When Thérese was a child, her older sister Leonie decided that she had outgrown some of her playthings. Before giving them away, she offered them to her younger sisters. Celine politely chose a single toy. When it came to Thérese’s turn, she grabbed the entire basket and proclaimed, “I choose all!”
This story illustrates well how this future saint approached the spiritual life. She understood that there are many degrees of holiness and she wanted the very highest degree. “My God,” she cried, “I choose all! … ‘I choose all’ that You will!”
"The hands of the Almighty are so often to be found at the ends of our own arms."
— Call the Midwife
I think we all know people—family, friends, co-workers—who have rejected God and the Church. Even as I write this my heart aches for certain souls whom I love dearly, and who I know are hurting and broken. Yet they, in their brokenness, have turned away from the source of all healing and life, even actively refusing His mercy.
What, then, ought we do for them? Well, I think the obvious answer is that by ourselves we can do nothing. We cannot force someone to love God. Flowery words won't convince them to return to the Church. In fact, in an age when so many powerful, respected, and intelligent figures of the world are openly antagonistic towards anything resembling Christianity, the forceful arguments and bold challenges that may have worked a few hundred years ago now do more damage than good. And besides, how many of us have the theological training and social charisma to really pull that off? I know I don't.
But there is one thing that we all have: our lives.
People may hate what they think the Church is and raise their fist against Heaven, but that does not stop us from accepting on their behalf all those graces which they have rejected and trying to live out God's will perfectly in our own lives. Far from "stealing" those graces (which are infinite anyways) we then become a secret access to mercy and grace for everyone around us.
Like St. Thérese, a little unknown nun who died very young and yet changed the modern Church forever, we can cry out to heaven, "I choose all!" so that, for the man who hates himself for the choices he's made, we can be unconditional love. For the woman overwhelmed by life's difficulties, we can be a well of peace. For the selfish friend who hurts everyone around them, we can be mercy. For the family member who holds a grudge, we can be forgiveness. For the weak who are unable to help themselves, we can be justice. There is really no limit to the love and grace we can share with every single person we know.
The best part is that it doesn't require you to go out and start a ministry or charitable organization. You don't need to found a religious order or become famous. It can begin right now, in the relationships you already have and through the person you already are. Your weaknesses, past failings, quirks, and personality flaws may be the very tools which God uses to open hard hearts and inspire despondent souls. For who better to walk with sinners than a sinner who has been redeemed by Christ?
This is the time for little saints, secret saints. Now is the time to evangelize with every word and action, at every opportunity. Now is the time to shake off dusty ideas of holiness and accept with courageous audacity everything that God has to offer. This generation is in desperate need of saints and I believe that they are hiding everywhere—in our schools, government buildings, offices, and grocery stores—unaware of the enormous impact they will have by simply living a life totally abandoned to God's will.
Will you be one of them?
About this painting
Of the saints I painted a few years back, my portrait of St. Thérese of Lisieux was my least favourite. I mean, there's not a lot you can do with a headshot of a plain nun in a plain habit. As I've gotten to know more about her the last year, I knew I wanted to paint a more captivating image of this incredible saint.
The robe I sewed for my Divine Mercy reference came in handy once again. With several pieces of cloth pinned to my head, some scrap fabric for a veil, and a lamp beside me with a blue balloon pulled over the lightbulb (totally safe, I promise), I managed to get a rough reference photo. I took it into photoshop and replaced my face with Thérese's, and pasted in as many flowers as was reasonable, faking the blue light with a soft brush. I even ended up sewing a simple cape, which I photographed and added to the reference photo halfway through painting.
This development and others you can watch in the time-lapse video which I made of the whole painting process (see below). Vulnerability, which has been a strong theme in my life the last few months, became even more relevant as I struggled to paint (and re-paint) so many flowers—a subject I had very little experience in. It was a challenging yet life-giving journey as I had to practice both perseverance and abandonment, accepting my limitation while striving for perfection. "Just own it", I thought to myself several times while overworking a stubborn rose.
In the end, I feel content with how it turned out. I hope that this image is loved—not for my talent, but for the beautiful saint which it attempts to portray.
BONUS: Time-lapse video of “I Choose All”
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Thank you and God bless!