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Learning how to love one another
by St Therese of Lisieux
The passages below are taken from the Autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux, “Story of a Soul,” first published in 1898. It is translated from her original, unedited French manuscripts to English by John Clarke and re-published in 1975.
1. Only love makes us acceptable to God
O my dear Sister, you wish to hear about the secrets Jesus confides to your little sister; however, I realize He confides these secrets to you too, for you are the one who taught me how to gather the divine instructions. Nevertheless, I am going to stammer some words even though I feel it is quite impossible for the human tongue to express things which the human heart can hardly understand.
Do not believe I am swimming in consolations; oh, no, my consolation is to have none on earth. Without showing Himself, without making His voice heard, Jesus teaches me in secret; it is not by means of books, for I do not understand what I am reading. Sometimes a word comes to console me, such as this one which I received at the end of prayer (after having remained in silence and aridity): “Here is the teacher whom I am giving you; he will teach you everything that you must do. I want to make you read in the book of life, wherein is contained the Science of LOVE.” (Little Breviary of the Sacred Heart) The science of Love, ah, yes, this word resounds sweetly in the ear of my soul, and I desire only this science. Having given all my riches for it, I esteem it as having given nothing as did the bride in the sacred Cantic1es. I understand so well that it is only love which makes us acceptable to God that this love is the only good I yearn for. Jesus deigned to show me the road that leads to this Divine Furnace, and this road is the surrender of the little child who sleeps without fear in its Father’s arms. “Whoever is a little one, let him come to me.” (Proverbs 9:4) So speaks the Holy Spirit through the mouth of Solomon. This same Spirit of Love also says: “For to him that is little, mercy will be shown.”(Wisdom 6:7) The Prophet Isaiah reveals in His name that on the last day: “God shall feed his flock like a shepherd; he shall gather together the lambs with his arm, and shall take them up in his bosom.”(Isaiah 40:11) As though these promises were not sufficient, this same prophet whose gaze was already plunged into the eternal depths cried out in the Lord’s name: “As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts and upon the knees they will caress you.” (Isaiah 66:12-13)
After having listened to words such as these, dear godmother, there is nothing to do but to be silent and to weep with gratitude and love. Ah! if all weak and imperfect souls felt what the least of souls feels, that is, the soul of your little Thérèse, not one would despair of reaching the summit of the mount of love. Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude. Has He not said: “I will not take the he-goats from out your flocks, for all the beasts of the forest are mine, the cattle on the hills and the oxen. I know all the fowls of the air. If I were hungry, I would not tell you, for the world is mine, and the fullness thereof. Shall I eat the flesh of bulls or shall I drink the blood of goats? OFFER TO GOD THE SACRIFICES OF PRAISE AND THANKSGIVING.”(Psalms 49:9-14)
See, then, all that Jesus lays claim to from us; He has no need of our works but only of our love, for the same God who declares He has no need to tell us when He is hungry did not fear to beg for a little water from the Samaritan woman. He was thirsty. But when He said: “Give me to drink,“(John 4:7) it was the love of His poor creature the Creator of the universe was seeking. He was thirsty for love. Ah! I feel it more than ever before, Jesus is parched, for He meets only the ungrateful and indifferent among His disciples in the world, and among His own disciples, alas, He finds few hearts who surrender to Him without reservations, who understand the real tenderness of His infinite Love. (187-189)
2. What to do with People who Take our ideas
Dear Mother, I was writing yesterday that since earthly goods do not belong to me, I should find no difficulty in never reclaiming them when they are sometimes taken away from me. The goods of heaven don’t belong to me either: they are lent to me by God, who can withdraw them without my having a right to complain. However, the goods which come directly from God, inspirations of the mind and heart, profound thoughts, all this forms a riches to which we are attached as to a proper good which no one has a right to touch. For example, if on a free day I tell a Sister about some light received during prayer and shortly afterwards this same Sister, speaking to another, tells her what I confided to her as though it were her own thought, it seems as though she were taking what does not belong to her. Of else if during recreation one Sister whispers to her companion something that is very witty and to the point, if her companion repeats it aloud without making known its source, this appears again as a theft from the owner who doesn’t claim it, but would like to do so and will seize the first opportunity to make it known that her thoughts have been borrowed.
