Mother Teresa’s life manifested St. Thérèse’s ‘little way’
In 1998, Tara Lipinski became the youngest person ever to win the Olympic gold medal for figure skating. At the time of her achievement, I read an article stating Tara ’s Olympic gold medal would have to share space with a medal of St. Thérèse of Lisieux which Tara had been wearing for years. Tara and her parents had a beautiful devotion to St. Th érèse, popularly known as the Little Flower.
Tara described going out onto the skating rink invoking the intercession of St. Th érèse: “When I go out there, I think of her. When I’m competing, it helps me because I know — I say — she’s with me, she wants me to do this. It makes me feel calmer, and I go for everything. ”
One of the beautiful teachings of our Catholic faith is the communion of saints. We do not worship the saints. We do not believe them to be gods or goddesses. In fact, it is because of their humanity and their experience of the same struggles we face that we find them such helpful examples. We also believe that we can ask them to pray for us and our intentions, just like we ask good and holy people who are still in this world to pray for our needs.
The spirituality of St. Thérèse is one that many people, in all walks of life, have found very attractive and helpful. St. Th érèse only lived to the age of 24. She spent all of her adult life in a cloistered Carmelite convent. In her brief life, St. Th érèse developed a spirituality which she termed the “little way.”
St. Thérèse did not see herself as one called to do great heroic acts for God. She understood her call to do the ordinary tasks of her rather routine life as a Carmelite nun with extraordinary love. She believed that one could grow in holiness by doing any activity to the very best of one ’s ability and by investing great love into each task for the expressed intention of glorifying God.
Mother Teresa of Calcutta was so inspired by St. Thérèse and her “little way” that she chose Teresa as her name in religious life. In Mother Teresa, we see the power of the “little way” come to full bloom.
Mother Teresa instilled into her community, the Missionaries of Charity, the ambition to do ordinary activities with extraordinary love. The Missionaries of Charity strive to do the common and simple tasks of their apostolate — caring for the poor, the sick and the dying — with an uncommon love.
The Missionaries of Charity live in the most simple and humble circumstances. However, Mother Teresa always required that their convents be kept very clean. She asked her Sisters to bring the same love to their care of the convent as they brought to the sick and the dying, because both activities were done as a way of glorifying God by loving others.
Father John Corapi, the popular retreat master and Catholic radio personality, tells a story about Mother Teresa when she visited a recently established convent in San Francisco. The Sisters had worked very hard to clean the convent in preparation for Mother Teresa ’s visit. When Mother Teresa went into the bathroom, she found the floor and the fixtures immaculate and sparkling. She immediately began to smile, radiating great joy. The superior of the house asked Mother Teresa why she was smiling. Mother Teresa said that from the appearance of the bathroom some Sister loves Jesus very much.
Pope John Paul II considered The Little Way such an important and powerful articulation of Christian spirituality that he named St. Th érèse of Lisieux, a doctor of the church, the designation the church gives to its greatest teachers. The Little Way is an immensely practical application of the principles of our Catholic faith.
It has provided a path to holiness for Olympic athletes and religious Sisters, parents and children, manual laborers and chief executive officers, medical doctors and nurses ’ aides. No matter what our occupation or the circumstances of our lives, we can all strive to do ordinary tasks with extraordinary love.