Fr Fergus Tuohy SMA shared on ‘St Therese’s Way to God at the 3rd night of the Novena in honour of the Little Flower at Blackrock Road, Cork. This is an edited version of his homily.
Mother Theresa, of blessed memory, once said: ‘I might not be able to do great things, but I can do small things in a great way’.
We can learn so much from St Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Her way to God is so simple but also profound. St Thérèse lived her life in a very simple way and I want to share a few thoughts about her way to God.
You have already heard about the Life of Thérèse and you will be learning a lot about her during this Novena. I will mention a few facts about her family as they show us about her background and how she found her way to God. Her family were a kind and caring family. Her father Louis had a tender heart and always sympathised with people who were suffering. Both Louis and Zelie [her mother] showed great example to Thérèse. Thérèse was the youngest of 9 children and her sisters, Marie and Pauline played a big part in shaping Thérèse.
Her way to God really began when she resolved at the age of three never to refuse anything to Jesus. Her sisters Leonie also influenced her but Céline was her constant companion and confidante. There was always a great JOY when the two of them were together. Thérèse found life very difficult after the death of her mother. When she sat with her father she would say: ‘I listened to far-off sounds and the murmuring of the wind. Earth seemed a place of exile and I dreamed of Heaven”. She said “I strive to please Jesus in all my actions and I guarded with great care against ever offending him.”
Thérèse was a clever girl, highly thought of by the nuns, not good at games. Other girls were jealous of her, but she offered it up in silence. Thérèse’s way to God was not to detach herself from human love, but she was detached from the outer world. She said: “My Little Way is all Love.”
I am reminded of a story when a blind person asked St. Anthony, ‘Can there be anything worse than losing your eye sight?” He replied. “Yes, losing your vision!”
Thérèse had a vision. We see a simple girl who experienced misunderstanding and thoughtlessness from others. When her sister Pauline entered Carmel, it was a very traumatic time for Thérèse. Her ‘Little mother’ was not as easily available to her.
During her short life she experienced terrifying visions and it was through the intercession of the Virgin Mary that she was cured from sickness – both spiritual and physical. Even when she was 10 years old Thérèse experienced some of the beauty of this world. She saw how the wealthy lived and she asked questions about where the wealthy are now and what did they gain from their beautiful houses and wealth. Thérèse felt that God wanted her to know something about the world so that she might choose more deliberately the way in which she was to follow Him.
Therese made two resolutions when she was preparing for her First Communion:
1 I will never way to discouragement;
2 I will endeavour to humble my pride.
At the age of 14 she experienced a ‘conversion’ and she was given strength of mind.
Therese had a wonderful desire to save souls. She prayed for sinners, asked God to forgive them and to give them the gift of repentance. She also had a great desire to pray for priests and to sacrifice herself for the interests of the Church. Thérèse’s way to God was not easy
-She had to leave her father to go to Mount Carmel, even though her father was seriously ill
-She had to get permission to enter the Convent and she suffered rebuttal from the Bishop’s representative, and the Bishop himself. She appealed to Pope Leo XIII and he said to her ‘You will enter, if it be God’s will’. She was very disheartened yet she felt at peace, because she had done everything she could. She was given permission to enter the Convent in 1888.
Her life in the convent was not easy. Her way to God was difficult. She suffered misunderstanding. She did not seek the company of her siblings in the convent, but always talked to whoever came first, or to anyone who seemed forlorn.
She got great solace from the Divine Office of the Church – prayers, psalms and readings from Scripture. She found great inspiration in reading St. John of the Cross and also the writings of St Therese of Avila. She said:
“From the Gospels I draw everything necessary for my poor little soul. In them I discover new lights, hidden and mysterious meanings”.
This evening I am talking about Thérèse’s way to God. You have heard about her life and death in detail during this Novena. Thérèse gives us great hope. She experienced ‘dryness’ and ‘sleep’ during her prayers. She suffered family tragedy like many of you. Thérèse said:
“Everything shall be for Him, everything; and even when I have nothing to give Him, as this evening, I will offer Him that nothing!”
Even though she walked in darkness at times, she was also in profound peace.
The Little Way of St Thérèse can be described best in two passages – her little way of spirituality
- She said that when she grew weary of books etc. she would turn to Holy Scripture. She said that it was sufficient for her to recognise one’s nothingness and to abandon oneself as a child in God’s arms.
- She told the Mother Prioress that she found great consolation in Scripture from the mouth of Wisdom: ‘Whoever is a little one, let him come to me. I have the need of becoming greater. On the contrary, I must be LITTLE and become even SMALLER’.
‘So it was really through the Gospel itself, which preaches the way of abandonment and childlike love towards our Heavenly Father that Thérèse found her inspiration and her way to GOD.’ [Reference: Thérèse of Lisieux, CTS pages 42,43]
When we try to understand Thérèse’s Way to God we see that she gave everything a supernatural value. If people upset her, she would put up with it and offer it up to God. She took on difficult tasks, such as helping another Sister who annoyed her greatly. She never complained about food. She is a great example to us of someone who abandoned herself to God.
Thérèse did not use long prayers – apart from the Divine Office and the Liturgy. The lifting of the mind to God, a glance towards her Heavenly Father was enough. She constantly asked God to show her what He wanted her to be and to do.
Thérèse experienced great physical and mental sufferings before she died but she always trusted in God.
Her own words: ‘I WILL SPEND MY HEAVEN DOING GOOD ON EARTH.’
Her Vocation was a vocation of love.
Her way to God, the ‘Little Way’, by returning to the essentials, leads to the secret of all life.
Thérèse really is a guide and an eminent model for all Christians today.
Pope Pius X said: “St. Thérèse showed us a simple way to live our lives. We sometimes think of ourselves as great, independent, self-reliant and clever. We are complex to a degree. God cannot use us as He wishes.
It was because Thérèse was ‘little’, completely dependent on God, that God was able to use her.’
If we can humble ourselves like Thérèse we too can be great in the Kingdom of Heaven. Follow her way, the ‘LITTLE WAY’.