We all have our favorite saints. And then we have our Favorite Saints. Beloved Carmelite St. Thérèse of Lisieux is one of my Favorites. I find endless inspiration in her life and her Little Way. We Secular Carmelites refer to our Foundress, St. Teresa of Ávila, as our "Holy Mother," so when I pray to St. Thérèse, I affectionately call her my "Little Mother." I feel sure she does not begrudge me the familiarity. After all, her sweetness and holiness were in her littleness.
Here are four lessons the Little Flower has shared with me as her spiritual daughter. They are just a few of her incredible lessons for us all:
1. You are enough, and you are infinitely loved.
"How easy it is to please Jesus, to ravish His Heart. We have merely to love Him, while, at the same time, forgetting ourselves." - St. Thérèse
In our world and our culture, constant striving is the norm. Our lives are on display in ways past generations could never have imagined. Sadly, our society seems intent upon giving primacy of place to the opinions of others. In this quagmire, it is a challenge for some of us to believe we are enough. Count me in.
Many anchor their "enoughness" in passing things of no eternal value. Things that can steal their joy, security, and peace. What cannot fill us should not anchor us. I say that in hindsight, after the life of St. Thérèse powerfully clarified this truth. God's love was the only thing that mattered to her.
She lived and wrote of Jesus as the source of our worthiness. She said He wanted us to understand the unique beauty of our souls, as if we were all fragrant and colorful flowers in the garden of His delight. She counsels us to anchor ourselves in His love and authority. To live as little children, who relinquish all cares and seek all comforts from their Father in innocence and trust.
"Do not fear to tell Jesus that you love him, even without feeling it. That is the way to force Jesus to help you. To carry you like His little child too feeble to walk." - St. Thérèse
Your worth is in the One Who spoke you into being, loved you into existence, and upholds you with His love. You are enough because you are His. And within you is the infinite capacity for His divine love. He is captivated, committed, dwelling within you, and has loved you from all eternity.
There is no deeper or greater love to be experienced in this lifetime or the next. He desires to fill you with that love. You are literally capacity for the Living God, and as His child, your soul is the wellspring of your worth. Nothing else matters.
“O Jesus, if only I could tell all little souls of your immeasurable condescension. I feel that if you found a soul feebler than mine…You would delight in heaping even greater favors on it if it abandoned itself with supreme confidence to Your infinite mercy.” - St. Thérèse
In a culture screaming, "More!" why is it so hard to believe we are already enough? The allure of the world beckons us exteriorly, and somehow, we forget to look interiorly for the Lover of Our Souls. He placed our "enoughness" within us. He dwells within our souls.
St. Thérèse's life is proof that when we understand how He cherishes us, we can entrust ourselves to Him completely and receive His vision for our lives. It is a vision filled with love, belonging, hope, and desire for all the good He plans for us, including heaven.
2. God is a tender heavenly Father
“To remain little is to recognize one’s nothingness, to expect everything from God, as a little child expects everything from his father.” - St. Thérèse
The Little Flower saw with incredible spiritual insight that above all else, God has a Father's heart. She had an especially close relationship with her earthly father. She saw how he provided for his family not only materially, but emotionally and spiritually.
Raised in an affectionate and loving home, she understood the role of a good father and felt the comforting love of her Papa. Because she saw that God was an infinitely good father, she believed with childlike trust that He would provide everything she needed.
“We would never like to fall. What an illusion! What does it matter, my Jesus, if I fall at every moment? I come to realize by it how weak I am and that is gain for me.” - St. Thérèse
She also understood how her own smallness would call down the greatness of His divine love. His protective and Fatherly heart would bring that love to her, in any situation. I admire and aspire to her radical trust in Him.
Because of this trust, she abandoned herself entirely to Him in holy confidence. Whatever the circumstance, she abandoned herself into the arms of her Papa God, as she called Him.
"It is your arms, O' Jesus, which are the elevator to carry me to heaven. To get there I must remain little. I must not grow. I must become still less." - St. Thérèse
This way she lived joyfully and peacefully at the center of His will. She simply called out to her Papa God as a helpless child would and awaited His embrace of merciful love.
It is a struggle for many of us to see God as our tender heavenly Father like Thérèse did. To focus on His loving Fatherhood, and not His judgment. This has been one of the greatest obstacles in my spiritual life. To know it intellectually is one thing. To feel it and live it can be quite another. I am so grateful for her example and encouragement.
Thérèse's keen insight into the Father's heart allowed her to live securely in His merciful love. We all want that. She felt it so powerfully that she pledged her life as an oblation to it.
