Fr. Adolphe Roulland was a newly ordained missionary in China. As a seminarian, he asked the superior of the Carmel of Lisieux, Mother Marie de Gonzague, that one of her nuns be associated with him in his mission, supporting his evangelizing work with prayer and penance. It was St. Thérèse who was assigned to this task, and thus she carried on correspondence with Fr. Rouland toward the end of her life. This is the last letter she wrote to him.
Carmel of Lisieux
May 9, 1897
I received with joy, or rather emotion, the relics you were so kind to send me. Your letter is almost a letter of au revoir for heaven. It seemed when I was reading it that I was listening to the account of your forerunners in the apostolate. On this earth, where all changes, one single thing remains, and this is the conduct of the King of heaven regarding His friends. Ever since He has lifted up the standard of the Cross, it is under its shadow that all must fight and carry off the victory. Théophane Vénard said: "The whole of a missionary's life is fruitful in the Cross"; and again: "To be truly happy we must suffer, and to live we must die."
Brother, the beginnings of your apostolate are marked with the seal of the Cross; the Lord is treating you as a privileged one. It is more by persecution and suffering than by brilliant preaching that He wills to make His kingdom firm in souls. You say: "I am still a child who cannot speak." Père Mazel, who was ordained the same day as you, did not know how to speak either; however, he has already taken up the palm. ... Oh! how the divine thoughts are above ours! ... When learning about the death of this young missionary whom I heard named for the first time, I felt drawn to invoke him; I seemed to see him in heaven in the glorious choir of Martyrs. I know that in the eyes of men his martyrdom does not bear this name, but in the eyes of God this sacrifice without any glory is not less fruitful than the sacrifices of the first Christians, who confessed their faith before tribunals. Persecution has changed in form, the apostles of Christ have not changed in sentiment, so the divine Master would not be able to change His rewards unless it were to increase them in proportion to the glory which was refused them here below.
I do not understand, Brother, how you seem to doubt your immediate entrance into heaven if the infidels were to take your life. I know one must be very pure to appear before the God of all Holiness, but I know, too, that the Lord is infinitely just; and it is this justice which frightens so many souls that is the object of my joy and confidence. To be just is not only to exercise severity in order to punish the guilty; it is also to recognize right intentions and to reward virtue. I expect as much from God's justice as from His mercy. It is because He is just that "He is compassionate and filled with gentleness, slow to punish, and abundant in mercy, for He knows our frailty, He remembers we are only dust. As a father has tenderness for his children, so the Lord has compassion on us!! Oh, Brother, when hearing these beautiful and consoling words of the Prophet-King, how can we doubt that God will open the doors of His kingdom to His children who loved Him even to sacrificing all for Him, who have not only left their family and their country to make Him known and loved, but even desire to give their life for Him whom they love.... Jesus was very right in saying that there is no greater love than that! How would He allow Himself to be overcome in generosity? How would He purify in the flames of purgatory souls consumed in the fires of divine love? It is true that no human life is exempt from faults; only the Immaculate Virgin presents herself absolutely pure before the divine Majesty. Since she loves us and since she knows our weakness, what have we to fear? Here are a lot of sentences to express my thought, or rather not to succeed in expressing it, I wanted simply to say that it seems to me all missionaries are martyrs by desire and will and that, as a consequence, not one should have to go to purgatory. If there remains in their soul at the moment of appearing before God some trace of human weakness, the Blessed Virgin obtains for them the grace of making an act of perfect love, and then she gives them the palm and the crown that they so greatly merited.
This is, Brother, what I think of God's justice; my way is all confidence and love. I do not understand souls who fear a Friend so tender. At times, when I am reading certain spiritual treatises in which perfection is shown through a thousand obstacles, surrounded by a crowd of illusions, my poor little mind quickly tires; I close the learned book that is breaking my head and drying up my heart, and I take up Holy Scripture. Then all seems luminous to me; a single word uncovers for my soul infinite horizons, perfection seems simple to me, I see it is sufficient to recognize one's nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child into God's arms. Leaving to great souls, to great minds the beautiful books I cannot understand, much less put into practice, I rejoice at being little since children alone and those who resemble them will be admitted to the heavenly banquet. I am very happy there are many mansions in God's kingdom, for if there were only the one whose description and road seems incomprehensible to me, I would not be able to enter there. I would like, however, not to be too far from your mansion, in consideration of your merits, I hope God will give me the favor of sharing in your glory, just as on earth the sister of a conqueror, were she deprived of the gifts of nature, shares in the honors bestowed on her brother in spite of her own poverty.
The first act of your ministry in China seemed delightful to me. The little soul whose mortal remains you blessed must have indeed smiled at you and promised you her protection as well as those who are dear to you. How I thank you for counting me among them! I am also deeply touched and grateful for your remembrance of my dear parents at Mass. I hope they are in possession of heaven to which all their actions and desires were directed; this does not prevent me from praying for them, for it seems to me these blessed souls receive a great glory from the prayers offered for them and which they can use for other suffering souls.
If, as I believe, my father and mother are in heaven, they must be looking at and blessing the brother whom Jesus has given me. They had so much wanted a missionary son!... I have been told that before my birth my parents were hoping their prayer was finally going to be realized. Had they been able to pierce the veil of the future, they would have seen it was indeed through me their desire was fulfilled; since a missionary has become my brother, he is also their son, and in their prayers they cannot separate the brother from his unworthy sister.
You are praying, Brother, for my parents who are in heaven, and I often pray for yours who are still on earth. This is a very sweet obligation for me, and I promise you to be always faithful in carrying it out even if I leave this exile, and even more so perhaps since I shall know better the graces necessary for them; and when their course here below is ended, I shall come to get them in your name and introduce them to heaven. How sweet will be the family life we shall enjoy throughout eternity! While awaiting this blessed eternity that will open up for us in a short time, since life is only a day, let us work together for the salvation of souls. I can do very little, or rather absolutely nothing, if I am alone; what consoles me is to think that at your side I can be useful for something. In fact, zero by itself has no value, but when placed next to a unit it becomes powerful, provided, however, that it be placed on the right side, after and not before!... That is where Jesus has placed me, and I hope to remain there always, following you from a distance by prayer and sacrifice.
If I were to listen to my heart, I would not end my letter today, but the end of silence is about to ring. I must bring my letter to our good Mother, who is waiting for it. I beg you, then, Brother, to send your blessing to the little zero God has placed near you.
Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face rel. carm. ind.