Finished: June 21, 2011
First Published: 1899, French (1951, French, this edition) (2010, English, this edition)
Publisher: Tan Classics
Genre: memoir, diary, letters, Catholic, Christian
My Dearest Mother, it is to you, to you who are in fact a mother twice over to me, that I now confide the Story of my Soul.
Acquired: Purchased new from my local Catholic Book & Gift store.
Reason for Reading: Our church has been run by the Carmelites for over 100 years. Our priests are Carmelites and we have a statutory of St. Therese in the building. I was much intrigued about her "little way' and after watching the recent 2004 movie about her life was ready to read her autobiography.
In truth, the book is really not an autobiography but more of a snippet of memoirs. It is divided into three pieces, the first, being the longest, was commissioned by her Mother Superior who also happened to be her sister. This is where Therese tells of her childhood up until she is accepted into Carmel. Therese was a sheltered child, raised along with 4 other sisters who also became nuns and devout Catholic parents who kept them from the worldly ways of life but raised them within a deeply loving family atmosphere. Therese was very much childlike her entire life of 24 years, never having experienced any of life's degradations and was a complete innocent in so many matters. Yet her soul belonged to the Lord from a very early age (three) and she knew she wanted to be a saint. Even though her mother died while she was still young her childhood seems to have been happy enough, with Therese preparing herself for a Religious life and a holy, saintly, Heavenly eternal life which may have taken some of the childhood fun out of her but her soul was content with this and she yearned to suffer for Jesus while she was exiled here on earth.
The second piece is a much shorter memoir written for another Mother of the Abbey who had requested Therese write of life at Carmel. Here we see Therese grow-up though she will always retain her childlike innocence. Here for the first time she will actually suffer from things the reader is more able to relate to rather than the childish sufferings in the first part. Therese met fellow Sisters who did not care for her because of her young age and the nepotism that seemed to be going on with her family within the Abbey. She was treated harshly by some, worked hard at back breaking chores, and never let her faith slip. She learned to put into practice what she called her "little way", making small, little efforts to please to the Lord. Over time these little things will add up to a greater good in the end.
Finally, the last piece is more of a letter written to Sister Marie (again her actual sister) who has asked for a small piece from her as she now lays on her deathbed dying of Tuberculosis. Here she writes of her most secret thoughts and desires and requests of Jesus. Her visions, dreams and then glories that await her when she reaches Heaven as she knows she will be gong straight there to continue her work of saving earthly souls from her place in Heaven.
A beautiful little book, with a powerful message between its deceptively short pages. St. Therese was not writing for anyone to read other than her intended singular audience and perhaps she knew other sisters would read her words. Thus she writes simply and childlike and again this can be deceptive to the reader especially as one goes through the first half of the book about her childhood but there are some very wise lessons about living, love and the pursuit of eternal life that came from this dear soul who died at the age of 24. She actually gives us a way to live our lives according to the Gospels, her "Little Way" is an inspiring way to lead one's life. She was not made a Doctor of the Church without reason. This is one of those books that every Catholic should read.
I will be finishing my study of St. Therese with one more book which is a fairly recent autobiographical book written about her life and her way.