Mother, I would not be able to explain these sad sentiments of nature if I had not felt them in my own heart, and I would like to entertain the sweet illusion that they visited only my heart, but you commanded me to listen to the temptations of your dear little novices. I learned very much when carrying out the mission you entrusted to me; above all I was forced to practice what I was teaching to others. And so now I can say that Jesus has given me the grace of not being any more attached to the goods of the mind and heart than to those of earth. If it happens that I think or say something, which is pleasing to my Sisters, I find it very natural that they take it as a good that belongs to them. This thought belongs to the Holy Spirit and not to me since St. Paul says we cannot, without the Spirit of Love, give the name of “Father” to our Father in heaven.(Romans 8:15) He is therefore free to use me to give a good thought to a soul; and if I think this inspiration belongs to me, I would be like “the donkey carrying the relics” (LaFontaine, Fables, Book 5, 14) who believed the reverence paid to the saints was being directed to him,
I do not hold in contempt beautiful thoughts which nourish the soul and unite it with God; but for a long time I have understood that we must not depend on them and even make perfection consist in receiving many spiritual lights. The most beautiful thoughts are nothing without good works. It is true that others can draw profit from them if they humble themselves and show their gratitude to God for permitting them to share in the banquet of a soul whom He is pleased to enrich with His graces. But if this soul takes delight in her beautiful thoughts and says the prayer of the Pharisee, she is like a person dying of hunger at a well-filled table where all his guests are enjoying abundant food and at times cast a look of envy upon the person possessing so many good things. Ah! how true it is that God alone knows human hearts and that creatures are terribly narrow in their thoughts! When they see a soul more enlightened than others, immediately they conclude that Jesus loves them less than this soul, and that they cannot be called to the same perfection. Since when has the Lord no longer the right to make use of one of His creatures to dispense necessary nourishment to souls whom He loves? The Lord, even at the time of the Pharaohs, had this right, for in Scripture He says to this monarch: “And therefore have I raised you, that I may show MY POWER in you, and my name may be spoken of throughout all the earth.” (Exodus 9:16) Century has followed upon century since the Most-High has spoken those words, and since then His conduct has undergone no change, for He is always using His creatures as instruments to carry on His work in souls.
If a piece of canvas painted upon by an artist could think and speak, it certainly would not complain at being constantly touched and retouched by the brush, and would not envy the lot of that instrument, for it would realize it was not to the brush but to the artist using it that it owed the beauty with which it was clothed. The brush, too, would not be able to boast of the masterpiece produced with it, as it knows that artists are not at a loss; they play with difficulties, and are pleased to choose at times weak and defective instruments.
My dear Mother, I am a little brush which Jesus has chosen in order to paint His own image in the souls you entrusted to my care. An artist doesn’t use only one brush, but needs at least two; the first is the more useful and with it he applies the general tints and covers the canvas entirely in a very short time; the other, the smaller one, he uses for details.
Mother, you are the precious brush, which the hand of Jesus lovingly holds when He wishes to do a great work in the souls of your children, and I am the very small brush He deigns to use afterwards for the smallest details. (233-235)
3. Judge not and we will not be Judged
During recreation the portress rang twice; the large workman’s gate had to be opened to bring in some trees for the crib. Recreation was not too gay because you were not there, dear Mother, and I thought that if they sent me to serve as third party I would be happy; at exactly that moment Mother Sub-prioress told me to go and serve in this capacity, or else the Sister who was at my side. Immediately I began to untie our apron but slowly in order that my companion untie hers before me, for I thought of giving her the pleasure of serving as third party. The Sister who was replacing the Procuratrix was looking at us, and seeing me get up last, she said: “Ah! I thought as much you were not going to gain this pearl for your crown, you were going too slowly.”
Certainly, the whole community believed I had acted through selfishness, and I cannot say how much good such a small thing did to my soul, making me indulgent towards the weaknesses of others. This incident prevents me from being vain when I am judged favorably because I say to myself: Since one can take my little acts of virtue for imperfections, one can also be mistaken in taking for virtue what is nothing but imperfection. Then I say with St. Paul: “To me it is a very small thing to be judged by you, or by man’s day, but neither do I judge myself. He that judges me is THE LORD.“(1 Corinthians 4:3-4)
In order that this judgment be favorable or rather that I be not judged at all, I want to be charitable in my thoughts towards others at all times, for Jesus has said: “Judge not, and you shall not be judged.“ (Luke 6:37) (221-222)
4. Love consists in Treating Kindly People who displease us
Mother, when reading what I have just written, you could believe that the practice of charity is not difficult for me. It is true; for several months now I no longer have to struggle to practice this beautiful virtue. I don’t mean by this that I no longer have any faults; ah! I am too imperfect for that. But I mean that I don’t have any trouble in rising when I have fallen because in a certain combat I won a great victory; and the heavenly militia now comes to my aid since it cannot bear seeing me defeated after having seen me victorious in the glorious battle which I am going to try to describe.
There is in the Community a Sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me. And still, she is a holy religious who must be very pleasing to God. Not wishing to give in to the natural antipathy I was experiencing, I told myself that charity must not consist in feelings but in works; then I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most. Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits. I felt this was pleasing to Jesus, for there is no artist who doesn’t love to receive praise for his works, and Jesus, the Artist of souls, is happy when we don’t stop at the exterior, but, penetrating into the inner sanctuary where He chooses to dwell, we admire its beauty. I wasn’t content simply with praying very much for this Sister who gave me so many struggles, but I took care to render her all the services possible, and when I was tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most friendly smile, and with changing the subject of the conversation, for the Imitation says: “it is better to leave each one in his own opinion than to enter into arguments.“(The Imitation of Christ, III, 44:1) (222-223)
5. Flee from Combats if we are going to lose the Peace of our Soul
Frequently, when I was not at recreation (I mean during the work periods) and had occasion to work with this Sister, I used to run away like a deserter whenever my struggles became too violent. As she was absolutely unaware of my feelings for her, never did she suspect the motives for my conduct and she remained convinced that her character was very pleasing to me. One day at recreation she asked in almost these words: “Would you tell me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, what attracts you so much towards me; every time you look at me, I see you smile?” Ah! what attracted me was Jesus hidden in the depths of her soul; Jesus who makes sweet what is most bitter.(The Imitation of Christ, III,5:3) I answered that I was smiling because I was happy to see her (it is understood that I did not add that this was from a spiritual standpoint).
