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Notes and Questions for St. Therese of Lisieux (1873-1897)
The Story of a Soul (1898)

Robert Harris
April 6, 1999


Overview

This book is the spiritual autobiography of a young French woman who felt the call of God early on her life and became a Carmelite nun at fifteen. She died at twenty-four. The book is distinguished by Therese's capacity for self analysis and her ability to draw meaning from the natural world.

Things to Think About as You Read

1. Note Therese's ability to draw meaning from the physical world and from the events of her life. See the analogy that she draws from the flower her father picks (69), the analysis she makes of her experience on the journey to Rome (78), her meditations about the fate of Pompeii (85) and even the metaphor she draws from elevators ("lifts" 114).

2. Note Therese's ability to produce wise self analysis, whether concerning her personality (61), or concerning her spiritual state--especially the periods of spiritual dryness she feels (90, 97, 99).

3. Therese often intersperses her story with short maxims. For example, "Happiness has nothing to do with the material things which surround us; it dwells in the very depths of the soul" (86), or "What seems a fault to me may very well be an act of virtue because of the intention behind it" (123).

Notes and Questions

Pages 19-29. The first period of her life, from birth to age four and a half.

While Therese describes herself as possessing self love (24), she also says that she "felt the attraction of goodness" (27). Therese has been a happy and outgoing child until her mother dies.

Pages 29-62. The second period of her life from age four and a half to fourteen.

After her mother's death, Therese becomes quiet and gloomy (29), and even though she is a good student, she cries a lot (39).

Pages 46-47. At age 10 she is cured of an illness and constant headache by a miracle.

Pages 50-53. Note the long three-month preparation for her first communion.

Page 56. We can come to love God more by understanding his unseen grace and protection.

Page 61. Note the advantage of maturity looking back on childhood and performing some self analysis. Therese recognizes that her "extreme sensitiveness" caused her to be "quite unendurable."

Pages 62-159. The third period of her life.

Pages 63-64. When she is almost fourteen, Therese says that she emerged from childhood and developed a thirst for souls. What is the precipitating event?

Page 64. Note Therese's new desire for learning once she ceases to be so self concerned.

Page 69. Note how Therese constructs an analogy from the flower. She can take a seemingly small natural phenomenon and create a personal meaning and application.

Page 78. Here is another example of Therese taking an event or experience and asking herself, "What can I learn from this?"

Page 85. Similar to the comments above for pages 69 and 78: Therese makes use of contemplation of the physical world as a source and spur for spiritual meditation.

Page 89. She enters the convent at 15.

Page 90. Therese mentions "grievous spiritual dryness" and its increase for awhile (97) until she feels almost "forsaken" (99). But she works through it.

Page 113. Therese echoes Brother Lawrence of the Resurrection when she says of God that "by knowing Him better, [we can] love Him more."

Page 114. Note the analogy of the elevator.

Page 116. Therese coughs up blood from her tuberculosis and knows that she is dying.

Page 118. She is still troubled by some spiritual doubts.

Page 130. Note the analogy of the artist's canvas.

Page 136. How does Therese describe prayer here?

Page 156. "Love proves itself by deeds." Compare Aristotle, "Virtue is an activity of the soul." You have to do something in order to be considered good or loving.


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About the author:
Robert Harris is a writer and educator with more than 25 years of teaching experience at the college and university level. RHarris at virtualsalt.com