Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint of the 'Little Way'

Posted by Elizabeth Tomasek on Oct 1, 2019 7:03:00 AM
Elizabeth Tomasek

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“If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
—St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul (Rockford: Tan Books, 1997), p. 2

Pope St. John Paul II named St. Thérèse of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church because of the powerful influence of her spirituality, known as the 'Little Way.' Her feast took on a new meaning for me thirteen years ago when my first baby was baptized on that day. Surrounded by family and friends, we welcomed our tiny daughter into the Church, and I truly felt Communion of Saints gathered with us. Later this month, that same daughter is making her Confirmation, choosing St. Thérèse, the Little Flower, as her saint.

St. Thérèse’s story can resonate with each of us. After being spoiled for much of her childhood, she had a deep conversion and became a Carmelite in her early teens. Inspired by stories of saints herself, she wanted ardently to become a martyr for Christ, like St. Joan of Arc. And no doubt she could have become a martyr. She certainly had the desire for such a mission, and childhood stories of her strong spirited ways prove that she had the willpower. However, God had a different plan for Thérèse’s life, and through prayer, she was able to accept this, fully surrendering to God’s will. 

Who cannot relate to the desire to accomplish something bigger, to be someone more? We hear of another’s new job title or promotion and wonder why ours seems so ordinary. My own ambitions have often taken my ‘what if’ train of thought to an unfruitful destination. But my prayer brings me back to the same realization that St. Thérèse had: God is calling me to something else. Her humble and gentle example reminds us that God has a path of holiness for each of us, and for most of us, like St. Thérèse, this will be a path of ‘little ways.’ 

And that is no little thing.

The other day something happened that brought me to an abrupt halt. It was a morning like many others, trying to assist the four kids leaving for school, meeting individual needs for the day’s preparation, all before the baby woke up and needed me as well. I jumped from one task to the next, feeling almost satisfied as we progressed through the routines. And then I glanced over to see my middle child quietly struggling. He was fumbling with the buttons on his new uniform pants, and I could see he was really trying to stay patient. I knelt beside him to help, acknowledging the difficulty. Finally getting the buttons all situated, he said, “I’m sorry you’re wasting your time by helping me, Mommy.” Taking his sweet freckled face in my hands and looking into his blue eyes, I promised him that it was most certainly not wasting my time. He smiled back, and two minutes later the house was four kids quieter. But my head and heart were noisier than ever.

Wasting my time by helping my own beloved child? Where could he have gotten that idea? Of course, I know the answer. Lately my very approach to life could leave this impression. No matter how organized I try to be, our life often feels hurried and harried. And it seems that even when I try so meticulously to plan ahead so that I can ‘be available’ during higher-need hours before and after school, the inundation of papers to look over, homework agendas to sign, and daily reports to hear make me feel like even my own thoughts are constantly interrupted, let alone my tasks.

Once again, I am called to the example of St. Thérèse. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she wrote, “I can prove my love only by scattering flowers, that is to say, by never letting slip a single little sacrifice, a single glance, a single word; by making profit of the very smallest actions, by doing them for love” (202). Sometimes it seems like it might be easier to follow God in a bigger way, a way that is easier to define or with concrete outcomes. The little ways of full surrender can seem monumentally more challenging, a constant humbling of self. I pray for St. Thérèse’s intercession that I may be able to embrace interruptions as opportunities for grace, that I may do the smallest things with the greatest love, that I may love fully without calculation, just as she strove to do.

In a couple of weeks, my oldest daughter will receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit in Confirmation. Just as others before her, she will discern God’s plan for her life, her unique path to holiness. I can see that she aims to do it with love. And I am so grateful she will have the Little Flower, the saint of the ‘Little Way,’ as her companion.

Featured Image by Walwyn; CC-BY-NC-2.0.

Topics: Little Way, St. Thérèse of Lisieux, saints

Living and Handing on the Faith

The McGrath Institute Blog helps Catholics live and hand on their faith in Jesus Christ, especially in the family, home and parish, and cultivates and inspires everyday leaders to live out the fullness and richness of their faith in the simple, little ways that make up Church life.

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