Dear Mother, I have already told you that my last means of not being defeated in combats is desertion; I was already using this means during my novitiate, and it always succeeded perfectly with me. I wish, Mother, to give you an example, which I believe will make you smile. During one of your bronchial attacks, I came to your cell very quietly one morning to return the keys of the Communion grating since I was sacristan. I wasn’t too displeased at having this opportunity to see you; I was very much pleased, but I didn’t dare to show it. A Sister, animated with a holy zeal, and one who loved me very much, believed I was going to awaken you when she saw me entering your quarters; she wanted to take the keys from me. I was too stubborn to give them to her and to cede my rights. As politely as I could, I told her that it was my duty to return the keys. I understand now that it would have been more perfect to cede to this Sister, young, it is true, but still older than I. I did not understand it at the time, and as I wanted absolutely to enter in spite of the fact that she was pushing the door to prevent me, very soon the thing we feared most happened: the racket we were making made you open your eyes. Then, Mother, everything tumbled upon me. The poor Sister whom I had resisted began to deliver a whole discourse, the gist of which was: It’s Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus who made the noise; my God, how disagreeable she is, etc. I, who felt just the contrary, had a great desire to defend myself. Happily, there came a bright idea into my mind, and I told myself that if I began to justify myself I would not be able to retain my peace of soul. I felt, too, that I did not have enough virtue to permit myself to be accused without saying a word. My last plank of salvation was in flight. No sooner thought than done. I left without fuss, allowing the Sister to continue her discourse which resembled the imprecations of Camillus against the city of Rome. My heart was beating so rapidly that it was impossible for me to go far, and I sat down on the stairs in order to savor the fruits of my victory. There was no bravery there, Mother; however, I believe it was much better for me not to expose myself to combat when there was certain defeat facing me. (223-224)
6. Love Covers a multitude of Sins
Alas! when I think of the time of my novitiate I see how imperfect I was. I made so much fuss over such little things that it makes me laugh now. Ah! how good the Lord is in having matured my soul, and in having given it wings. All the nets of the hunters would not be able to frighten me, for: “. . .the net is spread in vain before the eyes of them that have wings.“(Proverbs 1:17) Later on, no doubt, the time in which I am now will appear filled with imperfections, but now I am astonished at nothing. I am not disturbed at seeing myself weakness itself. On the contrary, it is in my weakness that I glory,(2 Corinthians 12:5) and I expect each day to discover new imperfections in myself. Remembering that “charity covers a multitude of sins,“(Proverbs 10:12) I draw from this rich mine which Jesus has opened up before me. (224)
7. Love those who don’t Love us
The Lord, in the Gospel, explains in what His new commandment consists. He says in St. Matthew: “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.‘ But I say to you, love your enemies. . pray for those who persecute you.“(Matthew 5:43-44) No doubt, we don’t have any enemies in Carmel, but there are feelings. One feels attracted to this Sister, whereas with regard to another, one would make a long detour in order to avoid meeting her. And so, without even knowing it, she becomes the subject of persecution. Well, Jesus is telling me that it is this Sister who must be loved, she must be prayed for even though her conduct would lead me to believe that she doesn’t love me: “If you love those who love you, what reward will you have? For even sinners love those who love them.“(Luke 6:32) (224-225)
8. Ask no return from anyone who Takes Away our Goods
And it isn’t enough to love; we must prove it. We are naturally happy to offer a gift to a friend; we love especially to give surprises; however, this is not charity, for sinners do this too. Here is what Jesus teaches me also: “Give to EVERYONE who asks of you, and from HIM WHO TAKES AWAY your goods, ask no return.“(Luke 6:30) Giving to all those who ask is less sweet than offering oneself by the movement of one’s own heart; again, when they ask for something politely, it doesn’t cost so much to give, but if, unfortunately, they don’t use very delicate words, the soul is immediately up in arms if she is not well founded in charity. She finds a thousand reasons to refuse what is asked of her, and it is only after having convinced the asker of her tactlessness that she will finally give what is asked, and then only as a favor; or else she will render a light service which could have been done in one-twentieth of the time that was spent in setting forth her imaginary rights.
