The “Littlest Way” of Love: Who Was Sister Mary Consolata Betrone?

“To the little ones I tell everything.”

I am Goodness Itself; Don’t be afraid to speak. For from the depths of this Infinite Goodness,

I am humble, I am meek. And in it, your heart will gain strength when weak… Indeed, I am your Good Father, And to and through your voice I desire to speak!

“I choose the weak and helpless in the world to accomplish My greatest missions.” Jesus tells us in the Messages of Holy and Divine Love. “It is through these most unlikely little ones that My Glory is able to shine and My Father’s Will find fulfillment.” Indeed, Pierina Lorenzina Giovanna Betrone was one of these “unlikely little ones” that Our Lord used to change the world forever. Born in Saluzzo, Italy on April 6th, 1903, Pierina seemed to live an ordinary childhood by all accounts. Yet at just 13 years old, something extraordinary happened to her. While she was hurrying to do her errands in the village, she was overcome by an unexpected spiritual fervor and an intense prayer suddenly surged forth from her heart: “My God, I love you!” This was beginning of her remarkable spiritual experiences with the Lord, and indeed a foreshadowing of her future life and vocation. For on February 28, 1930, the very day of the Ceremony of taking the Veil as a cloistered Franciscan Capuchin, Pierina heard Jesus speak to her again: “I do not call you for more than this: an act of continual love.” She had chosen the name Sister Maria Consolata, which means “Consoler,” as she was to be like Our Lady, the Consoler of the agonizing Heart of Christ, not through heroic deeds or great penances, but with an inner, silent, steady, surging stream of acceptance, of trust, of love.

In her early years of convent life, Sister Consolata often carried with her the great spiritual classic “The Story of a Soul” by Saint Therese, as she was a devoted disciple of the Little Flower. Interestingly, Jesus Himself told her on November 27th, 1935: “Little Saint Thérèse once wrote: “Why is it not given to me, O Jesus, to relate Your ineffable condescension to all little souls? I have a feeling that if the impossible were to happen and You were able to find a soul still weaker than my own, it would please You to heap upon her still greater favors, if only that soul would abandon herself with complete faith to Your infinite mercy.” Well, I have found that still weaker soul who had abandoned herself with complete faith to My infinite mercy: it is you, Consolata, and through you I will perform marvels which will far exceed your fondest desires!”

Sister Consolata’s spiritual director, Father Lorenzo Sales, (a member of the Congregation of Consolata Missionaries) played a key role in the unfolding of Jesus’ plan to gift the unceasing act of love to the world. Compiling and commenting on various experts of her spiritual diary, Fr. Lorenzo wrote Jesus Appeals to the World, a book detailing Sister Consolata’s life and spirituality. “Sister Consolata’s particular vocation was one of love,” he explains, “to round out, so to speak, the Little Flower’s doctrine of the Little Way of Love by giving it a concrete form which could be practiced and achieved by all souls who feel themselves called to it.” This new “Littlest Way of Love” which compliments and completes St. Therese’s “Little Way” consists essentially in the following:

The Three Main Points of The Littlest Way of Love
1. To offer an unceasing act of love from the heart, with the greatest possible constancy, purity, and intensity, in times of consolation and desolation alike
2. To have a smiling “yes” for everyone, seeing and serving Christ in each person He sends our way, the loving and unloving alike
3. To have a grateful “yes” for everything, accepting with love and trust all God permits in our lives, the good and bad alike, as well as complying with His requests for any and all sacrifices

These three points can be summarized into the following formula: “Never omit one act of love, one act of charity, or one sacrifice from one Communion to the next.” If this sounds intimidating or even impossible to you, fear not! For Our Lord assures us that it is precisely in loving Him through the unceasing act of love that our souls are fortified with the strength, grace, and disposition necessary to make the other two points easy. After all, in His own words, “Consolata, establish within yourself a continuous ‘Jesus, Mary, I love You. Save souls!’ Consider that it’s the only resolution that will allow you to say ‘YES’ to all of my requests for sacrifices.” Sister Consolata herself testifies to this truth when she writes, “The ceaseless act of love is more powerful than any suffering: so, to place myself above suffering, I must not cease to love.”

