Quest for Carmel

St. Thérèse asks her Father permission to enter Carmel

Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 105-108.

When a gardener carefully tends a fruit he wants to ripen before its time, it’s not to leave it hanging on a tree but to set it on his table. It was with such an intention that Jesus showered His graces so lavishly upon His little flower, He, who cried out in His mortal life: "I thank thee, Father that thou hast hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and revealed them to babes," willed to have His mercy shine out in me. Because I was little and weak He lowered Himself to me, and He instructed me secretly in the things of His love. Ah! Had the learned who spent their life in study come to me, undoubtedly they would have been astonished to see a child of fourteen understand perfection’s secrets, secrets all their knowledge cannot reveal because to possess them one has to be poor in spirit!

As St. John of the Cross writes in his Canticle:

"On that glad night
In secret, for no one saw me
Nor did I look at anything,
With no other light or guide
Than the one that burned in my heart;
This guided me more surely that the light of non to where He waited for me Him I knew so well
In a place where no one else appeared."

This place was Carmel. Before "resting in the shadow of him whom I desire," I was to pass through many trials, but the divine call was so strong that had I been forced to pass through flames, I would have done it out of love for Jesus.

I found only one soul to encourage me in my vocation, that of my dear Mother. My heart found a faithful echo in hers, and without her, perhaps, I would not have reached the blessed shore which received her five years before on its soil permeated with the heavenly dew. Yes, I was separated from you for five years, dear Mother, and I believe I’d lost you forever; at the moment of trial your hand pointed out the way I should follow. I needed this help, for my visits to Carmel had become more and more painful, and I was unable to speak of my desire to enter without feeling opposed. Marie, thinking I was too young, did everything possible to prevent my entering; and you, dear Mother, to prove me, sometimes tried to slacken my ardor. If I hadn’t had a vocation, I would have been stopped from the beginning, so many obstacles did I receive when trying to answer Jesus’ call. I didn’t want to speak to Céline about my desire to enter so young and this caused me much suffering, for it was difficult for me to hide anything form her.

This suffering, however, didn’t last long; soon my dear little sister learned of my determination and, far from turning me away from it, she courageously accepted the sacrifice God was asking of her. To understand how great it was, one would have to know how very close we were. It was, so to speak, the same soul giving us life. For some months we’d enjoyed together the most beautiful life young girls could dream about. Everything around us corresponded with our tastes; we were given the greatest liberty; I would say our life on earth was the ideal of happiness.

Hardly had we the time to taste this ideal of happiness when it was necessary to turn away from it freely, and my dear Céline did not rebel for one instant. And still it wasn’t she whom Jesus was calling first, and she could have complained, for having the same vocation as I, it was her right to leave first! But as in the time of the martyrs, those who remained in prison joyfully gave the kiss of peace to their brothers who were leaving first for combat in the arena, consoling themselves with the thought that perhaps they were reserved for even greater combats, thus Céline allowed her Thérèse to leave and she stayed for the glorious and bloody struggle to which Jesus had destined her as the privileged one of His love!

Céline became, then, the confidante of my struggles and sufferings, taking the same part as though it were a question of her own vocation. From her I had no fear of opposition. I didn't know what steps to take to announce it to Papa. How should I speak to him about parting from his Queen, he who'd just sacrificed his three eldest?1 Ah! what interior struggles I went through before feeling courageous enough to speak! However, I had to decide. After all, I was going to be fourteen and a half, and six months separated us from the beautiful night of Christmas, the day I was determined to enter, at the very hour I'd received "my grace" the year before.

I chose the Feast of Pentecost as the day to break the news, all day long begging the apostles to pray for me, to inspire me with the right words. Shouldn’t they help the timid child to who was chosen by God to be the apostle of apostles through her prayers and sacrifices in Carmel? I found the opportunity to speak to my dear little Father only in the afternoon after Vespers. He was seated by the well, contemplating the marvels of nature with his hands joined. The sun whose rays had lost their ardor gilded the high tree tops where little birds were joyfully chanting their evening song. Pap’s handsome face had a heavenly expression about it, giving me the feeling that peace flooded his heart. Without saying a word, I sat down by his side, my eyes already wet with tears. He gazed at me tenderly, and taking my head he places it on his heart, saying, "What’s the matter, my little Queen? Tell me." Then rising as though to hide his emotion, he walked while still holding my head on his heart.

