St. Thérèse ‘Living by Love’: Part 2
Editor's Note: This is Part 2 of a series. Find the first installment here.
On Oct. 15, Pope Francis released an apostolic exhortation on St. Thérèse of Lisieux. This year marks 150 years since Thérèse’s birth and 100 years since her beatification. The message was published on the liturgical feast of St. Teresa of Ávila, a fellow Carmelite from whom Thérèse inherited “a great love for the Church.” Thérèse, a doctor of the Church, has called the faithful to follow her along her “Little Way,” inspiring countless people to greater charity toward their neighbor and more complete trust in God.
The Register spoke with several devotees of the Little Flower who have studied and written about her spirituality and offered timely insights gleaned from this new papal document on the beloved saint.
Heather Khym is the cohost of the internationally popular Abiding Together Podcast. She and her husband, Jake, are the co-founders of Life Restoration Ministries, where she serves as director of vision and ministry of the British Columbia-based apostolate. She has more than 25 years of experience as a speaker and retreat leader, offering workshops and conferences in the United States and Canada.
Anthony Lilles is professor of spiritual theology and director of the M.A. program at St. Patrick’s Seminary and University in Menlo Park, California, and co-author of Living the Mystery of Merciful Love: 30 Days With Thérèse of Lisieux.
Kris McGregor, founder and executive director of Discerning Hearts, is a regular on EWTN Radio, conducts retreats with Anthony Lilles and Father Timothy Gallagher, and provides commentary on saints for EWTN’s The Doctors of the Church series.
Edward Sri is a theologian and author of a new book featuring various saints, including St. Thérèse of Lisieux, called When You Pray: Trust, Surrender and the Transformation of Your Soul (Ascension Press).
Francis writes, “One of the most important insights of Therese for the benefit of the entire People of God is her ‘little way,’ the path of trust and love, also known as the way of spiritual childhood. Everyone can follow this way, whatever their age or state in life. It is the way that the heavenly Father reveals to the little ones (cf. Matthew 11:25).” Why does the Little Way endure, particularly in the modern world?
KHYM: The Little Way is so countercultural. The culture proclaims the best way to live is through hustling, grasping, pushing to succeed, self-reliance, and being the hero of your own story, whereas Thérèse proclaimed the Little Way of utter dependence on God, letting go, surrendering to Providence, and unabashedly throwing herself into the arms of Christ our Savior. This message is the antidote for the exhaustion, restlessness and pressure we feel in today’s world. What relief we could all find in following the Little Way that allows us to give up control and leads us straight to the loving arms of Jesus.
LILLES: What is so beautiful about the Little Way is that it is the Gospel of Christ. St. John of the Cross also advocates the same pathway when he teaches, “Where there is no love, put love, and you will find love.” In a world that relies on achievement and industry, technique and technology, the Little Way reproposes the simplicity of the Gospel.
MCGREGOR: St. Thérèse’s Little Way invites us to approach daily life with maximal love, embracing our imperfections humbly and without despair. Recognizing our numerous faults, we are encouraged to trust in God’s strength to transform our weaknesses into love that can transform the world.
The Little Way embodies simplicity and humility, urging us to adopt straightforward, uncomplicated acts of love in our everyday lives. It diverges from grandiose spiritual ambitions, reminding us that sanctity can be pursued through small, intentional acts of kindness and love. St. Thérèse assures us that this path is accessible to everyone, regardless of our state in life.
While deepening our knowledge of God through Bible studies, parish programs, and increased prayer and fasting is commendable, St. Thérèse cautions against overburdening ourselves to the point of discouragement. Her Little Way offers a gentle, sustainable path to holiness, ensuring that our journey towards God is filled with love, simplicity, and profound trust in his transformative grace and mercy.
SRI: The modern, secular world thinks it is self-sufficient and forgets humanity’s complete dependence on God. Even Christians living in this post-Christian environment are susceptible to this tendency to self-reliance: We work hard to pray, overcome our sins, grow in virtue. We might acknowledge we need God’s grace and mercy, but we wish we didn’t have to rely on it too much. We’d rather approach God less needy, less poor, less imperfect, and we easily get frustrated with ourselves when we experience our weakness. But when we do that, we reveal an even deeper weakness — that we are putting our confidence in ourselves more than in the Lord.
Thérèse’s Little Way is the opposite of all this. It’s about surrendering to the truth of how much we really need God — of how weak we really are and of how little we can do on our own. While the modern tendency is to grasp for more control over our lives, to prove to ourselves, to others and even to God that we have it all together and are worthy of love, Thérèse invites us to embrace our poverty. Instead of climbing the mountain of sanctity on our own, she invites us to dare to meet God in the valley of humility and still experience the Father’s love.
This is why she says that what God loves most in her soul is not her ambitious spiritual works or desires, but her accepting the truth of her littleness and her utter dependence on God. She once wrote, “What pleases Him [God] is that He sees me loving my littleness and my poverty.” Thérèse reminds us that if we want to reach the heights in the spiritual life, we must first step downward and accept our lowliness, how broken we really are, and how we cannot be changed on our own and allow the Lord to do in our souls what we could never achieve on our own.