Now she had her first and only experiences. I feel that my heart is easily caught by tenderness, and where others fall, I would fall too. We are no stronger than the others".
On 9 April she became a Carmelite postulant. In two nuns from the Poitiers Carmel had been sent out to found the house of Lisieux. Almost all of the sisters came from the petty bourgeois and artisan class. The Prioress and Novice Mistress were of old Normandy nobility. Probably the Martin sisters alone represented the new class of the rising bourgeoisie". The nuns of Lisieux followed a strict regimen that allowed for only one meal a day for seven months of the year, and little free time.
Only one room of the building was heated. The times of silence and of solitude were many but the foundress had also planned for time for work and relaxation in common—the austerity of the life should not hinder sisterly and joyful relations. Founded in , the Carmel of Lisieux in had 26 religious, from very different classes and backgrounds. This peace has remained with me during the eight and a half years of my life here, and has never left me even amid the greatest trials".
Now she had entered that desert. Though she was now reunited with Marie and Pauline, from the first day she began her struggle to win and keep her distance from her sisters. And when her cousin Marie Guerin also entered, she employed the two together in the sacristy. She saw her sisters together only in the hours of common recreation after meals. At such times she would sit down beside whomever she happened to be near, or beside a nun whom she had observed to be downcast, disregarding the tacit and sometimes expressed sensitivity and even jealousy of her biological sisters.
I did not come to Carmel to be with my sisters; on the contrary, I saw clearly that their presence would cost me dear, for I was determined not to give way to nature. She wrote, "Illusions, the Good Lord gave me the grace to have none on entering Carmel.
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I found religious life as I had figured, no sacrifice astonished me. She chose a spiritual director, a Jesuit , Father Pichon. At their first meeting, 28 May , she made a general confession going back over all her past sins. She came away from it profoundly relieved. The priest who had himself suffered from scruples , understood her and reassured her.
On 4 July , she confided to Pauline, 'Father Pichon treated me too much like a child; nonetheless he did me a lot of good too by saying that I never committed a mortal sin. Sister St Vincent de Paul, the finest embroiderer in the community made her feel awkward and even called her 'the big nanny goat'. Pauline, the shortest, was no more than 1.
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Like all religious she discovered the ups and downs related to differences in temperament, character, problems of sensitivities or infirmities. After nine years she wrote plainly, "the lack of judgment, education, the touchiness of some characters, all these things do not make life very pleasant. I know very well that these moral weaknesses are chronic, that there is no hope of cure". But the greatest suffering came from outside Carmel. On 23 June , Louis Martin disappeared from his home and was found days later, in the post office in Le Havre.
The incident marked the onset of her father's decline. He died on July 29, From that time she wore the 'rough homespun and brown scapular , white wimple and veil, leather belt with rosary , woollen 'stockings', rope sandals". She wrote, "I applied myself especially to practice little virtues, not having the facility to perform great ones She absorbed the work of John of the Cross , spiritual reading uncommon at the time, especially for such a young nun. John of the Cross!
When I was seventeen and eighteen, I had no other spiritual nourishment Passages from these writings are woven into everything she herself said and wrote. With the new name a Carmelite receives when she enters the Order, there is always an epithet — example, Teresa of Jesus, Elizabeth of the Trinity , Anne of the Angels. The epithet singles out the Mystery which she is supposed to contemplate with special devotion. In itself, veneration of the childhood of Jesus was a Carmelite heritage of the seventeenth century — it concentrated upon the staggering humiliation of divine majesty in assuming the shape of extreme weakness and helplessness.
During the course of her novitiate, contemplation of the Holy Face was said to have nourished her inner life. This is an image representing the disfigured face of Jesus during the Passion. She meditated on certain passages from the prophet Isaiah Chapter Six weeks before her death she remarked to Pauline, "The words in Isaiah: 'no stateliness here, no majesty, no beauty, I, too, wanted to be without comeliness and beauty, unknown to all creatures.
Usually the novitiate preceding profession lasted a year.
