A Young Lady Looks at Life
St. Thérèse of Lisieux
Extracts taken from A biography of a Soul
There was another fault I had when wide awake, which Mama doesn't mention in her letters, and this was an excessive self-love. I will give only two examples of this in order not to prolong the recital. One day, Mama said: "Little Therese, if you kiss the ground I'll give you a sou." A sou was a fortune at the time and to get it I didn't have to lower my dignity too much, my little frame didn't put much of a distance between my lips and the ground. And still my pride revolted at the thought of "kissing the ground"; so standing up straight, I said to Mama: "Oh! no, little Mother, I would prefer not to have the sou!"
Another time we had to go to Grogny to Mme. Monnier's home. Mama told Marie to dress me in my Sky-blue frock with the lace trimmings but not to leave my arms bare lest the Sun burn them. I allowed myself to be dressed with the indifference a child of my age should really have, but I thought within myself that I would look much more pretty with my arms bare.
Vigilance of Parents
With a nature such as my own, had I been reared by Parents without virtue or even if I had been spoiled by the maid, Louise, as Celine was, I would have become very bad and perhaps have even been lost.
I was six or seven years old when Papa brought us to Trouville. 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. I recall during the walk on the seashore a man and a woman were looking at me as I ran ahead of Papa. They came and asked him if I were his little daughter and said I was a very pretty little girl. Papa said, "Yes," but I noticed the sign he made to them not to pay me any compliments. It was the first time I'd heard it said I was pretty and this pleased me as I didn't think I was. You always took great care, Mother, to allow me to come in contact with nothing that could destroy my innocence, and you saw it, too, that I heard nothing capable of giving rise to vanity in my heart. As I listened to what you and Marie said, and as you had never directed any compliments to me, I gave no great importance to the words or admiring glances of this woman.
The World and Worldliness
God gave me the grace of knowing the world just enough to despise it and separate myself from it. I can say it was during my stay at Alencon that I made my first entrance into the world. Everything was joy and happiness around me; I was entertained, coddled and admired; in a word, my life during those two weeks was strewn only with flowers. I must admit this type of life had its charms for me. Wisdom is right in saying: "The bewitching of vanity overturns the innocent mind!" At the age of ten the heart allows itself to be easily dazzled, and I consider it a great grace not to have remained at Alencon. The friends we had there were too worldly; they knew too well how to ally the joys of this earth to the service of God. They didn't think about death enough, and yet death had paid its visit to a great number of those whom I knew, the young, the rich, the happy! I love to return in spirit to the enchanting places where they lived, wondering where these people are, what became of their houses and gardens where I saw them enjoy life's luxuries? And I see that all is vanity and vexation of spirit under the sun, that the only good is to love God with all one's heart and to be poor in spirit here on earth.
With my nose in the book, I heard everything that was said around me and even those things it would have been better for me not to hear because vanity slips so easily into the heart. One lady said I had pretty hair; another, when she was leaving, believing she was not overheard, asked who the very beautiful young girl was. These words, all the more flattering since they were not spoken in my presence, left in my soul a pleasurable impression that showed me clearly how much I was filled with self-love. Oh! how I pity souls that are lost! It is so easy to go astray on the flowery paths of the world. Undoubtedly, for a soul a little advanced spiritually, the sweetness which the world offers is mixed with bitterness, and the immense void of the desires cannot be filled by the praises of an instant. However, if my heart had not been raised to God from the dawn of reason, if the world had smiled on me from my entrance into life, what would have become of me? O my dear Mother, with what gratitude I sing the Mercies of the Lord! Did He not, according to the words of Wisdom: "...drawn me from the world before my spirit was corrupted by its malice and before its deceitful appearances had seduced my soul?" The Blessed Virgin, too, watched over her little flower and, not wanting her to be tarnished by contact with worldly things, drew her to her mountain before she blossomed.
Possessions and Worldly Honors
During the course of the whole trip, we were lodged in princely hotels; never had I been surrounded with so much luxury. There's no mistake about it: riches don't bring happiness, for I would have been much happier under that thatched roof with the hope of Carmel in the offing, than in the midst of these sumptuous dwellings, these marble staircases, and silk tapestries, and all the while bitterness in my heart! Ah! I really felt it: joy isn't found in the material objects surrounding us but in the inner recesses of the soul. One can possess joy in a prison cell as well as in a palace. The proof of this: I am happier in Carmel even in the midst of interior and exterior trials than in the world surrounded by the comforts of life, and even the sweetness of the paternal hearth!