Although it is difficult to give to one who asks, it is even more so to allow one to take what belongs to you, without asking it back. 0 Mother, I say it is difficult; I should have said that this seems difficult, for the yoke of the Lord is sweet and light.(Matthew 11:30) When one accepts it, one feels its sweetness immediately and cries out with the Psalmist: “I have run the way of your commandments when you enlarged my heart.“(Psalms 118:32) It is only charity which can expand my heart. 0 Jesus, since this sweet flame consumes it, I run with joy in the way of Your NEW commandment. I want to run in it until that blessed day when, joining the virginal procession, I shall be able to follow You in the heavenly courts, singing Your NEW canticle (Apocalypse 14:3) which must be Love. (225-226)
9. Renouncing One’s Rights is like giving up one’s cloak
I was saying: Jesus does not want me to lay claim to what belongs to me; and this should seem easy and natural to me since nothing is mine. I have renounced the goods of this earth through the Vow of Poverty, and so I haven’t the right to complain when one takes a thing that is not mine. On the contrary, I should rejoice when it happens that I feel the pinch of poverty. Formerly, it seemed to me that I was attached to nothing, but ever since I understood the words of Jesus, I see on occasions that I am very imperfect. For example, in my work of painting there is nothing that belongs to me, I know. But if, when I am preparing for some work, I find that the brushes and the paints are in disorder, if a rule or a penknife has disappeared, patience is very close to abandoning me and I must take my courage in both hands in order to reclaim the missing object without bitterness. We really have to ask for indispensable things, but when we do it with humility, we are not failing in the commandment of Jesus; on the contrary, we are acting like the poor who extend their hand to receive what is necessary for them; if they are rebuked they are not surprised, as no one owes them anything.
Ah! what peace floods the soul when she rises above natural feelings. No, there is no joy comparable to that which the truly poor in spirit experience. If such a one asks for something with detachment, and if this thing is not only refused but one tries to take away what one already has, the poor in spirit follow Jesus’ counsel: “If anyone take away your coat, let go your cloak also.“(Matthew 5:40)
To give up one’s cloak is, it seems to me, renouncing one’s ultimate rights; it is considering oneself as the servant and the slave of others. When one has left his cloak, it is much easier to walk, to run, and Jesus adds: “And whoever forces you to go one mile, go two more with him.“ (Matthew 5:41) Thus it is not enough to give to everyone who asks;(Luke 6:30) I must even anticipate their desires, appear to be very much obliged and honored to render service, and if anyone takes something which is for my use, I must not appear to be sorry about this but happy at being relieved of it. Dear Mother, I am very far from practicing what I understand, and still the desire alone I have of doing it gives me peace. (226-227)
10.How to Respond when one is Interrupted by Useless Distractions
I feel that I have explained myself poorly, even more so than on the other days. I made a kind of discourse on charity, which must have tired you when you were reading it. Pardon me, dear Mother, and remember that at this very moment the infirmarians practice in my regard what I have just written; they don’t hesitate to take two thousand paces when twenty would suffice.(She is writing in the garden in a wheel chair) So I have been able to contemplate charity in action! Undoubtedly my soul is embalmed with it; as far as my mind is concerned I admit it is paralyzed in the presence of such devotedness, and my pen has lost its lightness. In order for me to translate my thoughts, I have to be like the solitary sparrow,(Psalms 101:8) and this is rarely my lot. When I begin to take up my pen, behold a Sister who passes by, a pitchfork on her shoulder. She believes she will distract me with a little idle chatter: hay, ducks, hens, visits of the doctor, everything is discussed; to tell the truth, this doesn’t last a long time, but there is more than one good charitable Sister, and all of a sudden another hay worker throws flowers on my lap, perhaps believing these will inspire me with poetic thoughts. I am not looking for them at the moment and would prefer to see the flowers remain swaying on their stems. Finally, fatigued by opening and shutting this famous copybook, I open a book (which doesn’t want to stay open) and say resolutely that I shall copy out some thoughts from the psalms and the Gospels for the feast of Our Mother. It’s very true that I am not sparing in these quotes.
Dear Mother, I would amuse you, I believe, when telling you about all my adventures in the groves of Carmel; I don’t know if I have been able to write ten lines without being disturbed; this should not make me laugh nor amuse me; however, for the love of God and my Sisters (so charitable towards me) I take care to appear happy and especially to be so. For example, here is a hay worker who is just leaving me after having said very compassionately: “Poor little Sister, it must tire you out writing like that all day long.” “Don’t worry,” I answer, “I appear to be writing very much, but really I am writing almost nothing.” “Very good!” she says, “but just the same, I am very happy we are doing the haying since this always distracts you a little.” In fact, it is such a great distraction for me (without taking into account the infirmarians’ visits) that I am not telling any lies when I say that I am writing practically nothing.
