On September 1898, Mother Agnes of Jesus and Mother Marie of Gonzague, prioress of the Carmelite convent in Lisieux, published a 476-page book, to be sent to all Carmelite convents in France. A first print run of 2,000 copies was ordered. The title of the book? Story of a Soul.
Mother Agnes of Jesus –whose name, before taking the Carmelite vows, was Pauline– had compiled all the manuscripts by her late sister and also a Carmelite nun, Therese, who had passed from tuberculosis at age 24, the year before. Mother Agnes edited the compilation, made some spelling corrections, and removed some paragraphs. She also divided the manuscripts in chapters, and added some poems and letters written by Little Therese, as she would affectionately call her. She and Mother Marie were afraid that the first edition of Therese’s writings, financed by a donor, might not otherwise be well received by audiences.
To their surprise, a second edition of 4,000 copies was made, soon followed by a third. In 1901, the first translated edition was printed. Soon, a guard had to be placed at the tomb of the “Little Saint” in Lisieux to protect it from deterioration by the scores of pilgrims who, after reading Story of a Soul, traveled to get closer to “The Little Flower” and pray before her. This book has been since an instrument for conversion and healing in many parts of the world. In 1956, the original, unaltered manuscripts were published by order of Pope Pious XII. The true voice of Saint Therese of Lisieux could finally be heard.
In 1895 (two years before Therese’s death) Pauline, who was by then the prioress at the convent, asked Little Therese to write about her life and her memories. They all knew by then that Therese was indeed a saint, and something told them she would not live much longer. Therese refused at first, but started writing out of obedience to the Mother prioress.
Little Therese described her life in relation to the Word of God and in relation to the “little way” that she had discovered to walk towards Him, despite her self-described “inability” to do heroic and grandiose gestures to show Jesus how much she loved him.
St. Therese believed that the people of her time lived in too great fear of God’s judgment. She knew from her life and the scriptures that God is merciful love. In fact, St. Therese once wrote that she could not understand how anyone could be afraid of a God who became a child. She also knew that she would never be perfect. Therefore, she went to God as a child approaches a parent with open arms and a profound trust, always trying to please him doing “little things” with love. Helping others with a smile and with no delay when being asked, for example.
Later, the new prioress Mother Marie de Gonzague saw Therese’s manuscripts and, deeming them as spiritually beneficial to many others, ordered her to continue writing. St. Therese of Lisieux, canonized in 1925, left a narration of three distinct stages of her life. A life filled with love towards God and neighbor that inspires and motivates the readers to follow St. Therese’s “little way”.
Quotable quotes from History of a Soul of Saint Therese of Lisieux:
I had angels on earth who chose books for me.
There are things that if exposed to the air lose their perfume, and there are feelings of the soul that cannot be translated into the language of the earth without losing their intimate and heavenly meaning.
God would never inspire me with desires which cannot be realized.