A cloistered missionary

Love is my vocation!
St. Thérèse of Lisieux

Sister Thérèse of the Holy Child, the Little Flower, a cloistered Carmelite nun who died at twenty-four in an obscure convent in Normandy, France, is an unlikely patroness of missions and missionaries.

Yet, this spunky young woman who entered the cloister at fifteen had a sense of mission that many of us in the mission field lack.

She had dreams of being a martyr, a missionary, even a priest – but knew that her vocation would be lived out in her convent – praying and doing the daily chores.

She wanted to join the new Carmelite convent in Hanoi, Indochina (now Viet Nam), but her ill health and tuberculosis would not permit such an endeavor. And so she prayed for the missions and corresponded with two priests missioned in Viet Nam.

But for her, the mission was the “little way,” the way of love in the midst of everyday activities.

“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.”

Being a missionary doesn’t always mean being out there in the midst of desperately poor situations. It doesn’t mean always teaching or bringing the Eucharist to distant communities.

For me it means preparing materials for catechists, planning training sessions for catechists, meeting with catechists to plan the confirmation Masses, meeting with the pastor to plan events in the parish, driving seven hours each way to take some small coffee farmers to Tegucigalpa, checking out the Maestro en Casa education centers to get ready for the next round of scholarship applications.

It also entails washing clothes, getting the car checked and repaired, cooking meals, getting photocopies and buying supplies in the city for workshops, and more mundane activities.

But the question is whether I am doing this with love, whether the little things I do are suffused with love and a commitment to the poor. What am I doing and not doing to respond to the people here.

And so I am reminded of this quote of Dorothy Day, from her book on this saint, Therese:

“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.”

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