Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it (Mark 10:15). Becoming like a child in our relationship with God entails humbly recognizing our need for God and confidently approaching Our Father in a guileless manner so that he can empower us to carry out his will in an unassuming way. Unfortunately, most people do not like to admit that they are needy for any reason whatsoever. Fortunately for all of us mere mortals who are burdened with weaknesses and imperfections of all kinds, St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus saw her littleness in an entirely different light. She saw it in the light of faith. “I prefer to agree very simply that the Almighty has done great things in the soul of His divine Mother’s child, and the greatest thing is to have shown her her littleness, her impotence” (Ms C, 4r). (Story of a Soul, composed of three Manuscripts (A, B and C), united by Thérèse’s sister Celine, to form the saint’s autobiography). This is quite a statement coming from a woman that was hailed as the greatest saint of modern times by Pope St. Pius X.
Thérèse knew she was little, but she did not resent this fact. She knew that apart from Christ, she could do nothing (cf. John 15:5), but she did not lament this reality. On the contrary, she was convinced, like St. Paul, that God’s power worked perfectly through her weaknesses and that God’s grace was sufficient for her (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9). Thérèse wrote that she frequently noticed that Jesus did not want her to lay up provisions for herself. He acted within her and made her think of all he desired her to do in the present moment (cf. Ms A, 76r). This testimony reveals the intimate dependence that Thérèse had with the Lord and the close relationship that Jesus cultivated with Thérèse. Moreover, it brilliantly illustrates the confident trust that Christ wanted all his disciples to have in him when he made this compassionate proclamation: “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matthew 11:28-30).
In order to experience the glorious freedom of the sons of God (cf. Rom. 8:21), one has to have a personal relationship with Jesus; and just as becoming childlike is a prerequisite for salvation (cf. Matthew 18:2-4), it is also a precondition for an intimate relationship with Christ. The Lord himself declared, “I thank you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to infants…All things have been delivered to me by my Father; and no one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and any one to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:25-27). Therefore, it was important for Thérèse to be little so that she could have a close relationship with Jesus and experience the power and peace of his friendship, as she herself testified: “Because I was little and weak He lowered Himself to me, and He instructed me secretly in the things of His love. Ah! Had the learned who spent their life in study come to me, undoubtedly they would have been astonished to see a child of fourteen understand perfection’s secrets, secrets all their knowledge cannot reveal because to possess them one has to be poor in spirit!” (Ms A, 49r).
Thérèse had a pure soul and cultivated in her heart the type of fertile ground that is necessary to enjoy an intimate relationship with God. The good news is that the little way that Thérèse walked is a spiritual path that we can all travel. We just have to love God the way that he has marked out for each and every one of us in the ordinary circumstances of our everyday lives. What God wants of us is to humbly express our need for his mercy so that he can have the joy of forgiving our sins and renewing our hearts with his presence and his peace. In this exchange of love our lives are transformed; because Jesus leads us to the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit, who, in turn, empowers us to become instruments of his peace in the world and apostles of his Kingdom. May we all come to appreciate the great privilege it is to be a child of God and experience the power and peace of poor, little souls.