(Vatican News) At his weekly General Audience, Pope Francis extols Saint Therese of the Child Jesus and her 'little way.' He praises the Doctor of the Church, who, despite illness and early death, illustrated how to do even the littlest of things with extraordinary love, and who now is "spending time in heaven doing good on earth.'
Let us imitate the 'Little Way' of St. Therese, by doing even the littlest of things, like the Lord did, with great love.
With this sentiment, Pope Francis described St. Therese of Lisieux, patroness of the missions, at his weekly General Audience on Wednesday in St. Peter's Square, as he continued his catechesis series on saints who personified apostolic zeal.
Recalling the beloved saint was born 150 years ago, on 2 January 1873, the Pope expressed his plan to dedicate an Apostolic Letter to her on the anniversary.
"She is patroness of the missions, but she was never sent on mission," the Pope said, as he challenged the conventional notion of what constitutes being a missionary.
Roses on everyone
Therese was a Carmelite nun who lived her life according to the way of littleness and weakness, the Pope explained, recalling she defined herself as “a small grain of sand.” Having poor health, she died at the age of only 24. But though her body was sickly, he suggested, "her heart was vibrant and missionary."
The Holy Father pointed out how she recounts in her “diary” that her desire was that of being a missionary, "and that she wanted to be one not just for a few years, but for the rest of her life, even until the end of the world."
Her daily resolution, the Pope highlighted, was to “make Jesus loved,” and to intercede for others.
Spending Heaven doing good on earth
In a letter, she had written, “I want to save souls and forget myself for them: I want to save them even after my death.”
“Several times she said, 'I will spend my Heaven doing good on earth.'”
Following the example of Jesus the Good Shepherd, the Pope noted, her zeal was directed especially toward sinners, to “those far off.”
He recalled she served as a “spiritual sister” to several missionaries, accompanying them from her monastery through her letters, her prayer, and by offering continuous sacrifices for them. "Without being visible," he recalled, "she interceded for the missions, like an engine that, although hidden, gives a vehicle the power to move forward."
He lamented that was often not understood by her fellow nuns.
"She received 'more thorns than roses' from them," he observed, "but she accepted everything lovingly, patiently, offering even these judgments and misunderstandings together with her illness. And she did this joyfully, for the needs of the Church, so that, as she said, 'roses might fall on everyone,” especially the most distant.'"
Revisiting idea of 'missionary'
This intercession moved by charity, the Pope highlighted, is very powerful. "Such is the engine of mission!"
Missionaries, Pope Francis clarified, are not only those who travel long distances, learn new languages, do good works, and are good at proclamation. "No," he said.
“A missionary is anyone who lives as an instrument of God's love where they are. Missionaries are those who do everything so that, through their witness, their prayer, their intercession, Jesus might pass by.”
This apostolic zeal, the Pope warned, "never works by proselytism or constraint," but "by attraction."
Attracting with Jesus' love
“One does not become a Christian because they are forced by someone, but because they have been touched by love.”
With so many means and structures available, the Pope acknowledged, "the Church needs hearts like Therese’s," namely ones "that draw people to love and bring people closer to God."
He warned against losing track of this essential aspect.
Pope Francis concluded by encouraging faithful to let us ask St. Therese "for the grace to overcome our selfishness and for the passion to intercede that Jesus might be known and loved."