Today, October 1, is the Memorial of St. Therese of the Child Jesus, also known as St. Therese of Lisieux. She is affectionately called “The Little Flower”.
St. Therese is perhaps the most popular saint of the last one hundred years. She is regarded as one of the three great “Saint Teresas”, along with St. Teresa of Avila (October 15) and St. Teresa of Calcutta (September 5). But, she was a hidden treasure during her lifetime, tucked away in a Carmelite monastery in Lisieux, in the northwest corner of France. It was a short life, too. St. Therese died of tuberculosis at the age of twenty-four, barely known by anyone outside her family and her community of nuns. How did one so hidden and unassuming, a young Carmelite nun in a cloistered monastery, become a Doctor of the Church and spiritual guide to so many around the world?
Under an instruction of obedience, St. Therese wrote her spiritual autobiography, which was published after her death. The Story of a Soul quickly became a national and then an international sensation. People were drawn to St. Therese’s spirituality of “the little way”, which encouraged, not great acts of spiritual heroics, but simple, small, daily acts of sacrificial love. It is a spirituality attractive to all because it is accessible to all. Not everyone is in a position to do great things. St. Therese herself certainly was not! But, all can do what they can where they are, offering small sacrifices of love to Jesus for the sake of the salvation of the world. This became St. Therese’s mission. As she wrote in The Story of a Soul:
“I will seek out a means of getting to Heaven by a little way — very short and very straight little way that is wholly new. We live in an age of inventions; nowadays the rich need not trouble to climb the stairs, they have lifts instead. Well, I mean to try and find a lift by which I may be raised unto God, for I am too tiny to climb the steep stairway of perfection. … Thine Arms, then O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.”
St. Therese’s “little way” can be summed up in her statement:
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.”
In prayer and reflection, St. Therese learned that her vocation was to love. It is so for each of us. But, to love greatly is to love where we are those who are in our lives. We need not work out our salvation by heroic acts of sanctity. Simply loving the people the Lord has placed in our lives on this day, each day learning how to love a little better, is St. Therese’s key to sanctity and her “lift” to Heaven.
God our Father, you have promised your kingdom to those who are willing to become like little children. Help us to follow the way of Saint Theresa with confidence so that by her prayers we may come to know your eternal glory. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. (from The Liturgy of the Hours).
Be Christ for all. Bring Christ to all. See Christ in all.