When she entered the local food pantry, I could tell that she wanted to talk. I’ve known her for many months and have come to really enjoy our conversations. She arrived during a busy time, but I assured her that we’d have a moment to chat during her fifteen minute shopping period. After helping an elderly gentleman finish with his grocery bags, I turned my attention to her. “So nice to see you again, how are the kids?” I asked. She responded in the affirmative and proceeded to ask me some questions about religious educational opportunities for her children. After our conversation, I wrote down the names of some local Catholic schools and encouraged her to check out the websites, being open to God’s will and his grace. As she left that day, she waved and said, “Thank you for your kindness and for taking time to listen and care.” Her parting words were lovely but confusing, “I am just acting in the way that my mom taught me – trying to treat each person I meet with love.” I thought to myself.
St. Therese of Lisieux has been in my life for over thirty years. My beautiful mom loved this 19th century Catholic saint of the little way and would speak of her often when encouraging me to realize that little things done in life with love are huge in the eyes of God. When I moved to Holliston as a new mom, I met this French Carmelite in a whole new way after reading her autobiography, Story of a Soul. A friend from my women’s group encouraged me to get to know Therese as I was busy volunteering at my parish. She thought that St. Therese would provide helpful counsel and encouragement during the ups and downs of parish volunteerism and in my role as a young mom. Becoming intimately familiar with Therese’s spirituality of the little way changed my life. In her diary, Therese wrote, “What matters in life, is not great deeds, but great love.” Therese taught me that the every day tasks of caring for my home and babies, when done with great love, is a gift to God. This guidance came as a welcome relief since I had just become a stay at home mom after working for years in the investment banking field. Through Therese, I realized that my role as a mother and wife was just as valuable as that of a professional woman and that I had been called to live out this new role with great love. Knowing this made all the difference in my life.
I have not thought about Therese for quite some time but she was brought back into my life this week through an experience of pain. I endured another set of spine injections two days ago, thus I’ve been laying low, trying to regain strength in both body and spirit. Listening to inspiring podcasts is one way I recover from these periodic, invasive back treatments. Just yesterday, I happened to hear a Bishop Barron hosted podcast on “People you should imitate…” Therese was one of the three women featured in the podcast and I appreciated the way Barron summarized her short life and its powerful impact on the world. He shared, “The little way is available to any simple believer.” Therese was convinced that we could all follow her little way by approaching each day with gratitude and committing to undertake each task (no matter how small) and person we meet with great love. Therese said, “Kindness is my only guiding star. In its light, I sail a straight route, I have my motto written on my sail: “To live in love.” From the outside, this type of spirituality sounds quite easy but in reality, it can be difficult. It is much easier to remain indifferent or worse, unkind in the midst of a busy day. Therese reminds us that there is a better way – a more excellent way to lasting happiness – to be love in the world.
Contemplating the events of the past few days, I thought it was curious that God had sent Therese directly into my life as a young mom and now again as a mature mom. As I walked my dog through the woods near my home, I realized that it was not that curious at all. In fact, I really needed a reminder to live her little way now – as a mom of a teenage boy and young adult girls, as a chronic back pain patient, as a wife and as a volunteer. I needed to be reminded to give thanks to God for the gift of each day (no matter how I feel) and to live love and kindness in everything I do and say – like my mom taught me. Often times with chronic pain, life can feel out of control so living kindness to those closest to me can be a challenge. As a mature mom, life is more complicated with older kids living outside the home at college – I have more things to worry about. It’s even more important for me to live the little way now than it was twenty years ago. Therese reminded me that when we surrender our lives to God and live in love, his grace has a way of sustaining us – even when we don’t realize that it’s happening.
I thought about my friends from the food pantry – such lovely people. I am thankful for the gift of knowing them and for the ability to assist them in some small way. I pray that I will always have love and patience in my heart to take time to listen to those who need me. We are all invited to live in kindness and love daily – as my mom did so effortlessly during her lifetime. But it wasn’t without effort. Mom’s strength came from her prayer time with God. Like Therese, she understood that living the little way was a higher calling from God. So, let kindness and love be our guiding star today – and every day of our lives.