Fortunately, I don’t easily get discouraged and to prove it, I am going to finish explaining what Jesus makes me understand concerning charity. I have spoken to you only about external charity; now I would like to confide to you what I understand about purely spiritual charity. I am very sure that I won’t be long in mixing the one with the other, but, since I am speaking to you, it will not be difficult for you to grasp my thought and to unravel your child’s skein. (227-228)
11. Do not Turn away from anyone who wants to borrow from us
It is not always possible in Carmel to practice the words of the Gospel according to the letter. One is obliged at times to refuse a service because of one’s duties; but when charity has buried its roots deeply within the soul, it shows itself externally. There is such a delightful way of refusing what cannot be given that the refusal gives as much pleasure as the gift itself. It is true that one hesitates less to claim a service from a Sister who is always disposed to oblige but Jesus has said: “. . .and from him who would borrow of you, do not turn away.“ (Matthew 5:40) Thus under the pretext that one would be forced to refuse, one must not stay away from the Sisters who are always in the habit of asking for help. Neither should one be obliging in order to appear so or in the hope that another time the Sister whom one obliges will return the service in her turn, for Our Lord says again: “And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive in return, what merit have you? For even sinners lend to sinners that they may get back in return as much. But do good, and lend, NOT HOPING FOR ANYTHING IN RETURN, and your reward shall be great.“(Like 6:34-35) (228-229)
12. Lend our Time without hoping for anything in Return
Oh, yes! the reward is great, even on this earth; in this way it is only the first step that costs anything. To lend without hoping for anything appears difficult to nature; one would prefer to give, for a thing given no longer belongs to one. When one comes to you and says in a very convincing way: “Sister, I need your help for a few hours, but don’t worry, I have Mother’s permission, and I will return the time you are giving me because I know how rushed you are.” Truly, when one knows very well that never will the time one lends be ever returned, one would prefer to say: “I give it to you.” This would satisfy self-love, for giving is a more generous act than lending, and then we make the Sister feel we don’t depend on her services, Ah! how contrary are the teachings of Jesus to the feelings of nature! Without the help of His grace it would be impossible not only to put them into practice but to even understand them. (229)
13. Jesus’ Will is to love in me all those He commands me to love
This year, dear Mother, God has given me the grace to understand what charity is; I understood it before, it is true, but in an imperfect way. I had never fathomed the meaning of these words of Jesus: “The second commandment is LIKE the first: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.“(Matthew 22:39) I applied myself especially to loving God, and it is in loving Him that I understood my love was not to be expressed only in words, for: “It is not those who say: ‘Lord, Lord!’ who will enter the kingdom of heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven.“(Matthew 7:21) Jesus has revealed this will several times or I should say on almost every page of His Gospel. But at the Last Supper, when He knew the hearts of His disciples were burning with a more ardent love for Him who had just given Himself to them in the unspeakable mystery of His Eucharist, this sweet Savior wished to give them a new commandment. He said to them with inexpressible tenderness: “A new commandment I gave you that you love one another: THAT AS I HAVE LOVED YOU, YOU ALSO LOVE ONE ANOTHER. By this will all men know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”(John 13:34-35)
How did Jesus love His disciples and why did He love them? Ah! it was not their natural qualities which could have attracted Him since there was between Him and them an infinite distance. He was knowledge, Eternal Wisdom, while they were poor ignorant fishermen filled with earthly thoughts. And still Jesus called them his friends, His brothers.(John 15:15) He desires to see them reign with Him in the kingdom of His Father, and to open that kingdom to them He wills to die on the cross, for He said: “Greater love than this no man has than that he lay down his life for his friend’”(John 15:13)
Dear Mother, when meditating upon these words of Jesus, I understood how imperfect was my love for my Sisters. I saw I didn’t love them as God loves them. Ah! I understand now that charity consists in bearing with the faults of others, in not being surprised at their weakness, in being edified by the smallest acts of virtue we see them practice. But I understood above all that charity must not remain hidden in the bottom of the heart. Jesus has said: “No one lights a lamp and puts it under a bushel basket, but upon the lamp-stand, so as to give light to ALL in the house.“ (Matthew 5:15) It seems to me that this lamp represents charity which must enlighten and rejoice not only those who are dearest to us but “ALL who are in the house” without distinction.
When the Lord commanded His people to love their neighbor as themselves,(Leviticus 19:18) He had not as yet come upon the earth. Knowing the extent to which each one loved himself, He was not able to ask of His creatures a greater love than this for one’s neighbor. But when Jesus gave His Apostles a new commandment, HIS OWN COMMANDMENT,(John 15:12) as He calls it later on, it is no longer a question of loving one’s neighbor as oneself but of loving him as He, Jesus, has loved him, and will love him to the consummation of the ages.
Ah! Lord, I know you don’t command the impossible. You know better than I do my weakness and imperfection; You know very well that never would I be able to love my Sisters as You love them, unless You, 0 my Jesus, loved them in me. It is because You wanted to give me this grace that You made Your new commandment. Oh! how I love this new commandment since it gives me the assurance that Your Will is to love in me all those You command me to love!
Yes, I feel it, when I am charitable, it is Jesus alone who is acting in me, and the more united I am to Him, the more also do I love my Sisters. When I wish to increase this love in me, and when especially the devil tries to place before the eyes of my soul the faults of such and such a Sister who is less attractive to me, I hasten to search out her virtues, her good intentions; I tell myself that even if I did see her fall once, she could easily have won a great number of victories which she is hiding through humility, and that even what appears to me as a fault can very easily be an act of virtue because of her intention. I have no trouble in convincing myself of this truth because of a little experience I had which showed me we must never judge. (219-221)
14. Seek out the company of people who are the least agreeable to us
Ah! Mother, ever since I got sick, the cares you bestowed upon me taught me a great deal about charity. No remedy appeared too expensive to you, and when it did not succeed you tried another thing without tiring. When I was going to recreation, what attention you paid in order to shelter me from draughts! Finally, if I wanted to tell all, I would never end.
When, thinking over all these things, I told myself that I should be as compassionate towards the spiritual infirmities of my Sisters as you are, dear Mother, when caring for me with so much love.
