ST THÉRÈSE OF LISIEUX
(1873 - 1897)
How astonished everyone would be if the martyrdom I have endured for the past year became known…. [Jesus] allowed pitch-black darkness to sweep over my soul and let the thought of heaven, so sweet to me since infancy, destroy all my peace and torture me. This trial was not something lasting a few days or weeks. I suffered it for months and I am still waiting for it to end. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is impossible. One must have travelled through the same sunless tunnel to understand how dark it is….
But, Lord, your child knows that you are the Light. She asks you to forgive her unbelieving brethren; she will willingly eat the bread of sorrow for as long as you wish; she will, for love of you, sit at this table where the wretched sinners eat their bitter food and will not leave it until you give her the sign. But may she not say in her own name and in the name of her guilty brethren: “O God, be merciful to us sinners…. May all those who have never been illuminated by the light of faith see it shine at last…!
The voice of unbelievers came to mock me out of the darkness: “You dream of light, of a fragrant land, you dream that their Creator will be yours for ever and you think you will one day leave behind this fog in which you languish. Hope on! Hope on! And look forward to death! But it will give you, not what you hope for, but a still darker night, the night of annihilation…!”
I have never before felt so strongly how gentle and merciful God is. He sent me this heavy cross just at the time when I was strong enough to bear it. At any other time it would have disheartened me. Now it has only one result: it removes all natural satisfaction from my longing for heaven. It seems to me… that nothing now hinders me from flying there. I no longer want anything except to love until I die of love. I am free and fear nothing….
I opened the epistles of St Paul to try to find some cure for my sufferings. And in chapters twelve and thirteen of the First Epistle to the Corinthians I read that we cannot all be apostles, prophets and doctors, that the Church is made up of different members, and that the eye cannot also be the hand. This answer was clear enough, but it did not satisfy me and brought me no peace. But as St John of the Cross says, “descending into the depths of my own nothingness I was raised so high that I reached my goal.” I went on reading and came to: “Be zealous for the better gifts. And I show you a yet more excellent way.” The apostle explains how even all the most perfect gifts are nothing without love and that charity is the most excellent way of going safely to God. I had found peace at last.
I thought of the Mystical Body of the Church, but I could not recognise myself in any of its members listed by St Paul – or rather I wanted to recognise myself in all of them. Love gave me the key to my vocation. I realised that if the Church was a body made up of different members, she would not be without the greatest and most essential of them all. I realised that love includes all vocations, that love is all things, and that, because it is eternal, it embraces every time and place.
Swept by an ecstatic joy, I cried: “Jesus, my love! At last I have found my vocation. My vocation is love…! In the heart of the Church, who is my Mother, I will be love. So I shall be everything and so my dreams will be fulfilled. Why do I speak of “ecstatic joy”? It’s the wrong phrase to use. Instead I should speak of peace, that calm, tranquil peace which the helmsman feels as he sees the beacon which guides him into harbour. How brightly this beacon of love burns! And I know how to reach it and how to make its flames my own….
Great deeds are forbidden me. I cannot preach the Gospel nor shed my blood – but what does it matter? My brothers toil instead of me and I, a little child, well, I keep close by the throne of God a I love for those who struggle.Nothing will frighten me…. If thick clouds hide the Sun and if it seems that nothing exists beyond the night of this life – well, then, that will be a moment of perfect joy, a moment to feel complete trust and stay very still, secure in the knowledge that my adorable Sun still shines behind the clouds.