"Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them." — Saint Thérèse of Lisieux
One of the greatest spiritual classics ever written, this influential autobiography has been translated into nearly every language, capturing hearts and minds around the world. Simply written in clear, enchanting prose, this memoir reveals the path to true inner peace, for "Our Lord needs from us neither great deeds nor profound thoughts. Neither intelligence nor talents. He cherishes simplicity."
Born in France, young Thérèse Martin (1873–1897) entered the Carmel Convent of Lisieux at the age of fifteen. Also known as "the Little Flower," her autobiography, written at the request of her Carmelite Superiors in the last years of her life, includes poignant girlhood recollections and her teachings of "the little way of childhood." The "little way," inspired by the Gospel, places love at the very center of every action we take. Traditional yet unique, delicate yet heroic, Thérèse taught a shining spirituality that could easily be adapted into everyday life. Her divine words of acceptance and love are universal, and have gently led many people — both within the Catholic Church and outside of Christianity — back to their faith.
Saint Thérèse was canonized by Pope Pius XI in 1925. In 1997, she was proclaimed a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II.
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The Autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux
The Story of a Soul
By Michael Day
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
MY dearest Mother, it is to you, to you who are in fact a mother twice over to me, that I now confide the Story of my Soul. The day you asked me to do it, I thought it might be a distraction to me, but afterwards, Jesus made me realise that simple obedience would please Him best. So I am going to begin singing what I shall sing for ever, "the mercies of the Lord".
Before taking up my pen I knelt before the statue of Mary, the one which has given us so many proofs that the Queen of Heaven watches over us as a mother. I begged her to guide my hand so that I should write only what would please her; then, opening the Gospels, my eyes fell on these words: "Jesus, going up into a mountain, called unto Him whom He would Himself."
The mystery of my vocation, of my entire life, and, above all, of the special graces Jesus has given me, stood revealed. He does not call those who are worthy, but those He chooses to call. As St. Paul says: "God will have mercy on whom He will have mercy; so then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy."
For a long time I had wondered why God had preferences, why He did not give the same degree of grace to everyone. I was rather surprised that He should pour out such extraordinary graces on great sinners like St. Paul, St. Augustine and so many others, forcing His grace on them, so to speak. I was rather surprised, too, when reading the lives of the saints, to find Our Lord treating certain privileged souls with the greatest tenderness from the cradle to the grave, removing all obstacles from their upward path to Him, and preserving the radiance of their baptismal robe from the stains of sin. Also I wondered why so many poor savages die without even hearing Our Lord's name. Jesus chose to enlighten me on this mystery. He opened the book of nature before me, and I saw that every flower He has created has a beauty of its own; that the splendour of the rose and the lily's whiteness do not deprive the violet of its scent, nor make less ravishing the daisy's charm. I saw that if every little flower wished to be a rose, nature would lose her Spring adornments, and the fields would be no longer enamelled with their varied flowers.
So it is in the world of souls, the living garden of the Lord. It pleases Him to create great saints, who may be compared with the lilies or the rose; but He has also created little ones, who must be content to be daisies or violets nestling at His feet to delight His eyes when He should choose to look at them. The happier they are to be as He wills, the more perfect they are.
I saw something further; that Our Lord's love shines out just as much through a little soul who yields completely to His Grace as it does through the greatest. True love is shown in self-abasement, and if everyone were like the saintly doctors who adorn the Church, it would seem that God had not far enough to stoop when He came to them. But He has, in fact, created the child who knows nothing and can only make feeble cries; and the poor savage with only the natural law to guide him; and it is to hearts such as these that He stoops. What delights Him is the simplicity of these flowers of the field, and by stooping so low to them, He shows how infinitely great He is. Just as the sun shines equally on the cedar and the little flower, so the Divine Sun shines equally on everyone, great and small. Everything is ordered for their good, just as in nature the seasons are so ordered that the smallest daisy comes to bloom at its appointed time.
I expect you will be wondering, Mother, where all this is supposed to be leading, for so far I have not given you anything that looks much like my life-story—but you did tell me to write quite freely whatever came into my head! So you will not find my actual life in these pages so much as my thoughts on the graces Our Lord has given me.
I have reached the stage, now, where I can afford to look back; in the crucible of trials from within and without, my soul has been refined, and I can raise my head like a flower after a storm and see how the words of the Psalm have been fulfilled in my case. "The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall want nothing. He hath made me to lie in pastures green and pleasant; He hath led me gently beside the waters; He hath led my soul without fatigue, ... Yea, though I should go down into the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou, O Lord, art with me."
Yes, "the Lord hath always been compassionate and gentle with me, slow to punish and full of mercy." I feel really happy just to be able to tell you, Mother, of all the wonderful things He has done for me. Remember, I am writing the story of the little flower gathered by Jesus, for you alone, and so I can speak unreservedly, not bothering about the style, nor about the digressions I shall make; a mother's heart always understands, even when her child can do no more than lisp, so I am quite sure that you, who prepared my heart and offered it to Jesus, will certainly do so.
