The Little Way of Saint Thérèse
Updated: Feb 5, 2021
Sacred Scripture, two commercials, and a Carmelite nun...
by Fr. Ron Oakham, O.Carm.
One of Jesus’ admonitions addresses the common occurrence of becoming preoccupied with the faults of another while being lackluster about one’s own. Both Matthew and Luke include an episode in their Gospel in which Jesus challenges his listeners to:
“remove the wooden beam out of your eye first,
then you will see clearly to remove the splinter
in your brother’s eye.” (Matt 7:5, Luke 6:42)
As I read Luke’s version recently, two current TV commercials came to mind. The first includes a person entering a room very smartly dressed, but the others in the room immediately see a stain on a part of the person’s outfit. The second shows several people gathered in a nicely decorated room but their sights are trained on a spot on one of the walls. These are images of what the Lord was speaking about. We can often become so preoccupied with another’s fault(s) – an annoying characteristic or displeasing behavior – that our whole attention focusses on this and we miss the beauty of the whole person.
In her autobiography, A Story of a Soul [SS], St. Thérèse of Lisieux writes about her own experience with this dynamic. She specifically mentions three sisters in her community that tested her – one who sat behind her in chapel and would continuously make a clicking sound with her teeth (SS 249), another who in her zeal for laundry washing splashed the dirty water up onto Thérèse’s face (SS 250), and a third who really irritated her. (Obviously, convent life was a bit “messy”.) Of the latter sister she wrote:
“There is a sister who has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her
character, everything seems very disagreeable to me… Each time I met her I prayed to God for her,
offering Him all her virtues and merits… I wasn’t content simply with praying very much for this sister
who gave me so many struggles, but I took care to render her all the services possible and when I was
tempted to answer her back in a disagreeable manner, I was content with giving her my most
She was absolutely unaware of my feelings for her, never did she suspect the motives for my conduct
and she remained convinced that her character was very pleasing to me. One day at recreation she asked
in almost these words: ‘Would you tell me, Sister Thérèse of the Child Jesus, what attracts you so much
towards me; every time you look at me, I see you smile?’ I answered that I was smiling because I was happy
to see here. (It is understood that I did not add that this was from a spiritual standpoint.)” (SS 222-223)
This was a part of what our Church has named Thérèse’s Little Way. She had come to the point of recognizing the “bigger picture” of the other. She wrote of realizing that despite the faults of the other there are aspects of the person in which God delights and she trained herself to look beyond the faults to that which God loves within the person that she too might come to love in a godly way.
This part of her Little Way can be a guide for us. Each of us could probably draw up a sizeable list of persons in our lives with whom we are often preoccupied with their faults. Choose one person – indeed not the one who most frustrates you for remember a runner who wishes to run a marathon doesn’t begin their training with running 26 miles but with much smaller runs, 5 miles then 20 miles, etc. So, begin with someone not so irritating. While mindful of that which annoys you, consider what is the greater beauty of that person, what is it that is most pleasing to God their creator, and focus on that when interacting with the person. Then, move through your list perfecting this approach more and more each time. Incorporating this method into your life will be heeding Jesus’ admonition and may well put you on the track to holiness as it did for Thérèse.
This reflection has been prepared by Rev. Ron Oakham, O.Carm., a priest of the Order of the Carmelites of the Ancient Observance. He has served in parish, diocesan, international, and provincial ministry positions. Currently retired, he continues to do pastoral ministry assisting in parishes as well as renewed studying of Carmelite Spirituality. He is on the Board of Advisors for Spiritual Direction Rising. You can read more about him HERE.