Tag Archives: The Little Flower

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.”

Mission and the Little FLower

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.

The Little Flower and the Missions

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, who died at age 24 in a Carmelite monastery might seem an unlikely patroness of the missions. But so she was proclaimed in 1927, together with the Jesuit missionary St. Francis Xavier.

She did want to join the Carmelites in Hanoi, Indochina, but her health prevented her from leaving her Carmel in Lisieus in northwest France. She did pray for missionaries and corresponded with at least two priest in the missions.

But her “Little Way,” serving God in the little things of life, is probably the best advice that any missionary could receive.

It is not in the big events that we witness to Christ, but in our everyday actions. Expecting to be recognized is the last thing that a missionary should seek.

Our witness to the Good News of the Gospel is by the way we live out our lives every day. It was Thomas Merton who wrote: “The saint preaches sermons by the way he walks and talks, the way he picks up things, and holds them in his hands.”

How do I treat the little kid, the obnoxious beggar, the self-righteous pastoral worker? How do I teach – showing off my wisdom or helping people discover the Wisdom of God which arises in the midst of our studying together? When I ask people about their lives, their work, their crops, am I really interested in them, or is it just small talk? When I preach, have I listened to the joys and longings of the people? When I sit and eat, do I relish the all-too-salty beans or do I turn up my nose? Do I really love?

As St. Thérèse wrote,

Love offered me the key to my vocation…

“My vocation is to love! I have found my special place in the Church, and that place you, my God, have given me. In the heart of the Church, y Mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, and my desire will be fulfilled.”

Thérèse found her mission in the everydayness of a contemplative monastery, praying with love, enduring with love the daily trials of community life.

So too we in mission are called to love actively in prayer.

Pray for us in mission – and remember that we are all called to mission, to be signs of God’s loving Reign in the world.

The Little Way of St. Theresa

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!