IN WRITING about this visit to Carmel, my mind goes back to my first visit after you had entered. I had been wondering that morning what name they would give me when I got there; I could not bear to lose my lovely “Thérèse,” yet I knew you already had a Thérèse of Jesus. I had a great devotion to the Child Jesus and suddenly thought how wonderful it would be if I could be called Thérèse of the Child Jesus. I never mentioned this to anyone, so you can guess how surprised and delighted I was when Reverend Mother said in the middle of our conversation: “When you join us, my Dear, you will be called Thérèse of the Child Jesus.” This harmony of thought seemed a gracious sign from my beloved little Jesus Himself.
So far I have not said anything about how much I loved pictures and books, yet it is to the beautiful pictures you used to show me that I owe some of the greatest joys and the strongest inspiration in my efforts to practice virtue, and I lost all sense of time when I was looking at them. There was “The Little Flower of the Divine Prisoner,” for example; I used to be quite carried away by all it suggested to me, and I told Jesus I would be His Little Flower; I wanted to give Him consolation, to draw near to the tabernacle, to be watched over, tended and gathered by Him.
As I was no good at games, I would have spent most of my time reading; luckily, I had visible guardian angels who guided me here and chose the sort of books I needed—books which nourished my mind and heart, as well as keeping me amused. I was only allowed a certain time for this favorite occupation, and it often meant great self-sacrifice, for I used to put my book away the moment time was up, even if I were halfway through a most fascinating passage. I must admit that, when I read certain tales of chivalry, I did not always grasp the realities of life; in my enthusiasm I wanted to do all the patriotic things the heroines of France had done, especially Joan of Arc.
It was at this time that I was given what I have always considered one of my life’s greatest graces, for God did not enlighten me then in the way He does now. He taught me that the only glory which matters is the glory which lasts forever and that one does not have to perform shining deeds to win that, but to hide one’s acts of virtue from others, and even from oneself, so that “the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing.” (Cf. Matt. 6:3). I was sure that I was born to be great and began to wonder how I should set about winning my glory; then it was revealed to me in my heart that my glory would lie in becoming a Saint, though this glory would be hidden on earth.
This aspiration may seem presumptuous, considering how imperfect I was and still am, even after so many years in religion; yet I am daringly confident that one day I shall become a great Saint. I am not relying on my own merits, because I haven’t any. I hope in Him who is Virtue and Sanctity itself; He alone, content with my frail efforts, will lift me up to Himself, clothe me with His own merits and make me a Saint.
I did not realize in those days that one had to go through much suffering to become a Saint, but God soon brought this home to me by the trials I have told you about already.
This article is taken from a chapter in The Story of a Soul by St. Thérèse of Lisieux, which is available from TAN Books.