Fr. Ed Dougherty, M.M. The Christophers’ Board of Directors
As Lent begins, I can’t help but think of St. Therese of Lisieux’a autobiography, The Story of a Soul, where she wrote, “I prefer the monotony of obscure sacrifices to all ecstasies. To pick up a pin for love can convert a soul.” This statement reveals the humility of one of the great saints of the 19th century and provides a window into her simple yet profound spirituality.
Born in 1873, Therese lost her mother at an early age, which brought about years of emotional distress that didn’t subside until she was 13, when she had what she later described as a “complete conversion” to Christ. She later wrote of that time, “I felt, in a word, charity enter my heart, the need to forget myself to make others happy – Since this blessed night I was not defeated in any battle, but instead I went from victory to victory and began, so to speak, ‘to run a giant’s course.’”
This line about running a giant’s course is a reference to Psalm 19:5, in which the sun’s arch throughout the day is compared to a challenging course traversed by a great athlete. It’s interesting that Therese should describe her journey in such glorious terms because we know from her writings that she practiced the most humble form of spirituality. But it was not worldly glory that Therese was speaking of. She had discovered the glory of God in her own life, and she began to see how this glory manifested itself in the most simple and beautiful ways.
In 1997, Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a doctor of the Church, saying, “Her ardent spiritual journey shows such maturity, and the insights of faith expressed in her writings are so vast and profound that they deserve a place among the great spiritual masters.” Therese’s spirituality came to be defined by her “little way,” a phrase she coined to explain her path to God.
It consisted of an approach to life in which she would remain small and rely entirely upon Christ. She wrote, “Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow. On the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less.” So we see how Therese found her greatest strength in humility. By letting go of herself, she experienced glory in bringing joy to others.
The fact that she could find greater joy in picking up “a pin for love” than in the greatest of spiritual ecstasies says everything we need to know about Therese’s “little way.” She offers up these efforts as a way to convert souls to God.
Therese’s “little way” stands as a beacon for us all in these trying and often confusing times. It teaches that we are called to perform the basic duties God has put before us—and to bear in mind that our actions are not for ourselves but for the good of others. And we must offer up our labors for the conversion of souls so that all people we encounter might be inspired to love God and utilize their talents for the greater good.
The spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux provides a profound way to allow Christ into our lives. It is a path in which we place ourselves in service to others and allow Christ to do the job of lifting us all towards God and the promise of heavenly glory.