Through my tears, I confided my desire to enter Carmel and soon his tears mingled with mine. He didn’t say one word to turn me from my vocation, simply contenting himself with the statement that I was still very young to make such a serious decision. I defended myself so well that, with Papa’s simple and direct character, he was soon convinced my desire was God’s will, and in his deep faith he cried out that God was giving him a great honor in asking his children from him; we continue our walk for a long time and, encouraged by the kindness with which my incomparable Father received my confidences, my heart poured out itself to him.

Papa seemed to be rejoicing with that joy that comes from a sacrifice already made. He spoke just like a saint, and I’d love to recall his words and write them down, but all I preserved of them is a memory too sacred to be expressed. What I do recall, however, is a symbolic action my dear King performed, not realizing its full meaning. Going up to a low wall, pointed to some little white flowers, like lilies in miniature, and plucking one of them, he gave it to me explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it to that very day. While I listened I believed I was hearing my own story, so great was the resemblance between what Jesus had done for the little flower and little Therese. I accepted it as a relic and noticed that, in gathering it, Papa had pulled all its roots out without breaking them. It seemed destined to live on in another soil more fertile than the tender moss where it had spent its first days. This was really the same action Papa had performed a few moments before when he allowed me to climb Mount Carmel and leave the sweet valley which had witnessed my first steps in this life.

I placed the little flower in my copy of the Imitation2 at the chapter entitled: "One must love Jesus above all things," and there it is still, only its stem has broken close to the roots, and God seems to be saying by this that He’ll soon break the bonds of His little flower, not allowing her to fade away on this earth!

1. Pauline and Marie were in Carmel. Léonie had entered the Poor Clares but did not stay more than a few months.

2. The Imitation of Christ, one of the great spiritual classics, written in the early 14th century. St. Thérèse knew this book by heart.

St. Thérèse asks her Uncle Isidore Guérin.1

Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 105-108.

After receiving Papa’s permission, I believed I’d be able to fly to Carmel without and fears, but painful trials were still to prove my vocation. It was with trembling I confided my resolution to Uncle. He showed me great tenderness but did not grant me his permission to leave. He forbade me to speak about my vocation to him until I was seventeen. It was contrary to human prudence, he said, to have a child of fifteen enter Carmel. This Carmelite life was, in the eyes of many, a life of mature reflection, and it would be doing a great wrong to the religious life to allow an inexperienced child to embrace it. Everybody would be talking about it, etc. etc. He even said that for him to decide to allow me to leave would require a miracle. I saw al reasoning with him was useless and so I left, my heart plunged into the most profound bitterness. My only consolation was prayer. I begged Jesus to perform the miracle demanded, since at this price only I’d be able to answer His call.

A long time passed by before I dared speak to him again. It was very difficult for me to go to his home, and he himself seemed to be no longer considering my vocation. I learned later on that my great sadness influenced him very much. Before allowing any ray of hope to shine in my soul, God willed to send me a painful martyrdom lasting three days. Oh! never had I understood so well as during this trial, the sorrow of Mary and Joseph during their three-day search for the divine Child Jesus. I was in a sad desert, or rather my soul was like a fragile boat delivered up to the mercy of the waves and having no pilot. I knew Jesus was there sleeping in my boat, but the night was so black it was impossible to see Him; nothing gave me any light, not a single flash came to break the dark clouds. No doubt, lightning is a dismal light, but at least if the storm had broken out in earnest I would have been able to see Jesus for one passing moment. But it was night! The dark night of the soul! I felt I was all alone in the garden of Gethsemani like Jesus, and I found no consolation on earth or from heaven; God Himself seemed to have abandoned me. Nature seemed to share in my bitter sadness, for during these three days the sun did not shine and the rain poured down in torrents. (I have noticed in all the serious circumstances of my life that nature always reflected the image of my soul. On days filled with tears the heavens cried along with me; on days of joy the sun sent forth its joyful rays in profusion and the blue skies were not obscured by a single cloud.)

Finally, on the fourth day which happened to be a Saturday, the day consecrated to the sweet Queen of heaven, I went to see Uncle. What was my surprise when I saw him looking at me, and, without expressing any desire to speak to him, he had me come into his study! He began by making some gentle reproaches because I appeared to be afraid of him, and then he said it wasn't necessary to beg for a miracle, that he had only asked God to give him "a simple change of heart" and that he had been answered. Ah! I was not tempted to beg for a miracle because the miracle had been granted; Uncle was no longer the same. Without making any allusion whatsoever to "human prudence," he told me I was a little flower God wanted to gather, and he would no longer oppose it!

