[This letter in English]
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"Let's have faith!"
Around the middle of December, the child almost stopped eating. According to Sicilian tradition, her mother started making the mortuary dress in which her daughter would be clothed after her death. Then it was that the unforeseeable took place. Just before Christmas, all of a sudden, Delizia felt better. She asked her mother if she could get out of bed. Imagine Mrs. Cirolli's astonishment when she saw her daughter get up without help and walk! Delizia was cured; the Blessed Virgin had heard their prayers! At the end of Christmas vacation, the young girl was able to go back to school as usual.
This extraordinary cure, duly examined by several international medical courts, has been judged to be a phenomenon contrary to medical observations and previsions, since the advanced state of the illness made its cure impossible. On June 28, 1989, the Archbishop of Catania, Sicily, declared: "I hereby certify that this cure, given the conditions in which it was produced and maintained, is `scientifically inexplicable,' and, as Archbishop of Catania, I declare it to be `miraculous.' "
This recent miracle moves us to praise wholeheartedly the power and goodness of God. But the Lord also accomplishes transformations in the moral and spiritual order which constitute an even greater motive for being thankful to Him. The life story of Léonie Martin, one of the sisters of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face, bears witness to this.
"That terrible little girl"
Her elders, Marie and Pauline, were students at the boarding school of the Visitation sisters in Le Mans, where their aunt, Sister Marie-Dosithée, was a nun. The superior did not want to accept Léonie. However, her aunt obtained permission to take her on probation: "I now have Léonie, that terrible little girl," she would write, "and I assure you, she does not give me little to do. It's a continual struggle I'm the only one she's afraid of!" The probation did not last, and she was sent back into her family.
Madame Martin's correspondence betrayed her pedagogical preoccupations, especially concerning Léonie, whose emotional and intellectual slowness demanded most particular attention. She was not unaware of the fact that confidence is the soul of education, and she left no stone unturned in order to win over that withdrawn heart. Zélie wanted her daughters to be expansive, open, beaming. By dint of love, she aroused confidence or consent, but she knew how to be firm, without letting by stubbornness or caprice. She stimulated the generosity of her daughter and made use of daily events to teach her to conquer herself, with insistence on fidelity to her duties of state.
"The role of parents in education is of such importance that it is almost impossible to provide an adequate substitute," teaches the Catechism of the Catholic Church "Parents have the first responsibility for the education of their children. They bear witness to this responsibility first by creating a home where tenderness, forgiveness, respect, fidelity, and disinterested service are the rule They should teach their children to subordinate the material and instinctual dimensions to interior and spiritual ones" (CCC, 2221, 2223).
A lifelong task
However, the caring affection of Madame Martin did not succeed in overcoming Léonie's spirit of contradiction; the latter even seemed at times to close herself up in sulkiness. But her mother was not discouraged. She even noted the least signs of improvement. "I am not unhappy with my Léonie," she wrote one day; "if only we could conquer her stubbornness and soften up her character a bit, we could make a good, devout girl out of her, one who would not fear difficulty. She has an iron will; when she wants something, she overcomes all obstacles in order to get it." But a few weeks later, she confided to Pauline: "I'm unable to succeed; she does whatever she wants and the way she wants."
"He will give in"
Her aunt, Sr. Marie-Dosithée, died at the Visitation Convent in Le Mans on February 24, 1877. Léonie had entrusted her with "messages" for Heaven: "When my religious aunt gets to Heaven," she told her sister Marie, "I want her to ask the Good God to grant me a religious vocation I want to be a real nun."-"A real one? What do you mean by that?"-"A saint." Soon, one of the mysteries hovering over Léonie's destiny came to light. Louise, the family employee, had been exerting her tyrannical influence over the child for two years: she thought she was serving the good cause by "taming" Léonie with bodily chastisements. She demanded that the child keep this secret and forbade her to have any conversation with her mother. Finally, the evil was discovered. Madame Martin explained it in a letter to her sister-in-law: "Yes, I see a ray of hope which portends a complete change soon to come. All the efforts I had made up to now to attach her to me had been fruitless, but today this is no longer true. She loves me as much as it is possible to love, and along with this love, the love of God is sinking little by little into her heart. She has unlimited confidence in me and goes so far as to reveal her least faults; she really wants to change her life and makes every effort that no one appreciates as much as I do."
Her ceaselessly renewed efforts bore fruit: "Human virtues acquired by education, by deliberate acts and by a perseverance ever-renewed in repeated efforts are purified and elevated by divine grace. With God's help, they forge character and give facility in the practice of the good. The virtuous man is happy to practice them" (CCC, 1810).
