Saint Therese of Lisieux was hailed by Pope St Pius X as the greatest saint of modern times.
She always wanted to be a saint, though it is clear from reading her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, that what she had in mind was not the acclaim of people or popes but simply and fully to devote herself to the love of Jesus.
Was hers a great life?
She entered the Carmelite monastery at fifteen having had an interview with the Bishop and entreated the Pope to gain admission as it was generally thought she should wait until she was older.
But Therese never expected to live very long and had known since she was only three that she wanted to dedicate her life to God. She was only 24 when she died and had been ill for quite some time. She didn’t slay any dragons or undergo any gory persecutions. She found her sufferings in the small things of life and her great devotion. She talks of things like her annoyance when one of the sisters had left her paintbrushes in the wrong place.
Yes, it sounds petty, but remember the Dalai Lama’s words, ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.’ Small things, especially when repeated, make for great annoyances. Small things can also have great power for good. Do we think that monks and nuns are somehow too great and holy to be affected by the small things that annoy the rest of us? I must admit, I was quite shocked to discover that St Benedict had found it necessary to include in his Rule the instruction that a monk was not to hit another monk!
But, thinking on these things, it becomes clear that these people have become holy because they have struggled against feelings of jealousy, annoyance, rage; it is not a matter of being exempt, but of not giving in ; of becoming great by overcoming the small.
Maybe the reason why Therese is regarded as such a great saint is precisely because of her very smallness. We can’t in any real way be a great hero like St George, he remains remote, but we can smile instead of making a harsh comment when people in everyday life inflict minor irritations on us. This was how Therese showed God’s love to those around her.
So what do you think? Was she a great saint or a very small one?
Excerpt from Great and Small which appeared in Bengeo Parish Magazine December 2012. Read the whole article here.