Today, October 1, is the Memorial of St. Therese of of the Child Jesus, the Little Flower.
Born in 1873, Therese was the youngest of nine children (five surviving to adulthood) of devout Catholic parents, Sts. Zelie and Louis Martin (who were canonized in 2015). She followed three of her sisters into the Carmelite monastery at the age of 15 and died of tuberculosis at the age of 24 in 1897. It is nothing less than a miracle of God’s Providence that one so tucked away and who died so young has become, by any measure, one of the greatest and most revered of modern saints. Therese wrote her story and her spirituality in her book, The Autobiography of a Soul, which her Carmelite Sisters published after her death. Her spirituality of submission to Divine Providence and of focus on great love rather than great deeds has endeared her to generations of Catholics and non-Catholics who desire to live faithfully in the everyday, smallish circumstances of their lives. Any act, St. Therese assured us, done in love can be transformed into a moment of saving grace.
St. Therese said, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to great ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.”
And, “Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.”
Few of us have the opportunity to radically transform society, or to do great deeds for Christ and His Church. The “Little Way” of St. Therese appeals, then, to the great majority of us who live simple, obscure, tucked away lives. Yet, St. Therese shows us that we can love greatly and, in doing so, invite God’s transforming grace into even the most mundane moments. It is because of the spirituality of the Little Way that Pope St. John Paul II declared St. Therese of Lisieux a Doctor of the Church on the 100th anniversary of her death in 1997.
An excerpt from her autobiography:
Since my longing for martyrdom was powerful and unsettling, I turned to the epistles of Saint Paul in the hope of finally finding an answer. By chance the twelfth and thirteenth chapters of the first epistle to the Corinthians caught my attention, and in the first section I read that not everyone can be an apostle, prophet or teacher, that the Church is composed of a variety of members, and that the eye cannot be the hand. Even with such an answer revealed before me, I was not satisfied and did not find peace.
I persevered in the reading and did not let my mind wander until I found this encouraging theme: Set your desires on the greater gifts. And I will now show you the way which surpasses all others. For the Apostle insists that the greater gifts are nothing at all without love and that this same love is surely the best path leading directly to God. At length I had found peace of mind.
When I had looked upon the mystical body of the Church, I recognized myself in none of the members which Saint Paul described, and what is more, I desired to distinguish myself more favorably within the while body. Love appeared to me to be the hinge for my vocation. Indeed I knew that the Church had a body composed of various members, but in this body the necessary and more noble member was not lacking; I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love. I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more. I saw and realized that love sets off the bounds of all vocations, that love is everything, that this same love embraces every time and every place. In one word, that love is everlasting.
Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last I have found my calling: my call is love. Certainly I have found my proper place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction.
From The Liturgy of the Hours
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.