St. Thérèse and the Catholic Businesswoman: Following the Little Way at Work
“The splendor of the rose and the whiteness of the Lily do not take away the perfume of the little violet or the delightful simplicity of the daisy … If all flowers wanted to be roses, nature would lose her springtime beauty, and the fields would no longer be decked out with little wild flowers” (St. Thérèse of Lisieux).
Today is the feast day of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, known as the “Little Flower,” who was born in 1873, became a Carmelite nun in 1888 at age 15 and died in 1897 at age 24. She lived a short life, most of which was spent in the same area of France, as a child and as a cloistered nun. None of the events of her life was very remarkable (other than her convincing the pope to allow her to become a nun before she was technically old enough). Yet she is one of only four female doctors of the Church (and the youngest doctor), and countless Catholics are praying for her intercession today and every day.
Who is this woman? And what could Catholic businesswomen possibly learn from her? Her “little way” can be a guide for how you live your life, personally but also professionally. This little way, the spirituality for which she became a doctor of the Church, is simple but challenging: “a path of trust and total self-abandonment to the Lord’s grace,” as St. Pope John Paul II said when he declared her a doctor. Thérèse knew that relying on herself to become a saint would lead to despair, as it would for all of us: Instead, she said, holiness requires complete dependence on Christ.
Put Christ at the Center of Your Life, Including Your Career
“I offered myself to Jesus in order to accomplish His will perfectly in me,” wrote St. Thérèse of the day she took her vows. While we aren’t all called to offer ourselves to Jesus as nuns, we are all called to offer ourselves to Jesus in whatever way He is calling us to. Whatever our career, whatever job we have at the moment, we can still put God first.
Thérèse learned this way of life from her parents, Saints Louis and Zélie Martin. The working parents of nine children (five who survived early childhood), they were busy but always found time for prayer, not because it was at the top of their to-do list but because it was the foundation of their life:
There reigned in the Martin family a solid faith that saw God in all life’s events, paying Him a permanent homage: family prayers together, morning attendance at Mass, frequent reception of Holy Communion … Sunday Vespers, retreats. Their whole life revolved around the liturgical year (John Clarke, O.C.D., in the prologue to Thérèse’s autobiography, “Story of a Soul”).
We can learn from the Martin family the importance of putting Christ at the center of our lives. Thérèse did so as a nun, but her parents did so as working professionals and parents. They took different paths to holiness, but each is now a saint.
Schedule short breaks for prayer throughout your work day. Take an afternoon walk around your office building and pray the rosary — even just a decade or two, if that’s all you have time for. Look for a parish near your office, and go to daily mass on your lunch break or right before work starts. However you do it, follow Thérèse’s path to holiness, and make God the center of your day.
Offer Sacrifices for Your Co-workers
In “Story of a Soul,” St. Thérèse’s autobiography, she writes of the small ways that she loved the other nuns at the Carmelite convent, including — in fact, especially — the ones who annoyed her. One sister in particular, Thérèse wrote, “has the faculty of displeasing me in everything, in her ways, her words, her character, everything seems very disagreeable to me.”
Rather than complaining about this nun to the other sisters or acting out against her, Thérèse wrote, “I set myself to doing for this Sister what I would do for the person I loved the most. Each time I met her I prayed to God for her, offering Him all her virtues and merits.” What’s more, she also served this sister as much as possible and gave her a big smile any time she annoyed her.
“I am a very little soul,” Thérèse wrote, and “I can offer God only very little things.” Those little things added up to her little way … which added up to holiness.
Which co-workers annoy you the most? Instead of internally (or externally) grumbling about them, can you offer up a prayer for them every time they annoy you? Keep a holy card of Thérèse on your desk to help you remember. Those prayers will bring great rewards to your co-workers and to you. In fact, the disagreeable sister whom Thérèse served and prayed for especially once asked her, “What attracts you so much toward me; every time you look at me, I see you smile?”
After Thérèse’s death, this sister reportedly said, “At least I can say this much for myself: during her life I made her really happy.”
Consider Love Your Vocation
St. Thérèse wrote, “O Jesus, my Love …. My vocation, at least I have found it. … MY VOCATION IS LOVE!” (all caps hers, not mine!).
What a glorious, beautiful vocation — to love. What a challenging, fruitful vocation. Thérèse loved her sisters at the Lisieux convent. She loved her superiors there. She loved her family. She loved the priests whom she corresponded with and prayed devotedly for. Most of all, she loved Jesus, her Spouse.
We are called to love, too. Like Thérèse, we are only children in God’s eyes — but that childishness gives us a tremendous opportunity. Children love without question, without expectation, without worry. They love their parents unreservedly and want nothing more than to please them. We can do the same.
Throughout the workday, we come across a lot of difficult people and even bullies. One tactic I (try) to use is to remember that the most challenging people I come into contact with are loved by God just as much as I am. He loves them as His children; I should honor them as His children, too.
The little way is simple. It’s not meeting with popes or leading movements or founding religious orders. Most of us will not leave this life with monumental biographies. But neither did Thérèse, and she is one of our greatest saints.
O Jesus, of what use will my flowers be to You? Ah! I know very well that this fragrant shower, these fragile, worthless petals, these songs of love from the littlest of hearts will charm You. Yes, these nothings will please you. They will bring a smile to the Church Triumphant. She will gather up my flowers unpetalled through love and have them pass through your own divine hands, O Jesus (“Story of a Soul”).
Plant your own simple flowers. God will gather them and turn them into a beautiful bouquet.
Taryn Oesch, managing editor of Catholic Women in Business and owner of Everyday Roses Editorial, LLC, is a writer in Raleigh, North Carolina, where she writes and speaks for Catholic women and the organizations that serve them. Her role models are all named Teresa, and she keeps discovering new ways they influence her work and her life. When not writing or editing, Taryn is typically reading Jane Austen, drinking Earl Grey, and spending time with family and friends. She is a contributing writer and assistant editor at FemCatholic.com and an active member of the Raleigh Catholic Young Adults, where she leads a women’s Bible study and plays the piano and flute for monthly Holy Hours. You can follow Taryn on Twitter, on Instagram, on Facebook, and on her blog Everyday Roses.