Abandonment to God's Will

On your Journey to Sainthood perhaps the best tool we can present is Abandonment of Divine Providence or God's Will.

So many of the Super Saints have used this tool. Saints like Francis of Assisi, Teresa of Avila, John Vianney, Saint Louis Marie de Montfort...

Today we want to consider Saint Therese of Lisieux

 

 Abandonment became the key word of her Religious Life. The Catholic Encyclopedia describes Abandonment as follows:

“It refers specifically to the first stage of the progression of the soul toward union with God whereby futility is found in all other than God.

. . . it involves a passive purification of the soul through willingly undergoing trials and sufferings and leads to a surrender of natural consolations . . .”

In an effort to practice her little way of abandonment, she constantly had to fight off the desires of her sisters to baby her and give her special treatment as they had done at home in Les Buissonnets. She had to go out of her way to avoid them, so as not to allow them to spoil her as they had done since she was an infant.  

Thérèse had determination, and a strong will. When she decided she wanted something, nothing could stand in her way. A case in point was her decision to enter the Carmel, after her sisters Pauline and Marie. She was up against insurmountable odds. First off, she was fourteen years old. Secondly, Teresa La Grande, Foundress of the Discalced Carmelites, had made a rule that no more than two from a family could be in the same Community. This Thérèse La Petite wanted to buck the wisdom of one of the greatest Saints in history, and the Mother of their Order, Teresa of Avila. But as we mentioned, when Thérèse put her mind to something, look out!

Her first obstacle was her father. She had to get his permission. Emotionally, this may have been her most difficult task. She loved this man so much, and he adored her. She knew he would be heartbroken to lose his little “Princess”. But the Lord was calling her.

Louis Martin had suffered a stroke shortly before the day that Thérèse had chosen to drop her bomb on him. He was tired and weak. In addition, the middle daughter, Léonie, the only one who did not enter the Carmelite order, was vacillating back and forth with a vocation. She had only recently returned from an unsuccessful attempt to enter the Poor Clares, and was now asking for permission to enter the Visitation Order.

Considering all that was happening, someone with less courage than Thérèse would have chosen some other, more opportune time to approach her father. But that would not have been Thérèse. She waited until after dinner on a Sunday evening, and took her father out to the garden in back of the house at Les Buissonnets. They sat on a bench. She held his hands, and looked deeply into his eyes. He didn’t stand a chance. His only objection was that she was so young. But she convinced him that her calling was truly of the Lord. He didn’t actually tell her what he was feeling. He did not want to lose this precious diamond, his little “Princess”. But he thanked our Dear Lord for the honor bestowed on him that all his girls would be serving Him in Community.

Thérèse was not looking forward to her confrontation with her second obstacle, her uncle Isidore, Zélie’s brother. He and his wife had been very active in the upbringing of the Martin girls after his sister’s death. Thérèse, who had an urgency to enter the Carmel, waited for six months after getting permission from her father, before broaching the subject with her uncle. She was somewhat intimidated by him. She had good reason. He turned her down immediately. It was ridiculous, he said, for a girl of her young years to think she had a Religious vocation. He insisted she wait until she was at least seventeen.

Thérèse was crushed. She went into deep depression. She says of that time,

“. . . it was night everywhere, the dark night of the soul; I felt, like Our Lord in His agony, that I was quite alone, without anyone in Heaven or on earth to console me; God Himself seemed to have abandoned me.”

Her sister Pauline noticed her depression during one of Thérèse’s visits to the parlor of the Carmel. She had never been so low. Even Thérèse could not understand why. Pauline decided to write a letter to her uncle, who valued her opinion greatly. As soon as he received her letter, his heart opened, and he gave his consent for Thérèse to enter the Carmel.

Obstacle three was one which she probably never quite overcame. It was Fr. Delatroette, who had been the Superior of the Carmel since before she was born. Word came to Thérèse that he would not even consider a child of her age entering the Convent. He gave twenty one as the minimum age for entering.

The next day, Thérèse charged down to the Priest’s office, with her father and Céline as support. Remember, now, she was only fourteen at this point. Fr. Delatroette would not budge. His decision was final. But he made a mistake. He left the door open. He should have known his adversary better. His parting words were, “Of course, the final decision rests with the Bishop. If he agrees.”

Thérèse jumped on this. Her father, knowing in advance what her next step would be, and to stop the floodgate of tears which had begun as they left the Priest’s office, volunteered to take her to see the Bishop. In a dramatic gesture, the future Saint made a prophecy,

“I said I’d go to the Holy Father himself if the Bishop of Bayeux wouldn’t let me enter the Carmel at fifteen.”

