During her final months on earth, St. Therese was plunged into the darkness of unbelief.
In May 1897, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was only a few short months away from dying. Her tuberculosis gave her significant bodily pain, but above all, God allowed her to be plunged into a spiritual darkness.
She wrote about it in her autobiography, Story of a Soul.
[God] allowed my soul to be overwhelmed with darkness, and the thought of Heaven, which had consoled me from my earliest childhood, now became a subject of conflict and torture. This trial did not last merely for days or weeks; I have been suffering for months, and I still await deliverance. I wish I could express what I feel, but it is beyond me. One must have passed through this dark tunnel to understand its blackness … When I sing of the happiness of Heaven and the eternal possession of God, I do not feel any joy therein, for I sing only of what I wish to believe. Sometimes, I confess, a little ray of sunshine illumines my dark night, and I enjoy peace for an instant, but later, the remembrance of this ray of light, instead of consoling me, makes the blackness thicker still.
It was a very difficult time for St. Thérèse and she expressed this darkness in a poem she wrote, titled “To Joan of Arc.”
Thérèse had had a deep devotion to St. Joan of Arc since her childhood and wrote many poems and plays about her beloved patron. During her trial of faith, Thérèse felt united to Joan of Arc, especially as Joan waited in the dungeon before being led out to her cruel martyrdom.
At the bottom of a black dungeon, laden with heavy chains,
The cruel foreigner filled you with grief.
Not one of your friends took part in your pain.
Not one came forward to wipe your tears.Joan, in your dark prison you seem to me
More radiant, more beautiful than at your King’s coronation.
This heavenly reflection of eternal glory,
Who then brought it upon you? It was betrayal.Ah! If the God of love in this valley of tears
Had not come to seek betrayal and death,
Suffering would hold no attraction for us.
Now we love it; it is our treasure.
In this way St. Thérèse experienced a spiritual darkness that many atheists feel, not knowing if there is a God or an afterlife. Yet, even in the midst of such doubts, Thérèse continued to make acts of faith with her mouth, willing that her heart would follow after.
This “dark night of the soul” eventually cleared by the time of her death, and she left this world with the words, “My God, I love You!”