Monday, March 23, 2009

The "Little Way" of Therese of Lisieux Part V by Sr. Kathy Smolik, OSB


Total surrender to God is a difficult place to come to; we try to surrender and then take ourselves back. “Some offer themselves at first, but later, beaten down by temptations, they go back to their old ways…” wrote Thomas a Kempis (p. 129). What can we learn from St. Therese in this lesson? “I choose all!” exclaimed Therese: she abandoned herself with her whole heart to God.

The following passage will help give us insight into the degree of surrender she came to by the end of her life:

“One day, Leonie, thinking she was too big to be playing any longer with dolls, came to us with a basket filled with dresses and pretty pieces for making others; her doll was resting on top. ‘Here, my little sisters, choose; I’m giving you all this.’ Celine stretched out her hand and took a little ball of wool that pleased her. After a moment’s reflection, I stretched out mine saying: ‘I choose all!’ and I took the basket without further ceremony. Those who witnessed the scene saw nothing wrong and even Celine herself didn’t dream of complaining (besides, she had all sorts of toys, her godfather gave her lots of presents, and Louise found ways of getting her everything she desired).

This little incident of my childhood is a summary of my whole life; later on when perfection was set before me, I understood that to become a saint one had to suffer much, seek out always the most perfect thing to do, and forget self. I understood, too, there were many degrees of perfection and each soul was free to respond to the advances of Our Lord, to do little or much for Him, in a word, to choose among the sacrifices He was asking. Then, as in the days of my childhood, I cried out: ‘My God, I choose all! I don’t want to be a saint by halves, I’m not afraid to suffer for You, I fear only one thing: to keep my own will; so take it, for I choose all that you will!’” (Therese, p. 27)

Lest we see just a childhood story here, we must realize that Therese was not only spiritually graced but also a very responsible young woman. At age 20 the Mother Superior involved her in the spiritual formation of the novices. At age 23 she was given complete charge of the novices (including some who were older than her) without keeping the title of novice mistress.

So, how did Therese abandon herself to so completely, especially in the midst of her suffering? Therese refused to insist on her own will, she begged Jesus to take it from her. Instead, she chose to let another be her “compass” (Therese, p. 218-19). In Christianity we have mediators between God and us. As children, we obey our parents; married couples, each other; in school, our teachers; at work, our employers; in civil life our elected officials, and finally in the Church, our Superiors. As a religious, the Superior holds the place of Christ. Therese always carried out the will of her Superior, without rationalizing, and in a spirit of love and gratitude.

Sometimes Therese would disagree, and respectfully express her opinion or insight, but in the end she always obeyed out of love, offering this as a sacrifice to God. We must form our conscience, but obeying is essential in loving God.

This is no small thing. To obey takes great faith – faith and trust in Jesus who, we know, wants only our good. To obey another and give up our will allows God to work and bring His will, not ours, to fruition. Every day when reciting the “Our Father” we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We can only give up our will by being accountable to another; otherwise, whose voice are we listening to – God’s voice, our own, or the voice of evil? God’s glory shines through when we surrender in faith, but concretely in time.

Therese practiced giving up her will by:

* not imposing her will on others
* holding back a reply
* in rendering little services without recognition
* not defending herself
* instead of answering back, giving a smile
* allowing others to take what belonged to her
* anticipating other’s needs

It was through these “nothings” that Therese prepared herself for her union with Jesus (p.143-4). Therese spent her life offering up these flowers of love and sacrifice. Her heart was purified and she became a channel of love. We can learn from her to be love for each other.


Lisieux, Therese of. Story of a Soul: the autobiography of St Therese of Lisieux. A new translation by John Clark. ICS Publications, Washington, D.C.: Third Edition Published, 1996.

A Kempis, Thomas. The Imitation of Christ. Translated by William C. Creasy. Ave Maria Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, 1989.


Mike Keucher said...

Sister Kathy:

I just wanted to send my sincere thanks for this excellent post. It is, itself, a compass that will direct me!


Suzanne said...

Beautiful! I had read about much of this and I also read her is time to go back through it again and note to myself some things which I didn't see the first time. Thank you for this, Sister! :)