A Reflection on St. Therese of Lisieux, Doctor of the Church
By Brian Campos
For those of you who me, you know that I talk a lot about my Protestant friends. I talk about them because in a lot of ways, they have had a tremendous influence on my Catholicism. You see, my friends made me want to know more about my faith, so I can defend it. Whenever they would talk about their own Protestant faiths, it made me want to talk about my Catholic faith with the same zeal and same knowledge as they did. So, it was in the context of wanting to know more about my Catholic faith that I happen to run into this book, and thank God the Holy Spirit for directing me to it. When I was a sophomore in college, I read a book called I Believe in Love by Fr. Jean C. J. d’Elbee.
Basically it was a reflection on the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux which is more popularly known as her “little way”. When I started reading this book, I couldn’t put it down. I zoomed through it in a couple of days, neglecting the outside world around me. When I finished reading this book, it changed me. It changed how I viewed my actions, because it made realize just how much of an effect they have, no matter how big or small they may be, in defining who I am as a person and my faith journey towards my God.
And this is why it changed me. What was most striking about her spirituality was just how applicable it was to daily life. Especially this year, as we celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Second Vatican Council in what our Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI has called the ‘Year of Faith’, we reflect on how the entire people of God is universally called to holiness. This means, that we’re ALL called to holiness, no matter what our station is in life, whether you are a priest, a nun, a teacher, a youth minister, or Joe Schmo, we are called to the same holiness. The purpose of our lives is to become Saints!
Now St. Therese really took this to heart. She wanted to be a Saint, but in her humility, she realized that she could not possibly match the lives of the great Saints in history. In her mind, what actions could she do in her life that could match the works of St. Augustine? Or the works of St. Patrick in converting all of Ireland to the holy faith? Or St. Therese of Avila for her holiness and mysticism and her work in reforming the Carmelite order? Or the countless of women and men who have been martyred for the faith? How could she, plain and simple Therese, possibly match the great heroes of Christianity that came before?
It was in her humble determination to become a saint that she understood then that it was on this very littleness that she must learn to ask God’s help. That she didn’t have to do some great big thing like the great saints of the past did, she can attain sainthood by doing little things, because those little things added up constitutes a big thing, because it is Jesus that makes them big.
The book goes on to apply this spirituality of the Little Way in every decision that we make, especially in those decisions where we lie on a junction between choosing to do right or choosing to do evil. When we’re confronted with those kinds of decisions, no matter how small or insignificant they seem to be, St. Therese says to us “Choose to be a Saint!” Choose the path that God would want us to choose, and not the path of evil that leads to death. And we can make these decisions on the smallest issues, and God in His goodness will appreciate them in the same way that He appreciated the tremendous works of the great saints of the past. For example, when you’re at school and you see someone getting picked on. Choose to be a saint! Stand up for that person! Or when you’re at your kitchen, and you see the trash has piled up. Choose to be a saint! Take the trash out and don’t wait for someone else to do it. Or when someone is being unpleasant to you. Choose to be a saint ! Practice patience, turn the other cheek, and pray for them.
So on October 1st, as the church celebrates the feast of St. Therese of Lisieux, who in her little way taught us so much that she is now among the Doctors of the Church, say a prayer to God in thanksgiving for her life and spirituality. At the same time, let us recommit ourselves to choosing to be saints in everything that we do, so that we may attain what St. Therese herself now enjoys, eternal life in Heaven with God!
St. Therese of Lisieux, pray for us!
Blessed be God, in His Angels and in His Saints!