This definitive response was truly worthy of him. For the third time, now, this Christian of another age allowed one of the adopted daughters of his heart to go bury herself far from the world. Aunt, too, was admirable in her tenderness and prudence. I don't remember her saying a single word during my trial that could have increased my sufferings. I understood she pitied her little Thérèse. But when Uncle gave his consent, she too gave hers, but at the same time she showed me in a thousand little ways the great sorrow my departure would be for her. Alas, our dear relatives were far from expecting the same sacrifice would be asked of them twice over.2 But when God stretches out His hand to ask, His hand is never empty, and His intimate friends can draw from Him the courage and strength they need.

1. Isidore Guérin was the younger brother of St. Thérèse's mother, Zélie. With Zélie's death when Thérèse was 4, he became the official guardian of her children.

2. Céline, Thérèse's sister, and Marie, cousin of Thérèse and youngest daughter of the Isidore and Céline Guérin, would both also enter Carmel after Thérèse.

Thérèse asks the Bishop of Bayeux

Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 114-117.

Though St. Thérèse's Father and Uncle gave her permission to enter Carmel, the ecclesiastical Superior of the Carmel of Lisieux would not give his consent because of her tender age, stating that she would have to wait until the age of 21, unless the local Bishop decided otherwise.

October 31 was the day set for the trip to Bayeux. I left alone with Papa, my heart filled with hope, but also rather scared at the thought of meeting the Bishop. For the first time in my life, I was to make a visit unaccompanied by my sisters and this visit was to a Bishop! I had never had any reason to speak unless in answer to questions addressed tome, and now I had to explain the purpose of my visit, to develop the reasons which made me seek entrance into Carmel; in a word, I was to show the firmness of my vocation. Ah! what that trip cost me! God had to give me a very special grace to overcome my timidity. It's also very true that "love never finds impossibilities, because it believes everything is possible, everything is permitted" [The Imitation of Christ III, 5:4] It was surely only love of Jesus that could help me surmount these difficulties and the ones that followed, for it please Him to have me buy my vocation with very great trials. ....

Father Révérony [Vicar General of the Diocese of Bayeux] was very friendly, but I believe the reason for our trip took him by surprise. After looking at me with a smile and asking me a few simple questions, he said: "I am going to introduce you to the Bishop; will you kindly follow me?" Seeing the tears in my eyes, he added: "Ah! I see diamonds; you mustn't show them to the Bishop!" He had us traverse several huge rooms in which portraits of bishops were hanging on the walls. When I saw myself in these large rooms, I felt like a poor little ant, and I asked myself what I would dare say to the Bishop.

The Bishop was walking on the balcony with two priests. I saw Fr. Révérony say a few words to him and return with him to where we were waiting in his study. There, three enormous armchairs were set before the fireplace in which a bright fire was crackling away. When he saw his Excellency enter, Papa knelt down by my side to receive his blessing; the Bishop had Papa take one of the armchairs, and then he sat down facing him. Fr. Révérony wanted me to take the one in the middle; I excused myself politely, but he insisted, telling me to show if I knew how to obey. And so I took it without further reflection and was mortified to see him take a chair while I was buried a in a huge armchair which could hold four like me comfortably (more comfortably, in fact, for I was far from being so!). I had hoped that Papa would speak; however, he told me to explain the object of our visit to the Bishop. I did so as eloquently as possible and his Excellency, accustomed to eloquence, did not appear touched by my reasons; in their stead a single word from the Father Superior would have been much better, but I didn't have it and this did not help me in any way.

The Bishop asked me if it had been a long time since I desired to enter Carmel. "Oh! yes, Bishop, a very long time." "Come, now," said Father Révérony with a smile, "you cant' say it is fifteen years since you've had the desire." Smiling, I said: "That's true, but there aren't too many years to subtract because I wanted to be a religious since the dawn of my reason, and I wanted Carmel as soon as I knew about it. I find all the aspirations of my soul are fulfilled in this Order."

I don't know, dear Mother, if these are my exact words. I believe they were expressed more poorly, but they contain the substance.