Yet what does living out the unceasing act of love actually look like? An act of love of God can express itself with different words for different souls at different times. “My God, I love Thee!” for example, were St. Therese’s last words. Sometimes, no words are necessary. St. Fasutina describes certain moments in her Diary, for examples, where she was utterly entranced in the silent, loving gaze of Jesus: “…I have long talks with him without saying a word.” (411). Yet, in Sister Consolata’s case, Jesus actually simplified her exact means for loving Him, by explicitly giving her a short and simple formula to do so. This formula began as “Jesus, I love You!” then later on Jesus added, “Jesus, Mary, I love You!” before finally completing it with “Jesus, Mary, I love You! Save souls!” These seven simple words contain within them the full fulfilment of the Commandments of Holy Love by encompassing love of God, love of the Blessed Virgin, and love of all souls, all in the same breath and heartbeat. “Tell Me,” Jesus once asked Sr. Consolata, “what prayer can anyone say that is more beautiful? ‘Jesus, Mary, I love You! Save souls!’” “This ‘Act of Love’ includes all souls;” He explained to her on another occasion, “the souls in purgatory, the innocent, the suffering, the sinful, the dying, and even your own poor soul.”

Like any good religious, Sister Consolata prayed a variety of prayers every day, from the Way of the Cross, novenas to Our Lady, and of course, intimate and free-form conversation with Our Lord. Yet she was instructed to pray this most fruitful act of love prayer as fervently and frequently as possible from morning until evening, except when she couldn’t be actively focused on praying the act of love as laid out by the formula. During all those times, such as when she was engaged in writing or speaking or praying in other ways, Jesus promised to continue the unceasing act of love for her Himself: “…when you are conversing with Me or when you are writing or meditating, the act of love continues. I credit you with it just the same even though the heart is obliged to keep silent at those times!”

Truly, for Sister Consolata the bar was set very high. Jesus wanted everything from His little Consolata, every action, every word, and even every thought, so that His Spouse might become perfect and attain the glorious triple-fold virginity of the greatest of saints, that of the heart, the body, and the spirit. Yes, Jesus wanted her love for Him to be of the highest degree of purity, so as to purge her of any other affection, of continuity, so as to protect her from any waste of time, and of intensity, so as to prevent her from holding anything back from Him. And it was precisely by the practice of the unceasing act of love that her love would be gradually perfected. As Servant of God, Father Adolph Petit, SJ, once explained, “Just as one learns to read by reading, and to write by writing, so does one learn to love Our Lord by multiplying one’s acts of love for Him. Each one of these acts is as it were an armful of kindling, to be thrown on the fire; it renders the flame of love more ardent.”  

Of course, Sister Consolata experienced many falls and failures within the first few years of her practice of the unceasing act of love. Over time, however, through the constant struggle against her natural inclinations and consistent practice of her childlike reliance upon Jesus and His ever-abundant grace, her love eventually reached a truly heroic level of purity, continuity, and intensity! According to her spiritual director, Sister Consolata managed, with more or less success, to persevere in her unceasing act for about 17 hours a day, every day, for over 10 years! He also tells us that during the entirely of her life as a religious, Sister Consolata never deliberately answered “no” any of the Lord’s requests…not even once!

 “To offer an unceasing act of virginal love in fact requires of the soul an extreme vigilance over herself,” Father Lorenzo writes, “…and the act is really impossible without controlling and renewing one’s fervor as often as possible.” These words seem to perfectly align with those Our Blessed Mother has spoken in the Messages of Holy and Divine Love: “You must constantly assess the reservoir of Holy Love in your hearts and always strive to strengthen it. By your efforts in measuring this virtue, you can increase in holiness and increase your happiness in Heaven.” In order to do this, Jesus actually taught Sister Consolata to renew her resolution of the unceasing virginal act of love every hour, in addition to making a quick particular examen of how well she had loved during that hour, marking any infidelities in her notebook. At the end of each day, she would humbly ask pardon for any of these voluntary lapses, before taking up again her song of love, without voluntarily wasting any more thoughts, moments, or efforts on her past mistakes. In order to continue onward in her fidelity to the unceasing act of love, even when she no longer heard the voice of the Lord later in her life, Sister Consolata most likely would of had to remind herself of Jesus’ encouraging words to her and divine requirements of her:

