Born in 1873 as Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was a Carmelite nun with an intense devotion to Christ. She had a simple yet profound understanding of her faith and her relationship with Christ. She provided examples to us of how to be Christ-like to those in our lives through prayer and acts of charity. St. Thérèse died at only 24 years old of tuberculosis, but lived an immense life of faith.
In his homily at the Mass where she was declared a Doctor of the Church in 1997, now-Saint John Paul II talked about the way in which Thérèse lived: “She counters a rational culture, so often overcome by practical materialism, with the disarming simplicity of the ‘little way’ which, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life: the Divine Love that surrounds and penetrates every human venture.”
Her example of living your life of faith by practicing little deeds has inspired many Catholics because it is an easy concept to grasp. We are all capable of doing something small to show our love to those around us. In his recent visit to the United States, Pope Francis talked about the importance of doing small acts of faith.
“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures. ‘Whoever gives you a cup of water in my name will not go unrewarded’, says Jesus (cf. Mk 9:41). These little gestures are those we learn at home, in the family; they get lost amid all the other things we do, yet they do make each day different. They are the quiet things done by mothers and grandmothers, by fathers and grandfathers, by children. They are little signs of tenderness, affection and compassion. Like the warm supper we look forward to at night, the early lunch awaiting someone who gets up early to go to work. Homely gestures. Like a blessing before we go to bed, or a hug after we return from a hard day’s work. Love is shown by little things, by attention to small daily signs which make us feel at home.”
The parish in which I grew up is now known as the National Shrine of the Little Flower Basilica in Royal Oak, MI. Made famous by the “Radio Priest,” Rev. Charles Coughlin in the 1930s, the building itself became a place of comfort and welcoming for me while in my youth, and the patroness, St. Thérèse, an example and spiritual guide.
As a student in the parish school, I felt a sense of connection with young Thérèse. She made being a saint and apostle of Christ accessible to me in a way that is much more profound in hindsight. Because she was so young and the fact that the Church made such a huge deal about her, through her canonization and being made a Doctor of the Church, was inspiring to me as a child. Maybe I had the ability to follow in her footsteps. Maybe I could live a life worthy of sainthood, even though I was only a kid.
St. Thérèse herself says, “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.” (From No Greater Love by Mother Teresa)
Her love of Christ and devotion to his Church provides all of us with a path for our lives. As Catholics, we do not need to do great things to show others the face of God. Rather, we need to do what we can and do that in the best way possible with the talents God has given us. For some, that may be serving the Church as a lector at Mass or discerning a religious vocation or something as simple as smiling at a stranger on your commute to work.
To this day, I still follow St. Thérèse’s example of living out my faith in little ways. She continues to inspire me to live a life worthy of sainthood.