The 3rd of October is the day upon which the Church traditionally celebrates the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus. Her name needs no introduction, for she has swiftly become one of the most loved and celebrated saints of recent times. Numerous books and articles have been written on her life and on the famous ‘little way’ that she practiced. Statues of the ‘Little Flower’ will likely be found in most Catholic churches, and in these depictions she is rightly portrayed holding the crucifix.
In many ways, however, the general perception of this great saint is very unsatisfactory, for she is too often depicted as a saint who focused on sweetness above all. Based on pictures and writings about her, one might easily imagine her as a soft and gentle soul, but not a radical soul at all. Certainly, St. Thérèse was gentle in the sense of her demeanour, for she is not known for violent outbursts. However in the spiritual life she was extremely ferocious and on fire with passionate love of God. Her desire to give her life entirely to Him is clear from the very early age at which she wished to enter the Carmel. Christ on the cross was the central point of St. Thérèse’s life; she so ardently desired to join Our Lord upon the cross in suffering, that she offered herself as a victim of love to Him.
Her ‘little way’, by which she offered each and every action to God as a humble gift, is nothing less than a consecration of one’s entire life to His service. It is a spiritual childhood, whereby one does not seek to perform bold and grand actions, but contents oneself with offering to Him the daily actions of normal life. The ‘little way’ is a path for the souls of those who have the firm desires of children - full of enthusiasm for God, and desiring the virtuous life. As such, it is a spiritual life in which God in constantly in mind: a life where one is aware of his inability to perform great sacrifices, and so offers many little ones: a life whereby a soul wishes to model himself after the Christ Child in innocence and perfection.
In order to live such a life, one must needs be firm, since the devil cannot abide a life so devoted to the One he hates. There is a continuity and perseverance in virtue when in the practice of the ‘little way’, which requires a regular glance towards God asking for His intercession. By learning more about the truth of the ‘little way’, we begin thus to see the real St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus - not simply a gentle soul who very piously lived the religious life, but a soul who constantly sought to give her every action, her every moment, her every desire, to the Spouse whom she loved with such purity and fire. Her heart was so overflowing with love for Christ that she was not content unless she gave every moment of her life to Him. In this manner, one might readily say that the ‘little way’ is in a sense a ‘great way’, since it is a dedication of the whole of oneself and one’s life to the Redeemer.
The initial and wonderful attraction of the ‘little way’ is that it seems manageable for so many souls, who might otherwise be put off by more stringent practices of mortifications. (That is not to disparage the practice of mortification, but merely to suggest the manner in which the ‘little way’ draws souls). In practicing the ‘little way’ of St. Thérèse, one might start with something as simple as making more frequent pious acts throughout the day, perhaps regular aspirations, brief prayers whenever one passes a crucifix etc. Soon, in the manner of St. Thérèse, one finds that he is constantly drawing his mind towards God, never allowing himself to stray far from the thought of the Divine. With these simply practices, a whole day can be dedicated to God and the way of spiritual childhood is thus begun.
However, to fully understand the true spirit of the ‘little way’, let us take examine the act of oblation which St. Thérèse made to Christ, her beloved Spouse. It serves as the clearest insight into her spirituality as well as demonstrating the radical fire for love of God which she possessed.
“Offering of myself as a Victim of Holocaust to God’s Merciful Love.
O My God! Most Blessed Trinity, I desire to Love You and make you Loved, to work for the glory of Holy Church by saving souls on earth and liberating those suffering in purgatory. I desire to accomplish Your will perfectly and to reach the degree of glory You have prepared for me in Your Kingdom. I desire, in a word, to be saint, but I feel my helplessness and I beg You, O my God! to be Yourself my Sanctity!
Since You loved me so much as to give me Your only Son as my Saviour and my Spouse, the infinite treasures of His merits are mine. I offer them to You with gladness, begging You to look upon me only in the Face of Jesus and in His heart burning with Love.
I offer You, too, all the merits of the saints (in heaven and on earth), their acts of Love, and those of the holy angels. Finally, I offer You, O Blessed Trinity! the Love and merits of the Blessed Virgin, my Dear Mother. It is to her I abandon my offering, begging her to present it to You. Her Divine Son, my Beloved Spouse, told us in the says of His mortal life: "Whatsoever you ask the Father in my name he will give it to you!" I am certain, then, that You will grant my desires; I know, O my God! that the more You want to give, the more You make us desire. I feel in my heart immense desires and it is with confidence I ask You to come and take possession of my soul. Ah! I cannot receive Holy Communion as often as I desire, but, Lord, are You not all-powerful? Remain in me as in a tabernacle and never separate Yourself from Your little victim.
I want to console You for the ingratitude of the wicked, and I beg of you to take away my freedom to displease You. If through weakness I sometimes fall, may Your Divine Glance cleanse my soul immediately, consuming all my imperfections like the fire that transforms everything into itself.
I thank You, O my God! for all the graces You have granted me, especially the grace of making me pass through the crucible of suffering. It is with joy I shall contemplate You on the Last Day carrying the sceptre of Your Cross. Since You deigned to give me a share in this very precious Cross, I hope in heaven to resemble You and to see shining in my glorified body the sacred stigmata of Your Passion.
After earth’s Exile, I hope to go and enjoy You in the Fatherland, but I do not want to lay up merits for heaven. I want to work for Your Love alone with the one purpose of pleasing You, consoling Your Sacred Heart, and saving souls who will love You eternally.
In the evening of this life, I shall appear before You with empty hands, for I do not ask You, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is stained in Your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in Your own Justice and to receive from Your Love the eternal possession of Yourself. I want no other Throne, no other Crown but You, my Beloved!
Time is nothing in Your eyes, and a single day is like a thousand years. You can, then, in one instant prepare me to appear before You.
In order to live in one single act of perfect Love, I OFFER MYSELF AS A VICTIM OF HOLOCAUST TO YOUR MERCIFUL LOVE, Asking You to consume me incessantly, allowing the waves of infinite tenderness shut up within You to overflow into my soul, and that thus I may become a martyr of Your Love, O my God!
May this martyrdom, after having prepared me to appear before You, finally cause me to die and may my soul take its flight without any delay into the eternal embrace of Your Merciful Love.
I want, O my Beloved, at each beat of my heart to renew this offering to You an infinite number of times, until the shadows having disappeared I may be able to tell You of my Love in an Eternal Face to Face!
Marie, Françoise, Thérèse of the Child Jesus
and the Holy Face, unworthy Carmelite religious.
This 9th day of June,
Feast of the Most Holy Trinity,
In the year of grace, 1895”.
Thus ends this most beautiful prayer of the Little Flower of the Child Jesus. May the frequent recitation of these powerful lines fill faithful souls with the immensity of love of God which this glorious saint possessed.