Sunday, May 3, 2009

St. Therese of Lisieux: The Little Bird, by Sr. Kathy Smolik, OSB

“I look upon myself as a weak little bird, with only a light down as covering.”

St. Therese of Lisieux, declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope John Paul II, called herself a “weak little bird.” I find this a great mark of her humility. Therese did not put herself down but she did understand and accept her weakness. Her personal weakness was due largely to her emotional immaturity. However, Therese’ understanding went much deeper than that. She knew herself as a child of God, a creature before the Creator. She was not God and she knew that without God she was powerless to do absolutely anything on her own, let alone exist.

“What then will become of it (the weak little bird)? Will it die of sorrow at seeing itself so weak? Oh no! The little bird will not even be troubled.” (p.198-9).

Her weakness did not concern her! She knew with St. Paul that, “When I am weak, then I am strong” (2 Cor 12:10). Let me give a few examples from her life.

• Because of her emotional neediness she had a great desire to get attention from her Mother Superior in the Carmel. But Therese didn’t want her heart to become more attached to a human being than to Jesus. She had to walk past Mother Marie’s door to get to her own cell, and would “walk rapidly by (her) door and to cling firmly to the banister of the staircase in order not to turn back.” Therese wanted to please her nature by getting attention from her Superior but instead she deprived herself of this attention (p. 237).
• An elderly nun, Sister St. Pierre, needed help walking from the choir to the refectory. Therese wanted to help this poor crippled nun with an act of charity. Every day she would guide the sister to the refectory all the while listening to the nun’s constant complaints. Then Therese would roll back Sister’s sleeves, cut up her meat for her, and then give Sister St. Pierre her biggest smile. This small act of love cost Therese very much she admitted, but she “gained (Sister’s) entire good graces” (p. 247-9).
• In choir, one sister who sat next to Therese would come in and begin making strange noises through their silent prayer time. Therese became soaked in sweat in her attempt to be charitable and not glare at this nun. Instead she tried to find a way to suffer this annoyance in peace (p. 249).

“O Jesus, Your little bird is happy to be weak and little. What would become of it if it were big?”

Besides all her emotional trials she also fell asleep during her thanksgiving after Communion due to exhaustion from lack of sleep. Does she feel desolate or sink into depression from her inability to stay awake at prayer? No! She offers all this up as a little flower. Each pain, each pinprick, each disappointment in herself, each raging storm, and each emotion is offered up to Jesus. Even her joys are offered up to Him.

Nothing is kept for herself. All is offered up to Jesus that souls may turn back to Him. Also, no suffering or pain is ever wasted. No matter how trifling an annoyance or how overwhelming a major crisis she experienced, she offered it all up to Jesus as a flower.

Therese’ lesson to us is: watch your emotions, watch your thoughts about these emotions and lift them up. We are not our thoughts, and we are not our emotions (Funk). If we freely offer ourselves up moment by moment, day after day, we can participate with Jesus in His redemption of souls.

And what is the key to Therese practice? Confidence in the great Mercy of God…more on this next time.


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.

Funk, Sr. Mary Margaret. Thoughts Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life. New York: Continuum, revised edition 2005.

Funk, Sr. Mary Margaret. Tools Matter for Practicing the Spiritual Life. New York: Continuum, 2001, 102-107.

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