Thursday, October 1, 2009

The Story of a Love - A Beautiful Spiritual Friendship between St Therese and a young struggling Seminarian Maurice Belliere.

St Therese of Liseuix, beautiful flower of Carmel

To celebrate the feast day of St Therese one of our patrons on Spiritual Motherhood for Priests we thought we would share a beautiful relationship of Spiritual Motherhood between St Therese and a seminarian Maurice Belliere. This post is a reflection of the book The Inspiring Letters Between Therese of Lisieux And A Struggling Young Priest. Maurice & Therese – The Story of a Love by Patrick Ahern.

"Maurice & Therese: The Story of a Love"
Their spiritual relationship started about one year prior to Therese entering into eternity. Maurice a second year seminarian from Sommervieu of the dioceses of Bayeux took a leap of faith and wrote to the Carmel asking for someone to pray for him. He was inspired to do this after reading of a man who’d been brought back to God by his mother prayers.

He hoped if a devoted nun could pray and devote herself particularly to the salvation of his soul and help him to be faithful to the vocation God had given him as priest and hopefully a missionary, he would be able to overcome his weaknesses and struggles toward the world.

Fr Maurice Belliere

He had heard of the four sisters at Carmel but had no idea that the first person to receive his letter would be the eldest sister Mother Agnes (Pauline) who chose Therese to become a spiritual sister. She was overjoyed and saw this as fulfilments of her family’s desire to one day have a missionary priest as a son; Maurice filled this void for Therese.

Although she calls herself his spiritual sister, the wisdom in which she advised Maurice was clearly motherly advice with a motherly sense of responsibility for Maurice’s spiritual failures. Some of the struggles he suffered were his lack of suitability to be a missionary, expensive habits of easy living and his attachment to comforts and friends.

Among the failures that Maurice recalls, there was one spiritual blunder he called his biggest blunder of all which was never really exposed. It may have been a personal issue during his one year stint in the military. He thought he would save souls but as he was a weak soul it is speculated that he may have been lead astray or possibly he was afraid of losing his vocation.

St Therese, spiritual mother for priests

Her response was beautiful indeed “I am doing the very best I can to get you the graces you need. These graces will certainly be given you because Our Lord never asks us for sacrifices that are beyond our strength…your lot is truly beautiful since Our Lord chose it for Himself and first put His own lips to the cup which He now holds up to yours. The greatest honour that God can pay to anyone is not to give him much but to ask much from him!”

“Let us work together for the salvation of souls. We have only the one day of this life to save them and thus to give Our Lord some proof of our love. The tomorrow of this day will be eternity, when Jesus will reward you with the hundredfold of those sweet and lawful joys which you are giving up for him”.

He was certain that he was called to be a missionary with the Missionary Society of Paris which was a fast growing band of secular priests who went to mission in third world countries. Here Maurice and Therese shared a desired spiritual direction and apostolate. He eventually joined the White Fathers and went to Africa.

Maurice although corresponding with Therese also communicated with Mother Agnes and Mother Gonzague yet it was Mother Gonzague that really nurtured the relationship between Maurice and Therese.

Mother Agnes ~ Therese's sister, Pauline

Therese understood that her prayers and sufferings she offered were much more useful to him than her letters. Her conviction as a Carmelite was to devote her life to the salvation of souls, through prayer and sacrifice, but especially for priests.

Maurice revived by her reply became “better each time a bit of the holiness lived at Carmel came his way”. Mother Gonzague sent him Therese’s poem “Vivre d’Amour - To Live by Love” his response was ‘One breathes in from it a divine inspiration which makes one pure and strong”. He said he was going to learn it by heart and placed it in his New Testament, a book that never left his side, and this canticle would “accompany him to the end of the world”. He admired her ability to write poetry and tell Jesus her inspired feelings.

Therese didn’t hesitate to take the initiative in their friendship, and her correspondence with Maurice accounted for sixty percent of all the letters she wrote during the last four months of her life.

