The saint who immediately comes to mind is St. Therese of Lisieux, the Little Flower who is renowned for her “little way.” Not only is she a saint, but in 1997 she was declared a doctor of the church—among such giants of the faith as Saint Gregory the Great, Saint Ambrose, Saint Augustine, and Saint Jerome in the Latin Church and in the Eastern church: Saint John Chrysostom, Saint Basil the Great, and Saint Gregory Nazianzen.
Until 1970, no woman had been named a doctor in the church, but since then four additions to the list have been women: Saints Teresa of Ávila (St. Teresa of Jesus) and Catherine of Siena by Pope Paul VI; Thérèse de Lisieux (St. Therese of the Child Jesus and of the Holy Face), “the Little Flower” by Pope John Paul II; and Hildegard of Bingen by Benedict XVI. Saints Teresa and Therese were both Discalced Carmelites, St. Catherine was a lay Dominican, and Hildegard was a Benedictine.
Undoubtedly, in such august company, St. Therese, who died at 24, felt herself to be a little soul, indeed. But to be little in the eyes of world is not to be little in the eyes of God.
St. Therese is not the only saint whose spirituality teaches us that the power of God is made manifest in the weakness, powerlessness, and littleness of His saints. In The Simple Path to Union, one of our Mothers of the Cross discovers an early Old Testament example in the story of David:
“Believe that the sword of this mission will conquer the dragon. (The Holy Spirit then brought to my mind David and Goliath.) David and Goliath: How could it be that the little one who could not wear the armor of the mighty warriors defeats the giant? The ways of God are never the ways of the world.
“He was wearing the armor of God and he possessed the power of God. He trusted in God with the innocence of a child. God defeated the enemy through His humble vessel so that all glory is given to God not man. The enemy will be conquered and all things will be made new but never in the ways of the world. God has chosen to give the sword of righteousness to His little mustard seed. The sword of the mission is the power of God that will pierce and conquer the dragon.
(p.224) “You must remain little, insignificant and innocent, drinking the pure milk of the words I bring to you (1 Pet 2). Believe, My little ones, believe that the God of heaven and earth has chosen you for the decisive battle. Live with the innocence of a child the mission given to you. Be little, pure and humble, be nothing; and it is I Who will do the impossible. Trust with the innocence of a child… for you are nothing; but I am God, and I will use My little ones to confound the mighty ones of the world. Believe in the power of My Cross and the power of My Precious Blood, for it is only through the Triumph of My Cross that all darkness will be conquered. Live, love and suffer as ONE with Me; and you will become the sword that will pierce this darkness” (#152- Be Little to Conquer with the Cross, Diary of a MOC, 11/12/11).
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The focus of this message is humility: You must be little…with the innocence of a child…nothing. It is always through little ones, the powerless, those who know they are nothing, that God’s power is able to work. St. Paul taught this well, and it has been a central lesson with so many saints:
“He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me. 10 Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-11)
This is the essence of the little way of spiritual childhood which is also the way of hidden power: we trust that in the immolation of the ordinary, the utter nothingness of our little lives, the Power and Light of Christ will burst forth to save.
In St. Theresa the Little Flower, we have the way of the little soul, the weak and innocent one who relies only on the love and strength of Abba; she tells our Savior: “If by an impossibility You could find a soul weaker than mine, You would fill it with even greater graces…(22).
The Society of the Little Flower warns us not to misinterpret this spirituality: “The ‘little way’ associated with St Therese of Lisieux can readily be misunderstood. In her writings, focus on the child does not promote childishness, passivity, immaturity, nor a romantic sphere of eternal play. Rather, it points toward a theocentric [God-centered] view of grace….A child develops best in an environment of trust, love, forgiveness, generosity. St. Therese’s personal experience led her to recognize that God was at the centre of her existence as Love. In view of the immensity of the world and the complexities of life she saw herself as ‘a child,’ ‘a grain of sand,’ ‘little’ but energized by a God who directed her journey in faith…. It is called a little way precisely by being simple, direct, yet calling for amazing fortitude and commitment.” (Society of the Little Flower)
We should not think “childish” but childlike—the essence of which is complete trust. Jesus Himself said that unless we turn and become as little children we shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven (Mt. 18:2-4). Complete trust demands amazing courage and full abandonment—easy to describe, but difficult to do.
In #381 of the Diary of St. Faustina, Jesus tells her: “ ….. Yes, when you are obedient I take away your weakness and replace it with My strength. I am very surprised that souls do not want to make that exchange with Me.” St. Faustina reveals that she understands the essence of the little way when she writes in her Diary: “My sacrifice is nothing in itself, but when I join it to the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, it becomes all-powerful and has the power to appease divine wrath” (Diary 482). Jesus also tells her how much distrust wounds His Heart: “My Heart is sorrowful, Jesus said, because even chosen souls do not understand the greatness of My mercy. Their relationship [with Me] is, in certain ways, imbued with mistrust. Oh, how much that wounds My Heart!” (Diary 379).
The way of spiritual childhood means that the soul trusts completely in the Love (St. Therese) and Mercy (St. Faustina) of the good God.
To another mystic, a Poor Clare, Sr. Consolata Betrone (d. 1946) Jesus said: “… I tell everything to LITTLE SOULS; they deprive Me of nothing; they direct all praise, honour, and glory to Me alone.” Of her Jesus said: “In the womb of the Church you will be trust… I am very pleased with the blind trust, infantile trust, boundless, immense trust that you have in Me… Never allow, not even for an instant, that the enemy should penetrate your soul with the thought of mistrust, ever! Believe in me as only and always good; believe in me as only and always a mother for you… Consolata, understand my heart… tell the world how good and motherly I am… I am and I love being exclusively good and merciful with my creatures. Don’t paint me as a severe God, if I am a God of love… I shall save the world with merciful Love!” Her way was “the unceasing act of love ‘Jesus, Mary I love you, save souls!’ that the Redeemer called the very small way of love and trust. It wasn’t meant just for her, but for all little souls, since the Lord wants: ‘the triumph in the world not only of Mercy, but especially of Love, particularly in the very little souls.’” (Mystics of the Church: Sister Consolata Betrone)
Very little souls live a simple, direct spirituality. Our way is the martyrdom of the heart in the little things, the ordinary of lives lived in trust, immolation, and constant love. If we persevere in BEING WHO WE ARE, we will be the Sword in the hand of Christ to conquer the darkness, overcoming evil with Love.