The Little Way: How to Become a Saint

The chance to be a saint is always before us. It is a tragedy not to take it. The little way is long, but it is not hard, not if you take it one small step at a time.

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Therese died of tuberculosis in 1897. She was 24. A year after she passed, the nuns published a collection of her autobiographical writings on the spiritual life, which set out what Therese, who was no theologian, called her “little way” to God: living simply, with love, gratitude, and confidence in the love of Jesus. Few people saw the book, called The Story Of A Soul, when it first came out. Within only a few decades, Therese’s “little way” was known around the world, and she had been canonized a saint.

Catholics love St. Therese because of her everydayness. She shows us the possibility to achieve spiritual greatness – that is, holiness – no matter what our station in life. Therese saw her humble circumstances not as a limitation, but as the ground of her spirituality and journey to God. Ruthie Leming, a Methodist who lived and died not in 19th century France, but in 21st century America, never heard of Therese of Lisieux. But she knew the little way, because she walked it herself all her life.

Yes, we need examples of Christians who distinguished themselves as preachers, martyrs, defenders of the weak and servants of the poor. But we also need the examples of Christians like Therese and Ruthie, believers who show us how to accept the calling of everyday life, and to embrace the blessedness of ordinary things.

When we get discouraged, we tell ourselves that our lives are small and boring. But that is an illusion. I know this because I stood at the front of that church, next to the cancer-ravaged body of my sister, who lived and died in a tiny place in the middle of nowhere, and heard strangers tell me how she had changed their lives by her love.

One of her former students, Shannon Nixon, a child from an extremely poor, badly broken family, told me that Ruthie was the first adult who ever showed her love, and taught her to believe in herself. With Ruthie’s inspiration and support, that woman became now a wife, mother, and has found great professional success. “Ruthie was my angel,” she said.

Ruthie changed my life, too: after her funeral, my wife and I decided to move to my hometown, and to do our best to walk the little way of Ruthie Leming.

Whether God asks you to walk the halls of a convent and a chapel like Therese, or the halls of a middle school and the aisles of Wal-Mart, as Ruthie did, the chance to be a saint is always before us. It is a tragedy not to take it. The little way is long, but it is not hard, not if you take it one small step at a time.

Rod Dreher is a Beliefnet columnist and the author of The Little Way Of Ruthie Leming, which has just been published by Grand Central. Follow him on Twitter @roddreher, or connect with him at the Rod Dreher fan page on Facebook.

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