“Jesus set before me the book of nature.”
–Writings on nature from the autobiography of St. Therese, Story of a Soul–
Ah! How quickly those sunny years passed by, those years of my childhood, but what a sweet imprint they have left on my soul! I recall the days Papa used to bring us to the pavilion; the smallest details are impressed in my heart. I recall especially the Sunday walks when Mamma used to accompany us. I still feel the profound and poetic impressions which were born in my soul at the sight of fields enameled with corn-flowers and all types of wild flowers. Already I was in love with the wide-open spaces. Space and the gigantic fir trees, the branches sweeping down to the ground, left in my heart an impression similar to the one I experience still today at the sight of nature.
JESUS DEIGNED TO teach me this mystery. He set before me the book of nature; I understood how all the flowers He has created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. And so it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He willed to create great souls comparable to lilies and roses, but He has created smaller ones and these must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be.
Above Painting of Jesus by St. Therese for her sister Celine
JUST AS THE sun shines simultaneously on the tall cedars and on each little flower as though it were alone on the earth, so Our Lord is occupied particularly with each soul as though there were no others like it. And just as in nature all the seasons are arranged in such a way as to make the humblest daisy bloom on a set day, in the same way, everything works out for the good of each soul.
I WAS HAPPY to see Papa coming to fetch us. When we were on the way home, I would gaze upon the stars which were twinkling ever so peacefully in the skies and the sight carried me away. There was especially one cluster of golden pearls which attracted my attention and gave me great joy because they were in the form of a -T-. I pointed them out to Papa and told him my name was written in heaven. Then desiring to look no longer at this dull earth, I asked him to guide my steps; and not looking where I placed my feet I threw back my head, giving myself over completely to the contemplation of the star-studded firmament!
GOD REJOICES MORE in what He can do in a soul humbly resigned to its poverty than in the creation of millions of suns and the vast stretch of the heavens.
AH! IF GOD had not showered His beneficent rays upon His little flower, she could never have accustomed herself to earth, for she was too weak to stand up against the rains and the storms. She needed warmth, a gentle dew, and the springtime breezes. Never were these lacking. Jesus had her find them beneath the snow of trial!
NEVER WILL I forget the impression the sea made upon me; I couldn’t take my eyes off it since its majesty, the roaring of its waves, everything spoke to my soul of God’s grandeur and power.
WITH ENRAPTURED GAZE we beheld the white moon rising quietly behind the tall trees, the silvery rays it was casting upon sleeping nature, the bright stars twinkling in the deep skies, the light breath of the evening breeze making the snowy clouds float easily along; all this raised our souls to heaven.
I HAVE NOTICED in all the serious circumstances of my life that nature always reflected the image of my soul. On days filled with tears the heavens cried along with me; on days of joy the sun sent forth its joyful rays in profusion and the blue skies were not obscured by a single cloud.
BEFORE REACHING…the goal of our pilgrimage, we were given the opportunity of contemplating many marvels. First there was Switzerland with its mountains whose summits were lost in the clouds, its graceful waterfalls gushing forth in a thousand different ways, its deep valleys literally covered with gigantic ferns and scarlet heather. Ah! Mother, how much good these beauties of nature, poured out in such profusion, did my soul. They raised it to heaven…. There was, farther on, a huge lake gilded by the sun’s rays, its calm waters blending their azure tints with the fires of the setting sun. All this presented to our enraptured gaze the most poetic and enchanting spectacle one could possibly imagine. And at the end of the vast horizon, we perceived mountains whose indistinct contours would have escaped us had not their snowy summits made visible by the sun not come to add one more charm to the beautiful lake which thrilled us so. When I saw all these beauties very profound thoughts came to life in my soul. I seemed to understand already the grandeur of God and the marvels of heaven…. I shall remember what my eyes have seen today. This thought will encourage me and I shall easily forget my own little interests, recalling the grandeur and power of God, this God whom I want to love alone. I shall not have the misfortune of snatching after straws, now that “my HEART HAS AN IDEA of what Jesus has reserved for those who love him (1 Corinthians 2:9).
