St. Therese and Discipleship

Father Michael Najim
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St. Therese of Lisieux lived in France in the late 19th century. She entered the Carmelite monastery at the young age of 15 and died of tuberculosis in 1897 when she was only 24. Therese lived a hidden life in the Carmelite cloister, yet she is undoubtedly one of the most popular saints. Few people would have known who Therese was when she was alive; but after her death, and especially after her autobiography was published, she became known and loved throughout the world.

Therese was enamored with meditating on the fact that God became a baby. In fact, the name that she took for her religious life was “Therese of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face.” She couldn’t understand how anyone could be afraid of a God who became a little child. To her, this showed his infinite love for us.

In Jesus’ culture children were insignificant; they had no social or legal status and they were thought of as non-persons. And yet, in his ministry Jesus showed special favor to children. It is very significant, therefore, that we see Jesus using a child in this Sunday’s gospel to teach a lesson on discipleship to his apostles.

The apostles were arguing about who among them was the greatest. They were concerned with status. Jesus was attracting big crowds and the apostles were the “inner circle.” Maybe they’d be famous; maybe they’d have more power. The question they were focusing on was who would be number one in the group. So to teach them the real meaning of discipleship, Jesus takes someone with no status at all, a seemingly insignificant child, and places the child in their midst. This would have been a powerful symbol for the disciples. They would have understood that discipleship is not about status or power, but about humility, service and self-giving.

Being a disciple of Christ means being a servant. St. Therese understood this well, and we would do well to learn from her today. Everything Therese did she did for the love of God. Every situation she encountered and every person she interacted with she saw as a moment that God had placed before her. She didn’t care about doing extraordinary things; she only cared about doing ordinary things with an extraordinary amount of love. The way of discipleship begins by becoming childlike, by acknowledging our dependence on the Lord. Jesus is calling each of us to this humility which leads us to service; therefore, our focus in life should not be about status. Status is not the Christian’s goal; holiness is. So instead of concerning ourselves with status, instead of comparing ourselves with others like the Apostles were doing, let’s take St. Therese for our model of spiritual childhood and commit ourselves to serving others.