What is the meaning of ‘the little way’ of St. Thérèse? It is an image that tries to capture her understanding of being a disciple of Jesus Christ, of seeking holiness of life in the ordinary and the everyday.
St. Thérèse based ‘her little way’ on two fundamental convictions: (1) God shows love by mercy and forgiveness, and (2) she could not be ‘perfect’ in following the Lord. St. Thérèse believed that the people of her time lived in too great a fear of God’s judgment. The fear was stifling and did not allow people to experience the freedom of the children of God.
St. Thérèse knew from her life that God is merciful love; many scripture passages in the Old and New Testaments bore out that truth. She loved the maternal images for God in the Old Testament and the love of God for us in Jesus Christ.
In fact, St. Thérèse once wrote that she could not understand how anyone could be afraid of a God who became a child. She also knew that she would never be perfect. Therefore, she went to God as a child approaches a parent . . . with open arms and a profound trust.
St. Thérèse translated ‘the little way’ in terms of a commitment to the tasks and to the people we meet in our everyday lives. She took her assignments in the convent of Lisieux as ways of manifesting her love for God and for others. She worked as a sacristan by taking care of the altar and the chapel; she served in the refectory and in the laundry room; she wrote plays for the entertainment of the community. Above all, she tried to show a love for ail the nuns in the community. She played no favourites; she gave of herself even to the difficult members. Her life sounds so routine and ordinary, but it was steeped in a loving commitment that knew no breakdown. It is called a ‘little way’ precisely by being simple, direct, yet calling for amazing fortitude and commitment.
In living out her life of faith she sensed that everything that she was able to accomplish came from the generous love of God in her life. She was convinced that at the end of her life she would go to God with empty hands. Why? Because all was accomplished in union with God.
Catholics and other Christians have been attracted to St. Thérèse’s style. Her ‘little way’ seems to put holiness of life within the reach of ordinary people. Live out your days with confidence in God’s love for you. Recognize that each day is a gift in which your life can make a difference by the way you choose to live it. Put hope in a future in which God will be all and love will consume your spirit. Choose life, not the darkness of pettiness and greed. St. Thérèse knew the difference love makes by allowing love to be the statement she made each day of her life.
Rev. John F. Russell, O.Carm.
Seton Hall University, South Orange, N.J. 07079
Sicut Parvuli, July 1997
Vol. LIX No. 2