Friday, February 27, 2009

St Therese, the Mistress of Novices with a gift of spiritual discernment

Fascinating picture of St Therese, the Novice Mistress, as seen by her sister, Celine Martine (Sr Genevieve). St Therese had a rare gift of spiritual discernment which made her able to guide souls according to their individual needs to avoid "grafting roses on a peach tree".

In her direction of the novices the Saint always adapted her counsel to the particular meed of the soul in question. She enlightened our consciences, and solved our problems according to our individual temperaments, our personal needs, or our actual trials or joys. From her own words we learn that the wise Mistress was keenly aware that a spiritual counsel profitable to one soul might be meaningless - or even harmful - to another. The following passage from her Autobiography bears witness to the rare gift od spiritual discernment which was ever manifest in her training of the novices. She writes:

"....I realized that, while for the most part all souls have the same battles, yet no two souls are exactly alike. It was easy then for me to understand what Father Pichon used to say: "There are as many shades of differences among souls as there are in human countenances." Each soul, therefore, should be dealt with in a different way.....Our own tastes, our personal ideas must be forgotten, and we must guide souls not by our own way but along that particular path which Jesus indicates....What would happen if an ill-instructed gardener did not properly graft his trees; if, without understanding the nature of each, he should try, for instance, to grow roses on a peach tree? The tree, which had been vigorous and, perhaps, gave promise of much fruit, would simply wither away.How important it is to be able to recognize God's claims on the individual soul, even form early childhood, so that instead of anticipating or hindering it we might, rather, second the action of divine grace in the lives of others...."

Saint Therese made these observations about the spiritual education of children. But how well she knew how to apply the principle when there was question of the guidance of souls, the chief task of a novice-mistress! In the study of this Memoir, therefore, let us make a similar distinction, and each reader may take to himself that advice or counsel which is best adapted to his individual needs. Although our holy Mistress was remarkably sweet in character, she was also very firm. She never overlooked anything in the novices which needed correction. As soon as she noticed something at fault, she would hurry to find the "culprit" to take her to task. This was not at all easy for her to do; nevertheless, she let nothing prevent her from doing her duty. She assures us that whenever truth was in the balance she feared nothing and would in fact go out to meet the enemy. She gave proof of this one day shortly before her death when, burning with fever and suffering from tuberculous throat which seemed to be on fire, she summoned up all her strength and vigour in order to admonish a novice who was at fault. Later she said to me, "You see, I must die with my weapons in hand - and in my mouth 'the sword of the Spirit which is the Word of God.' (Eph 6:17 and Rule of Carmel).

In one of our intimate conversations, Sister Therese of the Child Jesus told me:..."Ever since I took over the novitiate, my life has been one of war and struggle....But the good God has done the work for me. I have laboured for Him and my soul has made astounding progress....My only desire has been to please Him; consequently I have not worried over what others might be thinking or saying about me. I have not sought to be loved for myself, nor have I desired that my efforts bear fruit. True, we must sow the seed of goodness on all sides, but if it does not spring up, what matter! Our lot is to work; the victory is for Jesus. When there is question of doing good to our neighbour, we must let nothing deter us nor pass over anything to make things easier for ourselves. As for reprimands, our intention in giving them must be directed first to the glory of God and must not spring from a desire to succeed in enlightening the novices. Moreover, in order that a correction bear fruit, it must cost in the giving, and the heart must be free from the least shadow of passion."

This testimony interprets the Saint's complete thought on the subject. I often had cause to marvel at her wonderful spirit of renunciation in her contacts with the novices, how patiently she listened to us and instructed us without ever seeming to desire any joy or distraction for self. No less remarkable was her disinterested zeal in the case of those novices who were less favourably endowed; towards them she always manifested the greatest affection. It was evident that she was never influenced by external appearances but always maintained a universal reverence and respect for the soul for its own sake.

Soeur Therese was in the habit of quoting to us texts from Holy Scriptures in order to emphasize a particular lesson, and were replying to our questions she usually illustrated the point by a story. In this way, she succeeded in impressing on our memories the truths which she desired to instill into our souls.I was often lost in admiration on seeing how clearly she detected the wiles of nature, and how well she succeeded in regulating the diverse movements of our souls. She seemed to possess a supernatural discernment, and this to such a degree that we were sometimes led to believe that she could actually read our souls. We were convinced that she was truly inspired from on high, and whenever I consulted her it was with the firm belief that the Holy Spirit of God would answer me through her. But there was not any extraordinary manifestation in all this, she was simplicity itself; she never suspected that any powerful grace might be going out from her.