The “Little Way” of St. Therese through Mary to Jesus

Original text by Rev. Jack Riley –

“It is to you, dear mother, to you who are doubly my mother that I come to confide this story of my soul. The day you asked me to do this, it seemed to me it would distract my heart by too much concentration on myself, but since then Jesus has made me feel that in obeying simply, I would be pleasing Him. Besides, I’m going to be doing only one thing, I shall begin to sing what I must sing eternally: ‘The Mercies of the Lord.’”

The young Carmelite who composed these words was hardly known outside of the cloister walls of her monastery in Lisieux, France. Living faithfully her “Little Way,” she managed to remain largely unnoticed even by the religious sisters with whom she lived. Yet not long after her death at the age of 24, Pope St. Pius X would call her “the greatest saint of modern times.” Known to her contemporaries as Sister Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, this young woman is more commonly known as “The Little Flower.”

A beautiful summary of her Little Way is offered in an old prayer:

“St. Therese, Little Flower, grant that I may follow your Little Way through Mary to Jesus –– the way of simplicity, joy, meekness and humility of heart, devotion to my vocation, constant prayer, self-immolation, abandonment of my will to the Will of God and confidence and love in Jesus.”

St. Therese boldly desired to become a saint from a very young age, and discovered the little way to God through her great humility. Like the Fatima children, she recognized that holiness can be attained in daily and ordinary activities –– to do “little things with great love.” Although God asks our cooperation in the working out of our salvation, the power, grace and glory are all from Him. Apart from Him, we can do nothing. Recog­nizing this, she understood that we must “become like little children,” totally dependent upon our Father –– God.  St. Therese believed that extraordinary graces are present in the most ordinary duties and chores if we perform them in union with Jesus; thus, as she observed, we can “pick up a pin with love and save a soul.”

The elevator to heaven is Jesus’ arms

“I want to seek out a means of going to heaven by a little way, a way that is very straight, very short and totally new,” St. Therese observed.  She found parallels to God’s path to heaven in everything that surrounded her. One beautiful analogy of how a soul reaches perfection was seeing herself as a young toddler who could not climb the stairs by herself, but needed the help of her father, God, to get up to the next step until she reached the top.

Living in the age of inventions, she noted that the elevator had replaced the need to even climb stairs. Therefore, she wanted to find an elevator that would raise her to Jesus, for she realized, “I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: “Whoever is a LITTLE ONE, let him come to me.” And so I succeeded. I felt I had found what I was looking for…. The elevator which must raise me to heaven is Your arms, O Jesus! And for this I had no need to grow up, but rather I had to remain little and become this more and more.”

St. Therese’s Little Way is simplicity itself –– detachment from worldly things, the recognition of our own small place in God’s plan and a profound love of God in Himself and in all things.  This leads one to joy, one of the fruits of the Holy Spirit that can manifest in a deep and profound experience of God in everything. It was not merely God’s consolations that gave her joy; St. Therese could be joyful while experiencing a feeling of God’s apparent absence from her soul, which she de­scribed as Jesus “sleeping in her little boat.” As she moved further along the way of perfection, St. Therese even found joy in suffering, asking Jesus, “Is there a joy greater than that of suffering out of love for you? … Suffering or consolation are all the same for a soul truly resigned to God’s will.”

A life of unceasing prayer

Her entire existence became a prayer. All circumstances, moments, events and encounters, good and bad, spoke to her of God, and she replied with love. Her constant dialogue with Jesus, in her thoughts and in the deepest part of her soul, enabled her to perceive His indwelling presence, hidden in the depths of her heart, giving her the grace of knowing and doing His will from moment to moment. Therese prayed with candor and utmost sincerity, seeing herself as a little Lamb of God united with the sacrifice of the Eternal Lamb of God . . . lost in the living flame of his infinite Love.

This extraordinarily ordinary young woman is a great teacher of a “Little Way,” a pathway to holiness that can lead people in all walks of life to the heights of sanctity.  May we all follow her Little Way through Mary to Jesus, with confidence and love.

(Parts of this article first appeared in Soul Magazine, August 1997)



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