 As she was preparing to meet her fifth obstacle, Pope Leo XIII. The audience line was very long that Sunday, November 20, 1887. Thérèse felt her whole life hinged on what she said to the Pope. She and Céline were on the back of the line of the group from their 23

Diocese. Men were on one line, ladies on the other; so, the girls were separated from their father. Thérèse’s little heart pounded as she got closer and closer to the Pope. She could see that His Holiness said something to each of the pilgrims before her. She knew she would have her chance to speak to him. Suddenly, word came down the line that he was getting tired, and there would be no more conversation. They were to kneel, kiss his ring, and move on. Thérèse’s heart dropped. It was all over. But her older sister, Céline urged her on. “Speak!” she ordered.

The Bishop of Bayeux, who had not gone on Pilgrimage to Rome, appointed Fr. Révérony as his emissary. Father was standing next to His Holiness, introducing the people to him, and generally keeping the line moving. Thérèse had to pass by him. He gave her a stern look. He had a feeling she wanted to petition the Pope. Thérèse knelt, kissed the Pontiff’s slipper, and then pleaded with him. “Most Holy Father,” she said, “I have a great favor to ask of you.”

The Pope looked at her inquisitively, and then bent down to hear her request. By this time tears were running down her face.

“Most Holy Father, in honor of your jubilee, (nice touch Thérèse) I want you to let me enter the Carmelite order at fifteen.”

Either the Pope didn’t hear her, or didn’t understand the meaning of what she said. He turned to the Priest, Fr. Révérony for an explanation. The Priest glared at Thérèse. “This child here is anxious to enter Carmel at fifteen, and her Superiors are looking into the matter at this moment.”

Pope Leo XIII looked kindly at the angelic face, so full of hope that he would grant her request. “Very well, my child, do what your Superiors tell you.”

She grabbed both his legs, and would not let go. “But if you’d say the word, Most Holy Father, everybody would agree.”

The guards gave her a ceremonial tap on the shoulders, which meant to move on. She didn’t budge. The Pope said,

“All’s well; all’s well. If God wants you to enter, you will.”

We get the impression from Thérèse’s writing that she didn’t feel the tap from the guards. At any rate, she kept her grip on the Pope’s knees. Finally, the guards lifted her bodily, aided by the Priest, Fr. Révérony, who was furious. They literally had to drag her out of the audience room.24

The incident was reported in a local newspaper, and as a result, every attempt to plead Thérèse’s cause back home was met with hostility. Everyone went to bat for her, including Mother Marie de Gonzague, and Mother Geneviéve, both of the Carmel in Lisieux, and her uncle Isidore. Everyone failed. Even Thérèse wrote a letter to the Bishop, pleading her own case. She heard nothing. She had wanted to be accepted before Christmas of 1887, but nothing came in the mail. She finally gave up that idea.

Christmas Day was a tearful day for Thérèse. She had wanted so badly to celebrate it from behind the Grille at the Carmel. But that was not to be. After she returned home from a visit to her sister Pauline at the Carmel, she found a little bowl in her room with a ship in it. On the ship, the baby Jesus lay, with a ball next to Him; a single word appeared, “Self-Abandonment”. Six days later, on January 1, 1888, she was to receive word from the Carmel that she had been accepted. The Bishop had given his permission.

Nowhere do we read that Thérèse quite understood what had really happened. We have to believe that she did, because of her great wisdom and sensitivity. We know that she was so in tune with the Lord that it must have become clear what Jesus was doing with all the struggles Thérèse experienced in her quest for admission into the Carmel, all seemingly to no avail. Possibly because her gift of acceptance had been mixed with yet another obstacle, a delay proposed by her own sister Pauline, she never thought to expound on how the Lord had worked in her life.

Thérèse had used everything she knew to try to get what she wanted, when she wanted it. She used all her ingenuity, all the tears that had worked on previous occasions, the pouting, the manipulating and maneuvering, and none of it worked. Her final grandstand play, the disaster of the audience with the Pope, seemed to clinch it for her. She had failed! Even after that, her Uncle Isidore, Mother Genevieve and Mother Marie De Gonzague sent a barrage of pleas for her admittance, but all in vain.

Then, when all her human efforts had failed, when she was at the end of her rope for ideas on how she could make it happen, she had received a word of knowledge, Self-Abandonment. It was as if, after all the amateurs had struck out, the Lord, the Power of all, had just touched the heart of the Bishop, and everything fell into place. Permission had been granted.

We believe He wanted Thérèse to know, and subsequently, us, His Children, that He is the Power. We are nothing, and capable of nothing. All our wheeling and dealing is worthless. He wants us to get out of the way, and turn the power over to Him. And then watch the results!

 Saint Therese of Lisieux

 

 


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