Somewhere among my memorabilia files is a little reminder note written by a 7-year old me. It reads: “Tell mom to take me to see the poope.” (That’s not a typo. Spelling has never been my strength). I had been reading my little Lives of the Saints book and was inspired by the story of a young girl who was filled with the desire to be a nun. She was, however, too young to enter the convent and had been told so by her local bishop. While on a pilgrimage with her father, the two had an audience with Pope Leo XIII. Breaking the social convention of remaining silent before the Holy Father, this girl stepped forth and asked for permission to enter religious life at the age of 15. That woman, like me, was also a poor speller. Her name was Marie-Francoise-Thérèse Martin. Born on January 2, 1873, she would come to be known to the world by her religious name, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. She is also known as St. Thérèse of Lisieux and, fondly, as “The Little Flower.” It is nearly impossible to have grown up Catholic and not have seen her image, dressed in her Carmelite habit, usually holding a bouquet of flowers and a crucifix.
St. Thérèse was acutely aware of her imperfections. She was prone to tantrums, fell asleep during prayer, was irritable with her sister Carmelites, and (did I mention?) was not a great speller. She looked at the great saints and felt it impossible to imitate them. She discovered, thankfully, that this was not necessary. Rather, there is a “little way” of spiritual discipline which is to do small things with great love. Offer up our pain and suffering to God. Complain a little less. Be kind to difficult people. Take on the task that no one else wants. Turn irritating noises into percussive prayers.
We can learn from St. Thérèse that there are many paths to sanctity and each contributes in some way to the glory of God and the plan of salvation. She wrote: “The splendour of the rose and the whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. If every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness.”
There are powerful, supremely talented, exceptionally intelligent people that work for good in ways that get recorded in history books. Most of humanity, however, does not fit into this category. Most of us have but a small role to play in the drama of salvation. We are the daisies and the violets. Our good works go unnoticed. Our small acts of bravery are forgotten. But they are not unimportant. They are still eternally significant part of the path to God. They are temporally significant as well, often making a very real difference in someone’s life. We may not have the temperament or strength of will to trade our life so another can live like St. Maximilian Kolbe. We can, however, be kind to the waitress who serves our meal to us a little slower than we would prefer. We may not have the tenacity or social connections to initiate Church reform like St. Catherine of Siena. We can pray for ministers of the Church to be true to their vocation and to the vision of Christ. We may not have the intellect to write volumes of brilliant theology like St. Thomas Aquinas. We can write a letter to our grandmother – by hand – and mail it to her. Our life circumstances may preclude us from heading off to places of destitution to found orphanages like St. Mother Theresa. We can treat the homeless man we pass on our way to work with dignity – and perhaps a fresh sandwich.
St. Thérèse teaches us that one does not have to have great power or perform heroic acts of goodness to become saints. Holiness is possible for every person. Sanctity is within reach – even for those who are poor spellers.
St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, pray for us!
–Christine Way Skinner is a lay minister and author. She received a Bachelor of Arts in Theology degree from St. Francis Xavier University and a Master of Divinity from Harvard Divinity School. Christine loves trying to find inclusive, compelling and creative ways to pass on the church’s 2000 year old traditions. She also loves art, playing music, reading, gardening and playing board games with her children. Christine’s numerous publications can be found and purchased here.