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Lessons in Humility from the "Little Way"

One of my all time favorite Saints is Saint Thérèse of Lisieux! When I read her Story of a Soul, I feel as if I am her-- ambitious, young, scrupulous, pensive and a bit naive. She strove for perfection and became easily frustrated when it was not attained. Thérèse desired to be liked by others but continually faced the criticism and condescension of her peers and fellow nuns. She was fiercely passionate about drawing closer to God but at times, felt distant with Him because of her inevitable setbacks. Her younger self was my younger self, and the more I learned about Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, the fonder I became of her. Thérèse is a Saint that almost anyone could relate to. She wasn't immune to the little sufferings many of us face everyday, and in fact, she experienced quite a lot of them!

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux had to contend with other nuns gossiping about her. She had a hard time forgiving herself for the things she had done wrong in her life, and because of this, she had struggled with accepting the grace of God’s mercy. Thérèse often doubted her vocation, because of the guilt she felt for leaving her ailing father to join the convent, among other reasons. Towards the end of her life, she doubted God’s love for her and even His existence. When she contracted tuberculosis, Thérèse feared that she might take her own life because of the extreme pain she was in. Saint Thérèse of Lisieux, like many of the other Saints, was not perfect by any means, but what made her a Saint is that she continued to persevere in her faith and dedicated each moment of her life to God despite her doubts, anxieties, failings, and feelings of “littleness”.

I think of her as I reflect on the importance of humility in our journey towards holiness. I used to believe that being humble meant allowing people to trample over you and receding to the background. I had confused humility with feigning lowliness, but when I read Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s autobiography, her life revealed to me what true humility is- a deep awareness of who we are in relation to the One who created us.

She writes, “We are living now in an age of inventions, and we no longer have to take the trouble of climbing stairs, for, in the homes of the rich, an elevator has replaced these very successfully. I wanted to find an elevator which would raise me to Jesus, for I am too small to climb the rough stairway of perfection. I searched, then, in the Scriptures for some sign of this elevator, the object of my desires, and I read these words coming from the mouth of Eternal Wisdom: ‘Whoever is a little one, let him come to me.’ And so I succeeded.”

Who has not felt “little”, incapable, or simply “not good enough” at some point in their life? Who has escaped the feelings of shame when one has failed miserably? While a lot of us become entrapped by our shame, Saint Thérèse of Lisieux was not only quick to admit her limitations and failings but also, quick to accept the mercy of God. She knew she was not perfect and that she would never get to Heaven by her own accord. Thérèse, however, desired to be with God and realized that being “little” was not a weakness but a strength. Her dependence on God to lift her up was the elevator she desperately needed to remain with Him. Thérèse received God’s mercy in abundance, because to put it simply, she asked for it! She trusted in God’s great love for her, and she accepted His forgiveness in her life. As such, recognizing our failings and depending on God in all things is the first step towards growing in humility.

Saint Thérèse of Lisieux’s acceptance of God’s will in her life is another great example of her humility. Thérèse is easily one of the most ambitious Saints in the Catholic Tradition. She had aspirations of becoming a missionary, doctor, priest, and all the other vocations that were humanly possible. Even still, she understood that God was calling her to remain as a cloistered Carmelite nun. Throughout her time discerning these various vocations, she received the insight that love was the vocation that encapsulates all the other vocations. Thérèse proclaims, “Jesus does not so much look at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them.” This Saint knew ambition, but instead of pursuing her lofty dreams on her own, she allowed God to guide and direct her passions. She did not let her ambitions get in the way of what was most important- doing God’s will. Thérèse took every opportunity from cleaning dishes to befriending someone she greatly disliked to show her love for her community and most importantly, for God. She trusted God’s will for her life, and as a result, Thérèse was not left disappointed. Her daily commitment to do all things in love inspired countless souls so much so that she was canonized a Saint, named a co-patron of the missions, and even honored as a Doctor of the Church!

Lastly, the life of Saint Thérèse of Lisieux is a model of humility, because she saw herself through God’s eyes and recognized the dignity and value of those around her. She comments, “I had wondered for a long time why God had preferences and why all souls did not receive an equal amount of grace […] Jesus saw fit to enlighten me about this mystery. He set the book of nature before me and I saw that all the flowers He has created are lovely. The splendour of the rose and whiteness of the lily do not rob the little violet of its scent nor the daisy of its simple charm. I realized that if every tiny flower wanted to be a rose, spring would lose its loveliness and there would be no wild flowers to make the meadows gay.” Although Thérèse had aspirations of being great, she discovered that God had a more glorious plan- one that revealed the majestic beauty of souls in harmony. In other words, Saint Thérèse learned that each and every life had a role to play. In the eyes of God, no life is more important than the other, and when each life is seen as part of a larger whole, the sight or result is more beautiful than one could have ever imagined. Thérèse faithfully acted on this insight and used her loving acts to serve others instead of herself. She saw herself as part of a community within the Body of Christ and understood that she was valued and loved like all of the rest.

Who in your life is an example of great humility? How is God calling you to grow in humility? What opportunities has God placed in your life to practice humility today?

Let us pray:

Litany of Humility

Rafael Cardinal Merry del Val (1865-1930),

Secretary of State for Pope Saint Pius X

O Jesus! meek and humble of heart, Hear me.

From the desire of being esteemed,

Deliver me, Jesus.

From the desire of being loved... From the desire of being extolled ... From the desire of being honored ... From the desire of being praised ... From the desire of being preferred to others... From the desire of being consulted ... From the desire of being approved ... From the fear of being humiliated ... From the fear of being despised... From the fear of suffering rebukes ... From the fear of being calumniated ... From the fear of being forgotten ... From the fear of being ridiculed ... From the fear of being wronged ... From the fear of being suspected ...

That others may be loved more than I,

Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

That others may be esteemed more than I ... That, in the opinion of the world, others may increase and I may decrease ... That others may be chosen and I set aside ... That others may be praised and I unnoticed ... That others may be preferred to me in everything... That others may become holier than I, provided that I may become as holy as I should…Amen!

May we decrease so that God can increase in our lives and in our hearts!

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