Through her counsels, sacrifice, prayers and love Maurice developed from an insecure seminarian to a confident young man who had become “joyful like Paul in the midst of trails because he was convinced he was doing God’s will”. A very different Maurice was immerging now than from his first letter. Therese was confident that “there souls were made to understand each other”. As her correspondence to Maurice continued Therese’s darkness of faith increased but her words and soul soared to lofty heights.

Maurice desired still to missionary work and longed for martyrdom. This was a shared desire and attraction for them both and one they shared many a discourse over. Therese realized that “The Lord seems to want to give me only the martyrdom of love, I hope He will allow me through you to gain the other palm which we both desire”

She was able under Mother Gonzague’s direction to send Maurice some of her sixty-two poems - almost all of written were written on request or to celebrate the feast day of one of the sisters in the convent. She writes to Maurice that she was “happy if the good God makes use of my poor verses to do you a little good.” It was clear that her prayers were not only doing Maurice good but deepening in him the same confidence and Love that Therese had.

Maurice and Therese became very close, like sister and brother. Under permission of Mother Gonzague, she started to call him “My dear little brother”. She compared their love to St Margaret Mary and her confessor Father Claude de la Colombiere who staunchly defended Margaret Mary when Church authorities regarded her visions of the Sacred Heart of Jesus with suspicion.

St Margaret Mary

St Therese was always concerned that Maurice not look at her as a great soul but a very little and very imperfect soul; “a poor flower without distinction”. She wanted Maurice to understand this. She didn’t want him to idealise her as he did in the beginning. Her being a Carmelite made a great impression on him. He needed to understand this, as it was at the heart of the spiritual discovery she had made – her Little Way.

In her childhood she dreamt of fighting on battlefields as the exploits of St Joan of Arc delighted her. She understood that her mission was not to crown a mortal king but to make the King of Heaven loved, to conquer for Him the kingdom of hearts. She desired to proclaim the Gospel in all four corners of the earth. She wanted to be a missionary, a priest, a Doctor of the Church and a martyr but she was called to other exploits and more glorious conquests in the solitude of Carmel.

St Therese dressed as St Joan of Arc

Therese was imparting her Little Way on Maurice. She hastened to do this as by June 1897 her health was rapidly declining and she wanted to finish Maurice’s education. As death was calling her she wrote, “I hope that someday Jesus will make you walk in the same way as me”.

Her most profound intuition was that the very nature of God’s Love is to be merciful. "He does not love us because we deserve to be loved but because we need to be loved." It became the foundation of her Little Way. Through this Little Way she was boosting Maurice’s morale and trying to encourage all the good in him. She agreed with his spiritual director that “God was calling him to be a saint and that he could not be one by halves”.

Fr Maurice as a White Father

Maurice responded with such openness in his next letter, “Do you realize that you open up new horizons to me? Especially in your last letter I find insights on the mercy of Jesus, on the familiarity which He encourages, and on that simplicity in the soul’s relationships with the great God, which until now had hardly occurred to me – doubtless because I was never introduced to them with the same simplicity and persuasion of which your heart is full”.

Maurice discovered that Therese is dying and was devastated. h
He knew she was sick but not so close to heaven as this and had no hope for a cure, “Oh my poor little sister, what a blow for my poor heart! It was so unprepared. Don’t ask of it that joy which you feel at the approach of bliss. It remains attached to its heavy cross…You are about to go away and my heart will be alone once more. Teach me to Love him the way you do”

She responded, “When I shall come into port I shall teach you …of my soul, how you must sail the stormy sea of the world, with abandon and love of a child who knows that his Father cherishes him, and would never think of leaving him alone in the hour of danger.”

Close to her death she reveals to Maurice that Mother Agnes is her sister “twice over” she asks him to take on the attitude of her sister regarding her impending death “that instead of losing me you will find me and that I will never leave you again.” How beautiful and strengthening for him and for us, when we think of the saints in this way, that we have them closer to us from heaven than whilst they were here on earth.

