Once Upon a Day of Prayer | Rediscovering St. Thérèse

by Sister Timothy Marie, OCD


St. Thérèse of Lisieux

St. Thérèse of Lisieux

A Reflection on the Little Way of St. Thérèse

Every month each Carmelite Sister steps aside from her daily service to God’s people and makes a one-day spiritual retreat. To most of us, this single day out of each month is dearly loved and longed for. We meet and work with a lot of people on a daily basis, and to enjoy a day of silence and prayer is not so much a luxury as a necessity. A few of the standard components of our day of prayer include a monthly examination of conscience, extra meditations and spiritual conferences, and a period of thinking about and preparing for the moment of our entrance into eternity, i.e. our death. I hope that last one doesn’t sound morbid. It isn’t. I like to think about that instant when I will see Jesus Face to face.

Last month, during my day of prayer, I decided to set aside some time and do a little cleaning. So, out came the boxes – little boxes with nuns’ treasures of scissors and magnets and a magnifying glass – oh, and a needle –threader – holy cards and assorted notes; medium boxes containing craft materials for our fundraisers; and the file box of treasured papers from workshops, in services, and retreats.

As I plowed through the file box, I came upon a piece of paper that I hadn’t seen in quite a while. In fact, I remembered clearly the day in the late 1960s when I made what was known in those days as a “photstat” which if you are a “boomer” like me, recognize right away as a “photostatic copy” of a document. In those days of the very first copy machines, it was a three-part process to make just one copy, including putting on, and then removing at the end, the essential, filmy-pink paper.

Well, as we are currently in the year 2013, you can probably guess that it was a mighty-yellowed paper from the legendary 60s. I think it was probably the Holy Spirit Who helped me find it after all these years. As it turned out, the message on this yellowed paper became the much-needed theme of my Day of Prayer.

This is the story.

In the late 1960s, one of the Discalced Carmelite Friars lent me a paper showing the three standard, classic degrees or ways of the spiritual life called the purgative, illuminative, and unitive ways. In separate columns, he placed the terms Carmelite Saints, such as St. Teresa of Jesus, St. John of the Cross used to describe these three ways. In other words, he cross-matched their descriptions of the spiritual life with the classic ones. In table form, he showed St. John of the Cross’s terms of dark night of the senses, dark night of the spirit, mystical marriage to name a few, and placed them into the standard three ways. He did the same with St. Teresa of Avila’s four waters (ways of prayer). I found it to be so interesting that I wanted to have my own copy so I “photostated” it, including the grand finale of peeling off the important pink filmy paper carefully to see the final “perfect” copy.

With that background, I need to explain the final column on the paper. It showed St. Therese’s spiritual doctrine, also known as “The Little Way of St. Thérèse.” St. Thérèse’s column, in contrast to the others, was remarkable simple. There were no terms to define. There were no interpretations of the nuance of the intricacy of the workings of the Holy Spirit within the souls. There were no analogies, metaphors, theological technicalities, or any such things like that.

The Little Way of St. Thérèse showed an almost-empty column. I mean there were hardly any words. The only words were the following: Confidence and Love. That was it. She didn’t bother to define theological steps to holiness, or describe the manifestations of various degrees of prayer. No, she simply loved God and tried to do simple, daily things with love.

That’s it.

That was my epiphany.

I understood in a deeper way why St. Thérèse was named a “Doctor of the Church” with a spiritual doctrine that can be universally applied throughout the whole world. I understood why people are drawn to her, autobiography, Story of a Soul. She is so human. She distills the spiritual journey into the concept of love and deep, deep, child-like trust.

St. Thérèse lived each day with complete confidence in God’s love. She wrote, “What matters in life, is not great deeds, but great love.” Thérèse’s spirituality is of doing the ordinary with extraordinary love. I remember when I attended Catholic elementary school, in the sixth grade our teacher, “Sister Marguerite Marie, told us that if we wanted to be like St. Thérèse, even picking up a small paper off the floor is an act of love and praise to God. Now, over fifty years later, I still find that to be a true statement. St. Therese’s way is very captivating, and it has captivated the world.

Simplify.

Purify.

Love.

