Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, died at the age of 24 in a cloistered Carmelite monastery in northwest France. She had entered at the age of 15. Yet this cloistered nun is one of the patronesses of the missions.
It is true that she had a great admiration of Catholic missionaries in Viet Nam and had hoped to be transferred to a new Carmelite convent there.
But I think there is something more about her life and spirituality that speaks to mission.
She is known for her advocacy of “The Little Way,” the way of living out one’s love of God and neighbor in the quiet deeds of everyday life.
“I applied myself above all to practice quite hidden little acts of virtue; thus I liked to fold the mantles forgotten by the Sisters, and sought a thousand opportunities of rendering them service.”
It may come as a surprise to many that one of her most ardent devotees in the twentieth century was Dorothy Day, the US Catholic advocate of the poor, the cofounder of the Catholic Worker, and advocate of justice and peace. Day even wrote a book on her life, Therese, in which she noted:
The significance of our smallest acts! The significance of the little things we leave undone! The protests we do not make, the stands we do not take, we who are living in the world.
The work of being a missionary, even being a missionary in our homes and home towns, begins with faithfulness and love in the little things and in deep love and respect for others.
It is so easy, especially for me, to be caught up in the large schemes of mission or in the desire to get things done that I am not always attentive to the people around me or get annoyed when things do not go as I wanted.
In such cases I need to recall the witness of the Little Flower who, loving God and her neighbor, filled with a sense of mission, did not neglect to be lovingly attentive to those around her, even when they inadvertently splashed water on her as she washed clothes.
God wants us to love in the little things – so that from them our loving God can spread love to all God’s creatures.