In this installment, I share a passage from Story of a Soul which brings us to the preparation for Therese's First Communion, which culminated with a retreat at the convent for a few days. The modern Church could learn much, though not everything, from the example of the First Communion practice of Therese's time. For example, the retreat she undertakes with her classmates is an excellent way to complete First Communion preparation, as the child is induced to look forward, with great faith and expectation, to receiving Christ in the Blessed Sacrament. This can be done in a variety of ways. It is also, I hasten to add, one of the possible benefits of a vibrant monastic life in the Church. Another thought: consider how a little gift like a holy card can mean so much to a child. It can at once provide for a cherished memento and an ongoing source of devotion.
The three months of preparation passed by quickly, and very soon I had to go on retreat and for this had to become a real boarder, sleeping at the Abbey. I cannot express the sweet memory this retreat left with me. And truly, if I suffered very much at the boarding school, I was largely repaid by the ineffable happiness of those few days spent in waiting for Jesus. I don't believe one can taste this joy anywhere else but in religious communities. The number of children was small, and it was easy to give each child particular attention, and certainly our teachers gave each of us their motherly care and attention. They spent more time with me than with the others, and each night the first mistress came, with her lantern, and kissed me in my bed, showing me much affection. One night, touched by her kindness, I told her I was going to confide a secret to her; and drawing out my precious little book that was under my pillow, I showed it to her, my eyes bright with joy.
In the morning, I found it very nice to see all the students getting up so early and doing the same as they; but I was not yet accustomed to taking care of myself. Marie was not there to comb and curl my hair, and so I was obliged to go and timidly offer my comb to the mistress in charge of the dressing rooms. She laughed at seeing a big girl of eleven not knowing how to take care of herself, and still she combed my hair but not as gently as Marie. I didn't dare cry, which happened every day under the gentle hand of godmother. During my retreat I became aware that I was really a child who was fondled and cared for like few other children on earth, especially among those deprived of their mothers. Marie and Leonie came each day to see me, along with Papa, who brought me all sorts of pastries. In this way, I didn't suffer the privation of being far from the family, and so nothing came to darken the beautiful heaven of my retreat.
I listened with great attention to the instructions Father Domin was giving us, even writing up a summary of them. As far as my own thoughts were concerned, I didn't want to write any of these down as I felt I would remember them. I was right. I was very happy to be able to go with the religious to recite the Divine Office. I made a spectacle of myself among my companions by wearing a big crucifix Leonie had given me and which I held in my cincture like the missionaries; this crucifix was the envy of the religious who thought I wanted to imitate my Carmelite sister by carrying it. Ah! how my thoughts fled to her; and I knew that my Pauline was also on retreat like me, not for Jesus to give Himself to her but to give herself to Him. This solitude spent in waiting for Him was doubly dear to me for this reason.
I recall that one morning they made me go to the infirmary because I was coughing very much. Since my illness, the teachers paid a lot of attention to me and for a light headache or even if they saw me paler than usual they sent me out to take some fresh air or to rest in the infirmary. I saw my dear Celine coming to the Abbey. She had obtained permission to come and see me, in spite of the retreat, to give me a holy picture which pleased me very much. It was "The little flower of the Divine Prisoner." Oh! how sweet it was to receive this souvenir from Celine's hand! How many thoughts of love had I not experienced through it!