A Little Way Through LentFATHER DWIGHT LONGENECKER
The Little Way through Lent is charged with the desire to make small sacrifices that are burning with the heart of Christ's love in the world.
It soon got around the parish what extremes the young curate was going to, and the response was admiration among the young people and concern among the older and wiser that I was "just showing off."
The experience was joyful and austere, and I learned much through it about myself and about asceticism and its relationship to prayer and the spiritual life. I would never discourage someone from taking Lent seriously in this way, but I have learned from St. Thérèse of Lisieux that there is also a Little Way through Lent.
Thérèse had a youthful inclination for heroics.
She wanted to be a valiant warrior for Christ. There is a charming photograph of her dressed in armor as St. Joan of Arc, and she wrote, "I have put on the breastplate of the Almighty, and he has armed me with the strength of his arms. Henceforth, no terror can wound me, for who can now divide me from his love? By his side, I advance to the battlefield, fearing neither fire nor steel; my enemies shall discover that I am a queen and the bride of a King." Elsewhere she says, "I long to accomplish the most heroic deeds; I feel within me the courage of the crusader. I would die on the battlefield in defense of the Church!"
"You must be a whole saint or no saint at all!" is her battle cry, and she says on her deathbed, "I shall die with my weapons in my hand!"
And yet, this noble soul realizes that she does not actually have the constitution or the circumstances to be a Francis Xavier or Ignatius Loyola. She is enclosed in a convent with bourgeois women. She is a little girl — and a sickly one at that.
Therefore, she is thrilled when she discovers the secret mystery of the Little Way. In reading the 13th chapter of St. Paul's first epistle to the Corinthians, she realizes that love is the burning heart of the Church, and that her vocation is love.
In Chapter 11 of Story of a Soul, she recounts her discovery: "Charity gave me the key to my vocation. I understood that the Church being a body composed of different members, the most essential, the most noble of all the organs would not be wanting to her; I understood that the Church has a heart and that this heart is burning with love; that it is love alone which makes the members work, that if love were to die away apostles would no longer preach the Gospel, martyrs would refuse to shed their blood. I understood that love comprises all vocations, that love is everything, that it embraces all times and all places because it is eternal!"
She realizes that all the heroic deeds without charity are worth nothing. She writes, "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."
If we decide to take the Little Way through Lent, then our prayer is simply to share the gift of divine love that Thérèse discovered. Once that gift is given, the small sacrifices we make are tiny but dearly precious things. They are sparkling gems of goodness that glitter and burn with the reflected fire of divine love.
Thérèse said this was what took her through the difficult times: In a letter to her sister Celine, she writes, "In times of aridity when I am incapable of praying, of practicing virtue, I seek little opportunities, mere trifles, to give pleasure to Jesus; for instance, a smile, a pleasant word when inclined to be silent and to show weariness. If I find no opportunities, I at least tell him again and again that I love him; that is not difficult, and it keeps alive the fire in my heart. Even though this fire of love might seem extinct, I would still throw little straws upon the embers, and I am certain it would rekindle."
Some worry that this "little way" is really an "easy way." In other words, it is a cop-out. The Little Way is simple, but it is not easy. It is simple because it relies totally on God's grace and his gift of divine love in our lives. It is not easy because to receive this gift of grace and the fullness of God's love we must purify our lives and yield all to him.
Thérèse's name in religion was Thérèse of the Child Jesus and the Holy Face, and as her name, so her nature. She gives us a childlike way to God — a way that contemplates the face of Christ, through whom we receive the gift of love.
It is this gift that changes all our actions — charging our lives with love and making our little way through Lent a proper preparation for Easter triumph.
Father Dwight Longenecker, "A Little Way Through Lent." National Catholic Register (March 1-7, 2009)
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Father Dwight Longenecker is the chaplain of St. Joseph's Catholic School, Greenville, South Carolina. He also serves on the staff of St. Mary's, Greenville. Father Longenecker studied for the Anglican ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford and served for ten years in the Anglican ministry as a curate, a chaplain at Cambridge and a country parson. In 1995 he and his family were received into full communion with the Catholic Church. He is the author of books on apologetics, conversion stories and Benedictine spirituality including: Praying the Rosary for Inner Healing, Listen My Son: St. Benedict for Fathers, More Christianity, Challenging Catholics: A Catholic Evangelical Dialogue, St. Benedict and St. Therese: The Little Rule & the Little Way, Mary: A Catholic-Evangelical Debate, and The Path to Rome. Visit his website here and his blog here where you can listen to his podcasts of his lectures and homilies and read regular updates.
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