MAY – Goodness and Charity
”Mme Martin is relating an incident that happened to Pauline:
”We had been for a long walk through the fields. On the way back, we met a poor old man of kind appearance. I sent Thérèse to give him some money. He seemed so touched and thanked us so profusely, that I could see he was in a very pitiable state. I told him to follow us, and that I would give him a pair of boots. He came along. I offered him a good dinner, for he was dying of hunger.
“I could not tell you all the miseries he was enduring in his old age. This winter, he had had his feet frost-bitten. He slept in an abandoned hut; he was in want of everything and used to go and crouch against the wall of the barracks, in the hope of receiving a little food. Finally I told him to come whenever he liked, and that he should have something to eat. I wish your father could get him into the Home for the aged; he is so anxious to go there. We are going to see to it.
“This meeting makes me very sad. I cannot help thinking of the poor fellow, whose face brightened up so happily at the few coins I gave him. ‘With those, I shall eat soup tomorrow; I shall go to the public soup kitchen. Then I shall buy some tobacco and have a shave.’ In a word, he was as happy as a child. All the time he was eating he would lift his boots, look happily at them and smile.”
Mme Martin was not satisfied until, after many a fruitless attempt, her husband succeeded at last in obtaining the poor man’s admission to the Home for Incurables, at which the beggar shed tears of joy.
Her charity would expose her to inconveniences of a different sort. She had entrusted Léonie to the care of two former schoolteachers, who had donned a religious habit without authorization, and she had discovered that these were exploiting and cruelly starving a little girl of eight, Armandine V., whose education they had undertaken. After having for some time secretly fed the child, Mme Martin made her speak and, secure in the evidence she possessed, decided to intervene. Since the former schoolteachers remained unmoved, the child’s mother was informed, then the parish priest of Banner, and at last the local magistrate. With consummate hypocrisy, the accused tried to stir up public opinion. Armandine, threatened with reprisals and rendered bewildered by alcohol, denied her previous statements. The matter became more embittered. Finally, a public inquest ruled in favour of the girl. The child was restored to her family and the Superintendent of Police concluded by saying to Mme Martin, by then more dead then alive: “I place this child under your protection, and, since you have been kind enough to take an interest in her, I will do so also in the future. It is so pleasant to do good!”
(Story of a Family p. 161-162)
“I know:’whoever has been forgiven little LOVES little.’(Luke 7:47) – but I also know that Jesus has forgiven me more than he forgave Mary Magdalene, because he forgave me in advance by preventing me from falling.
If only I could explain what I feel! Here is just an example that, to some extent, reflects my mind. – Let’s assume that the son of a skilled doctor stumbles over a rock on the road, falls and breaks a leg. Immediately his father will come to his rescue, lift him up lovingly, and take care of his wounds with every means at his disposal as a doctor. Soon, the son will have fully recovered and will show his gratitude towards his father. This child, of course, has every reason to love his father! But let’s make another assumption: The father, who knows there is a rock on his son’s road, hurries ahead of him and removes it without anyone seeing him. The son who has been subject to such foresightful love – but who nonetheless remains UNAWARE of his father’s having averted any accident – will certainly not show any gratitude and he will love his father less than had he been cured by him. But if he’s told what danger he avoided, will he not love his father still more? I am that very child, the object of the Father’s foresightful love, a Father who sent his Word to save not the righteous but the sinners. (Cf. Matt. 9:13.) He wants me to love him because he has forgiven me… not just a lot, but ALL. He did not wait until I came to love him greatly like Mary Magdalene, but rather wanted me to know what an inexpressibly foresightful love his love for me was, that I should now love him madly! … It is sometimes said that never has a pure soul been seen to love more than a repentant one. Oh, how I should delight in proving this to be false…” (Autobiographical Writings, pp. 76-77)
APRIL – Kindness
“The townsfolk had to receive soldiers into their homes. Mme. Martin took advantage of the reestablishment of postal communications to send a detailed account of these lamentable days to Lisieux.
”About three o’clock on Monday, every door was marked with a certain number of soldiers to be billeted there. A tall sergeant came and demanded to see over our house. I took him up to the first floor and told him we had four children. Happily for us, he made no attempt to go up to the second floor. Finally, he assigned us nine, and we cannot complain. In our neighbourhood small shopkeepers, who have only two-storied houses, are being sent fifteen, twenty, and even twenty-five.
I am not putting myself out over them. When they demand too much, I tell them that it is impossible. This morning they brought in enough meat to feed thirty people, and we are now in the middle of having it cooked for them.
”We have been obliged to give up the entire first floor to them, and to come down to the ground floor. If I told you everything, I should have to write a book. The town refused to pay the sum demanded and we were threatened with reprisals. Finally, the Duke of Mecklenburg contented himself with 300,000 francs and an enormous quantity of material. Al the cattle in the district have been seized. Now there is no more milk to be had anywhere. What will little Céline do, she who drank a litre a day? And how are poor mothers with infants to manage? There is no more meat in any butcher’s; in short, the town is stripped. Everyone is weeping except myself”
What Mme. Martin does not say is that she and her husband knew how to combine, in their super naturalised patriotism, a courage capable of facing danger with human sympathy that excluded all hatred. Thus it was that among the nine soldiers billeted in her house, she noticed one more humane and refined, whose face seemed to suggest that he was feeling the separation from his family. She did not hesitate to speak to him, and even to give him some little dainties secretly, for which he showed himself touchingly grateful.”
