart of Christ the King. We shall see Him King, yes, but it will be once the angel has said, “Time is no more.” In the meantime, Revelation prophesises that, in the last hours, nations will rebel and the Beast will be given power to wage war against God’s holy people.

He shall be the King of hearts, yes, but will He be wearing a diadem or a crown of thorns? I think He prefers the latter attribute of royalty. It’s the one He chose in His earthly exile, and all God’s works run contrary to those of men. God manifests His glory where we see only dishonor and scandal. What’s more, He attracts souls through the cross, which is our inheritance here below!

Darling little sister, take what I’ve said as you please. This could very well be my personal impression, and I might even change my mind if God pushes me slightly in a different direction. You see, it wouldn’t be difficult to convert me.

Now, you asked me what I think of the S.H. you sent me. Should I tell you? I certainly know by experience how hard critics can be, especially when an artist has done their best and believes to have done well, so I’m hesitant. However, you make it easier for me by saying that it doesn’t respond to one’s ideal, and that you and your Mother share this opinion. It certainly doesn’t respond to one’s ideal, and I admit that when I saw it, my heart sank. When artists, who can now create such masterpieces of anatomy and grace, sculpt secular statues that we can’t look upon without blushing, they have, it would seem, nothing but scorn for our Lord. Either Christian artists don’t have a developed esthetic sense and, consequently, produce very mediocre artwork, or, like me, they lack talent.

Little sister, I’m very sorry to upset you on all counts. I admit that it also greatly upsets me. You understand, I would much rather tell you that my Sacred Heart has turned out well, or at least that yours has nothing wanting. Oh, how I would have loved to undermine those secular statues by producing an example of a Sacred Heart that was superb in terms of grace, beauty and divine majesty! Instead of that, what we have in our hands is merely an example of the abasement of human nature, because even the most wanting of men would be better than this.

I will stop there, my Léonie, but not without sending you a kiss, for you know how much I love you. If I’ve told you all this, it’s to prove to you that I didn’t abandon my project out of exhaustion, but out of conviction and a lack of talent.

Present my respects to your Revered Mother.

Your little sister

Geneviève of St Teresa u.c.n. 

I didn’t forget your birthday on 3rd June, for you are my much-cherished little sister.