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June 29, 2007|
The Holy Apostles Peter and Paul
Marie-Louise Castel was born on August 12, 1874 in Saint-Pierre-sur-Dives in Normandy and baptized the next day. Her parents, brothers, and sisters enveloped her with love. She was the thirteenth child born into the family, though eight had already died at an early age. The family would see four religious vocations flourish. Her father, a teacher at a state school, refused to accept the laws of 1882 that secularized the schools, and he maintained the pious practice of morning prayer with his students. This courageous stance was not appreciated by the administration, and forced to resign, Monsieur Castel moved to Paris. The family loved to pray to the Blessed Virgin Mary in front of an image of Our Lady of Perpetual Help. Marie-Louise's parents also had a great devotion to the Holy Face of Our Lord. At a very early age, Marie-Louise heard the call to consecrated life. At the age of 12, she discovered a prayer, «To ask for enlightenment on one's vocation,» which she said nine days in a row. At the end of the novena, while praying before the Holy Face, she received an inspiration that she translated into these words: «How happy the Carmelites must be! I will be a Carmelite!»
«The good Lord is calling me and I am coming!»
The following July 22nd, Marie-Louise went to seek comfort at the Carmel of Lisieux. She was received in the parlor by the new Prioress, Mother Agnes of Jesus, the sister of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus. On her return to Paris, Marie-Louise learned that she could not return to the Carmel on Avenue de Messine until she turned 21. The Prioress, seeing her pain, suggested she seek entry into the Lisieux Carmel: «Your native air will be better for you than that in Paris.» Marie-Louise thus entered the Lisieux Carmel on June 16, 1894, but not before a last visit to the fair! All her life she would retain the mark of her slightly rascally youth in Paris. Her round face remained so childlike that Sister Therese called her «her little doll,» a nickname that well expressed the affection Therese had for her. Therese, at the time a young nun of twenty, was in fact responsible for introducing her to life in Carmel. Marie-Louise received the name Sister Marie-Agnes of the Holy Face. Being Therese's youngest novice, she benefited from her ample advice and quickly became her fervent disciple. Nevertheless, she was a handful for Therese, who was strict with her and did not let her get away with anything. The young Sister's failure in another Carmel and her little Parisian ways did not endear her to the older Sisters. Far from keeping her eyes lowered, as the rule of Carmel requires, she liked to nose about everywhere. Therese pointed out to her that her expression looked too much like that of a wild rabbit. Nevertheless, the presence of this «impish Parisian urchin» enlivened the atmosphere.
Since her progress was deemed sufficient, the postulant was able to take the habit of Carmel once again, on December 18, 1894. Sister Marie-Agnes was still far from perfection. There was no shortage of criticisms! One day, discouraged, she confided to Therese: «I don't have a vocation!» Therese simply laughed at this, and Sister Marie-Agnes also laughed heartily. To help her overcome her habit of crying over nothing, Sister Therese used an original method: «Putting a mussel shell on her table,» the young Sister would later recount, «she held my hands to keep me from wiping my eyes. She then began to catch my tears in this shellmy tears soon turned into joyous laughter.» And Therese added, «From now on, I allow you to cry as much as you want, as long as it's in this shell!» Therese thus taught her the art of being happy and smiling in all circumstances: «The face is the reflection of the soul,» she told her. «It must always be calm, like that of an always happy little child, even when you are alone, because you are constantly in the sight of God and His angels. ... Jesus loves joyful hearts. He loves a soul that is always smiling.»
The only goal: to make Him happy
«You are loved by God»
Over the course of 1897, the condition of Sister Therese, stricken with tuberculosis, worsened. To avoid possible contagion, the Prioress decided that Sister Marie of the Trinity would no longer come near the patient. Therese wrote several short messages to her novice to help her accept this decision: «I understand very well your suffering at no longer being able to talk to me, but be sure that I am also suffering from my powerlessness, and that never have I felt so strongly that you hold an immense place in my heart!» On September 30, Sister Marie of the Trinity would witness, along with the community, the last moments of Saint Therese, and her beautiful and long ecstatic look at the moment she «entered into Life.» After Sister Therese's canonization in 1925, Sister Marie of the Trinity would write, «I do believe it's the first time that a Saint has been canonized who did nothing extraordinaryno ecstasies, no revelations, no mortifications that frighten little souls like ours. Her entire life is summed up in this: she loved God in all the ordinary little acts of community life, performing them with great faithfulness. She always maintained a great serenity of soul, in suffering as in joy, because she took all things as coming from the hand of the good God.»
