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‘Little Way’ offers path to holiness for us all

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by Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann 

Twelve years ago, an American by the name of Tara Lipinski surprised the world by becoming the youngest woman ever to win the gold medal for figure skating at the Winter Olympics.

I remember watching the final competition that year and being struck by the enormous pressure on the contestants, as each of them burst into tears after completing her program. The only exception was 16-year-old Tara Lipinski. She had a serenity about her. Tara truly appeared to be enjoying the moment.

The following report appeared in a Catholic newspaper after Tara’s victory at the Olympics: “In the first part of her figure skating competition on Feb. 18 when Lipinski had just completed what she described as the best short program in her life, she was shown a replay of her most difficult jump combination and asked what was going through her mind as she entered it. Before a national television audience she answered that she was concentrating on making the jump and begging St. Thérèse for help.”

Today, Oct. 1 is the feast of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, popularly known as the Little Flower. Tara Lipinski and her family had a deep devotion to St. Thérèse. In an interview after the Olympics, this is how Tara described her relationship with the saint: “With everything going on, with what people think about me and my skating, I feel at ease because I think she (St. Thérèse) will help me. . . . When I go out there, I think of her. When I’m competing, it helps me because I know she’s with me. She wants me to do this. It makes me feel calmer, and I go for everything.”

Tara’s mother, Pat Lipinski, also has a great devotion to St. Thérèse.

Having her daughter train to compete in the Olympics was very disruptive to family life. Several times, she and her husband seriously considered not having Tara continue her skating career. At each critical moment in their decision-making process, they would ask St. Thérèse to help them under- stand god’s will for their family. In the end, Pat said that she felt St. Thérèse was leading them to continue Tara’s career — not because the gold medal was important, but because St. Thérèse wanted to use Tara to bring others to Jesus.

Tara Lipinski was not the only young person ever to find inspiration in St. Thérèse. Many decades before, a young woman, who was born in 1910 in what is today the Republic of Macedonia and given the baptismal name Agnes, upon entering religious life, chose the name Teresa after the Little Flower. Sister Teresa would become known to the entire world as Mother Teresa of Calcutta.

Mother Teresa was attracted to St. Thérèse, as so many others have been, because of the spirituality that she practiced and taught, calling it the Little Way. In essence, the Little Way is doing ordinary tasks with extraordinary love.

It is an excellent spirituality for every baptized, confirmed Catholic. It has struck a chord with so many because it opens a path for holiness in the ordinary events of everyday life — no matter our age or circumstances. All of us can do ordinary tasks with extraordinary love, if we choose to do so.

St. Thérèse entered a Carmelite monastery at the young age of 15.

She had been given permission by her bishop to enter monastic life at such a young age because of her persistent petitioning. While making a pilgrimage to Rome with her father, she actually asked Pope Leo XIII — much to her dad’s embarrassment — to intervene with the bishop on her behalf.

St. Thérèse died of tuberculosis at the tender age of 24. In her lifetime, she was completely unknown to the world. For a portion of her life as a religious Sister, she was given the responsibility of being the mistress of novices. In this role, she had the duty to help those entering the convent to grow in their spiritual life. It was with the novices that she first articulated her Little Way to holiness.

Before her death, her religious superior asked her to write a short biographical account of her spiritual journey. After her death, the Sisters of her convent sent a copy of her autobiography to other Carmelite monasteries. Eventually, the nuns of these convents began to share copies of St. Thérèse’s writings with lay friends. Her writings became enormously popular because people found her spirituality immensely practical. St. Thérèse helped ordinary people recognize more clearly a path to holiness.

Being a true disciple of Jesus Christ is more challenging than winning an Olympic gold medal. It requires that we love god and others with all of our hearts in the everyday circumstances of our lives. If we are alert to them, the Lord is providing us each day with numerous opportunities to do ordinary tasks with extraordinary love for him and for others. Following this Little Way will give us peace and joy even in the midst of the pressures and adversities of our lives.

If you have not already, perhaps on this feast of the Little Flower you may wish to practice the spirituality that worked so well for St. Thérèse, Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta and even
a 16-year-old figure skater. No matter the circumstances of our lives, we can all strive to do ordinary tasks with extraordinary love.

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Archbishop Joseph Naumann

Joseph F. Naumann is the archbishop for the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.

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