St Therese on her deathbed

Maurice received a picture of St Therese, “I saw you for the first time it was as if I were recognizing you”. He had reconciled himself to her “lightening up the corners of heaven” and that her features (that he now knew from this photograph) lit up and would be “smiling at his very soul and brimming with life.” Maurice had come to terms with the fact that his Spiritual Mother was departing, he took solace in the fact that she would never leave him and that this was only temporary.

He was concerned that when Therese arrived in heaven that Jesus would reveal all his wretchedness to Therese. He said; "if this should happen as soon as he started to speak of it put your hand over his mouth and come to my defence, for without you I don’t have a leg to stand on".

St Therese had particular devotion to the Holy Face of Jesus

By this stage they had become friends deep and true. He was reassured “that she was his angel appointed by God to watch over him, and she had been commanded to stand by him”.

Maurice had developed from a young man desperate for prayer to one offering her his matured and confident prayers. He had grown more solid in his faith, mindful of himself and could reach out to others with maturity and sincere charity – all this due to his openness to the spiritual formation of Therese.

Maurice’s last letter arrived two days after Therese died. He had accomplished his dream of becoming a missionary. It is believed that he set off around the time Therese died. He writes, “I owe you this immense honour of being a missionary of Jesus. You have succeeded completely for it is you who have done this all.” Therese died as he was crossing from Marseilles to Algiers.

White Fathers today

Maurice arrived in Africa an optimistic seminarian and left a broken priest 8 years later. He had joined the White Fathers and even though he travelled much, tried to start new missions and endured the hard conditions, his sensitive nature returned. He was led by some other priests who were much more resilient to the environment of Africa and had no sensitivity to Maurice’s lack of stamina.

He had a close call with Black Water Fever which he thought he would die from but survived after being treated rapidly with medication and rest. He tried his best but left Africa and the White Fathers overwhelmed and discouraged. Maurice was broken by the missions. He slipped badly both physically and psychologically. Slowly he was going out of his mind.

He was found lost and wandering and was brought to a institution at Caen for the insane run by the Bon Sauveur Sisters where he was cared for with dignity until his death on the 14 July 1907, five weeks before his thirty-third birthday. This was the last similarity between him and St Therese as her father also died with a degree of humiliation.

This book by the end had me in tears. It is a profoundly touching book and I would recommend it to all lovers and devotees of St Therese - actually to everyone.
There is a link to where to buy this book in the left side bar.


Poem of St. Therese of Lisieux

The eve His life of love drew near its end,
Thus Jesus spoke: "Whoever loveth Me,
And keeps My word as Mine own faithful friend,
My Father, then and I his guests will be;
Within his heart will make Our dwelling above.
Our palace home, true type of heaven above.
There, filled with peace, We will that he shall rest,
With us, in love.

Incarnate Word! Thou Word of God alone!
To live of love, 'tis to abide with Thee.
Thou knowest I love Thee, Jesus Christ, my Own!
Thy Spirit's fire of love enkindleth me.
By loving Thee, I draw the Father here
Down to my heart, to stay with me always.
Blest Trinity! Thou art my prisoner dear,
Of love, to-day.

To live of love, 'tis by Thy life to live,
O glorious King, my chosen, sole Delight!
Hid in the Host, how often Thou dost give
Thyself to those who seek Thy radiant light.
Then hid shall be my life, unmarked, unknown,
That I may have Thee heart to heart with me;
For loving souls desire to be alone,
With love, and Thee!

To live of love, 'tis not to fix one's tent
On Tabor's height and there with Thee remain.
'Tis to climb Calvary with strength nigh spent,
And count Thy heavy cross our truest gain.
In heaven, my life a life of joy shall be,
The heavy cross shall then be gone for aye.
Here upon earth, in suffering with Thee,
Love! let me stay.

To live of love, 'tis without stint to give,
An never count the cost, nor ask reward;
So, counting not the cost, I long to live
And show my dauntless love for Thee, dear Lord!
O Heart Divine, o'erflowing with tenderness,
How swift I run, who all to Thee has given!
Naught but Thy love I need, my life to bless.
That love is heaven!

