The Secret of St. Thérèse’s Little Way
Saturday, October 1 marks the feast day of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, a 19th-century Carmelite nun and the patroness of CatholicTV. St. Thérèse is recognized as a Doctor of the Church, and she is one of the most well-known saints of recent times. She is also called the Little Flower and St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.
Although she was a cloistered nun and died of tuberculosis at age 24, St. Thérèse has had a worldwide impact. After her death, her autobiography, Story of a Soul, was published. Since then, the saint and her approach to faith have influenced millions of people around the world.
What is most striking about St. Thérèse is her spirituality, which has come to be called the “little way.” St. Thérèse believed that a person did not have to do great, heroic deeds to serve God. Rather, she taught that performing any action, no matter how small, with great love, was a way to follow Jesus. This meant that sainthood and holiness were not reserved for the strong and powerful.
Perhaps the even better part of this teaching is that it offers us a great blessing: it reminds us that in everything we do, we have the opportunity to serve God. We don’t have to limit holiness to when we go to church or volunteer for a Catholic cause. By following the “little way,” we can find holiness and reveal God’s love by such actions as smiling at a stranger or having a conversation with someone who is lonely. If we follow the example of St. Thérèse, then we will begin to see the endless opportunities to serve God in all that we do. Before long, it will become a habit.
Historically, some people have had trouble getting on board with St. Thérèse’s message. They tend to lump her in with the romantic view of religion in 19th-century France and think she is too sweet. In truth, what we see is that St. Thérèse’s spirituality is really a call to humility. Her childlike faith was not childlike in the sense of being naïve or overly simplistic. Rather, she became humble in order to give herself completely to God, and made one of her major missions a childlike dependence on Him.
Nor was St. Thérèse’s spiritually unduly cheerful. On the contrary, she faced intense spiritual struggles, especially toward the end of her life, and she was even tempted by suicide. Though we call her the Little Flower, she was not merely the sweet and delicate flower we think of. Rather, she faced both her physical and spiritual struggles with the spotless and formidable armor of faith. She inspires us today to do the same.
On this feast day, we pray for the intercession of St. Thérèse, who said, “My mission to make God loved will begin after my death. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will send a shower of roses.” Pray for us, St. Thérèse, that we may follow your “little way” and be servants of God in even the smallest and humblest of our actions.