October 1, 2021

Christ the Cornerstone

Saints, both great and small, lead us to Christ

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

Today, Friday, Oct. 1, is the feast of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus, “the Little Flower of Jesus.” On Monday, Oct. 4, we will celebrate the feast of St. Francis of Assisi, whose life was chronicled by his early followers and published as The Little Flowers of St. Francis. Along with Mary and all the saints, these two “little flowers” bear witness to the grandeur of God and to the wondrous beauty of all God’s creation.

At first, St. Thérèse (1873–1897) appears to be a small witness. She died young, at the age of 24, and she spent nearly all of her life in Lisieux, France, and in the Carmel of Lisieux as a cloistered nun. But her impact was mighty and extended far beyond the cloister walls of her little village.

Her writings, especially The Story of a Soul, are known worldwide, and they have earned her the titles of “Doctor of the Church” and “Patroness of the Missions.” As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once wrote, “Thérèse is one of the ‘little’ ones of the Gospel who let themselves be led by God to the depths of his Mystery.”

St. Francis of Assisi (1182–1226), on the other hand, was a larger-than-life figure whose grand gestures and whose interaction with popes and sultans and everyone he met certainly qualifies as giving magnanimous witness to the joy of the Gospel. The life and teaching of this not-so-little flower have earned him a prominent place among all the saints and martyrs who in different ways have spent their lives in the pursuit of holiness.

As Pope Benedict said of this saint from Assisi, “From the height of the Cross [of San Damiano], now preserved in the Basilica of St. Clare, Francis heard Jesus tell him: ‘Go repair my house which, as you see, is all in ruins.’ That ‘house’ was first of all his own life, which needed repair through authentic conversion; it was the Church, not the one made of stones but living persons, always needing purification; it was all of humanity, in whom God loves to dwell.”

Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi are two very different “flowers” whose beauty fills the Earth to this day—hundreds of years after they lived and died giving witness to the person of Jesus Christ. We celebrate their feasts during the next few days to remind ourselves that we are all called to holiness and that, paradoxically, what may seem little or insignificant to us may be magnificent in the eyes of God.

No matter who we are, or what our state of life may be, we all have the same vocation: To carry out the mission entrusted to us at our baptism, “Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:19-20).

As missionaries, our apostolic work can be confined to home—to our families, friends and co-workers—or it can extend to the ends of the Earth. If we wish to imitate the “little flowers” whose great love for Jesus and his Church transformed them into giants who still touch the minds and hearts of millions of people all across the globe, we must stay close to Jesus in prayer, in the sacraments and in service to others.

As Pope Francis reminds us frequently, saints are ordinary people who are close to God. What makes them stand out is not their special status but their hearts full of love and their willingness to go the extra mile in serving their sisters and brothers in Christ.

In the eyes of God, what makes a woman or man “great” is not wealth or power or social status. Greatness is measured by our humility, our selfless love for God and our neighbor, and by our willingness to sacrifice our own comfort and security for the welfare of others. In his apostolic exhortation “Gaudete et Exultate” (“Rejoice and Be Glad”), Pope Francis identified the following “five signs of holiness”:

  • Inner strength from the Lord
  • A joyful sense of humor
  • Passionate boldness
  • Community
  • Constant prayer

These are certainly characteristics that stand out in the lives of Thérèse of Lisieux and Francis of Assisi. In spite of their strikingly different personalities, their lives radiated inner strength, joy, boldness, love for the common life and constant prayer.

May their example inspire us to live as they did regardless of our time, place or individual gifts. †

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