But on August 28, 1877, Madame Martin died of cancer. The family then left Alençon for Lisieux, where Uncle and Aunt Guérin were living. On October 2, 1882, Pauline entered the Carmelite convent of Lisieux, where Marie was also admitted in 1886. Léonie took advantage of the trip to Alençon in order to be admitted into the Poor Clare Convent in that city. Uncle Guérin reassured the Martin family concerning this "holy" caprice of Léonie: "Don't worry; she won't stay." Indeed, on December 1st, Léonie left the convent in deep depression.
Choosing with discernment
On June 24, 1893, Léonie made a second try at the Visitation Convent in Caen, but had to leave again in July 1895. Her father had died one year before, and Céline had entered Carmel in September 1894. Léonie needed a lot of courage to assume her inconsistent and unstable character, in spite of her tenacious obstinacy for the religious life. But Thérèse, a mistress of the spiritual life, was a true guide for her by means of her simple and persuasive pedagogics. The way of spiritual childhood which she taught her by letter or in the Carmel parlor, awoke sentiments of abandonment and confidence in Léonie, establishing her more and more in peace.
On September 30, 1897, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus died in the Carmelite convent of Lisieux. One year later, her autobiography (Story of a Soul) came out. Léonie devoured the book and was moved by the memories of her childhood found therein; but especially she discovered the secrets of love between Thérèse and her Beloved Lord. The Story of a Soul became her bedside book and helped her to hope for the realization of her own vocation.
All God's, finally
Sister Françoise-Thérèse's health remained quite weak. At times, eruptions of eczema covered her whole body. She wrote one day: "Eczema covers me like a hair-shirt from head to feet, making me itch and keeping me from sleep; if I have the misfortune to scratch myself just a little, it's a real burn. I think it would be worse to be in Purgatory, so I offer my sufferings for all the major intentions which touch particularly the heart of our Pontiff and beloved father (the Pope). Besides, all these desires of apostolate help me to be generous." What is more, she suffered from repeated migranes, scalp dermatosis, ingrown nails, frequent intestinal crises, rheumatism, etc
In 1930, Sister Françoise-Thérèse was in a very bad condition and received the last sacraments. "The dear patient is truly in the hands of God; I am quite edified by the conversation I had with her," wrote Bishop Suhard, who at that time was the local bishop. Little by little, however, she came back to good health. She wrote to Céline: "I can no longer get acclimated to this earth. Everything leaves me annoyed and weary; pray much for your poor little coward, for, all things considered, it's pure cowardice to no longer want to suffer for the Good God, who is still more offended now than ever I cling as much as I can to His will which I love and desire above all things, but all my poor efforts are quite fruitless and leave me often in unspeakable sufferings."
However, these pains were accompanied by deep joy. She was greatly surprised when she found out that Thérèse was going to be canonized: "Thérèse was so kind," she wrote, "but canonization!" On April 29, 1923, Pope Pius XI proclaimed her to be Blessed. Then on May 17, 1925, he canonized her. For the imposing ceremonies of canonization, the four Martin sisters were offered to come to Rome. All four preferred the silence and oblivion of the cloister. "I am much happier here than in Rome," wrote Sister Françoise-Thérèse; "I prefer being in the last place Silence alone is appropriate But all this, by the grace of God, far from dazzling me, just makes me long even more for Heaven."
During her 78 years of life, of which 43 were spent in the convent, Léonie knew many trials: feelings of inferiority, failures, darkness, physical sufferings, interior temptations of revolt But she who had been a problem child of whom, humanly speaking, nothing was to be expected, became, by the powerful action of the Holy Spirit, a "saint." Still recently, Mother Marie-Agnes Debon, her last Superior, testified to the kindness, simplicity and voluntary self-effacement of the problem child of Alençon who became, by her efforts and the grace of God, an accomplished nun. This profound moral transformation is one of the most beautiful achievements of the "way of spiritual childhood" of Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus for whom holiness is a disposition of the heart which makes us humble and little in the arms of God, conscious of our weakness, and boldly confident in His fatherly goodness (cf. Novissima verba, August 3, 1897).
"O my God," wrote Sister Françoise-Thérèse, "in my life, You have put little of what shines. Grant that, like You, I may go towards authentic values, disdaining human values, in order to esteem and will only the absolute, the Eternal, the love of God by dint of hope." Theses words are inspired by the Imitation of Jesus Christ which she often used to read: "Lord, my God, I consider it to be a singular grace that You have granted me few of the gifts which appear outwardly, and which draw the praise and admiration of men. Indeed, upon consideration of one's poverty and abjection, far from being dejected, far from being grieved and sad, one should rather fell sweet consolation and great joy; for You have chosen, my God, for Your friends and servants, the poor, the humble, those whom the world despises" (Book III, 22). The life of Sister Françoise-Thérèse, so full of humility, is presented in these few words.
With confidence, we pray that she will teach us to walk in her footsteps and intercede with Saint Thérèse of the Child Jesus, Saint Joseph and of course our Blessed Lady for all those who are dear to you, living and deceased.
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