St. Therese of Liseux once stated,”Our Lord does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, or even at their difficulty, as at the love with which we do them.” Part of the universal appeal of the Little Flower was her simplicity and humility when approaching the greatness of God. As a classic over thinker and a perfectionist, I tend to overanalyze sanctity. Making checklists or reminders on my phone, I try to cram a bunch of spiritual activities into a week all the while juggling a healthy work, life, and exercise routine! I am exhausted simply thinking about scheduling confession in on a Saturday around my three children’s naptime and giving my wife time to go to the medicine box as well.
At work the stress is not lessened it just rears its ugly head in the form of nonstop inbound customer calls. The constant barrage of complaints, concerns, and questions wear down a person. I try to give myself a few seconds rest between the hustle and bustle. St. Therese taught me three important lessons this week.
1. Start Small: The French saint wisely stated, “Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” I have previously written about the importance of small incremental steps to gain progress, however, it is always good to remind ourselves that great things start with doing the little things well.
Children learning to ride a bicycle do not normally go from training wheels to mountain/trail cycling overnight. Bumps, bruises, tears, and frustrations abound over the course of time when learning to ride a bike. The same is true in our pilgrim journey towards holiness. Missed opportunities of smiling at an annoying co-worker or your trouble neighbor does not help our advancement in our sojourn of sanctity. St. Mother Teresa matter-of-factly said, “You have to be holy where you are – wherever God has put you.” Following in the footsteps of both Therese/Teresa’s I hope to remember daily to start little—with baby steps—as a I grow in holiness.
2. Fueled by Fire of Love: According to Genesis 3, the curse place upon Adam [and later all mankind] was work being toilsome and difficult. In fact, the day of the Fall may have well been history’s first Monday! All joking aside, we normally dread work because it takes away of play—an activity of something which we enjoy and love doing. St. Josemaria Escriva declared, “Either we learn to find the Lord in the ordinary everyday life or else we shall never find him.” Very much in keeping with his spirituality and likely an major influence for the Founder of Opus Dei, St. Therese reminds us that work need not be toilsome—as long as daily work is fueled by love. Watered by love—of God and neighbor—work blossoms into a sweet activity that paradoxically involves suffering, but bring joy as well! “I understood that love comprises all vocations – that love is everything, and because it is eternal, embraces all times and places,” the sainted French nun declared.
3. Part of a Whole: The final piece wisdom the Little Flower of Liesux imparted to me this week was the importance of seeing myself as a part of a larger whole. Now this is not to reduce myself to a small wheel in the cog of Catholicism—such as view is entirely utilitarian and reduces our relationship to other human beings as purely functional/technical.
According to the Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 952 when speaking about the communion of saints, “Everything the true Christian has is to be regarded as a good possessed in common with everyone else. All Christians should be ready and eager to come to the help of the needy. . . and of their neighbors in want.”487 A Christian is a steward of the Lord’s goods.” Being a husband and father I learned my will must be subordinated for the good of the other members of my family.
Easily declared from my theological armchair, I struggle mightily in the midst of family life and the bustle of raising children. Here is where the example and spiritual maturity of St. Therese again teaches me. On the subject of being a saint, Therese stated, “I realized that to become a saint one must suffer a great deal, always seek what is best, and forget oneself.” The youngest of nine siblings Therese learned quickly in life that she could not always be the center of attention—although she did admit in her Diary of a Soul that her selfishness pervaded her very earliest of years. The Little Flower’s constant message in her writings about her [and our] need to have a complete dependency on God our Heavenly Father helped shift my selfish mindset toward others and the Ultimate Other.
Start small, easy your daily struggle with the fuel of love, and remember you are part of a larger whole—members of the human race. These three lessons the young, but wise French saint taught me this week. Below I will leave you to reflect on other insightful quotes I found helpful for my spiritual life from St. Therese of Liseux.
“To live in love is to sail forever, spreading seeds of joy and peace in hearts.”
“Kindness is my only guiding star. In its light, I sail a straight route, I have my motto written on my sail: ‘To live in love.'”
“Love can accomplish all things. Things that are most impossible become easy where love is at work.”
“Without love, deeds, even the most brilliant, count as nothing.”
“I am the smallest of creatures and I recognize my worthlessness, but I also know how hearts that are generous and noble love to do good.”
“When one loves, one does not calculate.”
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Saint Augustine’s simple and ageless maxim, “Because God has made us for Himself, our hearts are restless until they rest in Him” resonates with mankind regardless of history and time. No amount of material possessions, health, or control over finances will provide lasting and authentic happiness and peace. Humanity is naturally a broken species—greed, pride, anger, lust, gluttony, sloth, envy abound. This truth is evident simply by noticing daily interaction with yourself and others. Perfectibility in the human race—eugenics—was tried and failed many times, arguably most notoriously during the Nazi regime in the mid-20th century. True perfection does not occur through purely human willpower and scientific advancement. Rather authentic perfection—or holiness is achieved through cooperating with the Divine Will.
Possessing all the catechetical knowledge in the world will not ensure that a person has the puzzle of life solved. A relationship with Jesus Christ is absolutely essential to fill that “God-shaped” hole in my soul/complete the puzzle of life. As a perfectionist, I struggle mightily with falling into the heresy of Pelagianism. St. Augustine, himself, battled the false teaching of the monk Pelagius. Heresies rise and fall. Pope Francis warned of the dangers of this heresy in his encyclical letter Gaudete Et Exsultate. He declared,
Those who yield to this pelagian or semi-pelagian mindset, even though they speak warmly of God’s grace, “ultimately trust only in their own powers and feel superior to others because they observe certain rules or remain intransigently faithful to a particular Catholic style”. When some of them tell the weak that all things can be accomplished with God’s grace, deep down they tend to give the idea that all things are possible by the human will, as if it were something pure, perfect, all-powerful, to which grace is then added. (no. 49).
Awill lacking humility cannot fix the human condition no matter one’s tenacity and intellectual prowess. As I mentioned before I struggle with relying on my willpower over cooperation with my Creator’s gift of grace He bestowed on me. After a frustrating situation at work, I expressed concerns to my manager, “I did everything right. I provided accurate information, willingness, to help, and empathy to customer situations. Normally, I am able to control/steer nearly all my customer interactions to a positive outcome. I wish I could have this influence for all situations.”
Listening intently to my concerns, my manager acknowledged my frustrations yet added this profoundly simple, but very applicable analogy—that of a jigsaw puzzle. “Imagine you are working on a 500 or 1000 piece puzzle and you completed everything perfectly. When you get to the end you discover there is a piece missing. No matter how perfectly you worked with that piece missing the puzzle is still incomplete. Some customer conversations are like that. You may do everything perfect on your end, but still a piece is missing to prevent your perfect result.”
Now I am not aware of my manager’s theological leanings. His analogy originally meant to be for a practical workplace example, after further reflection I learned that this example of a puzzle missing a piece applies to my faith life as well. Willing myself toward perfection and completion cannot happen because a piece of missing in the puzzle of my life—a God-shaped hole!
C.S. Lewis stated “We have a strange illusion that mere time cancels sin. But mere time does nothing either to the fact or to the guilt of a sin.” Humanity cannot evolve out of the original brokenness of human nature ushered in through the Fall of Adam and Eve. Time and time again my hubris leads to the danger relying solely on my will. However, God’s merciful gift of confession allows me to exercise my free will to cooperate with Divine grace to complete the puzzle of my life and overcome my inclinations for self-centeredness. True peace only happens when we have a relationship with God.
Trying to fill the God-sized hole in our hearts with things other than God is like trying to fill the Grand Canyon with marbles. —Peter Kreeft
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