The Little Way of Love: A Reflection on St. Thérèse of LisieuxTuesday 15th November 2022
By Sister Joan Kerley, FMSJ
People across the diocese are embarking on a fascinating new course entitled Women Saints and Spirituality as part of the Laudato Si’ Centre‘s commitment to fostering healthy living through care of the earth and care of the human person.
The course – running until August 2023 – reflects on 12 women saints, their lives and spirituality, and how their experience of God can help us to reflect on our own.
All of these women, though in different centuries and countries, have one thing in common: they were passionately committed to living a Gospel life, centred in prayer, and lived in concrete ways of helping the poor in their own times.
Our saint for November is Thérèse of Lisieux, famous for her “little way” and her statement: “Upon my death I will let fall a shower of roses; I wish to spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth.”
Thérèse, who died at age 24, spent her short adult life as a Carmelite Sister in Lisieux, France. Although this vocation is not what most of us are called to, she can teach us the fundamental way of prayer: “Love God with your whole heart, mind and soul and your neighbour as yourself.”
In his book, Ways of Imperfection: An Exploration of Christian Spirituality, (pp.224-225) Simon Tugwell quotes her untitled poem:
“You, the great God, whom all heaven adores,
You live in me, a prisoner night and day;
The whole time your gentle voice implores me,
You keep on saying, “I am thirsty.. I thirst for love.”
I also am your prisoner,
And I want to say back to you
Your own tender and divine prayer,
‘My beloved, my brother, I thirst for love.’”
In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Thérèse relates two incidents which had a huge impact on her spiritual life. She had a great sense of belonging to the Body of Christ but, when she was meditating on St. Paul’s passage on the gifts of the Spirit and the unity and diversity of the Body of Christ (1Cor12), she began to get discouraged because she did not see her vocation there.
However, she found it in the next chapter on love: “So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.” (1Cor.13:13). She wanted to be united with all the members of the Body of Christ, and serve them, through small acts of love, including prayer. Another influential image was a picture of the crucified Christ in which she noticed that blood was flowing from Jesus’ hands and no one seemed to be gathering it up. Thérèse understood that Christ was still bleeding in the wounded of the world and, like Christ, their suffering is often ignored, unnoticed and not valued. Her small acts of love, she believed, could unite her with those suffering people and bring Christ’s love and healing to them.
What can we learn from her that will help us address the needs of our day? From 6- 18 November 2022 world leaders will meet for COP27 at the Sharm el-Sheikh International Conference Centre in Egypt to continue discussing ways that all people can address one of the most pressing issues of our day: climate change.
Sometimes the extent of the problem may seem overwhelming or we may think that it is best to leave the solution to those who understand the issues better than we do and have the means to address them. I think Thérèse would disagree. As Pope Francis continually reminds us: we are all interconnected and what we do affects the lives of people, particularly the poor, in direct ways.
Thérèse’s “little way” challenges us to do our part to contribute to the solution. Are you a scientist, a teacher, an economist, a sociologist? Use your talents to educate and research. Are you a writer, a musician, an artist, a photographer? Create art that leads us to contemplate and wonder at the beauty of creation. Are you a parent, a caretaker, a religious leader? Help us to care for one another in practical ways that nourish our lives and our souls.
Thérèse lived an obscure, unremarkable life, she thought, in a cloister. Yet, her autobiography has influenced the lives of countless others and challenged them to live the Gospel by doing simple acts of love.
Our earth needs our love. The suffering, wounded ones of our world, here and abroad, need our love.
Most of us will never be famous but all of us can live a life of love of God and neighbour through our prayers, our words, and our concrete actions to address the challenges that face our world today.
May St. Thérèse continue to guide us as we follow her example!