St. Thèrése’s Last Christmas as a Child
“…God had to perform a miracle on a small scale to make me group up’ grow up all in a moment. And the occasion He chose for it was Christmas, that night of illumination which somehow lights up for us the inner life of the Blessed Trinity. Our Lord, newly born, turned this darkness of mine into a flood of light; born to share my human weakness. He brought me the strength and courage I needed. He armed me so well, that holy night that I never looked back.”
St. Thèrése, the Little Flower, God’s bundle of love and energy and joy, had to go through her dark night of the soul at a very early age, four to be exact. Her mother, whom she loved dearly, and who was so close to her, died after a long illness.
Almost immediately, the loving, outgoing, beautiful child became introverted, frightened, closed from the whole world except her family. She spent the next nine years in deep depression. The slightest look, or cross word, could send her running off to her room, in tears. She feared being separated from her family. She was traumatized by going to school at the local Benedictine Convent in Lisieux. She refused to grow up.
“Yes, it was on December the twenty-fifth, 1886, that I was given the grace to leave my childhood days behind; call it, if you will the grace to complete conversion. We’d just got back from Midnight Mass, in which Our Lord had come to me with all His strength and vigor. On such occasions, there was a treat in store for me at Les Buissonnets (Thèrése’s home). I would go off to find my Christmas boot (Lace or button boots which were set out in a row in front of the empty grate and filled by the parents with sweets made in a variety of shapes – pipes, mice, pigs, etc.) in the chimney corner; we’d loved this so much in our childhood that Celine went on treating me as if I were a baby, being the youngest. Papa was always so fond of seeing my happiness, and listening to my cries of delight as the magic boot revealed, one after another, my surprise presents, and part of my enjoyment was the pleasure he took in it. But this time, Our Lord meant to show me that I ought to be getting rid of my childish defects; so this innocent joy was denied me and he allowed Papa to be the means of my disappointment. He, Papa, was tired after the Midnight Mass, and the sight of my boots in the chimney corner annoyed him. Imagine my distress when I overheard him saying: ‘Well, thank goodness it’s the last year this is going to happen!’
“Our Lord meant to show me that I ought to be getting rid of my childish defects.”
I was going upstairs at the moment, to take off my hat. Celine, who know how touchy I was, saw my eyes shining with tears, and was ready to cry herself; in her loving sympathy, she knew exactly what I was feeling. ‘Oh Thèrése, don’t go down just yet; it’ll only make you miserable looking inside your boots now!’ But she didn’t know the Thèrése she was dealing with; Our Lord had changed me into a different person. I dried my tears and went down at once; my heart was beating fast, but I managed to get hold of my boots and put them down in front of Papa, and as I took out my presents you would have thought that I was as happy as a queen. Papa smiled, his good humor restored, and Celine thought she must be dreaming. But no, it was a sublime reality; little Thèrése had recovered the strength of mind which she’d lost at four and half, and recovered it for good.”
Thèrése was a suffering servant of Jesus all her life. She was not aware of it while she was experiencing it, but He was preparing her for the Kingdom, and for the work He would have her do, from her very earliest age.
Her mother died when she was four years old. Thèrése didn’t want to give her mother up. The Lord asked her for self-abandonment from the very beginning. Thèrése began to develop her “Little Way” from that early age. But it wasn’t until that Christmas of 1886, in that one instant, that she realized Jesus was asking her to give up her mother and her childhood together. None of her family, with possible exception of Celine, had any idea what a high place she had reached with that one act of self-abandonment. No one was aware, not even she, that this would give her the courage she would need to go back down into the valley, and accept all the valleys in her life.
“If you would be perfect…”
There’s a strong message in this, which comes across loud and clear. The Lord had a reason for asking this act of abandonment from Thèrése. And Thèrése said “Yes” to the Lord. The reason was most likely us, you and me. The walk towards Jesus is full of boulders to climb, big obstacles which we have to overcome. Strangely enough, these are the easiest to surmount. It’s after we’ve given up the obvious things that Jesus wants, that we find ourselves walking on small rocks and pebbles, twisting our ankles as we go along. It becomes the small things, which we never thought of as being obstacles to our relationship with Jesus. It becomes attitudes, prejudices, and judgments that Jesus asks us to give Him. These little things are sometimes the most difficult to turn over to Him. “If you would be perfect…”
Thèrése fought her natural instincts all her life to walk the road to perfection. She invites us to do the same. We never really get there, until we meet Jesus in the Kingdom. But the Journey is what He asks from us. Thèrése gave these two important things, her mother and her childhood, to Jesus as a Christmas present.
Do you have a Christmas present to giveJesus this year for His Birthday?