Christmas Conversion

Grace intervened to change her life as she was going up the stairs at Les Buissonnets on her return from midnight mass at Saint Peter's Cathedral on December 25, 1886. Something her father said provoked a sudden inner change. The Holy Child's strength supplanted her weakness. The strong character she had had at the age of four and a half was suddenly restored to her. A ten-year struggle had ended. Her tears had dried up. Freed at last from herself, she embarked on her "Giant's Race". "My heart was filled with charity, I forgot myself to please others and, in doing so, became happy myself'." Now she could fulfill her dream of entering the Carmel as soon as possible to love Jesus and pray for sinners. Grace received at mass in Summer 1887 left her with a vision of standing at the foot of the cross, collecting the blood of Jesus and giving it to souls. Having heard people speak of the three murders committed by a certain Pranzini, she decided to save him from hell through prayer and sacrifice. On September 1, 1887, she wept for joy; just before being guillotined, the prisoner kissed the crucifix. For Thérése, her "first child" had obtained God's mercy. She hoped that many others would follow once she was in the Carmel.

For Thérèse, 1887 was a year of overall development; physical, intellectual, artistic and especially spiritual. With the stubbornness of a woman in love, she fought to enter the Carmel at the age of fifteen. She had to overcome the opposition of her father (easily persuaded), her uncle Guérin, the bursar of the Carmel and Monseigneur Hugonin, the Bishop of Bayeux. So, during the pilgrimage to Italy with her father and sister Céline, she decided to approach Pope Leo XIII himself.

The month of November 1887, when she discovered Switzerland, Florence, Venice, Assisi and above all Rome, marked a turning point in her life. She looked and listened eagerly now realizing that priests were not angels, but "weak and fragile human beings", greatly in need of prayer. She understood better just what it meant to be a Carmelite. But the aim of her pilgrimage never wavered; to ask the Pope's permission to enter the Carmel at fifteen. According to Céline, the audience which took place on Sunday November 20, 1887, was a disaster. Pope Leo XIII answered Thérèse's entreaties evasively. The young girl was carried out in tears by the papal guards. Now she only had Jesus to turn to.

Back in Lisieux and after a difficult wait, she finally received Bishop Hugonin's permission. But she still had to be patient a while longer. On Monday April 9, 1888, an emotional and tearful but determined Thérèse Martin said good-bye to Les Buissonnets and her family. She was going to live "for ever and ever" in the desert with Jesus and twenty-four enclosed companions. She was fifteen years and three months old.


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