When St. Therese of Lisieux died on September 30th, 1897, she was an unknown twenty-four year old Carmelite nun living in a small convent in northwestern France. Yet within years of her death, she would be called “one of the greatest saints of modern times” by one pope and canonized some 36 years after her death by another. What is it that has attracted so many people to this wonderful saint and why is it that we love her so much?
There is very little that one cannot like about St. Therese. In many ways, she remained a child throughout most of her short life. Her Little Way is different from many other methods of storming heaven because it emphasizes the little ways in which we can make life more bearable for those who surround us. Doing anything with a great amount of love, even folding laundry, can be part of the elevator that we take to heaven. Indeed, this is what St. Therese did and this is what her life exemplified.
In her magnificent autobiography, St. Therese writes simply about her many different experiences in life. In many ways, it is an utterly ordinary life. Yet it is also an extraordinary life because of the many graces that God showered upon his little flower. Indeed, St. Therese’s sweetness and love for others becomes apparent from childhood. Although she could be a stubborn little girl, she was always one that showed a great deal of attachment and love towards others. Once her life became directed towards God, however, it overflowed and it caused her to desire to plant the cross in every country in the world. St. Therese desperately wanted to be a missionary, but she was not able to accomplish this feat because of her health. And yet millions upon millions throughout the world have heard her message of love, which is God’s own message to us in whatever circumstances we may find ourselves in.
The image of St. Therese that so many carry within us is a portrait that has been varnished heavily since her death. Part of this began with the editing of her autobiography by one of her sisters and the portraits that were painted by her sister, Celine (Sr. Genevieve). Of course, these portraits do contain a great deal of truth about our saint, but they are not the full picture. As modern writers have tried to find out more about St. Therese, they are confronted with her unedited biography and her letters. Indeed, her letters speak to us of a young woman who sacrificed herself almost continually out of love of God and others. Little things were sacrificed for big graces. Remember the conversion of Pranzetti and how St. Therese did not stop praying until he was converted?
In many ways, St. Therese challenges us today to live like she did. Although we may not be able to enter Carmel and live there, we should have a habit of retiring into some solitary place for rest and recollection. Whether it is a favorite church or a room, we should have a place in which we can sit down and meditate on God’s truths. Places like this are hard to come by in today’s world, but we should not stop looking for them. They do exist even if they are within our own hearts.
Another way in which St. Therese challenges us is to allow ourselves to be carried by God in His arms. St. Therese uses this image in her autobiography to describe her road to sanctity. In many ways, therefore, we are being challenged to have child-like trust in God. This means that we give up everything for God and act confidently that He will provide us with everything that we need which is conducive for salvation. Whether evil befalls us or not, we should be greatful to God and trust that everything is for the best. This is what St. Therese did and this is one of the things that made her such a great saint.
Finally, we should realize that there are many people living in our world that may be saints and of whom we know little. Like St. Therese, there are many saintly people who have not done anything extraordinary. They have lived their lives as simply as they could and yet have attained great degrees of sanctity by doing things out of love for God. Indeed, this should be our own motivation. To do everything for love of God and for our neighbors. In this little way, we can practice St. Therese’s Little Way.
Our Lady of the Angels, pray for us!
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!