We have probably heard vignettes about giving a gift to a child and then discovering that they enjoy playing with the paper or the box seemingly more than the gift. On first glance this might seem humorous, or perhaps we surmise that the child has missed the point, or something along those lines. But if one really thinks about it, there is a lesson in this from which we can all learn: it is the small, simple things in life that often give the greatest pleasure. In fact, being ‘easily entertained,’ if you will, is actually Scriptural. Jesus used children as examples to emphasize the attitude we should have, saying that unless we become like little children we will not enter the Kingdom of God. (Matthew 18:3) There is much one can say about this teaching, but certainly it includes finding joy in simplicity. Being childlike allows us to find joy readily, so that we become beacons of the love and mercy of God, attracting others to the Lord by sharing our joy. Childlikeness is a type of honesty; that is, when children discover joy in simple things, there is no guile involved and consequently no need for approval. Small children have no need to ‘fit in’ or coincide with the opinions of others. Unhindered by these things, they simply enjoy much of what they encounter. While we lose this wonderful tendency as we grow older, it is not at all impossible to find it again, as evidenced in the lives of many of the saints. To have the ability to find joy in simplicity enables us to grow in the habit of having a grateful heart throughout life. And living gratefully, we learn to ‘see God’ all around us, receiving a glimpse of Heaven, a foretaste of things to come.
A favorite saint for many people, St. Thérèse of Lisieux is best known for her “Little Way.” Perhaps she was the most childlike of all the saints, truly taking to heart Jesus’ supplication that we become like little children. She referred to herself as “a little flower in His garden,” * hence she has been referred to as “The Little Flower” since her death and subsequent canonization. St. Thérèse had been the spoiled, baby of the family until she had a personal epiphany and then grew into a young woman, somehow moving from childishness to childlikeness. The transformation was built upon the purity of her love for Jesus; the source of her sanctity was accepting His love and allowing it to mold her, and her childlikeness was the expression of her response to Him. As a result she was able to find joy in the simplest way, even in the midst of the horrific suffering she endured in the last few years of her short life. She was quoted near the end of her life as saying, “During Matins I saw the stars twinkling and then I heard the Divine Office, and it pleased me.” ** Something as simple as these things gave her great joy even though she was unable to arise from her sickbed. Perhaps this was her glimpse of Heaven, a process begun long before that moment.
Just as Thérèse was not born with sanctity but grew in it as a response of love for Jesus, so too can we respond. However, it does take work, just as she discovered in her own life journey. She had to overcome great self-centeredness which may have arisen from insecurity due to the loss of her mother while she was still a small child. No matter, she did do it, not because she was gifted in some way the rest of us are not, but because she allowed herself to find signs of God’s presence all around her and therefore, within her heart, allowed grace to form and guide her. Therefore, we can work at finding joy in the presence of God and in that which is His handiwork just as Thérèse did.
As we near the end of the Easter season we celebrate the Ascension of Jesus. Perhaps we can enter into a foretaste of heaven, considering what it is that gives us joy in order to ‘spiritually ascend’ with Jesus as we reflect upon this feast. In addition to material things or people, let us consider that which is part of our spiritual life: Have we ever thought to find joy in our relationship with our most holy mother, the Blessed Virgin Mary? Have we ever rejoiced over our guardian angel or at the thought of the presence of all the angels? Have we ever found joy in response to the Saints and holy ones who intercede at our request or who inspire us by their lives? Do we realize that we glimpse Heaven in the very Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity of Jesus who becomes one with us when we receive the Eucharist? Do our friends (and/or family) give us joy, and do we realize that they are gifts of God? And finally, do we see God as did Thérèse, in the twinkling stars, a flittering butterfly, or in some other aspect of nature? Whatever it is that brings us even the smallest amount of pleasure or joy, and therefore brings us closer to God, is a gift. We do not need to enter into the depths of ecstasy in prayer in order to experience joy, but rather it is when we unclutter our hearts and respond to God’s love like a little child, that we find the greatest joy and therefore find a glimpse of Heaven.
May we allow the grace of God to help us become as little children! Through the intercession of St. Thérèse may we find joy in the little (and the big things) in our daily lives! And may we find a glimpse of the life to come in Heaven as we unite ourselves to Jesus! Let us meet in the heart of Jesus! Peace!
©Michele L. Catanese
* St. Thérèse is often quoted as saying she wanted to be as a little flower in the garden of God, but it is actually a combination of two statements she made in reference to her desire for littleness. (From her autobiography, The Story of a Soul)
** St. Thérèse of Lisieux, Last Conversations, Yellow Notebook, July 3, No.7 (1897) Thérèse was dying at the point in which these conversations were written down by one of her sisters who sat at her bedside.
1. Photo, Little children at play.
2. Photo, St. Thérèse quote.
3. Icon, St. Therese of Lisieux Doctor of the Church, by Fr. William Hart McNichols. Her official name in religious life was (Sr.) Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face. Her devotion to the child Jesus certainly was central to her spirituality, and therefore it makes sense that she would want to be as a little child, too. You can find this icon at https://fineartamerica.com/featured/st-therese-of-lisieux-doctor-of-the-church-043-william-hart-mcnichols.html
4. My photo, Oaks at the entrance to Wormsloe State Historic Site, near Savannah, Georgia.
5. My photo, sort of: I took a photo of this photo which was part of a display at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France, a few years before the tragic fire which destroyed much of the Cathedral. I was struck by this unusual photo of her: St. Thérèse is pictured with the hosts for Eucharist. I suspect the hosts were unconsecrated at that point and that perhaps she was acting as sacristan for a community Mass. Nonetheless, I loved the connection between Thérèse and the Eucharist.
Note: In compliance with GDPR rules, I wish to make it clear that I do not gather any information on any of my readers at any time.
Heart Speaks to Heart