Dark Night of the Soul

From Céline1 to Thérèse*

La Musse, 27 July 1893

Dear little Thérèse,

I kept the best till last for you, and I do not know if I am going to have the time to write you all I would like. However, I would really like to tell you a lot of things.

You will perhaps think that your letter, written to console me, did not attain its purpose since I wrote Pauline2 that Jesus was consoling me. Oh! nothing of the kind. Your letter consoled me over again, and it did me so great a good that I thanked Our Lord for it. I do not understand this, but you always tell me exactly what you should tell me . . .

The comparison of the child on the open sea gives me very much to think about; and this: "Jesus is happy to receive all during the night . . . He is awaiting the dawn, oh! then what an awakening will be the awakening of Jesus!!! . . ." This, Thérèse, enraptures me.

I was touched, very much touched, by the coincidence of your little sacrifices. Yes, Jesus is asking these from me, and I am not rebelling. I feel drawn to: "Since Jesus is not giving to me," give without counting and take advantage of opportunities.

Dear Thérèse, I said Jesus has consoled me because I am no longer discouraged, but as for having any consolations, I do not have any, in spite of drinking in with delight what my dear little sisters write me.

Pauline told me: "Whether our soul be sad or joyful, disturbed or calm, is not important if we turn our eyes to heaven, if we always have confidence, if all things of the earth appear to us as contemptible." (However, what to do if everything is the contrary?)

These words of Marie3 comforted me: "You are really blessed to be sought out by such a friend, to be the object of His divine whims."

Oh! yes, Jesus is good for having made Himself our Friend! Who, then, would have been able to be the friend of our souls, our very souls?

Your Céline

I shall make you smile by a detail which is neither mystical nor elevated but which will sound the note of my isolation: the other night, I was considering the moon in the immensity of space; it was veiled by a light cloud. The earth was in shadow. I was walking and suddenly saw at my side faithful Tom.4 He had heard me and he came, I had only him! Thérèse, oh, understand your Céline.

1. Céline Martin (1869-1959), St. Thérèse's sister closest in age. Céline took care of their father, Louis Martin, during his long illness, while her sisters Thérèse, Pauline (Mother Agnes of Jesus), and Marie (Sr. Marie of the Sacred Heart) were already in Carmel. Céline joined the Carmel of Lisieux after Louis Martin's death in 1894.

2. Pauline Martin (1861-1951), St. Thérèse's second eldest sister, who acted as the saint's "little Mother" upon the death of their mother, Zélie Martin, in 1877. Pauline entered the Carmel of Lisieux in 1882.

3. Marie Martin (1860-1940), St. Thérèse's eldest sister and godmother. She entered the Carmel of Lisieux in 1886.

4. Tom was the family's dog.


From Thérèse to Céline*


Carmel, 2 August 1893


Dear little Céline,

Your letter filled me with consolation. The road on which you are walking is a royal road, it is not a beaten track, but a path traced out by Jesus Himself. The spouse of the Canticles says that, not having found her Beloved in her bed, she arose to look for Him in the city but in vain; after having gone out of the city, she found Him whom her soul loved! . . . Jesus does not will that we find His adorable presence in repose; He hides Himself; He wraps Himself in darkness. It was not thus that He acted with the crowd of Jews, for we see in the Gospel that the people were carried away when He was speaking. Jesus used to charm weak souls with His divine words, He was trying to make them strong for the day of trial . . . But how small was the number of Our Lord's friends when He was silent before His judges! . . . Oh! what a melody for my heart is this silence of Jesus . . . He made Himself poor that we might be able to give Him love. He holds out His hand to us like a beggar so that on the radiant day of judgment when He will appear in His glory, He may have us hear those sweet words: "Come, blessed of my Father, for I was hungry and you gave me to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave me to drink; I did not know where to lodge, and you gave me a home. I was in prison, sick, and you helped me." It is Jesus Himself who spoke these words; it is He who wants our love, who begs for it . . . He places Himself, so to speak, at our mercy, He does not want to take anything unless we give it to Him, and the smallest thing is precious in His divine eyes . . .

Dear Céline, let us take delight in our lot, it is so beautiful. Let us give, let us give to Jesus; let us be miserly with others but prodigal with Him . . .

Jesus is a hidden treasure, and inestimable good which few souls are able to find for it is hidden, and the world loves what sparkles. Ah! if Jesus had willed to show Himself to all souls with His ineffable gifts, no doubt there is not one of them that would have despised Him. However, He does not will that we love Him for His gifts, He Himself must be our reward. To find a hidden thing one must hide oneself; our life must then be a mystery. We must be like Jesus, Jesus whose face was hidden. . . . "Do you want to learn something that may be of use to you?" says the Imitation.1 "love to be unknown and accounted for nothing . . . " And elsewhere: "After you have left everything, you must above all leave yourself; let one man boast of one thing, another of something else; as for you, place your joy only in contempt of yourself." What peace these words give to the soul, Céline. You know them, but do you not know all I would like to say to you? . . . Jesus loves you with a love so great that, if you were to see it, you would be in an ecstasy of happiness that would cause your death, but you do not see it, and you are suffering.

Soon Jesus will stand up to save all the meek and humble of the earth!. . .

1. Imitation of Christ, by Thomas à Kempis -- the 15th-century spiritual classic that has been companion to so many saints (eg. St. Ignatius of Loyola, St. Teresa of Avila) and continues to guide souls along the path to Heaven.

* Source: St. Thérèse of Lisieux: General Correspondence. John Clarke, O.C.D., translator. Volume II. Washington, D.C.: ICS Publications, 1988.