Photo Credit: Jeffrey Bruno
Pope Francis’s trip to the United States in September centered on his appearance at the World Meeting of Families in Philadelphia. The sixth quote in our series comes from Pope Francis’s homily for the conclusion of the World Meeting of Families on September 27:
“Faith opens a ‘window’ to the presence and working of the Spirit. It shows us that, like happiness, holiness is always tied to little gestures… Love is shown by little things.”
St. Therese of Lisieux is the patroness of world missions, despite being a cloistered Carmelite, who never left the convent. She shares this honor with St. Francis Xavier, who spent his life as a missionary and baptized countless people throughout Asia. On the surface, this seems to be a contradiction. St. Francis Xavier was the perfect picture of a missionary: bold and brave, traveling to foreign lands, living among the people. St. Therese was a plain French girl, who was so eager to enter the convent that she begged the pope to let her go there at the age of 15. She only lived until the age of 24, dying of tuberculosis. Why does she share the honor of patron of world missions? Why did missionary bishops ask for this?
In the short biography of St. Therese on the Vatican site, we can read why: “She considered it a special gift to receive the charge of accompanying two ‘missionary brothers’ with prayer and sacrifice. Seized by the love of Christ, her only Spouse, she penetrated ever more deeply into the mystery of the Church and became increasingly aware of her apostolic and missionary vocation to draw everyone in her path.” St. Therese was in the “mission field” through contemplative prayer and correspondence with missionaries.
This teaches us something about what holiness, and what being a missionary, really means. In her daily mortifications and sacrifices, young Therese offered to God her whole heart, mind, spirit and body. She had a great desire to be a missionary, even a martyr, but knew that that was not God’s will for her. Instead, she offered her myriad little, unnoticed actions for missionaries around the world. She demonstrated love in the “little things,” just as the pope spoke about at the world meeting.
Alice von Hildebrand wrote a personal story about this in a letter to a newlywed woman who was not sure that the “little things” really mattered in marriage. Von Hildebrand strongly disagreed. She wrote,
“Early in our marriage, I noticed he [Dietrich] would always leave the soap swimming in a small pool of water. It would slow degenerate into an unattractive, slimy goo—something I found unappealing. I drew it to his attention. From that day on, he made a point of drying the soap after each use—to such an extent that I couldn’t tell from the ‘soap testimony’ whether he had washed himself or not… I was so moved by this, that to this day I feel a wave of loving gratitude for this small but significant gesture of love.
My husband was a great lover. And because he was one, he managed to relate the smallest things to love and was willing to change to please his beloved in all legitimate things. This characteristic is typical of great love” (By Love Refined).
Family life is rife with opportunities to show love in little ways, and to find the Holy Spirit working there—if we look with the eyes of faith.
Let us all seek to be great lovers of God!