This is the time of the year when many Catholic children make their First Communion. Children now typically make their First Communion at around age 7 or 8, but in France in the latter half of the Nineteenth Century when Therese lived, it was traditional for children to make their First Communion at the age of 11. Therese received Jesus in First Communion 128 years ago today on May 8, 1884. In preparation for that great occasion, Therese tallied 3,591 intentional acts of love and sacrifice, averaging 50 each day, and recorded them in a little notebook that her sister, Pauline, had give to her. Not that we should keep such a strict ledger of our good works, but it is inspiring to see a girl of 11 taking her growth in virtue so seriously.
Therese made a three-day retreat in preparation for her First Communion given by a priest, Abbe Domin, and she made the following notes in her journal about his instructions: ‘Hell, Death, Sacrilegious Communion, The Last Judgment’. The stories which illustrated these chapters frightened Therese. ‘Who knows’, threatened the preacher, ‘whether any of you who are making this retreat will die before Thursday?’ In any event the abbe was unable to continue his terrifying lessons because Mother Saint-Exupere, the prioress, died suddenly!” (The Story of a Life, Guy Gaucher, p. 51)
It was such a profound day in Therese’s life that it is best to let her describe it in her own words. “The ‘beautiful day of days’ finally arrived. The smallest details of that heavenly day have left unspeakable memories in my soul! The joyous awakening at dawn, the respectful embraces of the teachers and our older companions! The large room filled with snow-white dresses in which each child was to be clothed in her turn! Above all, the procession into the chapel and the singing of the morning hymn: ‘O altar of God, where the angels are hovering!’
Ah! how sweet was that first kiss of Jesus! It was a kiss of love; I felt that I was loved, and I said: ‘I love you, and I give myself to you forever!’ There were no demands made, no struggles, no sacrifices; for a long time now Jesus and poor little Therese looked at and understood each other. That day, it was no longer simply a look, it was a fusion; they were no longer two, Therese had vanished as a drop of water is lost in the immensity of the ocean. Jesus alone remained; He was the Master, the King. Had Therese not asked Him to take away her liberty, for her liberty frightened her? She felt so feeble and fragile that she wanted to be united forever to the divine Strength! Her joy was too great, too deep for her to contain, and tears of consolation soon flowed…”
In the evening of that beautiful day, I found myself once more with my family. Already in the morning at the Mass, I had embraced Papa and all my relatives. But now this was the real reunion and Papa took the hand of his little Queen and brought her to Carmel. There I saw my Pauline who had become the spouse of Jesus; I saw her with her white veil, one like mine, and her crown of roses. Ah! my joy was without any bitterness. I hoped to be with her soon and to await heaven with her!” (Story of A Soul, p. 77-78)
Her sister, Celine, described what she witnessed at Therese’s First Communion. “As she was coming back from the holy table I saw that she was drenched in tears: her face and the whole of her exterior reflected peace and the most intimate union with Jesus. The day of her first communion and the day after, she was as if far from the things of earth: an atmosphere of peace and tranquility surrounded her.” (The Bishop’s Process, 266 and Apostolic Process, 265)
Therese had an ineffable experience in her First Communion that she was loved by Jesus and that she wanted nothing more than to love Him in return. She responded to this love of Jesus by giving all and by giving herself completely in self-sacrifice. The day of her First Communion on May 8, 1884 began a lifelong process of loving Jesus with every fiber of her being.
May 8th is also the birthday of St. John Vianney, the name that I took for my confirmation name when I entered the Catholic Church in 1991. St. John Vianney is the Patron of Parish Priests.
Lastly, May 8th is the Feast of Our Lady of Pompeii. This Feast is significant in my family because both my father-in-law, Pompeo, (sadly deceased since 2006) and my wife, Maria, take their respective names from Our Lady of Pompeii.