YOU KNOW, DEAR Mother, how much I love flowers; when making myself a prisoner at the age of fifteen [when Therese entered Carmel of Lisieux], I gave up forever the pleasure of running through the fields decked out in their springtime treasures. Well, never in my life did I possess so many flowers as after my entrance into Carmel. It is the custom for fiancés to often give their fiancées bouquets and Jesus didn’t forget it. He sent me in great abundance sheaves of corn flowers, huge daisies, poppies, etc., all the flowers that delighted me the most. There was even a little flower called corn-cockle which I had never found since our stay at Lisieux; I wanted very much to see it again, that flower of my childhood which I had picked in the fields of Alencon. And at Carmel it came to smile at me again and show me that in the smallest things as well as the greatest, God gives the hundredfold in his life to those souls who leave everything for love of Him.
I LOOK UPON myself as a weak little bird, with only a light down as covering. I am not an eagle, but I have only an eagle’s EYES AND HEART. In spite of my extreme littleness I still dare to gaze upon the Divine Sun, the Sun of Love, and my heart feels within it all the aspirations of an Eagle…. O Divine Word! You are the Adored Eagle whom I love and who alone attracts me!… Eternal Eagle, You desire to nourish me with Your divine substance and yet I am but a poor little thing who would return to nothingness if Your divine glance did not give me life from one moment to the next.
“I will let fall from heaven … a shower of roses.”
––From “Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux.”
“St. Therese loved nature, and often used the imagery of nature to explain how the Divine Presence is everywhere, and how everything is connected in God’s loving care and arms. Therese saw herself as ‘the Little Flower of Jesus’ because she was just like the simple wild flowers in forests and fields, unnoticed by the greater population, yet growing and giving glory to God. Therese did not see herself as a brilliant rose or an elegant lily, but simply as a small wild flower. This is how she understood herself before the Lord – simple and hidden, but blooming where God had planted her.”
Therese Martin was born in Alençon, France, in 1873, the youngest of nine children. Therese entered the Lisieux Carmel at the age of fifteen. She took the religious name of Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
Therese developed a simple spirituality based on the spirituality of childhood–a bold and confident trust in God. The spirituality of her “little way” was not about extraordinary things, but rather doing the simple things of life well and with extraordinary love. Therese loved flowers and trees, birds and butterflies, the sea and the stars. She often wrote about the “book of nature” and its ability to “raise our souls to heaven.”
Her poems and plays reflect her struggle to give all to God. Her love became surrender as she slowly died of tuberculosis. Therese’s superior asked her to write down her reflections, which became the book, “Story of a Soul.” She died at the age of twenty-four, believing that her life was really just beginning for God, resolving to spend her time in heaven doing good deeds on earth. Her promised “shower of roses” began and has since become a torrent in the Church.
Pope Pius XI canonized Therese on May 17, 1925, twenty-eight years after her death. A canonization so soon after death was unprecedented. However, her qualities of love, kindness, and closeness to God were so apparent to those around her that the Church quickly bestowed the honor of sainthood upon her. On October 19, 1997, Pope John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church because of the impact that her spirituality has had on the lives of so many of God’s children.
–Portions adapted from the National Shrine of Saint Therese
Consider the Oaks of the Forest
Letter from St. Therese to Leonie, November 5, 1893
Consider the oaks of our countryside, how crooked they are; they thrust their branches to right and left, nothing checks them so they never reach a great height. On the other hand, consider the oaks of the forest, which are hemmed in on all sides, they see light only up above, so their trunk is free of all those shapeless branches which rob it of the sap needed to lift it aloft. It sees only heaven, so all its strength is turned in that direction, and soon it attains a prodigious height. In the religious life the soul like the young oak is hemmed in on all sides by its rule. All its movements are hampered, interfered with by the other trees…. But it has light when it looks toward heaven, there alone it can rest its gaze, never upon anything below, it need not be afraid of rising too high.