(Story of a Family p. 103-104)
“In the community there is a sister who has the ability to constantly annoy me: her way, her speech, her character, all of it seemed very unpleasant. Yet she is a pious nun, who is no doubt very pleasing in the eyes of the Lord. Since I did not wish to give in to the natural antipathy I felt, I said to myself that love should not consist of emotions but of actions, and so I was striving to do for this sister all that I would do for the one I hold dearest. Every time I met her, I prayed to God on her behalf and presented to him all her virtues and merits. I felt that this pleased Jesus, for there is not a single artist who does not like praise for his works, and Jesus, the Artist of the souls, is glad when one does not remain in the outer realms but penetrates into the inner sanctuary that he chose as his dwelling, admiring its beauty. I was not content simply praying, however persistently, for the sister who caused me so much inner struggle, I also tried to be kind to her in all sorts of way, and when I was tempted to answer her in an unpleasant fashion, I would just smile my sunniest smile and try to steer the conversation towards another topic, for it says in the Imitation of Christ: “It is more useful to let each person have their own meaning than to interfere in the vain words of men.”
(The Imitation of Christ, III, 4:1)
MARCH – Spiritual fruit: Joy
“The time of my first communion is still present in my heart as a memory without clouds. […] Jesus wanted me to feel as complete a joy as possible in this valley of tears […] (p.66) Oh! how wonderful it was, the first kiss Jesus gave my soul!… It was a kiss of love, I felt loved, and I also said: ‘I love you and give my self to you forever!’ There were no conditions, no fight, no victim; Jesus and Little Thérèse had long considered and understood each other. That day there was no mere glance but rather a fusion, they were no longer two. Thérèse had disappeared as the drop of water disappears into the sea. Jesus alone was left, he was the Master, the King. Did not Thérèse pray that he should take away her freedom? For freedom frightened her; she felt so weak and fragile that she longed to be forever united with the divine Power!… Her joy was too great and too profound for her to master; soon, her eyes were filling with abundant tears of serenity, to the great surprise of her friends at school, who later wondered among themselves: ‘Why did she cry? Was there anything that made her suffer?’ – ‘No, that was probably due to her not having her mother with her, or the sister she likes so much: she is a Carmelite.’ They did not understand that a heart in exile, when filling with all the joy of Heaven, cannot bear it without crying… That day, it was only joy that filled my heart, and I was united with her who was irrevocably giving herself to Him who so lovingly gave Himself to me! ”
(p. 70, Autobiographical Memories)
On March 4th, 1877, Zélie wrote to Pauline: “After our children were born, our ideas changed somewhat. We lived only for them. They were our sole happiness; and we found no joy except in them. In short, nothing was too difficult, and the world was no longer a burden to us. I felt our children outweighed every difficulty, and I wanted many of them in order to raise them for Heaven.”
(p. 48, The Story of a Family)
FEBRUARY – Patience and Forbearance
Each evening when I saw Sister St. Pierre shake her hour-glass I knew this meant: Let’s go! It is incredible how difficult it was for me to get up, especially at the beginning; however, I did it immediately, and then a ritual was set in motion. I had to remove and carry he little bench in a certain way, above all I was not to hurry, and then the walk took place. It was a question of following the poor invalid by holding her cincture: I did this with as much gentleness as possible. But if by mistake she took a false step, immediately it appeared to her that I was holding her incorrectly and that she was about to fall. – “Ah! My God! You are going too fast; I’m going to brake something.” If I tried to go more slowly: “Well, come on! I don’t feel your hand; you’ve let me go and I’m going to fall. Ah! I was right when I said you were too young to help med.” Finally, we reached the refectory without mishap, and here other difficulties arose. I had to seat Sister St. Pierre and had to act skillfully in order not to hurt her; then I had to turn back her sleeves (again in a certain way), and afterwards I was free to leave.
(Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux p. 247 et seq.)
For a long time at evening meditation, I was placed in front of a Sister who had a strange habit and I think many lights because she rarely used a book during meditation. This is what I noticed: as soon as this Sister arrived, she began making a strange noise which resembled the noise one would make when rubbing two shells, one against the other. I was the only one to notice it because I had extremely sensitive hearing (too much so at times). Mother, it would be impossible for me to tell you how much this little noise wearied me. I had a great desire to turn my head and stare at the culprit who was very certainly unaware of her “click”. This would be the only way of enlightening her. However, in the bottom of my heart I felt it was much better to suffer this out of love for God and not to cause the Sister any pain. I remained calm, therefore, and tried to unite myself to God and to forget the little noise. Everything was useless. I felt the perspiration inundate me, and I was obliged simply to make a prayer of suffering; however, while suffering, I searched for a way of doing it without annoyance and with peace and joy, at least in the interior of my soul. I tried to love the little noise which was so displeasing; instead of trying not to hear it (impossible), I paid close attention so as to hear it well, as though it were a delightful concert, and my prayer (which was not the Prayer of Quiet) was spent in offering this concert to Jesus.
(Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Thérèse of Lisieux p. 249 et seq.)