Thursday, April 15, 2010

She Wanted It That Much



"Ste Therese. Therese devant le Pape Leon XIII (20 Novembre 1887)"
This is a French lantern slide (c. 3.25 x 4") depicting the life of St Therese of Lisieux. It is published by Maison de la Bonne Presse, Paris.







(From Wikipedia): In May 1887 Thérèse approached her 63-year old father Louis, recovering from a small stroke, while he sat in the garden one Sunday afternoon and told him that she wanted to celebrate the anniversary of "her conversion" by entering Carmel before Christmas. Louis and Thérèse both broke down and cried, but Louis got up, gently picked a little white flower, root intact, and gave it to her, explaining the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it until that day.


Therese later wrote, "While I listened I believed I was hearing my own story." To Therese, the flower seemed a symbol of herself, "destined to live in another soil." Thérèse then renewed her attempts to join the Carmel, but the priest-superior of the monastery would not allow it on account of her youth.
In November 1887 Louis took Céline and Thérèse on a diocesan pilgrimage to Rome for the priestly jubilee of Pope Leo XIII. During a general audience with Leo XIII, she unexpectedly approached the pope, kneeled and asked him to allow her to enter at 15. The Pope said: "Well, my child, do what the superiors decide.... You will enter if it is God's Will" and he blessed Thérèse just as the guards arrived to take her back.


Soon after that, the Bishop of Bayeux authorized the prioress to receive Therese, and on April 9, 1888 she became a Carmelite postulant.



Thérèse at age 15
For her journey to Mgr Hugonin, Bishop of Bayeux, to seek permission to enter Carmel at Christmas 1887 Thérèse had put up her hair for the first time, a symbol for being "grown-up." A photograph of that period shows a fresh, firm, girlish face..The familiar flowing locks are combed sternly back and up, piled in a hard little chignon on the top of her head...her face, vigorous, tensed, concentrated around an invisible core almost tough in its astonishing poise, with a resolute, straight mouth, stubborn chin; but this impression of toughness is contradicted by eyes full of profound life, clear and filled with a secret humour (Görres, The Hidden Face) p.149


As I read the above, I couldn't help but marvel at Therese's tenacity. Also, in her faith in God. Because what at first seemed like an insurmountable task did not stop her from doing all she could to achieve her goal of becoming a postulant. I laughed when I read stories of her and her older sister Celine, plotting and planning in their hotel room in Rome. Can you just imagine them huddled together, whispering after their father was asleep, planning for good little Therese to disobey Vatican orders and actually speak to the Pope, when no one was allowed to? Not only did little Therese speak to him, she grabbed his legs and begged him!

Here she describes the scene in her own words:


"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."




She wanted it that much.



Excerpt from
Story of A Soul, translated by Father John Clarke, O.C.D., 1976, Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, ICS Publications, 2131 Lincoln Road NE, Washington, DC 20002 USA, pages 134-135











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