Mystical experiences of Saint Therese of Lisieux


“I’m going to be doing only one thing: I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: ‘The Mercies of the Lord’ ” (St. Therese of Lisieux)

What I specifically intend to focus in on in this note is what happened to St. Therese AFTER she made her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, the facts of which are less known and which highlight important aspects or elements of Therese’s mystical life and spiritual progress towards union with God.

Saint Therese wrote her famous Act of Oblation to Merciful Love on June 9, 1895 (link to the full text at the end of this note) in which she offered herself as a “Victim of Holocaust to God’s Merciful Love.” As she explains in her autobiography she received a special grace that day to make her offering to God’s Divine Mercy:

“This year June 9, [1895] the feast of the Most Holy Trinity, I received the grace to understand more than ever before how much Jesus desires to be loved.

I was thinking about the souls who offer themselves as victims of God’s Justice in order to turn away the punishments reserved to sinners, drawing them upon themselves. This offering seemed great and very generous to me, but I was far from feeling attracted to making it. From the depths of my heart, I cried out:

‘O my God! Will Your Justice alone find souls willing to immolate themselves as victims? Does not Your Merciful Love need them too? On every side this love is unknown, rejected; those hearts upon whom You would lavish it turn to creatures, seeking happiness from them with their miserable affection; they do this instead of throwing themselves into Your arms and of accepting Your infinite Love. O my God! Is Your disdained Love going to remain closed up within Your Heart? It seems to me that if You were to find souls offering themselves as victims of holocaust to Your Love, You would consume them rapidly; it seems to me, too, that You would be happy not to hold back the waves of infinite tenderness within You. If Your Justice loves to release itself, this Justice which extends only over the earth, how much more does Your Merciful Love desire to set souls on fire, since Your Mercy reaches to the heavens. O my Jesus, let me be this happy victim; consume Your holocaust with the fire of Your Divine Love.’”

You permitted me, dear Mother, to offer myself in this way to God, and you know the rivers or rather the oceans of graces that flooded my soul. Ah! since the happy day, it seems to me that Love penetrates and surrounds me, that at each moment this Merciful Love renews me, purifying my soul and leaving no trace of sin within it….” ((Story of a Soul, ICS Publications, 3rd Ed., pp. 181).

So we come now to the profound mystical experience Therese subsequently underwent, which might be called in mystical terminology “the spiritual wounding of the heart,” or transverberation. In the quote below Therese explains how her heart was mystically wounded by a dart of love a few days after she finished her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love:

“I had commenced the Stations of the Cross in Choir, then all at once I felt myself wounded by a dart of fire so ardent that I thought I must die. I do not know how to explain it; it was as if an invisible hand had plunged me wholly into fire. Oh, what fire, and what sweetness at the same time! I was burning with love, and I thought one minute, nay, one second more, and I shall not be able to support such ardour without dying. I understood then what the Saints have said of those states which  they had experienced so often. For me I have but experienced it that once, only for an instant, and afterwards I fell back again into my habitual dryness. From the age of fourteen I have also experienced the assaults of love. Ah! how much I love God! But it was not at all to be compared to what I experienced after my offering to Love….” (Cruz, p.68; see References below).

Therese tells us elsewhere that:

“I have had several transports of love, and one in particular during my Novitiate when I remained for a whole week far removed from this world. It seemes as though a veil were thrown over all earthly things. But, I was not then consumed by a real fire. I was able to bear those transports of love without expecting to see the ties that bound me to earth give way; whilst, on the day of which I mentioned (the dart of fire), one minute, one second more and my soul must have been set free…. True, the Divine Hand had withdrawn the fiery dart – but the wound was unto death!” (Cruz, pp. 68-69; see References below).

