If Maurice Bellière ever questioned the singular the place he held in the heart of Thérèse, reading this letter would put an end to all his doubts. It was the ninth one she wrote him, and the next would be her last. She was at the end of her strength now. In nine weeks she would die.
The letter is the longest she ever sent him, and writing it was a heavy drain on the little strength she had left. It was written over several days in little pieces, yet the flow of it is never interrupted. Maurice was much in her thoughts during those final days, and from time to time when her energy picked up a bit she went on with what he needed to be told. Most of all he needed to be assured of her love for him, and to have it to remember when she was gone.
These words implied much more than ordinary friendship, and reading them Maurice could not fail to realize that her love for him was special. Her love was human and deeply felt, and she wanted him to share what was most important in her life, her love for her Lord. This was her grand passion with everyone, but very specially with Maurice. She understood him, understood his human frailty, his weakness, and his needs. He was an open book to her, and she knew perfectly well what his reaction would be to the very first words of her letter: “How much pleasure your letter gave me!”
In this letter Thérèse revealed herself as a warm and sensitive human being, who knew how to share herself with another whom she trusted, admitting some of the pain she had experienced in her own family in order to encourage him in the obvious difficulties he himself had experienced in his. She was aware of Maurice’s limitations and very understanding of them. She did not expect him to be perfect and never took it as her mission to try to make him so. She had one mission: to convince him—and to convince the world—that “God is nothing but Mercy and Love.” She knew that in the end that is all he needed to know.
July 26, 1897
My dear little Brother,
How much pleasure your letter gave me! If Jesus has heard your prayers and prolonged my exile because of them, He has also lovingly heard mine, because you are resigned to giving up, as you put it, “my presence, my perceptible activity.” Ah! my brother, let me tell you something: the good God is saving some very delightful surprises for you who are not, as you wrote me, “very used to supernatural things.” As for me, I am not your little sister for nothing, and I promise you that after my departure for eternal life I will give you a taste of the happiness that can be found from feeling a friendly soul close by. Then it’s not going to be this correspondence, which leaves us more or less separated from each other and is always very incomplete, and which you seem to wish could continue. Rather, it will be the conversation of a brother and sister which will charm the angels, a conversation which others won’t be able to criticize because it will be hidden from them. Ah! how good it will seem for me to be freed from this mortal envelope which would force me, if—to suppose the impossible—I found myself in the presence of my dear little brother with a lot of people around us—to look at him as if he were a stranger, someone to whom I am indifferent!
Please, my brother, don’t imitate the Hebrews who hankered after “the onions of Egypt." I have for some while served you too much of this vegetable which makes one shed tears when we let it get too near our eyes before it is cooked. Now I dream of sharing with you “the hidden manna” which the Almighty has promised to give to “the victor.” It is precisely because it is hidden that this heavenly manna attracts you less than the “onions of Egypt.” But I am sure of one thing, that as soon as I shall be allowed to offer you a nourishment that is totally spiritual, you will no longer miss that which I would have given you if I had long remained on earth. Ah! your soul is too great to be attached to any consolation of this life on earth. It is in heaven that you must live in advance, for it is said: “Where your treasure is, there also is your heart.” Your unique treasure, is it not Jesus? Since He is in heaven, that is where your heart must dwell, and I tell you in all simplicity, my dear little brother, I think it will be easier for you to live with Jesus once I am there at His side forever.
It must be that you don’t know me at all well, if you are afraid that a detailed account of your faults could lessen the tenderness that I feel for your soul! O my brother, believe me that I shall not need to “put my hand over the mouth of Jesus.” He has forgotten your infidelities long ago. Only your desires for perfection remain to make His heart rejoice. I implore you, don’t drag yourself to His feet ever again. Follow that “first impulse which draws you into His arms.” That is where you belong and I have decided, now more so than from your other letters, that you are forbidden to go to heaven by any other road than the one your poor little sister travels.
I completely agree with you that “the heart of God is saddened more by the thousand little indelicacies of His friends than it is by the faults, even the grave ones, which people of the world commit.” But my dear little brother, it seems to me that it is only when his friends, ignoring their continual indelicacies, make a habit out of them and don’t ask forgiveness for them, that Jesus can utter those touching words which the Church puts on his lips in Holy Week: “These wounds you see in the palms of my hands are the ones I received in the house of those who loved me." For those who love Him, and after each fault come to ask pardon by throwing themselves into His arms, Jesus trembles with joy. He says to His angels what the father of the prodigal son said to his servants: “Put his best robe on him and put a ring on his finger, and let us rejoice” Ah! my brother, how the goodness of Jesus, His merciful love, are so little known! It is true that to enjoy these riches we must be humbled and recognize our nothingness, and that is what so many are not willing to do. But my little brother, that is not the way you behave, so the way of simple love and confidence is just made to order for you.
I wish you would be simple with God, but also … with me; does what I say surprise you? I raise the question because you ask my pardon for what you call your indiscretion in wanting to know whether, before she entered the convent, your sister was called Geneviève. That seems to me a perfectly natural question for you to ask, and to show you that I mean what I say I’m going to provide you with some details about my family, because you haven’t been very well informed.
The good God gave me a father and mother more worthy of Heaven than of earth. They asked the Lord to send them a lot of children and then to take them for Himself. The request was granted. Four little angels flew off to Heaven, and the five other children who remained took Jesus for their Spouse.
It was with heroic courage that my father, like a new Abraham, climbed the mountain of Carmel three times to immolate for God what he held most dear. First there were his two eldest. Then the third of his daughters, on the advice of her director and led by our incomparable father, made a try at the convent of the Visitation. (God was content with her offer of herself. Later on she went back to the world, where she lives as if she were in the cloister.) There remained for the Chosen One of God only two children, one eighteen years old and the other fourteen. This last one, “the little Thérèse,” asked him to let her go off to Carmel and obtained permission without difficulty from her good father, who pushed his kindness to the point of taking her first to Bayeux and then to Rome, in order to overcome the obstacles which were delaying the immolation of the one he called his Queen. When he had piloted her into port, he said to the only child he had left: “If you want to follow the example of your sisters I give you my consent; don’t be worried about me.” The angel who was to become the support of the old age of such a saint replied that after his departure for heaven she too would enter the cloister, which filled him with joy because he lived only for God.
But such a beautiful life had still to be crowned by a trial worthy of it. A short time after my departure, the father whom we so justly cherished was struck by an attack of paralysis, which affected his limbs and recurred several times. But it was not to stop there. That would have been too easy a trial, for the heroic patriarch had offered himself to the Lord as a victim. So the paralysis changed its course and settled in the dear head of the victim whom the Lord had accepted. Space is lacking for me to go into the touching details. I only want to tell you that we had to drink the chalice to the dregs and be separated for three years from our beloved father, leaving him in the hands of people who were Religious Sisters but nevertheless strangers to him. He accepted this trial, while at the same time he was well aware of the humiliation of it. He even pushed heroism so far that he would not ask God to be cured.
À Dieu, my dear little brother. I hope to write you again if the trembling in my hand doesn’t get any worse, for I’ve had to write this letter in several stages.
Your little sister, not “Geneviève” but “Thérèse” of the Infant Jesus and of the Holy Face.”
Excerpt From: Patrick Ahern. “Maurice and Therese.”