“My vocation is love.” -St. Therese of Lisieux
These words come from a most beloved saint of our time, St. Therese of the Little Flower. I think it’s no accident that she was not only canonized but made a doctor of the Church at this very moment in history: an age of self-sufficiency, where we are convicted that our worth lies in our utility, accomplishments, and power.
I always wanted to be a saint, and from the time I was little, was anxious to “grow up” spiritually. Naturally, I thought that growing up spiritually would be a growing similar to that of the physical realm. As we grow, we get bigger and bigger, achieve more and more, become increasingly self-reliant, and need others less. I thought my spiritual walk would be the same: I’d become greater and grander, depending less upon God and more upon my own virtue.
Yet this beautiful little Doctor of the Church teaches us that the spiritual journey is shockingly the opposite: not a growing up, but rather a growing down… needing God not less, but desperately more, until we become like a little child, utterly dependent upon Him for every breath that we breathe.
We long to be great, but to be great is to be small, poor, humble, a child, and even a servant… the slave of all.
Jesus tells us in this Gospel that “whoever wishes to be great among you will be the slave of all.” Why is this? What makes us truly great? What makes us saints? As Therese reminds us once again: it’s love.
To love is to serve, to love is to give without counting the cost, to love is even to die on a cross. We don’t have to do great things but we are called to love greatly… To even love as Mother Teresa said “until it hurts.”
Only this kind of love is the way to sanctity. Only this kind of love unites us fully with Christ, changes the world around us, and sets our hearts free. To love as Jesus did–even as a slave to those around us–shapes us into the great saints we so long to be.