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Without ever leaving the convent, St. Thérèse of Lisieux was proclaimed the "Universal Patron of the Missions" by Pope Pius XI just 30 years after she died at the age of 24.
In spite of my littleness, I would like to enlighten souls, as did the prophets and the doctors. ... I would like to travel over the whole earth to preach your Name and to plant your glorious cross on infidel soil. ... I would want to preach the Gospel on all the five continents simultaneously and even to the most remote isles.
When it came time for Thérèse to die, moreover, a fellow nun said of her, "I really wonder what our mother [superior] will be able to say after her death. She will be very embarrassed, for this little sister, as likable as she is, has certainly done nothing worth the trouble of being recounted."
How she did it was by discovering that her prayers and sacrifices were connected to the missionary work going on in the Church. She realized that as a heart beats lifegiving blood to the hands and feet, so her prayers and sacrifices would win grace for missionaries to continue God's work.
"I knew that the Church had a heart and that such a heart appeared to be aflame with love," she wrote. "I knew that one love drove the members of the Church to action, that if this love were extinguished, the apostles would have proclaimed the Gospel no longer, the martyrs would have shed their blood no more."
Discovering that "love sets off the bounds of all vocations," she found her place in the Sacred Heart of Christ's mystical body.
"Then, nearly ecstatic with the supreme joy in my soul, I proclaimed: O Jesus, my love, at last, I have found my calling: my call is love," she wrote. "Certainly I have found my place in the Church, and you gave me that very place, my God. In the heart of the Church, my mother, I will be love, and thus I will be all things, as my desire finds its direction."
The way she would win these graces for others was called her "little way." It consisted not so much in doing great deeds but in doing ordinary deeds with extraordinary love.
Bishop Donald J. Hying of Madison, Wisconsin, explains Thérèse's little way as doing "little things with enormous love."
"Being kind and patient with a cranky old nun in the cell next to her," says Bp. Hying, "smiling when she wanted to cry, loving a neurotic sister who drove her to distraction — these small acts of virtue, often unnoticed by others, became Thérèse's path to sanctity."
Thérèse herself said that saving souls could be done by the smallest physical act when coupled with love.
To her sister, Celine, Thérèse writes, "We must not let slip one single occasion of sacrifice. ... Pick up a pin from a motive of love, and you may thereby convert a soul. Jesus alone can make our deeds of such worth, so let us love Him with every fiber of our heart."