Jesus’ Words to Sister Consolata Betrone Regarding the Unceasing Act of Love
“Forget everything and everybody, and think only of loving Me more! Concentrate your every thought, every heartbeat, every silence upon this one thing: to love! Do not think of anything, anything, anything else but to love Me and to suffer with all possible love; that is sufficient.”
“Say goodbye forever to all that is created and to this world, and escape into a ceaseless act of love. You see, each has his own tastes. Here are Mine: smallness, nothingness, annihilation, but love.”
“Live, annihilated and enclosed in a single perpetual ‘Jesus, Mary, I love You. Save souls!’ Nothing, no one, must exist for you except the act of love.”
“Remain fixed in this one resolve, not to interrupt the act of love! This suffices for Me. Remain faithful to it, renew it hour by hour, and I will grant you everything, Consolata, truly everything.”
“Follow Me in a ceaseless act of love, day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute; I Myself will take care of all the rest. I Myself will provide.”
“As a little fish will die outside of water, so also will you, outside the act of love!”
“Saint John the Baptist called himself ‘a voice crying in the wilderness.’ You are to be ‘an unceasing act of love.’”
“The ceaseless act of love is your standard; defend it before the enemy (even at the cost of your life).”
“One must love one’s flag; one must defend it at all costs, love under it, and die clutching it to one’s heart, so that it may never fall into enemy hands. Do the same with your act of love! Even if it costs you an effort, give it to Me without ceasing!”
“Raise your effort to the highest pitch and, firmly determined not to lose one single act of love, take up the struggle again without wasting a backward glance at the interruption.”
“If you have fallen, raise yourself up again; if you have forgotten, then start anew; an act of love is useful for everything, at any time, and under every condition!”
“All that tempts you to turn away from the ceaseless act of love would not come from Me, but from the enemy.”
“Consolata, it matters little that the devil and your passions unleash in your soul every possible attack; do not mind thunder, storm, and lightning. Say to yourself: ‘I want to continue undismayed my act of love from one Communion to the next, that is my duty, my sole duty!’ And so, forward! Nothing else!”
“Do you think I could not grant you this continuity of love? It pleases Me to see you struggle, fall, and rise again, in short, making an effort. I like to see what you can do. And do you know what delights Me most? It is when you rise above everything unperturbed and continue your act of love!”
“Remember, Consolata, that I have not given you Nicholas [her brother], nor will I give you your uncle Felix, in reward for you penances and sacrifices, but solely because of your unceasing act of love. Remember that, for it is love that I desire from My creatures.”
“Consolata, place at one side all the acts of virtue which you could perform today, and on the other side a single day passed in a continuous act of love- I will prefer the day passed in continual love to anything else you might do or offer Me!”
“Not only is your cell for you a sanctuary where you can always find Jesus, the Sacred Heart or the Crucified, but you yourself should be a tabernacle wherever you may be. And just as you do not wish anything but the continual act of love to enter into your cell, so you too must not permit anything but the continual act of love to occupy you, no matter where you may be or in what work you may be engaged.”
“Be extremely vigilant not to permit one though to enter, not to utter a single sentence except in reply; but do not lose yourself in this effort. No! Lose yourself rather in the unceasing act of love!”
“Consolata, I have consecrated all the time which remain to you in this life into one single act of love. Now, if you were to stop loving in order to follow some other thought or utter some sentence which is not strictly necessary, you would be committing a theft of love!”
“Love Me always, through the battle and the inevitable falls; train yourself to be unimpressed by failure, but to continue, impervious, your act of love.”
“Remember that an act of love on your part can decide the salvation of a soul, its eternal salvation. So see that you don’t waste a single ‘Jesus, Mary, I love You. Save souls!’”
“Don’t lose time: every act of love is a soul! Of all the gifts, the best gift you can offer me is a day full of love.”
“You must do your utmost to offer Me the unceasing act of love, but when you fail, I will make it good. No, have no fear, I am always kind!”

WOW! Pretty amazing right? Now, it is true that Sister Consolata despised compromise, complacency, and carelessness, and was vigilant, vigorous, and valiant in her everyday interior life and ongoing response to grace. Indeed, she desired more than anything not only to love God more than He had ever been loved before, but to save souls in equal measure, no matter how much suffering it may have required (her nickname was actually “Thunder and Lightning”!). Yet it is important to keep in mind that Sister Consolata was a cloistered religious nun, specifically chosen for and raised up to the special role of victim soul, that is, a victim of divine love. Jesus expressed this when He told her, “I know that the continual act of love costs you something, particularly at certain times. But it is more meritorious so, Consolata! And then you must never forget that I have chosen you to be a victim of love!” Furthermore, Sister Consolata was called to serve as the model for all the Littlest Ones who would follow her throughout the centuries, as Jesus thus explained to her: “I want a wave of love to surge from the earth to heaven. You yourself must blaze the trail of the Littlest Way. One day you will serve a model: as the world has its eyes fixed on St. Theresa today, so will the millions of Littlest Souls turn to you.”

While all souls must truly love the Lord God above all else, with all the heart, mind, soul, and strength, not every soul is called to the carry out this Commandment with the same spirituality, vocation, or even degree of perfection. Think for a moment of St. Therese’s beautiful metaphor of each soul being a unique flower, with a specific color and special fragrance unlike any other in the garden of the Lord. “Aren’t you struck by the diversity in human creation?” Christ once questioned Bl. Gabrielle Bossis. “In heaven too, each saint differs from the other and if you are enchanted by the colors of your garden, you may be sure that paradise flashes with a myriad, many-splendored things, all for My glory.”

