St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, a cloistered Carmelite nun in Lisieux, France, died of tuberculosis in 1897 at the age of twenty-four. She became known as the Little Flower.
Yet this unlikely young woman is a doctor of the church and the patron of missionaries. She was a favorite of Dorothy Day, the founder of the Catholic Worker, a radical woman of action (and of prayer), who wrote a book on St. Theresa.
She entered the cloister at fifteen and, instead of taking on great mortifications, she sought to live her life concentrating on the “little way,” doing the ordinary work of everyday with great love.
She had a great desire to be a missionary and to join a new Carmelite convent in Hanoi, but her heath prevented this. She prayed for missionaries and even corresponded with several.
What does she have to say to us today, especially to us who are missionaries in strange lands?
I think it is the message of today’s Gospel (Luke 9: 46-50)
“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me,
and whoever receives me
receives the one who sent me.
For the one who is least among all of you
is the one who is the greatest.”
Being one with the lowly of the earth is our mission, whether it is in Honduras or in Ames, Iowa.
It is all about love – of God and of others. As St. Theresa once wrote:
Love offered me the key word to my vocation… I understood that a single love urges all the members of the Church to act, and that is this love dies out, there will be no apostles to preach the Gospel, no martyrs to shed their blood….
At least I have found my vocation. My vocation is love!