What is the Little Way of Holiness of St. Therese?
Written by Grace Babineau, a Catholic blogger at www.gracefuljournal.com
Since the time I was young, I have been drawn to St. Thérèse of Lisieux. My maternal grandparents always had a strong devotion to her, and I was often encouraged as a young child to follow her “Little Way.” Her child-like charism and simplicity provided a foundation for the cultivation of my faith as an adult, making the often-intimidating truths of the Catholic Faith clearer to my young mind. Choosing her as my Confirmation saint sealed the deal and she has continued to be an encouraging companion through many trials and joys, providing powerful intercession and tender friendship.
The Life of Saint Thérèse
Thérèse’s story is a simple one. Born to Louis and Zelie Martin on January 2, 1873, she was the youngest of five girls, though her parents had lost 4 children before Thérèse. Hardship was certainly no stranger in the Martin household. When Thérèse was 4, her mother died, leaving her to find solace in the care of her father and sisters. While Thérèse struggled with illness and anxiety during her school years, her faith in Christ supported her, especially when her sisters, Pauline and Marie, departed to enter the Carmelite Monastery. These trials strengthened Thérèse’s faith, inspiring it with a magnanimity that allowed her to see the immense good she could accomplish by surrendering her sufferings to Christ as an offering for souls.
Infused with a desire to dedicate her life wholly to Christ, Thérèse was finally accepted into the Carmelite Monastery of Lisieux at the young age of 15 (after attempting to enter since the age of 9). Dedicated to a life of prayer, silence, and community with her fellow nuns, it was during this time that Thérèse developed her “Little Way” of achieving sanctity by making herself like a little child. This “Little Way” was Thérèse’s elevator to heaven, where she could become a great saint only by relying on her weakness as an invitation for Christ’s strength to sustain her. After nine years in the Carmelite order, Thérèse died from tuberculosis on September 30, 1897—but not before writing her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, which rapidly attracted much attention in the months following her death.
There are many avenues through which to explore St. Thérèse’s life and witness of love, but there are three, in particular, I want to emphasize, since these can help us see her as an inspiration for spiritual growth.
The Normalcy of Saint Thérèse
While St. Thérèse has had an enormous and profound influence on the Church through her introduction of the “Little Way,” she was, in many ways, as ordinary as you and I. She had a bad temper, which she fought against throughout her life, even while in the convent. Very small annoyances caused her to become greatly agitated, including the scoldings of an old nun she had to physically assist and the rattling of beads during prayer. Thérèse struggled with the demands of Carmelite life, too, often falling asleep during prayer. However, these genuinely human struggles never deterred her from the opportunity to offer her weaknesses into the hands of Jesus, who could transform them into powerful offerings of grace.
The Boldness of Saint Thérèse
While acutely aware of her weaknesses, Thérèse possessed a boldness that gave her the courage to achieve greatness, despite the humble appearances of her life. Thérèse displayed the virtue of magnanimity or “greatness of soul” whereby one strives for greatness according to his or her God-given gifts. Thérèse’s magnanimity led her to become the patron saint of missionaries, even though she never left the confines of her Carmelite abode. She knew she could have a powerful impact on souls, even from great distances, and drew great inspiration from St. Joan of Arc, whom she admired for her confident courage. How inspiring to see the courage of both Joan and Thérèse manifested so diversely while leading both to sainthood! Courage does not need to be manifested in magnificent deeds to be authentically virtuous.
The Child-Like Surrender of Saint Thérèse
As the youngest of five sisters, Thérèse grew up as the baby of the family, constantly tended to by her older sisters, nurse, and parents. Her father called her his “little queen” and loved to take her on long walks, carrying her in his arms whenever she grew tired. Having learned this art of child-like surrender from her youth, she applied it to her spiritual life more deeply the older she grew. She knew that on her own, she could never achieve the heights of sanctity, but through Christ’s compassionate strength, His love could lift her to the heights of eternal bliss.
Thérèse’s humble faith shows us that we can begin our journey to holiness exactly where we are right now. The smallest of actions that make up our day can bring us to holiness, if only we do them in the name of love, surrendering ourselves to a God who delights in the pure abandonment of our weakness to His strength. May the intercession of St. Thérèse teach us the beauty of child-like 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 of Lisieux
Our Little Flower Necklace and Little Flower Earrings were inspired by Saint Thérèse of Lisieux. She is also available as a charm selection for our Custom Saint Necklace, Custom Saint Bracelet, and Floral Cross & Saint Necklace
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