St. Thérèse of Lisieux’s Propitious Pentecosts
The first happened on Pentecost Sunday, May 13, 1883.
Pentecost Sunday became a red-letter day twice in the life of St. Thérèse of Lisieux and then once again during her cause for beatification.
The first happened on Pentecost Sunday, May 13, 1883, when 10-year-old Thérèse was healed of a strange sickness. There was no doubt heaven and our Blessed Mother smiled on her that day in a miraculous way.
During the 1910 official interviews that were part of the process for her beatification and canonization, her sibling sisters recounted what had happened to her. Her sister Marie, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart, recounted how “the Servant of God contracted a strange sickness which must certainly have come from the devil.” Not once did Thérèse lose “her faculties of reason during her illness. … But she had terrifying visions that gave chills to all those who heard her cries of distress.”
Sister Marie added that the doctor was present “during a fit,” adding that “he said to my father, ‘Science is powerless in the face of such phenomena: There’s nothing we can do.’ I can go so far as to say that the devil tried to kill our little sister.” Marie was troubled with the thought her beloved sister “wasn’t going to survive.”
Her sister Céline, Sister Geneviève of the Holy Face, revealed similar details. Céline repeated that she, too, “recognized the work of the devil in this highly unusual illness,” while at the same time, “unlike with illnesses caused by the devil, pious objects never frightened her.” The Martin sisters’ uncle, Mr. Isadore Guérin, a faithful man who was a hospital chemist, said that “human means would not cure her. … The doctor had told him that Thérèse’s case defied all rules of science.”
Her sister Pauline — Mother Agnes of Jesus and later Thérèse’s mother superior at Carmel — said that Thérèse explained “she could hear and understand everything that was being said around her.”
In her autobiography Story of a Soul, St. Thérèse describes in detail that harrowing time, sometimes referring to herself in the third person, such as when she said she was making crowns of flowers for the Blessed Mother “in the beautiful month of May, and nature was adorned with flowers and was bursting out with a joy. The ‘little flower’ alone was languishing and seemed forever withered. … However, she had a Sun near her and this Sun was the miraculous statue of the Blessed Virgin that had spoken to Mama twice, and the little flower often, very often, turned her petals toward this blessed Star.”
Thérèse remembered how her sad “Papa” gave Marie monetary offerings to have Masses said at Our Lady of Victories in Paris to “cure his poor little girl.”
Shortly after, at the bleakest moment, when Thérèse was greatly suffering, by her bedside turned to the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of the Smile, “praying with the fervor of a mother begging for the life of her child,” recalled Thérèse, “Marie obtained what she wanted.”
Thérèse would write: “A miracle was necessary and it was Our Lady of Victories who worked it.”
“At the moment when her health was restored, she was granted a vision of the Queen of Heaven,” testified Céline, who witnessed the sudden recovery.
On that Pentecost Sunday, Thérèse was not only instantly healed but granted a vision of the Blessed Mother when the statue of Our Lady of the Smile came to life. She described it thus in Story of a Soul: “Finding no help on Earth, poor little Thérèse had also turned toward the Mother of heaven and prayed with all her heart that she take pity on her. All of a sudden the Blessed Virgin appeared beautiful to me, so beautiful that never had I seen anything so attractive; her face was suffused with an ineffable benevolence and tenderness, but what penetrated to the very depths of my soul was the ravishing smile of the Blessed Virgin. All my pains disappeared, and two large tears glistened on my eyelashes, and flowed down my cheeks silently, but they were tears of unmixed joy. Ah! The Blessed Virgin smiled at me, how happy I am, but never will I tell anyone for my happiness would then disappear. Without any effort I lowered my eyes, and I saw Marie who was looking down at me lovingly; she seemed moved and appeared to surmise the favor the Blessed Virgin had given me. Ah! It was really to her, her touching prayers that I owed the grace of the Queen of Heaven’s smile. Seeing my gaze fixed on the Blessed Virgin, she cried out: Teresa is cured!
“And it was true. The Little Flower had come to life again — a bright ray from its glorious Sun had warmed and set it free for ever from its cruel enemy.”
Marie testified that Thérèse told her “she had seen the Blessed Virgin herself. The vision lasted four to five minutes, and then her eyes came to rest lovingly on me. From then on, all trace of her illness disappeared. The very next day, she went back to her life as normal, and apart from one or two relapses, which took place without apparent cause as she was walking in the garden the week after being cured, she suffered no other such fit during her lifetime.”
