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 help her.

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 life.

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.

 

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