Lesson: Saint Thérèse is one of the most beloved saints of our time. Her humble and pure soul is both attractive and inspiring. The heart of Saint Thérèse comes alive for us in her autobiography which begins with these words:
“It is to you, dear Mother, that I am about to confide the story of my soul. When you asked me to write it, I feared the task might unsettle me, but since then Our Lord has deigned to make me understand that by simple obedience I shall please Him best.”
To understand Saint Thérèse and to fully appreciate her humility, holiness and wisdom, it is important to understand how her autobiography came about. Saint Thérèse, at that time Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, began to write her story when she was twenty-one years of age, just three years before she would go home to Heaven. She began to write out of obedience to Mother Agnes of Jesus, the superior of their Carmelite convent in Lisieux.
Mother Agnes was actually Thérèse’s older sister Pauline, who had been elected Mother Superior in 1893 and served in that role for three years. Sister Marie, the oldest sister to Sister Thérèse and Mother Agnes, was also in the Carmelite Convent of Lisieux. One day in January, 1895, the three sisters were enjoying recreation time together as Sister Thérèse was sharing some of her childhood memories. Mother Agnes recounts the moment this way:
“One evening in the beginning of the year 1895, I was with my two sisters Marie and Thérèse. Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus told me several happenings of her childhood and Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart (my eldest sister Marie) said to me: ‘O Mother, what a pity that all this should not be written down for us. If you were to ask Sister Thérèse to write down her childhood memories, how much pleasure this would give us!’ …I turned to Sister Thérèse, who laughed as though we were teasing her, and said: ‘I order you to write down your memories of your childhood’” (Affidavit by the Reverend Mother Agnes of Jesus. Bayeux Archives, Vol 1).
This background helps to illustrate that the wisdom contained in The Story of a Soul is not a scholarly work produced from many years of study, nor is it a carefully worded autobiography written for the whole world to read. Rather, it is an intimate and personal sharing of one simple soul with her most beloved sister.
Thérèse and Pauline had a holy bond that exceeded even the ordinary relationship sisters often share. This bond was deepened with the loss of their mother when Pauline was fifteen years old and Thérèse was only four. Soon after that painful loss, Thérèse declared that her sister Pauline would now be her “new mother.” For the next several years, Thérèse and Pauline were very close and shared a beautiful sisterly love. Pauline also showered Thérèse with a mother’s love. The two sisters were inseparable, and Thérèse regularly bared her soul to her new mother Pauline.
Fifteen years after the death of their mother, Thérèse received Pauline as her spiritual mother in a new way when Pauline became Mother Agnes in the Carmelite Convent. It was, therefore, to her dear sister and second mother that she began to write the story of her soul and thus began to entrust this beautiful story to the whole world.
Reflection: Oftentimes in life we present ourselves in an exaggerated and misleading way. This tendency is a result of our fear of being judged by another. But imagine if you could share the story of your soul with someone else in a completely carefree way! How would your story read?
Thérèse wrote in a carefree, trusting, open, and honest manner. She never expected that her memoirs would be read far and wide and declared one of the greatest spiritual gifts to the Church of all time. Rather, she wrote her story for one who knew her and loved her unconditionally.
The story behind the Story of a Soul is important because it teaches us about trust and honesty. It illustrates the intimacy that we are called to live with others, as well as the fruit of that unconditional love.
Do you have someone in your life with whom you can entrust the intimacy of your soul? Whom do you trust enough to do the same? Seek to build relationships of love that are so deep that you can confidently share the content of your soul.
Dearest Saint Thérèse, you were privileged to bare the depths of your soul with your dear sister and mother in an intimate and open way. You loved her and were loved by her; you trusted her and were trusted by her. Pray for me, that I may express my unconditional love to others so clearly and unwaveringly that I will become a confidant and friend as God desires. Pray that I will have a heart that is honest and trustworthy, one that is caring and compassionate, and one that is merciful and faithful. Saint Thérèse, pray for us.