Today (10/1) is the feast day of St. Therese of the Child Jesus. St. Therese grew up in Normandy, France and entered the Carmelite Monastery in Lisieux at the age of 15, where she joined two of her older sisters who had entered the community before her (her younger sister would eventually join them there too). St. Therese was canonized a saint in 1925, twenty-eight years after her death at the age of 24. St. John Paul II declared her a Doctor of the Church in 1997 for her spiritual insights, which she referred to as “the little way.” In her spiritual autobiography, The Story of a Soul, Therese described what this meant: “Love proves itself by deeds, so how am I to show my love? Great deeds are forbidden me. The only way I can prove my love is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love.”
Therese was aware of her smallness and her insignificance, and yet she had the intense desire for holiness. She realized that the path to great sanctity is not in great acts of heroism, but in the day-to-day acts of sacrificial love shown to one’s neighbor, done for love of them and for love of God. She saw herself as a foolish little creature, yet beloved by Christ. That’s true for all of us, by the way. God loves us. Indeed, He is in love with us. And our response must be to entrust ourselves entirely to His care, like little children.
St. Therese is a great saint for modern times. Modern life is filled with conveniences, but at the same time it is easy for us to feel insignificant and helpless – just think about how we react when our technology doesn’t work the way we need it to! Everything is so fragile and changes so quickly, we can become terribly afraid about the future. Powerless to control our lives, there is a great temptation to lash out in hatred and anger just so we might feel heard and noticed. But the life and example of St. Therese offers an alternative. It reveals that the most ordinary life – even a life lived hidden from the world behind the walls of a Carmelite monastery – can transform the world forever, if one is not afraid to love.