Nearing the End
Afflicted for months
by a sore throat which stubbornly resisted treatment, Thérèse
suffered two hemorrhages during Holy Week of 1896. Far from panicking,
she saw this as a summons from her Spouse and looked forward to
joining Him soon. But sudden anguish overwhelmed her at Easter
and she fell into a dark night of the soul, an "underground
labyrinth", a "fog". Heaven seemed to have shut
its gates against her. This trial of faith and hope, which made
her participate in Christ's Passion, was to last, with a few brief
periods of respite, to the end of her life. But she turned the
test into a redemptive one, agreeing to remain alone in the darkness
so that atheists might receive the Light.
While she was praying
in the church that summer, strange and powerful desires started
to torment her. She wanted to become a priest, a prophet, a Doctor
of the Church, a missionary, a martyr. Chancing on a passage in
Saint Paul, she discovered her true vocation at the age of twenty-two.
"In the heart of the Church, my Mother, I shall be Love.
This way, I shall be everything". Writing down these confidences
for her sister and godmother, Marie of the Sacred Heart, in September
1896, she gave the world a spiritual masterpiece (Manuscript B).
The wish to "save souls" never left her, and she was
seriously thinking of leaving for the Carmel founded in Saigon
by the Lisieux sisters.
But tuberculosis was
gaining ground undetected. Early in 1897, Thérèse
began to feel that "her course would not be a long one".
In April, worn out, she was forced to abandon community life,
remaining either in her cell or in the garden. In June, Pauline
realized that her death was imminent. In a panic, she implored
Mother Marie de Gonzague to let Thérèse finish putting
down her recollections. Burning with fever, Thérèse
wrote a further 36 pages in a little black notebook. Exhausted,
she went to the infirmary on July 8th. For a month, she coughed
blood, slept little and was unable to eat, while the tuberculosis
began to affect her intestines. Doctor de Corniéres treated
her with the methods of the time, but they could do nothing to
Her sisters took turns
keeping vigil at her bedside. Since April, Pauline had been writing
down everything she said. More than 850 recorded utterances were
later to be published as the "Last Conversations". In
this short work, Thérèse suffers, prays, weeps,
makes jokes to distract her sisters and speaks of her own short
A prey to constant
darkness, she came to understand the temptations of suicide, but
lived in trust and love until the very end. She identified herself
with the suffering Jesus and offered everything "for sinners".
She felt an overwhelming desire "to do good after her death".
With great difficulty, she wrote last letters to her spiritual
brothers, Fathers Belliére and Roulland.
The appalling pain
she suffered wore her out, but she never lost her smile or her
deep-seated serenity. A brief remission was followed by a 48 hour
agony. She died on Thursday September 30, 1897 whispering "My
God, I love You!" Her face was radiant.
She died unknown, just
as she had lived unknown in a provincial Carmel, of tuberculosis,
but also of "Love", as she herself had wanted. She wrote
to Father Belliére, "I am not dying, I am entering
into Life". This was just the beginning.