Saint Thérèse asks her father permission to enter Carmel
photograph of Saint Therese of Lisieux 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 Saint 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 noon 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!
1Pauline and Marie were in Carmel. Léonie had entered the Poor Clares but did not stay more than a few months.

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

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 105-108

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