3. Love & humility are paramount to holiness.
Thérèse loved nature, often using it to explain God's divine work in the world. She saw herself as the "Little Flower of Jesus" after the Lord revealed to her a way to understand the beauty and diversity of every human soul:
"Jesus set before me the book of nature. I understood how all the flowers God created are beautiful, how the splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not take away the perfume of the violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy. I understood that if all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers. So it is in the world of souls, Jesus’ garden. He has created smaller ones and those must be content to be daisies or violets destined to give joy to God’s glances when He looks down at His feet. It pleases Him to create great saints, but…Our Lord’s love shines out just as much through a little soul that yields completely to His grace as in the greatest…what delights Him is the simplicity of these flowers of the field, and by stooping low, He shows how infinitely great He is...Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be." - St. Thérèse
Thérèse did not think of herself as a majestic rose, or a fragrant lily, but as a tiny wildflower that graced the garden of the Lord. She delighted in this thought, because she knew she was cherished as the tiny blossom along the footpath. Because of her love and humility, she wanted for herself only what He wanted.
In her early days, she dreamed of becoming a missionary, a warrior for Christ, and even exclaimed her desire to die on the battlefield for the Church. But she recognized God's plans for her were of far greater value, even if they seemed small at the time.
In this knowledge, she prayed to God to help her simplify her life in order to become whatever He wanted. What she once wanted for herself no longer mattered. When she understood His love for her, her heart opened to His desires like a flower to the sunshine, and she renounced her own.
By being docile to God's designs and seeking only to please Him, she reached the perfection He intended for her soul. How easily I fall into the trap of telling God what's best for me, for those I love, and even for the world. And how preposterous! Thérèse reminds me of who I am (tiny flower on the footpath), and Who He is (Master Gardener).
She liberates me from asking for less than what He wants to give, which is His perfect plan for me, regardless of whether I understand it in the moment. Then she helps me accept and embrace it with love and expectation.
“Sanctity does not mean this or that practice, it consists in a disposition of the heart which makes us humble and little in God’s arms, aware of our weakness and confident even to the audacity in the goodness of our Father.” - St. Thérèse
Thérèse said it was her joy to be little and imperfect, because she knew her Father would come to her aid. Awaiting His merciful love, she did everything she could to show love in return. This sweet offering of her soul to God became her Little Way.
She believed love should be the wellspring of every action. Grand gestures and important deeds are not necessary. Only everyday deeds done in love and for God.
4. Suffer well with patience and love.
“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.” - St. Thérèse
None of us will escape suffering, but as followers of Christ we believe it has redemptive value for our souls and for the world. St. Thérèse knew that offering all suffering to Jesus is a path to holiness.
The essence of St. Thérèse's spirituality is love. Every task and suffering, no matter how small, can become an offering for God and souls.
“I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifice to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” - St. Thérèse
She trusted God so radically that she had no doubt her offerings would bear fruit. Her sufferings then became gifts of her love. As she lay dying in the infirmary at the end of her life, God allowed her to experience her most profound suffering, a deep interior darkness.
In this dark night of the soul, the lies of the evil one echoed within her, in an effort to seize her from the grasp of God. Why did God the Father allow such treatment of His beloved daughter?
Because the painful experience increased her faith and perfected her love. This is another grace gained by suffering. She wrote that she made more acts of faith in those months than in the rest of her lifetime. She clung to God and pledged her love when attacked.
All of our suffering has inestimable value as an offering of love to God, for our own souls and for others. St. Thérèse reminds us that suffering well—with love and patience—is a spiritual treasure.
In my better moments, stopping myself when I grumble at a mundane suffering, I think of the Little Flower so I do not waste it or take all of the love out of my sacrifice. When I am faced with difficult trials, I ask her to guide me so that I can present them to God as an offering of my love.
"Life is only a dream: soon we shall awaken, and what joy! The greater our sufferings the more limitless our glory! Oh, do not let us waste the trial Jesus sends!" - St. Thérèse
The legacy of my Little Mother
I'm not alone in my love for St. Thérèse. Because anyone can live her Little Way of love and trust, she has become one of the most relatable and endearing saints in the history of the Church. In her own little way, she makes holiness seem more accessible.
She reveals to me a heart utterly captivated by God. A soul so in love with its Creator that nothing else matters. She lived in complete detachment from everything but Him. Thérèse is a model for this brief life, which she called "only a moment between two eternities."
I marvel at how she saw herself as a tiny flower on the footpath. It's true, she lived a life of silence and obscurity, cloistered within the walls of her Carmelite monastery. But today there are approximately 1.2 billion Catholics in the world, and God's Little Flower is no longer hidden. God's designs never cease to astound.
Thérèse is among the most revered and beloved saints of the Church. Her spirituality is one of the most popular devotions in our Faith. As we practice it, we too can become saints despite our hiddenness. What a testament to the life of my Little Mother and the merciful love of God.