Joy in Suffering/Fifth Day
St. Therese's Impregnable Fortress—Prayer
(1) Constant Prayer.—What were the means which St. Therese used to gain such a triumph over suffering? In the first place, she shut herself up in the impregnable fortress of prayer. From her earliest years she was filled with a high esteem and deep love of prayer. She knew that the saints had obtained from prayer that wonderful science which enthralls the world and irresistible power over the minds and hearts of men. For they "lean on God Almighty's power itself and their lever is the prayer that inflames with the fire of love. With this lever they have raised the world—with this lever the saints of the Church Militant still raise it and will raise it till the end of time." Enlightened as she was, she understood that "the Creator of the Universe awaits the prayer of a poor little soul to save a multitude of other souls, ransomed, like herself, at the price of His Blood." Hence her boundless confidence in the power of prayer: "How wonderful is the power of prayer! It is like unto a queen who, having free access to the king, obtains all that she asks for." Consequently, with her prayer was not something dreary, saddening, oppressive, and labored, but spontaneous and joyous: "With me prayer is an uplifting of the heart, a glance toward heaven, a cry of gratitude and love uttered equally in sorrow and in joy. In a word, it is something noble and supernatural, which expands the heart and unites it with God."
If her whole life was, so to say, one unbroken prayer, this was especially true of her weeks and months of suffering. They were one long prayer, in spite of the fearful anguish and desolation in which her soul was steeped. Not only did she herself pray without ceasing, but she pleaded most earnestly and touchingly that others should also pray much for her, so that she might be able to suffer in patience. When her whole body and soul were racked with pain, and she spent night after night without sleep, she was asked what she did during her long vigils; she replied: "I pray." But her pain had forced her to make it the prayer of silent love, and so when further questioned: "What do you say to Jesus?" she answered: "I say nothing—I only love Him. I can still suffer and love, and that is enough." Our Lord has said: "Ask, and you shall receive." St. Therese took Him at His word and asked for strength to suffer with joy. She was heard because of her trust and perseverance. Have I made steadfast prayer my fortress to which I take instant refuge in suffering? And I wonder why I did not rejoice in pain!
(2) A "Little Child" of Mary.—St. Therese's life of prayer centered in very great measure about the Blessed Virgin Mary and through her, the "Cause of our Joy," she obtained the strength to suffer with joy. There is a charming ease and simplicity about her devotion to our Blessed Mother, making it as imitable as it is admirable. She was simply a "little child" of Mary. Just as a little child often thinks of its mother, goes to her with confidence in every need and danger, does all it can to please her and give her joy, and especially delights in trying to imitate her in everything, so St. Therese did with regard to her heavenly Mother.
Being so fired with trustful love, it was but natural that she should turn to Mary, especially in her sufferings. Reflecting on the deep sorrows of the Mother of God, she reasoned thus:
"Since the King of Heaven hath willed His Mother dear,
The night of faith, heart's anguish to endure,
It must be good to suffer, to taste the cup of sorrow here;
Yea, here to love and suffer is happiness most pure."
This also made her feel that Mary's motherly heart was filled with tender compassion for her children's suffering, and so in her anguish she pleaded: "Mother, let my tired spirit rest beneath thy veil." When she was in such pain that she could no longer pray as she was formerly wont to do, she said: "I can only look at Mary and say, 'Jesus.'" And speaking of her last night on earth: "Oh, with what fervor I have prayed to her! And yet it was pure agony. Utterly exhausted, I asked Our Rady to take my head into her hands, that I might be able to bear it…." With good reason she could conclude the last poem she penned upon this earth:
"I fear no more thy majesty so far removed above me,
For I have suffered sore with thee; now hear me, Mother mild,
Oh, let me tell thee face to face, dear Mary, how I love thee,
And say to thee forevermore: I am thy little child."
How much pain she bore with Mary's aid—and with what joy! How much could I cheerfully bear if I were in very truth Mary's "little child"!