I have noticed (and this is very natural) that the most saintly Sisters are the most loved. We seek their company; we render them services without their asking; finally, these souls so capable of bearing with the lack of respect and consideration of others see themselves surrounded with everyone’s affection. We may apply to them these words of our Father St. John of the Cross: “All goods were given to me when I no longer sought them through self-love.”
On the other hand, imperfect souls are not sought out. No doubt we remain within the limits of religious politeness in their regard, but we generally avoid them, fearing lest we say something which isn’t too amiable. When I speak of imperfect souls, I don’t want to speak of spiritual imperfections since the most holy souls will be perfect only in heaven; but I want to speak of a lack of judgment, good manners, touchiness in certain characters; all these things which don’t make life very agreeable. I know very well that these moral infirmities are chronic, that there is no hope of a cure, but I also know that my Mother would not cease to take care of me, to try to console me, if I remained sick all my life. This is the conclusion I draw from this: I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of the Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to these wounded souls the office of the good Samaritan. A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom; but it is not principally to attain this end that I wish to practice charity, for I know I would soon become discouraged: a word I shall say with the best intention will perhaps be interpreted wrongly. Also, not to waste my time, I want to be friendly with everybody (and especially with the least amiable Sisters) to give joy to Jesus and respond to the counsel He gives in the Gospel in almost these words:
“When you give a dinner or a supper, do not invite your friends, or your brethren, or your relatives, or your rich neighbors, lest perhaps they also invite you in return, and a recompense be made to you. But when you give a feast, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; and blessed shall you be, because they have nothing to repay you with (Luke 14:12-14), and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.“(Matthew 6:4)
What banquet could a Carmelite offer her Sisters except a spiritual banquet of loving and joyful charity? As far as I am concerned, I know no other and I want to imitate St. Paul who rejoiced with those who rejoice (Romans 12:15); it is true he wept with the afflicted and tears must sometimes appear in the feast I wish to serve, but I shall always try to change these tears into joy (John 16:20), since the Lord loves a cheerful giver (2 Corinthians 9:7). (245-247)
15. Offer More help to crotchety, old People
I remember an act of charity God inspired me to perform while I was still a novice. It was only a very small thing, but our Father who sees in secret and who looks more upon the intention than upon the greatness of the act has already rewarded me without my having to wait for the next life. It was at the time Sister St. Pierre was still going to the choir and the refectory. She was placed in front of me during evening prayer. At ten minutes to six a Sister had to get up and lead her to the refectory, for the infirmarians had too many patients and were unable to attend to her. It cost me very much to offer myself for this little service because I knew it was not easy to please Sister St. Pierre. She was suffering very much and she did not like it when her helpers were changed. However, I did not want to lose such a beautiful opportunity for exercising charity, remembering the words of Jesus: “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers, you do to me.“(Matthew 25:40) I offered myself very humbly to lead her, and it was with a great deal of trouble that I succeeded in having my services accepted! I finally set to work and had so much good will that I succeeded perfectly.
Each evening when I saw Sister St. Pierre shake her hour-glass I knew this meant: Let’s go! It is incredible how difficult it was for me to get up, especially at the beginning; however, I did it immediately, and then a ritual was set in motion. I had to remove and carry her little bench in a certain way, above all I was not to hurry, and then the walk took place. It was a question of following the poor invalid by holding her cincture; I did this with as much gentleness as possible. But if by mistake she took a false step, immediately it appeared to her that I was holding her incorrectly and that she was about to fall. “Ah! my God! You are going too fast; I’m going to break something.” If I tried to go more slowly: “Well, come on! I don’t feel your hand; you’ve let me go and I’m going to fall! Ah! I was right when I said you were too young to help me.”
Finally, we reached the refectory without mishap; and here other difficulties arose. I had to seat Sister St. Pierre and I had to act skillfully in order not to hurt her; then I had to turn back her sleeves (again in a certain way), and afterwards I was free to leave. With her poor crippled hands she was trying to manage with her bread as well as she could. I soon noticed this, and, each evening, I did not leave her until after I had rendered her this little service. As she had not asked for this, she was very much touched by my attention, and it was by this means that I gained her entire good graces, and this especially (I learned this later) because, after cutting her bread for her, I gave her my most beautiful smile before leaving her all alone.
Dear Mother, perhaps you are surprised that I write about this little act of charity, performed so long ago. Ah! if I have done so, it is because I feel I must sing of the Lord’s mercies because of it. He deigned to leave its memory with me as a perfume which helps me in the practice of charity. I recall at times certain details which are like a springtime breeze for my soul. Here is one which comes to my memory: One winter night I was carrying out my little duty as usual; it was cold, it was night. Suddenly, I heard off in the distance the harmonious sound of a musical instrument. I then pictured a well-lighted drawing room, brilliantly gilded, filled with elegantly dressed young ladies conversing together and conferring upon each other all sorts of compliments and other worldly remarks. Then my glance fell upon the poor invalid whom I was supporting. Instead of the beautiful strains of music I heard only her occasional complaints, and instead of the rich gildings I saw only the bricks of our austere cloister, hardly visible in the faintly glimmering light. I cannot express in words what happened in my soul; what I know is that the Lord illumined it with rays of truth which so surpassed the dark brilliance of earthly feasts that I could not believe my happiness. Ah! I would not have exchanged the ten minutes employed in carrying out my humble office of charity to enjoy a thousand years of worldly feasts. If already in suffering and in combat one can enjoy a moment of happiness that surpasses all the joys of this earth, and this when simply considering that God has withdrawn us from this world, what will this happiness be in heaven when one shall see in the midst of eternal joy and everlasting repose the incomparable grace the Lord gave us when He chose us to dwell in His house (Psalms 22:6), heaven’s real portal?
