Sunday, September 20, 2009

Pope Leo XIII meets two Saints

Pope Leo XIII in 1898

St Therese describes her attendance at an audience with Pope Leo XIII. She summons up the courage to ask him to intervene to allow her to enter Carmel.

Her father, now Blessed, also meets the Holy Father.

But one really wants to know what exactly did Pope Leo XIII think of this strange young girl who would not let go of his knee and who was dragged off by the Swiss Guard.

"We spent six days in visiting the great wonders in Rome, and on the seventh saw the greatest of all—Leo XIII. I longed for, yet dreaded, that day, for on it depended my vocation. I had received no answer from the Bishop of Bayeux, and so the Holy Father's permission was my one and only hope. But in order to obtain this permission I had first to ask it. The mere thought made me tremble, for I must dare speak to the Pope, and that, in presence of many Cardinals, Archbishops, and Bishops!

On Sunday morning, November 20, [1887] we went to the Vatican, and were taken to the Pope's private chapel. At eight o'clock we assisted at his Mass, during which his fervent piety, worthy of the Vicar of Christ, gave evidence that he was in truth the "Holy Father."

The Gospel for that day contained these touching words: "Fear not, little flock, for it hath pleased your Father to give you a Kingdom." Luke 12:32. My heart was filled with perfect confidence. No, I would not fear, I would trust that the Kingdom of the Carmel would soon be mine. I did not think of those other words of Our Lord: "I dispose to you, as my Father hath disposed to Me, a Kingdom." Luke 22:29. That is to say, I will give you crosses and trials, and thus will you become worthy to possess My Kingdom. If you desire to sit on His right hand you must drink the chalice which He has drunk Himself. Cf. Matt. 20:22. "Ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and so to enter into His glory?" Luke 24:26.

A Mass of thanksgiving followed, and then the audience began. Leo XIII, whose cassock and cape were of white, was seated on a raised chair, and round him were grouped various dignitaries of the church. According to custom each visitor knelt in turn and kissed, first the foot and next the hand of the venerable Pontiff, and finally received his blessing; then two of the Noble Guard signed to the pilgrim that he must rise and pass on to the adjoining room to make way for those who followed.

No one uttered a word, but I was firmly determined to speak, when suddenly the Vicar-General of Bayeux, Father Révérony, who was standing at the Pope's right hand, told us in a loud voice that he absolutely forbade anyone to address the Holy Father. My heart beat fast. I turned to Céline, mutely inquiring what I should do. "Speak!" she said.

The next moment I found myself on my knees before the Holy Father. I kissed his foot and he held out his hand; then raising my eyes, which were filled with tears, I said entreatingly: "Holy Father, I have a great favour to ask you." At once he bent towards me till his face almost touched mine, and his piercing black eyes seemed to read my very soul. "Holy Father," I repeated, "in honour of your jubilee, will you allow me to enter the Carmel when I am fifteen?"

The Vicar-General, surprised and displeased, said quickly: "Holy Father, this is a child who desires to become a Carmelite, but the Superiors of the Carmel are looking into the matter." "Well, my child," said His Holiness, "do whatever the Superiors decide." Clasping my hands and resting them on his knee, I made a final effort: "Holy Father, if only you say 'yes,' everyone else would agree."

He looked at me fixedly and said clearly and emphatically: "Well, well! You will enter if it is God's Will."

I was going to speak again, when the Noble Guards motioned to me. As I paid little attention they came forward, the Vicar-General with them, for I was still kneeling before the Pope with my hands resting on his knee.

Just as I was forced to rise, the dear Holy Father gently placed his hand on my lips, then lifted it to bless me, letting his eyes follow me for quite a long time.

My Father was much distressed to find me coming from the audience in tears; he had passed out before me, and so did not know anything about my request. The Vicar-General had shown him unusual kindness, presenting him to Leo XIII as the father of two Carmelites. The Sovereign Pontiff, as a special sign of benevolence, had placed his hand on his head, thus appearing in the name of Christ Himself to mark him with a mysterious seal.

But now that this father of four Carmelites is in Heaven, it is no longer the hand of Christ's Vicar which rests on his brow, prophesying his martyrdom: it is the hand of the Spouse of Virgins, of the King of Heaven; and this Divine Hand will never be taken away from the head which it has blessed.

This trial was indeed a heavy one, but I must admit that in spite of my tears I felt a deep inward peace, for I had made every effort in my power to respond to the appeal of my Divine Master. This peace, however, dwelt in the depths of my soul—on the surface all was bitterness; and Jesus was silent—absent it would seem, for nothing revealed that He was there.

On that day, too, the sun dared not shine, and the beautiful blue sky of Italy, hidden by dark clouds, mingled its tears with mine. All was at an end. My journey had no further charm for me since it had failed in its object.

It is true the Holy Father's words: "You will enter if it is God's Will," should have consoled me, they were indeed a prophecy. In spite of all these obstacles, what God in His goodness willed, has come to pass. He has not allowed His creatures to do what they will but only what He wills. Sometime before this took place I had offered myself to the Child Jesus to be His little plaything. I told Him not to treat me like one of those precious toys which children only look at and dare not touch, but to treat me like a little ball of no value, that could be thrown on the ground, kicked about, pierced, left in a corner, or pressed to His Heart just as it might please Him. In a word I wished to amuse the Holy child and to let Him play with me as He fancied. Here indeed He was answering my prayer. In Rome Jesus pierced His little plaything. He wanted to see what was inside . . . and when satisfied, He let it drop and went to sleep. What was He doing during His sweet slumber, and what became of the ball thus cast on one side? He dreamed that He was still at play, that He took it up or threw it down, that He rolled it far away, but at last He pressed it to His Heart, nor did He allow it again to slip from His tiny Hand. Dear Mother, you can imagine the sadness of the little ball lying neglected on the ground! And yet it continued to hope against hope.

After our audience my Father went to call on Brother Simeon—the founder and director of St. Joseph's College—and there he met Father Révérony. He reproached him gently for not having helped me in my difficult task, and told the whole story to Brother Simeon. The good old man listened with much interest and even made notes, saying with evident feeling: "This kind of thing is not seen in Italy." ...

Although I felt heavy of heart, outwardly I was as usual, for I thought no one had any knowledge of my petition to the Pope. I was mistaken. One day, when the other pilgrims had gone to the refreshment-room and Céline and I were alone, Mgr. Legoux came to the door of the carriage. He looked at me attentively and smiling said: "Well, and how is our little Carmelite?" This showed me that my secret was known to all the pilgrims, and I gathered it, too, from their kindly looks; but happily no one spoke to me on the subject.”

St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897): Story of a Soul (l'Histoire d'une Ame): The Autobiography of St. Therese of Lisieux, Chapter 6 – A Pilgrimage to Rome (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, 1912; 8th ed., 1922), edited by Rev. T.N. Taylor.