“Little things mean a lot.”
When a billboard hit by this title was written in 1953, they probably weren’t thinking about St. Thérèse de Lisieux, whose feast day is Oct. 1. But they could have been because, for her, little things were everything.
After all, St. Thérèse was known for her “Little Way,” which taught that, since God loves us as a father loves his children, we can please him with the simplicity of a faith that is like a child’s.
As a child
St. Thérèse, a French Carmelite nun who died of tuberculosis at the age of 24, was not only canonized but declared a doctor of the church for her insight into God’s love. And she began to learn her “Little Way” while she was still a child herself.
One of the ways to practice Thérèse’s “Little Way” that has since become very popular is to use “sacrifice beads.” They are also called St. Thérèse beads. When Thérèse was a child, her older sister, Marie, gave both her and their sister, Céline, a set of beads on which they could count the little sacrifices they wanted to offer to God each day.
The sisters used the beads zealously. Later, when she wrote her autobiography — “The Story of a Soul” — Thérèse mentioned a letter her late mother, Zélie, had written in 1876 about Thérèse and her beads.
“Even Thérèse wants to start making sacrifices now,” Zélie Martin wrote. “Marie has given each of the little ones a chaplet on which they can keep count of their good deeds. They have real spiritual conferences together. … But the most charming thing of all is to see Thérèse slip her hand into her pocket time and time again and move a bead along as she makes some sacrifice.”
Sacrifice? Doesn’t that sound hard? Remember, though, the childlike wisdom of the “Little Way.”
Thérèse, who entered carmel (the Carmelite monastery) at age 15, wrote about her childhood sacrifices. “I made up my mind to more serious mortification than ever. When I say mortification, I do not mean the sort of penance the saints undertake. … My mortification consisted in checking my self-will, keeping back an impatient word, doing little things for those around me without their knowing and countless things like that.”
Who cannot offer up little things like that every day?
St. Thérèse’s beads might look like a small rosary to those who are unfamiliar with them. Technically called a chaplet, sacrifice beads consist of 10 or 11 beads strung together with a ladder-formation that allows the beads to slide up and down between a crucifix on one end and a medal — usually of St. Thérèse — on the other.
When you perform a good deed or offer any small sacrifice, you move one bead closer to the crucifix. For those who really want to challenge themselves, one bead can be moved away from the cross when you fail to be kind or charitable. At night, the beads can be kept under your pillow.
And, yes, the resemblance to a rosary comes in handy: the beads can also be used to pray one decade of the rosary, with each moved bead marking a “Hail Mary” and the extra bead (if there are 11 on the string) for the “Lord’s Prayer.” (If you have only 10 beads, use the medal or the crucifix to mark the “Lord’s Prayer.”)
The Catholic apologist website, Fisheaters.com, notes a variation to the sacrifice beads: “Some sacrifice beads consist of 15 beads, with three beads of a different color evenly interspersed among them, each representing one of the three persons of the most holy Trinity. Each time five regular beads are moved toward the crucifix, one of the Trinity beads is automatically moved, too, symbolizing our participation, by grace, in life of the most holy Trinity, and reminding us that any good we do is because of God alone.”
Just little beads, kept in your pocket. But what a shower of good things they can bring when we remember to do little things for others, out of love for God.
Sources: “The Story of a Soul”; fisheaters.com; catholicculture.org; showerofroses.blogspot.com; faithbeads.wordpress.com; EWTN.com; and the Apostleship of Prayer.