Little Way for Our Wounded World

How my friendship with St. Therese grew, and how it might just be the balm needed for our aching world.

St. Therese and I first met on the yellowed pages of a library book whose cover had faded but whose story transcends time.  The story of her soul spoke straight to mine, and I proclaimed like C.S. Lewis, “What, you too?  I thought I was the only one!”  From that young age, I found in her a soul sister.  Although the great chasms of space and time separated us, she somehow felt nearer to me than any playmate. 

As I grew older, I began to worry that St. Therese was a saint for childhood and that I should leave her behind in search of a more “mature” saint to befriend.  Instead, I found insight and wisdom time and again.  Maybe St. Therese isn’t just a Little Flower, maybe she’s also an onion – once you peel back one layer, another is waiting underneath.  The theology of her writings and of her very life has such depth that it would be impossible to reach the bottom on this side of eternity.  And so from my childhood until now, she has been my constant companion on life’s journey.  Her “shower of roses” have guided my steps and her insights have illuminated my soul.

As I’ve moved through various Catholic circles, it’s been apparent that I’m far from alone in my friendship with Therese.  The net of her story has caught many souls and shaped countless lives.  The story of her life is inspiring and the work she has done after death is no less impressive.  Many can attest that she has “spent her heaven doing good on earth.”

Plunging deeper into the depths of St. Therese and continuing friendship with her has guided me in countless ways.  And I believe this “greatest saint of modern times” (according to Pope Pius X) has much to offer our wounded world.

As a little girl, Therese had a natural tendency toward the dramatic.  She took things personally and was prone to emotion.  This resonated with me as a little girl who wanted to be holy but often struggled to withhold my strong emotions.  In a miraculous moment on Christmas Day, 1886 (exactly 100 years before my first Christmas!) God’s grace cured Therese.  She was no longer prone to emotional outbursts and instead filled with intense joy and peace.  What hope this has given me!  What hope this can offer a modern world that promotes emotion over reason and is desperate for true peace.

“Upon my death I will let fall a shower of roses; I wish to spend my heaven in doing good upon the earth.”  I’m not sure of another saint who offers such concrete, visible proof of his or her intercession.  Perhaps the reason that many of us on earth feel her friendship so keenly is because of her presence through answered prayers and gifts of roses.  A rose in answer to prayer makes that answer hard to miss!  The scent of heavenly roses stood by my side on my First Communion Day, led me to The Catholic University of America, gave me the confidence to study abroad, offered consolation to a family at a funeral, and has shown up in so many other ways.  I visited her hometown in Lisieux, France by myself as a college student.  But I was not alone that day.  Her presence beside me was palpable throughout the pilgrimage.  How grateful I am that life’s path has been strewn with her roses.  How many in society who do not believe in God could be aided by devotion to Therese and the visible proof of answered prayer!

Deep in my heart, I have an intense longing to do something great.  Correction: deep in my heart, I have an intense longing to do EVERYTHING great!  When I hear a heroic story or of a courageous act performed by someone, I want to do it too.  For example, after hearing a talk about a ministry to help women escape from prostitution by going undercover in the inner city, I was set on fire and ready to sign up!  My husband talked me down, saying that a mother of four young children and a nursing baby was probably not the best candidate for the position.  My longing is an echo of a longing experienced by Therese,

“I feel myself called to be a soldier, priest, apostle, doctor of the church, martyr. Finally, I feel the need, the desire to perform all the most heroic deeds for you, Jesus... I feel in my soul the courage of a crusader, of a soldier for the Church, and I wish to die on the field of battle in defense of the Church... Jesus, Jesus, if I wanted to write all my desires, I would have to take your Book of Life, where the deeds of your saints are recorded: all these deeds I would like to accomplish for you.” How often I want to do it all!  But in Therese, I again find the key, “O Jesus, my Love, at last I have found my vocation, my vocation is Love!... Yes, I have found my place in the Church, and it is you, O my God, who have given me this place... in the heart of the Church, my Mother, I will be Love!.... Thus I shall be all things: thus my dream shall be realized!!!”

Love.  In the heart of the Church, in the heart of her convent, in the heart of my home, we are called to Love.  When covered with Love, even the smallest deeds can be magnified and used by our Heavenly Father for His designs in greater ways than we can fathom.  In a world so discontent, perhaps people could find contentment living little moments with great love.

As a wife and mother, I have uncovered yet another layer of St. Therese: her parents.  She introduced me to Louis and Zelie who, according to her were, “more worthy of heaven than of earth.”  Zelie and Louis are also canonized saints.  Both strove to figure out how to grow in holiness within the vocation to marriage.  They ran businesses and struggled to figure out how to raise their children.  Zelie’s life experience more closely resembles mine as wife and mother and so I was inspired anew when reading the stories of her soul.  Seeds of the Little Way are strewn throughout her writing and experience.  As a mother, she formed the foundations for the soul of a saint.  As I struggle to discern the best way to raise and form my children, St. Zelie reminds me of the awesome task before me and the humble grace needed to thrive.  In a world where many parents are ill-equipped or unwilling to form their children in faith, perhaps the example and intercession of saints Zelie and Louis are just what we need.

The deepest well of St. Therese’s insight from which we can drink again and again, is that of mercy and trust.  Therese was keenly aware of her littleness.  She knew her spiritual poverty.  Therein lay her true strength.  For as a little child, she totally, completely abandoned herself to the mercy of God, knowing that this alone could raise her to great heights.  She said, “It is sufficient to acknowledge one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself like a child to God’s arms.”  She trusted fully and the fruit of this trust was peace and joy.  How often in my life I have sinned and been afraid to approach the mercy of God in confession?  Therese reminds me that my sins are “like a drop of water thrown in a fiery furnace.”  I need not fear.  How often has something scary or unknown happened in my life and I react in anxiety and worry?  St. Therese reminds me that our Heavenly Father is worthy of trust and all outcomes are in His hands.  Our world is thirsty for mercy and overflowing with anxiety.  How much we could learn from St. Therese’s simple trust and abandonment to divine mercy.

The paths of our lives may contain many hills and valleys.  The way is often unknown.  But if we journey with the Little Flower by our side, we can trust that the way will be strewn with heavenly roses.

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