The life of the convent continued, with the Divine Offices in choir, the two hours of prayer each day, and domestic chores. Nevertheless, Therese had left a deep impression on the little community, and in particular on Sister Marie of the Trinity, who found in the memory of the Saint an inspiration for her spiritual life. In addition, she always had the feeling that Sister Therese of the Child Jesus was accompanying her on her pilgrimage on earth. This presence encouraged her in the face of the volumes of mail that flooded Carmel after Therese's autobiography, The Story of a Soul, was published. Sister Marie of the Trinity was in fact kept very busy with this mail which, from twenty-five letters a day in 1909, reached a thousand a day when Therese was canonized in 1925.
On March 10, 1926, she wrote to Mother Agnes: «I want to love God like our little Therese loved Him, to be like her the joy of His Heart!» Very skillful, Marie of the Trinity worked in the book bindery and baking hosts. To change tasks was her relaxation. She wrote a great deal: a concordance of the four Gospels, extracts from the Old Testament, various episodes from the lives of the Saints. Her infectious cheerfulness did not fade. She loved to emphasize the generosity and goodness of Mother Agnes, her Prioress: «I find you so merciful,» she wrote her, «that it seems to me God cannot be any more so!» For mental prayer, it was usually enough for her to remember the words and examples of her to whom she had had the grace to be close: «My memories of Therese,» she wrote, «are enough for my prayer, and I know that God asks no more of me than that I walk in the 'Little Way' in which she guided my first steps. My whole job is to avoid straying from it, for... one must pay constant attention to stay on it. But when one is on it, what peace!»
«From the moment we recognize them»
In February 1923, Sister Marie of the Trinity caught pneumonia. Shortly thereafter, a spot appeared on her headit was a painful lupus that gradually spread over her entire face and made her look like a leper. Rather than being sad over this, she was happy to reproduce on her face the Holy Face of Jesus in His Passion, which she had contemplated in meditating on the prophet Isaiah: As many were astonished at HimHis appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and His form beyond that of the sons of men ... He had no form or comeliness that we should look at Him, and no beauty that we should desire Him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces He was despised, and we esteemed Him not. Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed Him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; upon Him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with His stripes we are healed (Is. 52:14-53:5).
«My body is you!»
Becoming more and more stooped, Sister Marie of the Trinity soon was no longer able to walk without her cane. In spite of these premature symptoms of old age, her words remained cheerful, even when they were very profound, as in this letter of June 6, 1939: «My God, if I would be a little less pleasing to You without my lupus, I much prefer to keep it and be completely pleasing to You.» On July 21, 1941, she wrote to Father Marie-Bernard of La Grande Trappe Abbey, «God is doing me the favor of not letting me know the future. I abandon myself to Him like a child to the best of fathers, who does everything for the best. My great consolation is looking at the sorrowful Face of Jesus and noting that in some ways I resemble it. Sister Therese of the Child Jesus loved to remind me often of these words from Isaiah: He had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men. At the time, I was surprised at her insistence on always going back to the same topic. Now, I truly believe God had inspired her to tell me these things that would do me so much good later on.» A Carmelite monk who met her in 1940 drew this vivid picture of her: «She was at that time over 65 years old, but wore her years valiantly in spite of the lupus that afflicted over half her face. She gave me an impression of holiness and simplicity that I have not forgotten. She spoke of Saint Therese with an affectionate and respectful veneration that still moves me.»
Whatever it cost her, she took part in the activities of the community, taking her turn reading in the refectory and going to the choir office, leaning on her ever-present stick. When she was unable to attend Matins, she would make up for it the next day by being the first to arrive. Henceforth, her health declined inexorably. She received the last sacraments on January 15, 1944, saying, «Sweet and humble Jesus.» That night her last words were heard: «In Heaven, I will follow little Therese everywhere.» After a short agony, she died on January 16, the feast of Our Lady of Victories, at 11 o'clock in the morning.
Let us ask Sister Marie of the Trinity to obtain for us her docility toward the Divine Will in the little things of each day, in order to console the Heart of Jesus and win Him a great many souls.