On my day of prayer, it captivated me once again.


“You know, Mother, that I have always wanted to be become a saint. Unfortunately, when I have compared myself with the saints, I have always found that there is the same difference between the saints and me as there is between a mountain whose summit is lost in the clouds and a humble grain of sand trodden underfoot by passersby. Instead of being discouraged, I told myself: God would not make me wish for something impossible and so, in spite of my littleness, I can aim at being a saint. It is impossible for me to grow bigger, so I put up with myself as I am, with all my countless faults…

“But I will look for some means of going to heaven by a little way which is very short and very straight, a little way that is quite new[…] It is your arms, Jesus, which are the lift to carry me to heaven, And so there is no need for me to grow up. In fact, just the opposite: I must stay little and become less and less.”

St. Thérèse of Lisieux, The Story of a Soul, 113. (New York: Double Day, 2001)


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Promoting a Deeper Spiritual Life Among Families through Healthcare, Education and Retreats

The Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles strive to give striking witness as a vibrant, thriving community of dedicated women with an all-consuming mission. It is our God-given mission, a mission of the heart, a mission of loving service to the poor, the sick, the needy and the uneducated. Our loving service overflows from each sister’s profound life of prayer. We strive to reflect His life and hope and His promise to all that light has come into our world and darkness has not overcome it.

A look at the history of our community, with its motherhouse in Alhambra, California, reveals how its life-giving presence has come about. During the beginning decades of the 1900s just as the epic Mexican revolution was subsiding, a ruthless religious persecution was gaining momentum in Mexico. This horrible persecution accompanied the birth and humble beginnings of our community, a legacy that Mother Luisita, our foundress, and her two companions brought with them as religious refugees entering the Unites States in 1927.

Those seeds planted by Mother Luisita, now a candidate for sainthood, have taken deep root in the United States since those early days. People and places have changed throughout the years, yet the heart of our mission remains. As an autonomous religious institute since 1983 we continue to carry out our loving service in our healthcare facilities, retreat houses and schools which remain to this day centers of life and hope. Today we are moving forward together “Educating for Life with the Mind and Heart of Christ” in schools, being “At the Service of the Family for Life” through health and eldercare and “Fostering a Deeper Spiritual Life” through individual and group retreats. At the heart of our vocation is a passionate mission of loving service which facilitates our life-giving encounter with the living God.

The heritage of the Carmelite Sisters of the Most Sacred Heart of Los Angeles is rooted in the spirituality of Carmel, the Gospels, the Church, with our particular charism derived from our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament.

In His merciful goodness, God has graced our Institute with the Carmelite charism which has its roots in a long history and living tradition. The spirituality of St. Teresa and St. John of the Cross is rooted in this tradition. Carmel means enclosed garden in which God Himself dwells. The divine indwelling in the soul is the foundation of Teresa's doctrine. Thus our vocation is a grace by which contemplation and action are blended to become an apostolic service to the Church.

Our ideal finds a living expression in the life and charism of our beloved Foundress, Mother Maria Luisa Josefa of the Most Blessed Sacrament, whose spirit we faithfully preserve and foster.

Our life is characterized by: - A life of prayer and union with God - A deep love for Jesus in the Holy Eucharist - Devotion to our Blessed Mother - Steadfast fidelity to the Magisterium of the Church - Praying for priests - Commitment to works of the apostolate in ecclesial service

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5 Comments

  1. Thank you, Sister! This hit me today… St. Therese is my confirmation saint (I was confirmed in 1975), and I don’t pray to her as often as I do many others. This was a little reminder to me (from her) that she is still there for me, too. Maybe at some point you could write more about the photostat and post a scan of it??? Blessings!

  2. When I was a young girl in catholic school you first came to me and since then you do with physical manifestations of purple flowers to show me that you are there. It is real.
    The flowers grow in the oddest places to show me that you truly exist in spirit form.
    I recall one time while I was in prayer in the nuns chapel I used to like to be locked in alone because I was afraid to be alone there. Then I heard the door open and saw a small nun sitting behind me. I remember how you floated out of the door. I will always have my visions locked tightly in my heart and mind. I love you Therese.

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