The Bishop, believing he'd pleas Papa, tried to have me stay with him a few more years, and he was very much surprised and edified at seeing him take my part, interceding for me to obtain permission to fly away at fifteen. And still everything was futile. The Bishop said an interview with the Superior of Carmel was indispensable before making his decision. I couldn't possibly have heard anything that would cause me more pain than this because I was aware of his formal opposition. Without taking into account Father Révérony's advice, I did more than show my diamonds to the Bishop. I gave him some!

He was very much touched by this and putting his arm around my neck, he placed my head on his shoulder and caressed me as no one, it appears, was ever caressed by him before. He told me all was not lost, that he was very happy I was making the trip to Rome to strengthen my vocation, that instead of crying I should rejoice. He added that the following week, before going to Lisieux, he'd speak about me to the pastor of St. James and I would receive an answer from him in Italy. I understood it was useless to make further entreaties, and besides I had nothing to say, having exhausted all the resources of my eloquence.

The Bishop brought us out as far as the garden. Papa amused him very much be telling him that in order to appear older I had put up my hair. (This wasn't lost on the Bishop, for he never spoke about "his little daughter" without telling the story of the hair.) Father Révérony wanted to accompany us to the end of the garden, and he told Papa that never had the like been seen before: "A father as eager to give his child to God as this child was to offer herself to Him!"

Thérèse asks His Holiness Leo XIII, the Vicar of Christ

Source: Story of A Soul, translated by Fr. John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright (c) 1976 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road, N.E., Washington, DC 20002 U.S.A., pp. 134-135.

After the Mass of thanksgiving, following that of the Holy Father the audience began. Leo XIII was seated on a large armchair; he was dressed simply in a white cassock, with a cape of the same color, and on his head was a little skullcap. Around him were cardinals, archbishops, and bishops, but I saw them only in general, being occupied solely with the Holy Father. We passed in front of him in procession; each pilgrim knelt in turn, kissed the foot and hand of Leo XIII, received his blessing, and two noble guards touched him as a sign to rise (touched the pilgrim, for I explain myself so badly one would think it was the Pope.)

Before entering the pontifical apartment, I was really determined to speak, but I felt my courage weaken when I saw Father Révérony standing by the Holy Father's right side. Almost at the same instant, they told us on the Pope's behalf that it was forbidden to speak, as this would prolong the audience too much. I turned toward my dear Céline for advice: "Speak!", she said. A moment later I was at the Holy Father's feet. I kissed his slipper and he presented his hand, but instead of kissing it I joined my own and lifting tear-filled eyes to his face, I cried out: "Most Holy Father, I have a great favor to ask you!"

The Sovereign Pontiff lowered his head towards me in such a way that my face almost touched his, and I saw his eyes, black and deep, fixed on me and they seemed to penetrate to the depths of my soul. "Holy Father, in honor of your Jubilee, permit me to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen!"

Emotion undoubtedly made my voice tremble. He turned to Father Révérony who was standing at me with surprise and displeasure and said: "I don't understand very well." Now if God had permitted it, it would have been easy for Father Révérony to obtain what I desired, but it was the cross and not consolation God willed to give me.

"Most Holy Father," answered the Vicar General, "this is a child who wants to enter Carmel at the age of fifteen, but the Superiors are considering the matter at the moment." "Well, my child," the Holy Father replied, looking at me kindly, "do what the Superiors tell you!" Resting my hands on his knees, I made a final effort, saying in a suppliant voice: "Oh! Holy Father, if you say yes, everybody will agree!" He gazed at me steadily, speaking these words and stressing each syllable: "Go . . . go . . . You will enter if God wills it!" (His accent had something about it so penetrating and so convincing, it seems to me I still hear it.)

I was encouraged by the Holy Father's kindness and wanted to speak again, but the two guards touched me politely to make me rise. As this was not enough they took me by the arms and Father Révérony helped them lift me, for I stayed there with joined hands resting on the knees of Leo XIII. It was with force they dragged me from his feet. At the moment I was thus lifted, the Holy Father placed his hand on my lips, then raised it to bless me. Then my eyes filled with tears and Father Révérony was able to contemplate at least as many diamonds as he had seen at Bayeux, the two guards literally carried me to the door and there a third one gave me a medal of Leo XIII.

Céline who followed was a witness to the scene which had just taken place; almost as moved as myself, she still had the courage to ask the Holy Father to bless the Carmel. Father Révérony answered in a displeased tone of voice: "The Carmel is already blessed." The good Holy Father replied gently: "Oh! yes, it is already blessed."