It wasn’t always in such transports of joy that I practiced charity, but at the beginning of my religious life Jesus wanted to have me experience how sweet it is to see Him in the souls of His brides. When I was guiding Sister St. Pierre, I did it with so much love that I could not possibly have done better had I been guiding Jesus Himself.(247-249)
16. Change what constantly irritate us into something we can Offer to Jesus
The practice of charity, as I have said, dear Mother, was not always so sweet for me, and to prove it to you I am going to recount certain little struggles which will certainly make you smile. For a long time at evening meditation, I was placed in front of a Sister who had a strange habit and I think many lights because she rarely used a book during meditation. This is what I noticed: as soon as this Sister arrived, she began making a strange little noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other. I was the only one to notice it because I had extremely sensitive hearing (too much so at times).
Mother, it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was very certainly unaware of her “click.” This would be the only way of enlightening her. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the Sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me, and I was obliged simply to make a prayer of suffering; however, while suffering, I searched for a way of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul, I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus. (249-250)
17. Putting up with Lack of Consideration from Others
Another time, I was in the laundry doing the washing in front of a Sister who was throwing dirty water into my face every time she lifted the handkerchiefs to her bench; my first reaction was to draw back and wipe my face to show the Sister who was sprinkling me that she would do me a favor to be more careful. But I immediately thought I would be very foolish to refuse these treasures which were being given to me so generously, and I took care not to show my struggle. I put forth all my efforts to desire receiving very much of this dirty water, and was so successful that in the end I had really taken a liking to this kind of aspersion, and I promised myself to return another time to this nice place where one received so many treasures.
My dear Mother, you can see that I am a very little soul and that I can offer God only very little things. It often happens that I allow these little sacrifices which give such peace to the soul to slip by; this does not discourage me, for I put up with having a little less peace and I try to be more vigilant on another occasion. (250)
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St Therese of Lisieux was born on 2nd April 1873 and died on 30th Sept 1897, at the age of 24 years 9 months of tuberculosis. She first coughed out blood on 3rd April 1896 and suffered much agony before she passed away 1.5 years later. She spent the first 15 years of her life in her devout Catholic family and went to stay for 9 years in a cloistered community of some 20 Carmelite nuns at Lisieux, Normandy, France.
The translator, John Clarke wrote:
“We find the Pope making reference here to the words of Jesus regarding this teaching (by St Therese) on spiritual childhood. These words we recall from several places in the Gospels: “Amen, I say to you, unless you be converted and become as little children, you shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18: 3) “Whoever, therefore, shall humble himself as this little child, he will be greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4) And elsewhere: “Allow the little ones to come to me and forbid them not, for of such is the kingdom of heaven.” (Mark 10:14) “Amen, I say to you, whoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall never enter into it.” (Mark 10:15)
Although St. Thérèse was well acquainted with these familiar quotations from the New Testament because she meditated upon the Gospels frequently, it is interesting to note that when she teaches her “little way” explicitly, she uses texts from the Old Testament. There are three in particular which became the foundation of this teaching: “Whoever is a little one, let him come to me.” (Proverbs 9: 4) “For to him that is little, mercy will be shown.” (Wisdom 6: 7) “As one whom a mother caresses, so will I comfort you; you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall fondle you.” (Isaiah 66:12—13)
These texts do not exhaust the Old Testament teaching on this matter. We have such texts as the following: “The declaration of your word gives light and understanding to little ones.” (Psalm 118:130) “The testimony of the Lord is faithful, giving wisdom to little ones.” (Psalm 18:8) “The Lord is the keeper of little ones.” (Psalm 114:6)
When we consider meditatively these teachings so frequently repeated in both the Old and the New Testaments, we cannot help but feel that it must be tremendously important to become a “little one,” to enter into the state of spiritual childhood. In his teaching on the matter, Benedict XV reasoned this way: “When a teacher adopts various methods to inculcate the same lesson, does he not thereby seek to emphasize its value in his sight? If Jesus Christ used so many devices to drive home this lesson to His disciples, it is because He wishes, by one means or another, to ensure their thorough understanding of it. From this we must conclude it was the divine Master’s express desire that His disciples should see that THE WAY OF SPIRITUAL CHILDHOOD IS THE PATH WHICH LEADS TO ETERNAL LIFE.”
What better teacher can we have than the one set up by God Himself, namely, St. Thêrèse of the Child Jesus? And where can we find these teachings best expressed if not in her own writings which she wanted to see published immediately after her death for this very purpose? Story of a Soul has a very interesting history. It has been in circulation for the past seventy-five years and has been read and pondered by millions of Thérèse’s devoted admirers. Its title, Story of a Soul, is the original French title, Histoire d’une Arne, which was inspired by the very first words Thérèse penned when she began her writing: ‘It is to you, dear Mother, to you who are doubly my Mother, that I come to confide the story of my soul.’” (xiv-xv)
She wrote three different manuscripts, addressed to three different persons, during three different years, namely 1895, 1896 and 1897.
