“I rejoice to be little, because only children and those who are like them will be admitted to the heavenly banquet.”
This quote from St. Thérèse of Lisieux sums up her whole life and her teaching. The “Little Flower”, as she is known, spent her brief but full life striving to be little. This message of “littleness” is so important that she was declared a Doctor of the Church by Pope St. John Paul II. Her teaching goes to the very heart of the Gospel and has something to say to each one of us today.
What is the greatest characteristic of a little child? Why are we called to turn and become like little children? The key boils down to one fundamental attitude: trust. We can learn so much from little children because they teach us how to trust in our Heavenly Father.
One of my favorite passages in Scripture which speaks about this childlike trust is Psalm 131:
LORD, my heart is not proud;
nor are my eyes haughty.
I do not busy myself with great matters,
with things too sublime for me.
Rather, I have stilled my soul,
Like a weaned child to its mother,
weaned is my soul.
Israel, hope in the LORD,
now and forever.
It is beautiful how this psalm describes the repose that a little child can have in its mother’s arms. He can rest there peacefully because he knows that he will be cared for in all his needs. In the same way, we can rest in our Heavenly Father’s arms because we know that He will take care of us. St. Thérèse’s teaching on spiritual littleness rests upon the thesis that our Heavenly Father is a good God who cares for His children. Jesus himself lays out this truth in the Gospels: “If you then, who are wicked, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the Father in heaven give the holy Spirit to those who ask him?” (Lk 11:13).
This truth of God’s trustworthiness directly counteracts the wound of original sin. Adam and Eve’s sin in the garden was fundamentally an act of mistrust: they did not trust in God’s goodness, and so they took their lives into their own hands. If God is not trustworthy, then I must fend for myself. This wound of ungodly self-reliance has been passed on from generation to generation, and to this day we struggle to surrender our lives into the hands of our Good Father. Thérèse understood this all too well, and her “Little Way” directly counteracts this ungodly self-reliance. As St. John Paul II reminds us in a homily he gave at Lisieux: “For what truth of the Gospel message is more fundamental and universal than this: that God is our Father and we are his children?”
One of St. Thérèse’s most memorable images from her “Little Way” to holiness is that of an elevator. One day as she was comparing herself to the great saints, she saw an abyss between them and herself. But not becoming discouraged, she rather sought another path to holiness, and it occurred to her: instead of striving by her own willpower climb the stairway of holiness, she simply needed to throw herself into the arms of Jesus, and He would lift her up to heaven, just as an elevator lifts one up with no effort from oneself. As she writes: “The elevator that would lift me up to Heaven is your arms, O Jesus! To reach perfection I do not need to grow up. On the contrary, I need to stay little, to become more and more little.”
“My way is entirely one of trust and love,” says St. Thérèse. It seems so simple, disarmingly simple in fact, and yet this is the path to holiness for our time. In a world that preaches success, power, self-sufficiency and perfectionism, the “Little Flower” reminds us of the true road to sanctity: humility, simplicity, love, and most of all, childlike trust. “Amen, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Mt. 18:3-4).
Let us ask for the grace to grow in trust to become more like this great saint. One of the most beautiful prayers in recent years is the “Litany of Trust”, written by Sr. Faustina Maria Pia of the Sisters of Life. This litany guides us through freedom from the various lies that the enemy tries to plant in our hearts and helps us affirm the truth that we are loved by a God who is trustworthy. Here are just a few excerpts from this beautiful litany which can be found online:
From the belief that I have to earn Your love, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the fear that I am unlovable, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the false security that I have what it takes, Deliver me, Jesus.
From all suspicion of Your words and promises, Deliver me, Jesus.
From the rebellion against childlike dependency on you, Deliver me, Jesus
That You are continually holding me, sustaining me, loving me, Jesus, I trust in You.
That You always hear me and in Your goodness always respond to me, Jesus, I trust in You.
That my life is a gift, Jesus, I trust in You.
That You will teach me to trust You, Jesus, I trust in you.
Let us close with the words of St. Thérèse, who speaks of this boundless trust in one of her most beautiful poems:
“One law alone I know — within my Lord’s embrace
In perfect trust to lie. No storm there shall I fear
Slumbering on His breast, near to His Holy Face
That is my heaven here.”
The next time I am tempted to fear or self-sufficiency, I will repeat these words: “Jesus I trust in You.” I can also take some time this month to pray with the Litany of Trust.