You know well enough that Our Lord does not look so much at the greatness of our actions, nor even at their difficulty, but at the love with which we do them. ― St. Thérèse of Lisieux
The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, His boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God”. ― Pope Francis
Many today love and try to emulate St. Thèrése of Lisieux. She died an obscure young nun in France in 1897, but less than 30 years later was declared a saint. We have a special devotion here to St. Thèrése and her Little Way of Love, as the Diocese of Fresno was the first in the world to adopt Thèrése as our patroness. Pope Francis in his new encyclical, Laudato Si' points to St. Therese as a model for us in how we treat Creation, a model that is important for us here central California.
In this letter, Francis reflects on our relationship and responsibility to God’s Creation, what science can and does tell us about the condition and future of the natural world, and the moral and social roots of the current crisis. Key insights and teachings include:
- the same selfishness and obsession with consumption that result in violence, poverty and injustice, are also at the root of abuse of nature;
- we need a new understanding of man and nature together, an integral ecology, which addresses the current environmental crisis while respecting human needs and dignity;
- this is a genuinely dire crisis and our response must include action by governments and all other social institutions including economic, legal, and political changes.
All these great changes are necessary, but they cannot be enough unless we choose to simplify and moderate our lives. Pope Francis points us to Thèrése for guidance:
230. Saint Thèrése 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. An integral ecology is also made up of simple daily gestures which break with the logic of violence, exploitation and selfishness. In the end, a world of exacerbated consumption is at the same time a world which mistreats life in all its forms.
We live in a large diocese, with a great range of climates and ecosystems, as well as urban areas and the many cultures brought here by generations of new arrivals. There are few American dioceses that encompass more of the natural and social issues that the Pope writes about. Our challenges are from both our natural and human environments, problems that share the same source in the darker places in our own hearts and institutions. We are going to need more than sustainable agriculture or renewable energy, we must have a community of many cultures that can sustain this effort in things big and small, which requires continual renewal of our own lives, especially our spiritual lives.
We already see and hear a lot of concern and conflict over these issues, from major policy decisions to how much a neighbor waters their lawn. Turning around our relationship with nature and each other will be hard and require daily effort. But following the little way of love of St. Thérèse can be our way forward. We can find God in all the small and everyday things, trusting in His mercy, doing each task and encountering each person with love and humility. The result can be a renewal of nature, our culture, and ourselves.
It is up to us.
“Miss no single opportunity of making some small sacrifice, here by a smiling look, there by a kindly word; always doing the smallest right and doing it all for love.” ― St. Thérèse of Lisieux
This first appeared in the Office of Ministries Newsletter