A core feature of Carmelite spirituality is contemplation or contemplative prayer (Saint John of the Cross and Saint Teresa of Avila, both Carmelites, were great mystics and contemplatives). It is sometimes thought that Saint Therese was less graced with the gift of mystical contemplation but certainly the examples just given help to shed light on Therese’s mystical journey, and as Father Garrigou-LaGrange points out:

“Truly St. Teresa of Lisieux traced for us the simple road which leads to great heights. In her teaching, as it pleased Pope Pius XI to point out, the gift of wisdom appears in a lofty degree for the direction of souls thirsting for the truth and wishing, above all human conceptions, to live by the word of God….The way of childhood thus understood, especially as we see it toward the end of the life of St. Teresa of the Child Jesus, is very elevated in its simplicity. Its lofty simplicity comes home to us because the saint certainly passed through the night of the spirit (which corresponds to the sixth mansion of St. Teresa of Avila), as may be seen on reading chapter nine of the Histoire d’une ame. It was the reading of this chapter, some thirty years ago, that gave us the idea of explaining the night of the spirit by a profound and intense influence of the gift of understanding, which brings out in powerful relief the formal motive of humility and of each of the three theological virtues. Thereby these infused virtues are purified of all alloy or attachment to secondary and accessory motives on which until then the soul had dwelt excessively” (The Three Ages of the Interior Life, Chapter 41, regarding the way of spiritual childhood, emphasis added).

I do not have time in this short note to trace out St. Therese’s dark night of the soul and trial of faith that began around ten months after she composed her Act of Oblation to Merciful Love, but as Father Frederick L. Miller points out: “In her harrowing trial of faith that lasted with hardly any relief for a year and a halfTherese experienced an inexplicable grace, a mystical, infused sharing in Christ’s passion. She felt as her own the thirst of the Crucified for all those people who reject his love. The words of St. Paul offered her light in her darkness: ‘For our sake, God made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God ‘(2 Cor 5:22).

The core of Saint Therese’s message, says Saint John Paul II, is the merciful love of God.  In his Apostolic Letter Proclaiming Saint Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church, Pope John Paul II made the following observation regarding the core of Saint Therese’s message:

“The core of her message is actually the mystery itself of God-Love, of the triune God infinitely perfect in himself. If genuine Christian spiritual experience should conform to the revealed truths in which God communicates himself and the mystery of his will (cf. Dei Verbum, 2), it must be said that Therese experienced divine revelation, going so far as to contemplate the fundamental truths of our faith united in the mystery of Trinitarian life. At the summit, as the source and goal, is the merciful love of the three divine Persons, as she expresses it, especially in her “Act of Oblation to Merciful Love.”  At the root, on the subject’s part, is the experience of being the Father’s adoptive children in Jesus; this is the most authentic meaning of spiritual childhood, that is, the experience of divine filiation, under the movement of the Holy Spirit. At the root again, and standing  before us, is our neighbor, others for whose salvation we must collaborate with and in Jesus, with the same merciful love as his.” (no. 8)

Therese’s last words moments before she died in Carmel were: “Oh! I love Him…My God…I love You.” She died on September 30, 1897. 

Thomas L. Mulcahy, M.A.

References: For this note I am relying primarily on Joan Carroll Cruz’ book, Mysteries, Marvels, Miracles (TAN books), pp. 68-69. She references the quote about the dart of fire as follows: Sister Agnes of Jesus, Novissima Verba: The Last Conversations of St. Therese of the Child Jesus : May-September 1897 (London: Burns, Oates & Washbourne, Ltd., 1929), pp. 43-44. The subsequent quote about transports of love is referenced by Cruz as follows: Soeur Therese of Lisieux, The Little Flower of Jesus (Story of a Soul), T.N. Taylor, editor. (New York: P.J. Kennedy and Sons, 1912), p.195. The quote from Father Frederick L. Miller is from his article, “Saint Therese of Lisieux: Doctor of Divine Love” (September 22, 2020), available online.


Image: St. Therese of the Child Jesus in the photograph taken in the courtyard of the monastery of Lisieux Easter Monday, April 15, 1894.

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