If a little flower could talk, it seems to me it would say what God has done for it quite simply and without concealment. It would not try to be humble by saying it was unattractive and without scent, that the sun had destroyed its freshness or the wind its stem, when all the time it knew it was quite the opposite.
This flower, in telling her story, is happy to make known all the gifts that Jesus has given her. She knows quite well that He could not have been attracted by anything she had of her own. Purely out of mercy, He gave these gifts. It was He who caused her to be born on soil which had been abundantly blessed, where eight radiant lilies already bloomed, and where the fragrance of purity was ever about her. In His love He wished to preserve her from the world's foul breath, and her petals were scarcely open when He transplanted her to the mountain of Carmel, to Mary's garden of delight.
Having told you so briefly what God has done for me, I will tell you in detail of my childhood. It may seem rather a dull story here and there, I know; but as you shared it all, as I grew up at your side, as we shared the same saintly parents and together enjoyed their tenderness and care, I am sure it will not be without charm to your maternal heart.
I only hope they will bless their youngest child now and help her to sing the Divine mercies.
The story of my soul before I entered Carmel can be divided into three definite periods. The first, though a short one, is rich in memories, and extends from the dawn of reason to Mother's death—or in other words, until I was four years and eight months old. God graced me with intelligence at a very early age, and He so engraved the events of my childhood on my memory that it seems they happened only yesterday. Jesus wished, no doubt, that I should know and appreciate what a wonderful mother He had given to me, but sad to say, it was not long before His Divine Hand took her from me to be with Him in Heaven. He has surrounded me with love all my life; the first things I can remember are tender smiles and caresses, and while surrounding me with all this love He gave me a warm and sensitive heart to respond to it. No one can imagine how I loved Father and Mother; I showed my affection for them in thousands of ways, for I was very demonstrative, and I can't help smiling, even now, when I think of some of the means which I used.
You let me keep the letters which Mother sent you when you were a boarder at the Visitation Convent of Le Mans. I remember quite clearly the incidents they referred to, but it is much easier just to quote certain passages of these charming letters. Dictated by a mother's love, they are often far too flattering to me. As an example of the way I used to show my affection for my parents, take this letter of Mother's:
"Baby is such a little imp. In the midst of caressing me, she wishes I were dead! 'Poor darling Mummie, I do wish you were dead!' She is quite astonished when I scold her, and excuses herself by saying, 'It's only because then you will go to Heaven; you told me that you have to die to go there!' In the same way, she wishes her Father was dead, when her love gets the better of her.
"The little darling never wants to leave me. She always keeps close by me, and loves to follow me about, especially when I go out in the garden. She refuses to stay when I am not there, and cries so much that she has to be brought in. Similarly, she will not go upstairs by herself, without calling to me at each step, 'Mother! Mother!' As many 'Mothers' as there are steps! And if by chance I forget to answer even once 'Yes, darling', she stops just where she is, and won't go up or down."
I was almost three when she wrote:
"Little Thérèse asked me the other day if she is going to Heaven. 'Yes, if you're good, darling', I replied. 'If I am not', she said, 'I suppose I shall go to hell. If so, I know what I will do. I will fly away to you, because you will be in Heaven—then you will hold me tight in your arms. God could not take me away then!' I could see by her face that she was quite sure God could not do anything to her if she was hidden in her mother's arms.
"Marie loves her little sister dearly. She is such a joy to all of us, and so utterly sincere. It is charming to see her running after me to confess: 'Mother, I pushed Céline once, and smacked her once, but I won't do it again.'
"As soon as she has done the least thing wrong, everyone has to know about it. Yesterday, by accident, she tore a little corner off the wallpaper and got into a pitiful state. She wanted to tell her father about it as soon as possible. By the time he came home four hours later, everyone else had forgotten all about it; but she ran to Marie saying, 'Quick! Tell Father that I tore the paper.' She stood like a criminal awaiting sentence, but she had got the idea into her little head that he would forgive her more easily if she accused herself."
Father's name naturally brings back certain very happy memories. When he came home, I always used to run up to him and seat myself on one of his boots; he would then walk about with me like this wherever I wished, about the house and out in the garden. Mother used to laugh and say he would do whatever I wanted. "That is as it should be," he replied. "She is the queen." Then he used to take me in his arms, lift me up high to sit on his shoulder, and make a tremendous fuss of me.
But I can't say he spoilt me. I remember one day very well. I was playing on the swing when he happened to be going by, and he called out to me: "Come and give me a kiss, my little queen." I did not want to move and—what was quite unlike me—answered mischievously, "You will have to come over here for it, Father!" He was wise enough to take no notice. Marie was there. "You naughty little thing," she said, "how can you be so rude to your father! Get off at once." I did get off my swing at once; I had really learned my lesson, and the whole house echoed with my cries of contrition. I ran upstairs and this time I did not call Mother at every step. I thought only of finding Father and making everything up; and that did not take very long.