The first edition of her book, Histoire d’une Arne, was published in 1898. Her writing, inspired by God, of the ‘little way’ is the way of spiritual childhood, the way of trust and absolute surrender. Her simple and direct message of the Gospels was a source of deep religious inspiration for those who read it with an open mind.
Within a few years, pilgrims began making their way to her grave to pray. In 1923, Pius XI beatified her and on 17th May 1925, he solemnly canonized her in Rome. If she had lived, she would have been 52 years old on the year of her canonization.
Challenges for us today
St Therese has shown in her ‘little way’ how she has applied Love in her Carmelite environment. The challenge for us is to see how we can apply Love in our modern, fast paced, high stressed and job insecure environment. Love one another has to be proven by Works and not Words. How can we do that? I have posed some questions below as a starter for us to reflect and work on. We will fail often but the intention of doing love by works is of paramount importance.
Do I really know that God looks only for my love to be put into action and not with empty words?
Do I know that love without sacrifices is useless?
Am I tolerant of his faults?
How do I treat people who steal my brilliant ideas, my pet projects and my credits?
Will I be resentful and bitter with people who take what is not theirs? (Ephesians 4:31)
If someone has done me wrong do I repay him with another wrong? (Romans 12:17)
What do I say to people who borrow my watch, tell the time and pocket my watch? (Matthew 5:39)
Do I respect people of other religion, race or culture? (Romans 12:10 TEV)
Do I avoid people because of their handicaps---physical, mental, emotional or spiritual?
Am I charitable in my thoughts towards others?
Am I gentle to displeasing people?
Do I make war with words?
Do I wound with my words? (Ephesians 4:29)
Do I find it difficult not to answer back? (Matthew 5:39)
Do I continue to fight if it is going to rankle me?
Would I walk away from the fight if I know that I will get angry and not be able to sleep? (Ephesians 4:31 NKJV)
When I am insulted do I answer back with kind words? (1 Corinthians 4:13)
Do I keep away from foolish arguments? (2 Timothy 2:16)
Do I fight back or would I change the subject of the disagreement?
Do I see that it is Jesus acting in me when I am compassionate?
Do I forgive those who hurt me often? (Matthew 18:22)
Can I forget the wrongs he has done? (Hebrew 8:12)
Am I envious of the good fortune of others? (1 Corinthians 13:4)
Am I kind to nasty people?
Do I insult back with words?
Do I show concern for others? (Romans 12:15)
If someone rudely asks me for something would I be willing to give?
What would I do if he does not return my CD-ROM, books?
What if he damages my car, books?
Would I turn the other cheek? (Matthew 5:39)
Would I go the extra mile? (Matthew 5:41)
Would I insist on my rights?
What would be my response to someone who cuts the queue? (Matthew 5:46)
10. How to Respond when one is Interrupted by Useless Distractions
When I have a deadline to keep would I still be patient when I am constantly interrupted?
Will I give my time to people who keep interrupting with requests?
What will be response to constant interruptions while I am at my computer doing something that I enjoy? (Matthew 7:8-9)
11. Do not Turn away from anyone who wants to borrow from us
Do I turn away if he wants to borrow my car, my money, my CD-ROM, my books? (Matthew 5:42)
Will I be abrupt to people who constantly ask for advice?
Do I close my heart to those in need? (1 John 3:17)
12. Lend our Time without hoping for anything in Return
Do I give generously my money, my time, my knowledge? (Romans 12:8)
Am I a cheerful giver? (2 Corinthians 9:7 NKJV)
Do I take care of my own relatives and others? (1 Timothy 5:8)
13. Jesus’ Will is to love in me all those He commands me to love
Do I look out for their good intentions?
Do I give them the benefit of doubt?
Do I see only faults in others?
Do I encourage the smallest act of virtue that I see? (Romans 12:8 TEV)
Am I surprised by people’s weaknesses?
14. Seek out the company of people who are the least agreeable to us
Do I flee from touchy people?
Do I avoid bores?
Am I too proud and irritable with disagreeable people to want to keep company with them? (Galatians 5:26)
15.Offer More help to crotchety, old People
How should I respond to ungrateful people?
Am I angry for being blamed when I give my help? (Ephesians 4:31)
Do I show respect for old people? (1 Timothy 5:3)
Am I prepared to be present for him even when I can’t do much? (Hebrew 10:24)
16. Change what constantly Irritate us into something we can Offer to Jesus
What do I do when my neighbors keep playing heavy metal music every night when I want to go to sleep? (1 Corinthians 13:7 NKJV)
Do I do everything possible on my part to live in peace with one another? (Romans 12:18)
Do I look out for one another’s interest instead of only my own? (Philippians 2:4)
17. Putting up with Lack of Consideration from Others
Am I tolerant with people who lack consideration?
Am I tenderhearted with people? (Ephesians 4:32)
Do I have a gentle attitude towards others? (Philippians 4:5)
Am I humble and considerate? (Ephesians 4:2)
Do I accept people for who they are?
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