Before we return to studying Interior Castle, I’d like to return today to St. Therese and her little way.
So far in our study of St. Therese of Lisieux we have learned that God is our loving Father, in whom we can have complete trust. We have learned that great deeds are not necessary for holiness. We have discussed remaining calm when we sin. Now I’d like to look at the way St. Therese believed that ordinary Christians could become holy.
How did St. Therese explain the essence of her little way of spiritual childhood? When her sister Pauline (Mother Agnes) asked her what it meant to remain a child before God, she said:
“To be little is not attributing to oneself the virtues that one practices, believing oneself capable of anything, but to recognize that God places this treasure in the hands of His little child to be used when necessary; but it remains always God’s treasure.” (Last Conversations 139)
As we have spoken of before, when Therese was little she learned to count her good deeds on beads. That led to her putting too much emphasis on her works, which in turn led to severe scruples when she realized how worthless her little deeds must be in God’s eyes. How could she ever be good enough to merit Heaven?
Therese had a complete turn-around in her thinking. The deeds could be good enough because they themselves belonged to God. All she had to do was the task He set before her, the little tasks of her everyday life. The greatness of the task in the world’s eyes was completely irrelevant. What mattered was that she performed it, not out of fear or scruples, but out of love. She might not be able to do great deeds for God, but she believed that everyone could love Him greatly. Love transforms little deeds and makes them great.
Instead of doing great penances, as many saints of the past had done, Therese focused on submitting her will to God’s will. Her penance was to return a loving word for an unkind one, to remain silent when others misunderstood her, not to complain when things did not go as she desired, and to accept all the difficulties of her life with peace.
Therese wanted to become a foreign missionary and perhaps even a martyr. God did not allow this. She did not found a religious order as many saints have done. She did not even become a superior in the order as her sister did. In fact, she was denied having the title of novice mistress, although she did the work of one.
When a Carmelite nun died, the order would publish a short biography that included her spirituality. After Therese died, one of her fellow nuns asked, “What can they say about Sr. Therese? She hasn’t done anything!” This would have been exactly what Therese would have liked to hear. All her good deeds were done in secret.
We could spend a lifetime wishing we were stronger, physically or spiritually. We could wish to do great things for God. But Jesus said that it is those who have been faithful in little things that will be given great things to do (see Matthew 25:21-23). Little things are always available to us. We can begin to do them today out of love for God.