I couldn't bear to think I had hurt my darling parents and used to admit my faults at once. The following account of Mother's will show how true this was: "One morning I wanted to kiss little Thérèse before going downstairs, but she seemed to be sound asleep, and I did not want to wake her up, until Marie said: 'Mother, I'm sure she is only pretending to be asleep'. I stooped down close to kiss her, but she hid herself under the sheet, and said with the air of a spoilt child: 'I don't want anyone to see me.' I was far from being pleased, and let her know it. Not two minutes had gone by before I heard crying, and soon, to my surprise, there she was by me. She had got out of her cot by herself, and stumbled all the way downstairs in her bare feet, wearing a nightie far too long for her. Her little face was covered with tears, and burying her head in my lap she cried: 'Oh, Mother, I've been very bad; please forgive me.' She was forgiven at once. I took my little angel in my arms, held her to my heart, and showered kisses on her."
I remember how very fond I was of my Godmother who had just finished at the Visitation. Without showing it, I took in everything that was going on around me, and all that was said, and think I passed the same sort of judgment on things as I do now. I listened very carefully to everything she taught Céline, and used to do whatever she told me if only she would let me stay in the room while lessons were going on. In her turn, she was always giving me presents, and though they were not of much value, they gave me immense pleasure.
I was very proud of my two big sisters; but you seemed far away so I used to dream of you from morning till night. When I was just beginning to talk, Mother used to ask me: "What are you thinking about?" and my answer was always the same, "Pauline". Sometimes I heard it said that you were going to be a nun, and without quite knowing what that meant, I said to myself: "I shall be a nun too." That is one of the first things I can remember, and I have never changed my mind since. So it was your example which drew me to the Spouse of Virgins when I was only two! I could tell you so much of what you have meant to me, Mother, only I am afraid I should never stop.
Darling Léonie had a big place in my heart too, and she loved me. When she came home from school in the evening she used to take care of me while everyone else went for a walk. Even now I can almost hear the little songs she used to sing so sweetly to lull me to sleep. I can remember her First Communion very clearly, and I can remember her companion too; she was poor, and following the custom of the well-to-do families of Alençon, Mother had dressed her. This child did not leave Leonie's side for a moment that wonderful day; and at the grand dinner in the evening she was given the place of honour. I was too young to stay up, unfortunately, but I was not left out of the feast altogether, for Father, out of the goodness of his heart, came up to me during the dessert to bring his little queen a piece of the First Communion cake.
Last of all I must tell you about Céline, who shared my childhood. I have so many memories of her that I do not know which to choose first. We both understood each other perfectly, but I was more lively and much less naive than she was. Here is a letter which will remind you how good Céline was. It was when I was about three and Céline six and a half.
"Céline seems to be quite naturally good, but as for the other little monkey, I don't know what is to become of her, she is such a little madcap. She is intelligent enough, but not nearly so docile as her sister. When she says 'no' nothing can make her change, and she can be terribly obstinate. You could keep her down in the cellar all day without getting a 'yes' out of her; she would rather sleep there."
I had one fault Mother does not mention in her letters. I was very proud, and here are only two examples of it:
One day, wishing to see just how far my pride would take me, she said to me laughingly: "If you will kiss the ground, Thérèse, I will give you a halfpenny." A half-penny was a fortune to me in those days, and I did not have to stoop far to get it; I was so small that the ground was quite near. All the same, my pride was up in arms, and drawing myself up to my full height I replied: "No, Mother! I'd rather go without the halfpenny." The other time was when we were going to some friends in the country. Mother told Marie to put on my nicest dress, but not to let me have my arms bare. I did not say a word, and tried to seem as indifferent about it as I should have been at that age, but inwardly I was saying to myself: "Why? I should look so much prettier if I had my arms bare."
With tendencies like these, had I not been brought up by such wonderful parents, I am quite sure I should have gone from bad to worse, and probably ended up by losing my soul. But Jesus was watching over His little bride, and drew good even out of her faults, for as they were corrected very early, they helped her to grow more and more perfect.
I had a love for virtue, but I was proud too, so I only had to be told once: "You mustn't do that," and I never wanted to do it again. I am glad to see from Mother's letters that I became more of a consolation to her as I grew older. With only good example about me, it was only natural that I should tend to follow it. This is how she wrote in 1876: "Even Thérèse wants to start making sacrifices now. Marie has given each of the little ones a chaplet on which they can keep count of their good deeds. They have real spiritual conferences together. It is most amusing. Céline asked the other day: 'How can God get into such a little Host?' Thérèse answered her: 'It's not surprising, since Our Lord is almighty.' 'What does almighty mean?' 'It means He can do whatever he wants.' But the most charming thing of all is to see Therese slip her hand into her pocket time and time again, and move a bead along as she makes some sacrifice.
Excerpted from The Autobiography of Thérèse of Lisieux by Michael Day. Copyright © 2014 Dover Publications, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Dover Publications, Inc..
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Table of Contents
For Mother Agnes of Jesus
For Mother Marie de Gonzague
For Sister Marie of The Sacred Heart