Mother Agnes also described how her little sister told her “that suddenly she saw the statue come to life and the Blessed Virgin move towards her and smile.”
And what later happened to the statue of Our Lady of the Smile that was in Sts. Louis and Zélie Martin’s home? Sister Thérèse De Saint-Augustin from Carmel testified, “When the statue that smiled at her during her illness was brought to the monastery,” all the sisters said it was too heavy for them to move. “‘She is not too heavy for me,’ said the Servant of God; and with an élan which admirably depicted the sentiments of her heart, she seized the statue and carried it easily to the oratory destined for her.”
Today that statue, related in ways to the image on the Miraculous Medal, stands above St. Thérèse’s shrine in the Lisieux Carmel where pilgrims can also pray before it.
Thérèse’s Second Pentecost
It was May 29, 1887, Pentecost Sunday. Thérèse wanted to talk to her father about her desire to enter Carmel as a nun. “I chose the feast of Pentecost as the day to break the news,” she wrote in Story of a Soul, relating the events of that day. “All day I was praying for light from the Holy Ghost, and begging the Apostles to pray for me, to inspire me with the words I ought to use. Shouldn’t they help the timid child who was chosen by God to be the apostle of apostles through her prayers and sacrifices in Carmel?”
Her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of God, began her testimony before the examination panel for beatification and canonization, stating, “The Servant of God was 14 and a half years old.” Too young for Carmel, but Thérèse was determined.
Thérèse recounted how she “found the opportunity to speak to my dear little father only in the afternoon after Vespers. He was seated by the well, contemplating the marvels of nature with his hands joined.” She, like her father, looked to the treetops where “the little birds were joyfully chanting their Evening Song. Papa’s handsome face had a Heavenly expression about it, giving me the feeling that peace flooded his heart. Without saying a word, I sat down by his side, my eyes already wet with tears. He gazed at me tenderly, and taking my head he placed it on his heart, saying: ‘What’s the matter, my little Queen? Tell me.’”
She continued, “Through my tears I confided the desire to enter Carmel and soon his tears mingled with mine. He didn’t say one word to turn me from my vocation, simply contenting himself with the statement that I was still very young to make such a serious decision. I defended myself so well, with Papa’s simple and direct character, he was soon convinced that my desire was God’s will, and in his deep faith he cried out that God was giving him a great honor in asking his children from him; we continued our walk ...”
During her testimony, Pauline recounted the same basic facts. Thérèse herself added what became an important spiritual insight from her father — that he might not have realized regarding its full meaning — for her on that Pentecost Sunday.
As they walked by a low wall, the Little Flower described how he “pointed to some little white flowers, like lilies in miniature.” He plucked one, handed it to her, and explained “the care with which God brought it into being and preserved it to that every day. While I listened I believed I was hearing my own story, so great was the resemblance between what Jesus had done for the little flower and little Thérèse. I accepted it as a relic and noticed that, gathering it, Papa had pulled all its roots out without breaking them. It seemed destined to live on in another soil more fertile than the tender moss where it had spent its first days. This was really the same action Papa had performed a few moments before when he allowed me to climb Mount Carmel and leave the Sweet Valley which had witnessed my first steps in this life.”
There is another little remembered and realized connection St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus of the Holy Face later had with Pentecost, when she was letting fall her showers of roses from heaven.
During her testimony during the long witness process for Thérèse’s beatification and canonization in the early fall of 1910, her sister Pauline, Mother Agnes of Jesus, described a recent incident she and the other sisters witnessed.
To answer the question asking for recollections of “graces and miracles after death,” she stated, “I can point out, in particular, that we saw, in the visiting room [of Carmel], a child of ten, suddenly cured last Pentecost in Lisieux [May 15, 1910] of a tuberculous affection of the bones, which had kept him immobilized in an appliance for three years. This family, who now live in Caen, came in their entirety (father, mother and four children) and told us the story of this miracle. The non-practicing father and mother were converted as a result of these events.”
It was a double miracle. The boy had been cured — at the same age as Thérèse was when she was cured, and on a Pentecost Sunday also — and the parents were converted.
Thérèse was known for inspiring many conversions among her intercessions. The Little Flower had made her Pentecost connection once again. This time, the Blessed Mother was surely smiling by her side.