Simple and Ordinary Acts of Love Renew the World
Some of the clearest expressions of the Gospel come from young people and so whenever I encounter them, I cannot help but be encouraged. Whether it is meeting with school children, teenagers at the Youth Rally and Mass for Life, or dinner with college students, I see in them a special vibrancy as they search for the right path for their lives.
As Pope Francis has noted, “We have all seen during World Youth Days the joy that young people show in their faith and their desire for an ever more solid and generous life of faith. Young people want to live life to the fullest. Encountering Christ, letting themselves be caught up in and guided by his love, enlarges the horizons of existence, gives it a firm hope which will not disappoint” (Lumen Fidei, 53). This dynamism was on full display during the recent visit of our Holy Father.
Eager to know the faith, young people are also capable of the most profound insights. Thérèse Martin was not yet 14 years old when she came to a realization that would change her for the rest of her life and inspire countless others after she died at the tender age of 24. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she describes how she was overly sensitive growing up as the youngest child in the family. Then on Christmas Day 1886, she overheard her father say something that previously would have upset her. Instead, she recounted, “Love filled my heart, I forgot myself and henceforth I was happy” (Story, chapter 5).
From then on, Thérèse grew in love. It was the love of Jesus in her heart, together with the love of our Blessed Mother Mary. She wanted very much to show the greatness of her love, but she was meek – she considered herself to be “a very little soul,” a “little flower” who was unable to do any heroic deeds. “The only way I can prove my love,” she understood, “is by scattering flowers and these flowers are every little sacrifice, every glance and word, and the doing of the least actions for love” (Story, chapter 11).
Canonized a mere 28 years after her death, “Saint Thérèse of Lisieux invites us to practice the little way of love, not to miss out on a kind word, a smile or any small gesture which sows peace and friendship,” says Pope Francis. “Love, overflowing with small gestures of mutual care, is also civic and political, and it makes itself felt in every action that seeks to build a better world” (Laudato Si’, 230-31).
This sublime lesson of Saint Thérèse, whom Saint John Paul II called an expert in the “science of love,” is magnified by her complete gift of self to the Lord in the consecrated life of the Carmelite order. Her greatest joy was in being a bride of Jesus and a mother of souls, and her little way commends itself particularly to today’s married couples and parents.
“It is love’s nature to humble itself,” she says (Story, chapter 1). The willingness to do simple and ordinary things, little acts of kindness without making a fuss, the spiritual mercies of patience and forgiveness, the resolve that love should transcend slights and disappointments – couples who have been married for many years tell me that their journey together has been characterized by these little things.
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of believing that the challenges we face are too complicated to solve, but Saint Thérèse, like many young people in their innocence, teaches us that the answers to life ultimately are all really rather simple. All it takes is love, one small act at a time. In this modest way, we please God and help renew the temporal order.