Saint Therese’s life seems so perfect at first glance. She was a young girl from France, but she never lead any wars like Joan of Arc. She wasn’t a great intellectual and her life was seemingly idyllic and perfect, even if she ended up dying of tuberculosis at the age of 24. However, as I got to know her after my college years I found that she and I had a lot in common. We didn’t really fit in at school. We both loved to write. She wrote poetry and acted in a play that she wrote. She admired other saints, especially Joan of Arc and Mary Magdalene. (The fact that she and I both played the role of Joan of Arc at about the same age is not lost on me.) What struck me the most, though, was that we both had an overactive imagination. We were both moody and had a tendency to get caught up in our emotions.
For Therese, that emotional immaturity would change one Christmas night when she was just thirteen years old. To most people this may not sound important, but when you keep in mind how a thirteen year old may typically react, this little Christmas Eve story becomes majorly important. After coming home from Midnight Mass, Therese was getting ready for bed, anticipating Christmas morning, when she overheard her father, the man she held dearest in her heart, tell her uncle that this would be the last Christmas in which he would fill the shoes with candy and presents as was the tradition in France. Her father was obviously tired and didn’t mean for his daughter to overhear. But instead of pitching a fit or crying, Therese chose to remain emotionally composed. For the first time, Therese put the needs of others ahead of her own. Given that this was the equivalent of a kid finding out there’s no such thing as Santa Claus, you have to give props for Therese’s composure, especially when you consider how other young children her age might’ve reacted otherwise.
Therese’s life is, in my opinion, a great example of everyday sainthood. Most of us won’t have visions or get stigmata or suddenly have the ability to bilocate or levitate. Therese knew that her dreams of being a missionary and performing heroic deeds in God’s name would never really happen. She compared herself to the saints and found herself short. However, she knew that she wanted to be a saint more than anything else. This led to the creation of what is called her “Little Way.” The Little Way is, as Saint Teresa of Calcutta described it, doing small things with great love. Therese lived her contemplative life with the joy and appreciation of a child, being grateful for all the little things she did.
This kind of gratitude, the appreciation for all the small things, played a big role in helping me to overcome the anxiety I had after I graduated college. For a few years, I kept a daily gratitude journal. I would do this by taking a picture of something or writing a list of things I was grateful for. Most of these photos were of ordinary things, but these little things revealed an extraordinary beauty. And eventually, through Therese’s help, I was able to overcome my anxiety. I hope that learning about Saint Therese opened your eyes up about the beauty of the ordinary.
Reflect: Which aspect of Saint Therese’s life do you relate to the most? How do you think you can “do small things with great love” in your life?
Reflect: How often do you practice gratitude? Is it just something you do at Thanksgiving? What are you grateful for today?
Action: Take a picture or write down a list of things that you feel grateful for. Thank God for all the ordinary things in your life.