The Little Way Of St Thérèse
By Father Donal Halliden SSC
Fr Donal Halliden
Fr Donal Halliden is one of four brothers who became priests. Fathers William and Jerome, both Columbans, and Patrick, a diocesan priest, have all gone ahead. Father Donal came to the Philippinesin January 1948 and now works at the Misyon office in Manila. He writes here about the great patroness of missionaries whose feast is 1 October.
The ‘Little Way’ of St Thérèse of the Child Jesus captivated countless hearts and souls when it came to light shortly after her death in 1897. It first appeared in Story of a Soul, her autobiography written under command of her religious superiors. Translated since into some 60 languages, Story of a Soulhas become one of the great classics of spiritual literature and is known to have had a remarkable influence on the Second Vatican Council. In it Thérèse reveals a spirituality that is a radical departure from the types of devotion that many perceive as too complicated or difficult for them. It quickly drew widespread interest because it is clear, gospel-based, and suitable for people in all walks of life.
St Thérèse of the Child Jesus
Thérèse herself practiced, or rather lived, the Little Way in the obscurity of the Carmelite convent at Lisieux in France, completely unknown to the outside world during her short lifetime of only 24 years. In her search for the special vocation in the Church to which she felt sure God was calling her, she struggled for six years of her convent life before it became clear what this was. She came to realize that in achieving union with God, weakness was more of an asset than a liability. She was struck by the text in Proverbs 9:4 in which the Lord says ‘if anyone is very little let him come to me.’ She was that little one who, she once wrote, was ‘not a great soul but one who is very little and very imperfect.’ Her littleness or shortcomings would not prevent from growing in God’s love because God Himself would make it possible through His merciful love. She had made a momentous discovery and called it the ‘Little Way’ - a way to God for her and for all who are little.
The solid foundation on which Thérèse built the Little Way was her firm conviction that ‘God is nothing but Merciful Love.’ In the Bible, St John - the beloved disciple of Jesus - proclaimed that ‘God is Love’ (1 John 4:16). Thérèse would assert that ‘He is Merciful Love.’ This teaching came at a time when Jansenism, although condemned by the Church, was rampant in Europe. It portrayed God as a severe task-master, ever ready to punish misdeeds without mercy. This caused many people to have an excessive fear of God which greatly damaged their relationship with Him. But Thérèse, with her deep knowledge of the Scriptures and her personal intuition and experience, knew that God is a loving Father full of compassion and tenderness.
Thérèse further emphasized that God’s love is given to us freely. It comes totally from His goodness and is not in any way due to our merits or good works. He loves us for our own sakes and wants us to love Him in the same way, simply for His sake. The key to understanding and accepting the merciful love of God is total confidence in that love. On her deathbed when Thérèse was asked if she feared meeting God, she replied ‘How can I fear the One who loves me?’
The Little Way is of major significance for all who wish to become holy and to experience the greatest joy that life can give: union with God. It teaches that everyone can do this by living for God in the ordinary, everyday activities and experiences that we all have. Whether in the home, the workplace, the community, or wherever we spend our days, we can offer everything to God. Carrying out duties and responsibilities faithfully, practicing charity to friend and foe alike, bearing patiently sufferings and trials, are among the countless opportunities we have to ‘lay up treasures in Heaven’ (cf Matt. 6:20) To do this, Thérèse tells us, ‘it is enough to do all for the love of God.’ We are asked only to believe in God’s unfailing love for us. No matter how weak we may be spiritually, God accepts us as we are and wants us to do the same for ourselves in spite of our failures and shortcomings.
Our vocation in life is to love God with all our hearts and souls, as Christ said. And we are to share that love with our fellow human beings. St Thérèse in her Little Way teaches that ‘it is confidence and confidence alone that must lead us to love.’ When we have this confidence, God in His goodness and Mercy will make us holy – ‘we can expect everything from Him’ is the assurance of this modern-day Teacher and Doctor of the Church.
You may write Father Halliden at: St Columban’s, PO Box 4454, 1099 MANILA.