(3) The Book of Jesus Crucified.—The Crucifix was in very truth the "book" of St. Therese; she read in it many times daily and studied it profoundly.
(a) In the first place, she busied herself with the Passion as a whole—she fathomed the science of a God suffering for love of His creatures and felt her love grow warm in return. The first sermon which she understood as a child was one on the Passion. Later the words of Isaias depicting the "Man of Sorrows" were made by her the "basis of her whole spirituality." She understood that "true glory and the only royalty to be coveted lies in being unknown and esteemed as naught," like Jesus Crucified. Seeing man so unmindful of this love, she wrote: "My heart was torn with grief to see the Precious Blood falling to the ground with no one caring to treasure It as It fell, and I resolved to remain in spirit at the foot of the Cross, that I might receive the divine dew of salvation and pour it out upon souls." She called herself "a little flower which unfolded itself under the shadow of the Cross, having for refreshing dew His tears, His Precious Blood, and for radiant sun His Adorable Face." She was deeply devoted to the Way of the Cross.
(b) In her love of Jesus Crucified it was especially to the Holy Face that she was particularly attracted, and here she was ever "discovering new beauties that entranced her soul." It was her "home, her kingdom, her sun." Confined to her bed of pain, she delighted, in imitation of Veronica, to wipe the image of the Holy Face with rose petals, "to offer my Jesus some little consolation." This same Holy Face was her bulwark and strength in her fearful temptations against faith: "Mother, how I was tempted last night; but I looked at the Holy Face all the time and made acts of faith."
(c) She was above all enamored of the perpetual memorial of the Passion with its abiding presence of Jesus Crucified—the Holy Eucharist, in which Jesus continues His life as a Victim. It was thence that she drew her seemingly incredible strength of soul. It was her heaven on earth:
"My heaven lieth hid in the little white host,
Unto this Source divine I go to draw my life.
Thou comest, my Beloved, to transform me in Thee,
This union of love, this ineffable delight,
Is truly heaven to me!"
The sacrifices she made to receive even a single Holy Communion seem almost superhuman and clearly showed how great was her esteem for the Fountain of divine strength. In her exhausting illness she would literally drag herself to the chapel each morning, and this in spite of the most painful remedies which sometimes had to be applied to her, and when she was urged to spare herself, she replied: "Oh, I do not count this too much to win one Holy Communion!" In her Act of Oblation she ventured to call upon the Omnipotence of God to make her a living and perpetual tabernacle of her Eucharistic God, "Abide in me, as Thou dost in the tabernacle, never forsake Thy little victim," and she felt that her request was heard: "Thou dwellest in me a Prisoner night and day." What strength of soul to endure suffering would be mine if I read daily in the Book of Jesus Crucified and the sublime memorial thereof, the Holy Eucharist. Do I…?
Dear St. Therese, prayer was for you an impregnable fortress, which shielded you from the assaults of the enemy. How clearly you understood its tremendous, almost all-powerful, efficacy, and how well you used it! Obtain for me a similar grace and assist me to follow you in ever taking refuge in prayer, with promptness and perseverance, and to turn spontaneously and with filial confidence to our heavenly Mother, striving day by day to become more and more a "little child" of Mary. Above all, assist me to study daily the lessons contained in the Book of Jesus Crucified, especially the great lesson of love, that my heart may be inflamed with an ardent desire to prove my love by the divine test of suffering even unto the sacrifice of my life as a victim of love. May I, too, learn to understand ever more fully the secrets hidden in His Sacred Face and to realize that true greatness lies in being concealed and despised. Dear St. Therese, by your burning love for Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament, help me to realize the greatness and the priceless value of even a single Holy Mass and Communion, so that I may gladly make any sacrifice or forego any pleasure, rather than miss even once this opportunity of giving joy to Jesus and of drawing for myself the strength I need to prove my love by suffering for Him. May my whole being pant for Him, its true and only blessedness. I also recommend to your intercession the special intentions for which I am making this Novena…. God will refuse you nothing.
Other Novena Prayers on page 46.