The Little Way of Hospitality

Two years ago I wrote about my discovery of Thérèse of Lisieux and her practice of the Little Way. And odds are, if you've heard me speak over the last two years there was a good chance that I brought up the Little Way.

I have come to see myself as a devotee of the Little Way. So has Jana. We talk about the Little Way and Thérèse just about every week. And the practice of the Little Way has disrupted our lives, sometimes in hard ways but more often than not in surprising and life giving ways.

When you hear the Little Way described it's often described as a practice of self-mortification, of putting up with people when they frustrate and irritate us.

But that's not how I see it. For my part, as I teach the Little Way, I see it as a practice of approaching people, moving toward people in love. As I explain it, the Little Way is a practice of welcome, embrace and hospitality.

For example, I consider the passage below from Story of a Soul to be the quintessential example of the Little Way. Note in the passage the overriding theme of approaching others with small expressions of warmth, welcome and kindness. Thérèse describes how the Sisters in her convent were variously popular or shunned. And having noted these distinctions--the socially rich versus the socially poor--Thérèse goes on to describe how the practice of the Little Way is a practice of hospitality, of welcoming the Sisters who were shunned and marginalized:
I have noticed (and this is very natural) that the most saintly Sisters are the most loved. We seek their company; we render them services without their asking; finally, these souls so capable of bearing the lack of respect and consideration of others see themselves surrounded with everyone's affection...

On the other hand, imperfect souls are not sought out. No doubt we remain within the limits of religious politeness in their regard, but we generally avoid them, fearing lest we say something which isn't too amiable. When I speak of imperfect souls, I don't want to speak of spiritual imperfections since most holy souls will be perfect in heaven; but I want to speak of a lack of judgment, good manners, touchiness in certain characters; all these things which don't make life agreeable. I know very well that these moral infirmities are chronic, that there is no hope of a cure, but I also know that my Mother would not cease to take care of me, to try to console me, if I remained sick all my life. This is the conclusion I draw from this: I must seek out in recreation, on free days, the company of Sisters who are the least agreeable to me in order to carry out with regard to these wounded souls the office of the Good Samaritan. A word, an amiable smile, often suffice to make a sad soul bloom...I want to be friendly with everybody (and especially with the least amiable Sisters) to give joy to Jesus.
Again, what I find powerful in this passage is how the Little Way is described here by Thérèse as less a discipline of self-mortification than a practice of approaching and welcoming:

"I must seek out..."

I must seek out. That's the practice of the Little Way of hospitality. Seeking out, approaching and moving toward people you might not have normally approached, for whatever reason. All with the goal of extending a small act of welcome and hospitality, a kind word or a smile.

That's it. That's the practice. Moving toward people with small acts of welcome, inclusion and kindness. That is the Little Way of hospitality.

And while it seems a small thing, this practice of approaching and seeking out has completely disrupted my life.

The Little Way of hospitality is the most potent practice of spiritual formation that I have ever engaged. If you want to be more like Jesus this is the practice I recommend. And I preach it wherever I go.

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