A hundred and twenty years after St. Therese's audience with Pope Leo XIII, her relics were brought to Rome and were present at the papal audience on November 14, 2007. Please see the details at http://www.communicationes.org/news.php?nid=439&lang=eng and at http://www.zenit.org/article-21000?l=english Her relics were brought to the Pope's private chapel, where he prayed before them for a long time.
What a contrast between the two visits! Therese's 1887 audience with Pope Leo XIII appeared at the time like a fiasco. The same day her sister Celine wrote to their oldest sister Marie, Sister Marie of the Sacred Heart:
Dear little Marie,
Today I am crushed; in my head there is an immense void. Oh! how I would like to be at my dear Carmel to tell all my thoughts. Therese is going to recount this morning's audience to you. Each time it comes into my mind, it's like a very sharp sword which is being plunged into my heart.
I'm exhausted, dear little Marie; it's as if this were aimed at me, it's even worse, I believe. We assisted at the Holy Father's Mass; we were supposed to receive Communion from his hand, but they feared to tire him too much, so this did not take place. When our turn came to be at the Holy Father's feet, Therese knelt down, but unfortunately, M. Reverony [vicar-general of the Bayeux diocese] was with the Bayeux pilgrims, and it was he who was presenting them to the Sovereign Pontiff. When Therese made her request, tears in her eyes, the Holy Father bent over and said "I don't understand very well." You know, he is so old that it brings tears to your eyes just looking at him; he is as pale as death; he could hardly support himself or speak. He appears to be broken by age but what a kind face! He is truly a Holy Father.
But to return to Therese's request, M. Reverony answered immediately with a sarcastic tone: "She is a child who is asking to enter Carmel at fifteen, but the matter is being examined by the superiors." Then, after Therese's repeated entreaties, the Holy Father answered; "My dear child, if God wills it, you will enter; leave it up to your superiors." This lasted hardly two minutes, and I came afterward. I had tears in my eyes, but would you believe that I had the audacity to say "Most Holy Father, a blessing for the Carmel." He blessed me, saying "Oh, iti is already blessed!"
After this request made by me, M. Reverony was careful not to say that I was Therese's sister, but he replied, laughing a little: "It is already blessed." The Holy Pontiff, who is so kind, seemed to understand it in another way, and it was then that he said to me: "Oh, yes, it is already blessed!" Then he extended his hand for me to kiss. Papa came afterward with the gentlemen. M. Reverony introduced him to the Holy Father, saying "This is the father of two Carmelites and a Visitandine," but he did not say that he was Therese's father.
The Sovereign Pontiff looked intently at Papa, and he extended his hand to Papa, who kissed it and pressed it lovingly. Papa, when returning, was weeping a little."1
This audience is often cited as proof of Therese's courage, but at the time many considered it a total failure. Twenty years afterward, Celine still winced at the memory of the audience: "I was struck with dismay; it would be quite impossible to have a more definite setback. We hid it from our father in order not to sadden him, and we hardly ever spoke about it afterward. It was like a memory you wanted to cast far from you. I regarded it so much as a shameful humiliation that I used to think interiorly "If later on they write Therese's life, this fiasco will mar its beauty, and when in Carmel Mother Agnes of Jesus gave her the command to write her memories, I said to myself "Poor little thing, she'll haveto recount the audience with the Pope which succeeded so poorly." (Preparatory Notes for the Ordinary Process, 1910).2
At the 2007 audience, Pope Benedict recalled that Therese would have liked to learn the original languages of Scripture to understand them better, and he urged the faithful to spend time reading Scripture to "better understand Christ and remain in intimate contact with Him." Therese carried the four gospels over her heart, and she often repeated "We must study the Scriptures in order to learn the personality of Jesus." As we prepare to celebrate on December 14th the 80th anniversary of Therese's proclamation as patroness of missions, may we know her Jesus better and better.
1Letters of Saint Therese: General Correspondence," Volume One, translated by John Clarke, O.C.D. Copyright 1982 by Washington Province of Discalced Carmelites, Inc., ICS Publications, pp. 350-351.
2Ibid., p. 350.