To live of love, it is to know no fear;
No memory of past faults can I recall;
No imprint of my sins remaineth here;
The fire of Love divine effaces all.
O sacred flames! O furnace of delight!
I sing my safe sweet happiness to prove.
In these mild fires I dwell by day, by night.
I live of love!

To live of love, 'tis in my heart to guard
A mighty treasure in a fragile vase.
Weak, weak, am I, O well beloved Lord!
Nor have I yet an angel's perfect grace.
But, if I fall each hour that hurries by,
Thou com'st to me from Thy bright home above,
And, raising me, dost give me strength to cry:
I live of love!

To live of love it is to sail afar
And bring both peace and joy where'er I be.
0 Pilot blest! love is my guiding star;
In every soul I meet, Thyself I see.
Safe sail I on, through wind or rain or ice;
Love urges me, love conquers every gale.
High on my mast behold is my device:
"By love I sail!"

To live of love, it is when Jesus sleeps
To sleep near Him, though stormy waves beat nigh.
Deem not I shall awake Him! On these deeps
Peace reigns, like that the Blessed know on high.
To Hope, the voyage seems one little day;
Faith's hand shall soon the veil between remove;
'Tis Charity that swells my sail always.
I live of love!

To live of love, 0 Master dearest, best!
It is to beg Thee light Thy holiest fires
Within the soul of each anointed priest,
Till he shall feel the Seraphim's desires;
It is to beg Thee guard Thy Church, 0 Christ!
For this I plead with Thee by night, by day;
And give myself, in sacrifice unpriced,
With love always!

To live of love, it is to dry Thy tears,
To seek for pardon for each sinful soul,
To strive to save all men from doubts and fears,
And bring them home to Thy benign control.
Comes to my ear sin's wild and blasphemous roar;
So, to efface each day, that burning shame,
I cry: " 0 Jesus Christ! I Thee adore.
I love Thy Name!"

To live of love, 'tis Mary's part to share,
To bathe with tears and odorous perfume
Thy holy feet, to wipe them with my hair,
To kiss them; then still loftier lot assume,
To rise, and by Thy side to take my place,
And pour my ointments on Thy holy head.
But with no balsams I embalm Thy Face!
'Tis love, instead!

"To live of love, what foolishness she sings!"
So cries the world. "Renounce such idle joy!
Waste not thy perfumes on such trivial things.
In useful arts thy talents now employ!"
To love Thee, Jesus! Ah, this loss is gain;
For all my perfumes no reward seek I.
Quitting the world, I sing in death's sweet pain:
Of love I die!

To die of love, O martyrdom most blest!
For this I long, this is my heart's desire;
My exile ends; I soon will be at rest.
Ye Cherubim, lend, lend to me your lyre!
O dart of Seraphim, O flame of love,
Consume me wholly; hear my ardent cry!
Jesu, make real my dream! Come Holy Dove!
Of love I die!

To die of love, behold my life's long hope!
God is my one exceeding great reward.
He of my wishes forms the end and scope;
Him only do I seek; my dearest Lord.
With passionate love for Him my heart is riven.
O may He quickly come! He draweth nigh!
Behold my destiny, behold my heaven,


Karinann said...

Thank you for this beautiful post. I read this book several years ago and found myself moved to tears throughout as well.
St. Therese is a wonderful example and patron to all who are called to spiritual motherhood.

one grateful heart said...


Letizia said...

Thank you kindly for this inspiring and beautiful post.
Dear St. Terese help us all to be good spiritual mothers !

Jane said...

Thank you for this inspiring and beautiful post. Like Karinann I first read the book several years ago, ten I think, and had a similar reaction. It is now down from its shelf to be read again during the month of October. But slowly and more meditatively this time. The first time, I couldn't put it down!

Thank you again and thank you Letizia for the prayer to St. Therese that you have included in your comment.