Therefore, let us not fall prey to the what Our Lord told St. Faustina were the “greatest obstacles of holiness,” namely “discouragement and exaggerated anxiety” when comparing ourselves to Sister Consolata. Rather, even if we too desire to become great “Littlest Ones,” following her spiritual way of loving Jesus unceasingly, perhaps we should start by to becoming humble “Little Angelets” who simply strive to make the act of love a more and more frequent practice in their everyday lives. Let us ask ourselves where we can love the Lord a little more in the duties of our day, in the faces of our neighbor, in the mysteries of the Eucharist, and of course, in the depths of our own hearts. And let us simply refuse to let the enemy’s tool of fear or worry disturb our inner peace, by believing wholeheartedly Our Lord’s powerful divine promise: “I will think of everything, even the smallest details. You think only of loving Me.”*This is precisely what Sister Consolata did. Like a child in the arms of her father, she wholeheartedly trusted that the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving God of all would provide everything she would possibly need in every present moment, physically, emotionally, and spiritually to bring her to the very heights of sanctity and depths of suffering, so as to win as much merit and as many souls for Heaven as possible. Her continual love for Jesus lead to an ever-deepening trust in Him, which in turn strengthened her love for Him and thus her charity for others all the more, since love is the both the root and fruit, the foundation and fullness, the principle and perfection of all the other virtues. After all, the great doctor of the Church and gentle pastor of souls St. Francis de Sales once replied to someone who told him he desired to be very humble, so as to be able to love the Lord deeply: “I however, wish to love the Lord a great deal in order to be very humble.”

Over time, Sister Consolata came to depend entirely on the act of love, not only to satisfy the Lord’s wishes of her, but to assuage the burning longing in her heart for Him. On one occasion before the tabernacle, she relates being consumed by the uncontainable desires and outbursts of love: “I felt myself pervaded by an infinite urge to love Jesus, who loves me ardently, with a love of equal ardor: and as I repeated to Jesus the infinite desire to love Him, I felt within my heart another heart: the Sacred Heart! that was able to launch Itself into the Infinite without destroying nature.”

Even towards the end of her life, Sister Consolata was well aware of her great mission to be “an apostle of apostles” and the very first of “not just thousands, but millions and millions” of Littlest Ones of both men and women alike. After all, Our Lord had expressly told her, “When your last ‘Jesus, Mary, I love You!’ will have been pronounced, I will gather it up, and through the writings about your life, I will transmit it to thousands of sinful souls who will receive and follow it in the simplicity of this way of confidence and love, and they will thus love Me.” Sister Consolata died on July 18th, 1946, but she continues her unceasing act of love with the choirs of all angels and saints, for all eternity! From her glorious throne beside the Lord Himself, she remains a powerful intercessor for us, her spiritual little brothers and sisters until the day she can welcome each one with her into Heaven, where the littlest and least shall be first and foremost. The following is the ending of a letter that she personally addressed to those future souls who would try to love Jesus during their time on earth as purely, continuously, and intensely as possible through the “Littlest Way” of Love:

“Among the obstacles which prevent you from offering Jesus the unceasing virginal act of love, Our Lord teaches us to combat three: useless thoughts, useless talk, and outside interests. As for thoughts and preoccupations, everything becomes useless from the moment that Jesus promises His Littlest One that He Himself will think of everything, even to smallest details. As for useless talk, if you speak when you not obliged to do so out of necessity, charity, or propriety, then it is a waste of time; you steal time from Love. As for extraneous interests, curiosity, etc., all these detach your spirit from one thing to which you have vowed yourself: to love Jesus unceasingly with a virginal love.

It is necessary, however, for you to realize that, to carry out the divine wishes, never to lose one act of love or one act of charity from one Communion to another, will require arduous work from your soul (sustained by grace), no small amount of time, and a generous, constant effort; above all, never let yourself become discouraged.

At every more or less voluntary infidelity, renew your determination of virginal love, and start afresh. If your fault causes you suffering, you should offer it to Jesus… as an act of love! You will see and will be able to experience with what tenderness Jesus raises you up again after each fall or infidelity, how He hastens to put you on your feet again, so that you may continue your canticle of love…

Have no fear! Jesus will aid you. He has said: I ask only one thing of you: an unceasing act of love…. Love Me, for I thirst for your love…. Love Me, and you will be happy; the more you will love Me, the happier you will be!…. Jesus keeps His word!

So, have courage! Jesus and Mary will aid you! Never have any fear, but trust and believe in the love which He has for you!

Affectionately, Sister Consolata, R.C.”

“Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:4).