Book Review: Story of A Soul, The Autobiography of St. Therese

Book Review: Story of a Soul: the Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux trans. John Clarke, OCD Washington, DC: Institute of Carmelite Studies, 1975 "Story of a Soul" is a collection of three manuscripts written by Therese of Lisieux near the end of her very brief life. Therese lived in France at the end of the 19th century and spent nine of her twenty-four years in a Carmelite cloister, yet this simple woman and her "little way" have touched millions of lives in the years since her death. Therese lived and preached a spirituality based on the scripture passages that urge becoming like a little child, living a life of trust in God. While she never did anything the world might consider "great", she made the most of the opportunities presented to her. She took advantage of offering to God little sacrifices such as sitting straight in a chair without resting her back and going out of her way to be kind to a fellow sister she did not particularly care for. >From her earliest years, she had an intimate relationship with Jesus. Although she was very close to her family, She writes, "I knew how to speak only to [Jesus]; conversations with creatures, even pious conversations, fatigued my soul." In her final year, as she was dying from tuberculosis, she welcomed her suffering even as she experienced a crisis of faith which plunged her into a dark night of the soul. The three manuscripts that comprise "Story of a Soul" each have a different tone due to the fact that they were addressed to three different people in response to three distinct requests. Manuscript "A" is addressed to Therese's sister Pauline, also known as Mother Agnes. She was a Carmelite nun as well and at the time was the Prioress of the convent. Mother Agnes had asked her to put down on paper her recollections from her childhood. It was intended as a "family souvenir" and as a result has a very familiar, sentimental tone. In it, Therese tells the story of her life from her earliest remembrances through her profession as a Carmelite. Manuscript "B" was directed to another of Therese's elder sisters, Marie, who also resided at the Carmel cloister. Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart later recalled that "I asked her myself during her last retreat (September, 1896) to put in writing her little doctrine as I called it." The shortest of the three manuscripts, it contains the heart of Therese's insights. It consists of a letter to her sister in which she explains that "Jesus does not demand great actions from us but simply surrender and gratitude," and a love letter to Jesus in which she confides her desire to be "the warrior, the priest, the apostle, the doctor, the martyr." Using the metaphor that St. Paul established in 1 Corinthians 12 of the body of Christ with its many parts, Therese comes to the conclusion that in order to fulfill her desire to be all things she must be love. "I shall be love. Thus I shall be everything, and thus my dream will be realized." In Manuscript "C", Therese returns to the story of her life, this time at the request of Mother Marie de Gonzague who had taken over as Prioress. It tells of her remaining years at Carmel up to three months before her death in 1897 when she no longer had the energy to write. In her final words she exclaims "I go to Him with confidence and love . . ." Therese never intended any of these words for publication, yet in the last months of her life she seemed to have had a premonition that her words would eventually do much good in the world. "Story of a Soul" provides a blueprint for a life lived in relationship with Christ. Therese comes across as extremely human, struggling with life as all of us do, yet she had such trust and faith. We are wise to learn from her example.