Our name comes from the “little way” of St. Therese of Lisieux, an enclosed Carmelite nun who lived in 19th century France. She saw her vocation as reaching far beyond the convent walls helping those in need throughout the world. The “little way” involves finding the spiritual in the little things of ordinary life. In this way, all of us can play our part in creating a better world. If you would like to help us in our work please consider supporting The Little Way Association by praying for our work, by making a donation (see the Donations page) or by volunteering to help at our headquarters in Sacred Heart House, London.
Therese Martin was born in Alencon, France in 1873, the last of nine children (although only five reached adulthood). Her mother died of breast cancer when she was four and she was raised by her father Louis Martin. On Christmas Eve 1886 when she was nearly 14, Therese had a powerful spiritual experience that transformed her life . In May 1887 her father gave his permission for her to become a cloistered nun at the Lisieux Carmel, joining two of her sisters, Pauline and Marie. Given Therese’s young age the diocesan authorities were initially unsympathetic to her request, but she did eventually enter the Carmelite convent in Lisieux in 1888, aged 15 years and three months. Therese spent the remaining nine years of her life in the convent and it is here that she composed her spiritual autobiography ‘The Story of a Soul’. Living a hidden, simple life she demonstrated a powerful energy and positive spirit, and a great desire to help others through her prayers. Her time in the convent was often difficult. She writes of experiencing great suffering through sickness as well as great dryness in her prayer life, and occasional personality clashes with others in the convent. Yet despite all this she remained faithful to God realising that her vocation was simply one of love, and this was the heart of the Gospel. She wrote in her autobiography: “I understood ... that love was everything, that it embraced all times and places .... in a word, that it was eternal”.
After a painful 18 month struggle with tuberculosis she died on 30 September 1897 at the age of 24. Her last words were “My God, I love you”.
In 1898 ‘The Story of a Soul was published and by 1907 Pope Pius X stated that Therese was “the greatest saint of modern times”. In 1925 she was canonised by Pope Pius XI. Had she lived she would have been just 52 years old when she was made a saint. In 1997 Pope John Paul II declared St. Therese a Doctor of the Church - in recognition of the powerful influence her life and spirituality had on the modern world.
The Little Way
So what is it about Therese’s Little Way that makes her message so relevant for people today? Inspired by Jesus words: “Whosoever is a little one, come to me” she said that she would look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight. For Therese being a follower of Jesus meant finding holiness in the ordinary and everyday events of daily life. There are two central foundations to the little way. Firstly God shows love by mercy and forgiveness. We should not be afraid of God, in fact fear of God prevents us from developing a loving relationship with Him. Secondly, none of us can be perfect in following God. Hence, we should approach God as a child approaches a loving parent.
Therese believed that we must live out these principles in our everyda life, that even the most mundane and unexciting activities can be made holy because of the way we do them, because of the love we show in our actions. Many have been attracted to this idea because it puts holiness within the reach of all of us. Know that God is truly present and loves you - understand that each of us, whether President or pauper - can make a difference in the world by the way we choose to live and act. Each day is a gift to be used to help others. The Little Way leads away from selfishness, greed and materialism and points towards trust in God and confidence in our ability to make a difference.
We can often feel that spirituality is a complicated matter, and that holiness requires great knowledge of philosophy and theology. Not true says Therese - keep it simple. God is everywhere, present in the smallest details of our ordinary lives. The smallest action however insignificant, done with love, is more important than great things done for personal glory or fame. ” Everything is grace” she said, meaning that God is present in each of us and everything, enabling us to do the ordinary things in life with extraordinary love. In today’s world many perhaps might regard Therese’s cloistered enclosed life behind the convent walls as a waste. Yet Therese shows that such a life can be grace filled and wonderfully productive.
Many, perhaps most, find prayer difficult, but Therese taught simplicity. She was not keen on long prayers and often fell asleep in community prayer in the convent. Speak to God from the heart, she said, and you will develop a relationship of love and trust in a Father who loves you.
St. Therese writes: “My mission - to make God loved will begin after my death. I will spend my heaven doing good on earth. I will let fall a shower of roses”. In our modern age of materialism and selfishness when so many are searching for an authentic spirituality, Therese’s little way of simple love for God and others has a powerful appeal. Perhaps we too can join her on ‘the little way’
“To live by love is to go through life showing peace and joy in hearts” St. Therese
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St. Therese and the Little Way
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