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Book Review: St. Therese of Lisieux - Letters to her Spiritual Brothers

September 25, 2018

Translated by Norman Russell, MA, PhD. Pp viii + 140. Angelus Press, Kansas City 2017. Price $12.95.

The art of letter writing has completely drifted from our lives.  Saints wrote letters and they wrote many. Such ‘edifying letters’ are now bygone.  The book under review presents the letters which St. Therese wrote in her last years (and in spite of her grave illness) to her ‘spiritual brothers’.

‘I ask God that you may be, not a good missionary merely, but a saint, all flame with love for God and love for souls.  Obtain that love for me too, I beg, that I may help you in your apostolic labour’. This was St. Therese prayer and object of all her letters to “Her Spiritual Brothers”.  She also filled her letters with ‘her little doctrine’, that might help them to learn ‘her little way’ to God and thereby to acquire principles to save souls.  Providentially, all such beautiful letters have been preserved and presented to us in a new translation.

After presenting a brief introduction on the two characters (Père Roulland and Abbé Bellière) the editor presents 35 letters, of which the first fourteen was the correspondence between the saint and Père Roulland and the next 21 between her and Abbé Bellière.

We can readily notice the correspondence with Père Roulland has very much a missionary flavour.  (One learns a lot about his mission in China). The correspondence with Abbé Bellière betrays much of a contemplative flavour.  But both are driven by one goal: ‘to love Jesus and to make him loved’.

These letters allow us to understand her spirituality better.  Her letters are a mirror of her times and her spirituality. They are even more a mirror of her personality.  They reveal not only a Saint of our times, of her burning love towards God and neighbour, her indomitable zeal and total self-contempt, but also show the human feelings and the lively personality of the writer.  Here is no plastic saint as is normally portrayed in modern hagiography.  Her charity towards her brother has one goal – so that God be loved even more!

Defunctus adhuc loquitur. One may learn quite a lot from these letters.  For example, ‘Modern day persecution has changed its form, but the apostles of Christ have not changed their beliefs: and so their Divine Master would not change their rewards’. (p. 51). Surely, she is not only talking to missionary priests but to every Catholic of today, who strives to live their faith. The entire world has become a colosseum!

The translation follows the critical text published by Éditions du Cerf (1992).  The translation itself is not a ‘critical’ edition.  Nonetheless it is remarkably well done.  It is very readable.  The proof reading is well done. The introduction to each letter does not reveal a whole lot about both internal and external circumstances.  We are little surprised to note that the bibliography ‘strongly recommends’ the revised French critical edition, but is silent about its English translation done by ICS press. Perhaps there is a reason.

Overall, the translator must be congratulated for having made St. Therese’s letters to her ‘spiritual brothers accessible to reader yet again.  Everyone will find here nourishment for their spiritual life and as such it is highly recommended.

Fr. Therasian Babu SSPX