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She would spend eight months longer than the standard year as an unprofessed novice. It was not until 8 September , aged 17 and a half, that she made her religious profession. The retreat in anticipation of her "irrevocable promises" was characterized by "absolute aridity" and on the eve of her profession she gave way to panic. She worried that "What she wanted was beyond her.
Her vocation was a sham". Reassured by the novice mistress and mother Marie de Gonzague, the next day her religious profession went ahead, 'an outpouring of peace flooded my soul, "that peace which surpasseth all understanding" Phil. Let nobody be occupied with me, let me be looked upon as one to be trampled underfoot Jesus, allow me to save very many souls; let no soul be lost today; let all the souls in purgatory be saved..
The years which followed were a maturation. She accepted criticism in silence, even unjust criticisms, and smiled at the sisters who were unpleasant to her. She always prayed for priests, and in particular for Father Hyacinthe Loyson , a famous preacher who had been a Sulpician and a Dominican novice before becoming a Carmelite and provincial of his order, but who had left the Catholic Church in Three years later he married a young Protestant widow, with whom he had a son.
After his excommunication, he continued to travel around France giving lectures. She offered her last communion, 19 August , for Father Loyson. The chaplain to the Carmel, Father Youf, insisted a lot on the fear of Hell. The preachers during spiritual retreats at that time emphasised sin, the sufferings of purgatory , and those of hell.
This confirmed her own intuitions.
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She wrote, "My soul was like a book which the priest read better than I did. He launched me full sail on the waves of confidence and love which held such an attraction for me, but upon which I had not dared to venture. He told me that my faults did not offend God. She said, "But it is especially the Gospels which sustain me during my hours of prayer, for in them I find what is necessary for my poor little soul.
I am constantly discovering in them new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings.
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She looked directly for the word of Jesus, which shed light on her prayers and on her daily life. If asked where she lived, she would pause and quote, "The foxes have their lairs, the birds of heaven their nests, but I have no place to rest my head. Like Zacchaeus , we climbed a tree to see Jesus and now let us listen to what he is saying to us. Make haste to descend, I must lodge today at your house. Well, Jesus tells us to descend? She repeated how important respect for the Rule was: "When any break the rule, this is not a reason to justify ourselves.
Each must act as if the perfection of the Order depended on her personal conduct. She said, "When you stop watching the infallible compass [of obedience], as quickly the mind wanders in arid lands where the water of grace is soon lacking. Over the next few years she revealed a talent for clarifying doctrine to those who had not received as much education as she. A kaleidoscope, whose three mirrors transform scraps of coloured paper into beautiful designs, provided an inspired illustration for the Holy Trinity.
Jesus, who regards us through the little lens, that is to say, through Himself, always sees beauty in everything we do. But if we left the focus of inexpressible love, what would He see? Bits of straw … dirty, worthless actions". When I think how much I have to acquire! Jesus Himself will fill your soul with treasures in the same measure that you move your imperfections out of the way. How wonderful! It was an effective means of achieving interior poverty, a way to remove a place to rest her head" . As a novice she would always have to ask permission of the other, full sisters.
She would never be elected to any position of importance. Remaining closely associated with the other novices, she could continue to care for her spiritual charges. In Jules Michelet devoted the major part of the fifth volume of his History of France to a favourable presentation of the epic of Joan of Arc. However, by the end of , six years as a Carmelite made her realize how small and insignificant she felt.
She saw the limitations of all her efforts. She remained small and very far off from the unfailing love that she would wish to practice. She is said to have understood then that it was from insignificance that she had to learn to ask God's help. She was struck by another passage from the Book of Isaiah : "you shall be carried at the breasts, and upon the knees they shall caress you. As one whom the mother caresseth, so will I comfort you. Not until Manuscript C of her autobiography did she give this discovery the name of little way , "petite voie".
I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way—very short and very straight little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection.
To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less. In her quest for sanctity and in order to attain holiness and to express her love of God , she believed that it was not necessary to accomplish heroic acts or great deeds.
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