Father Dave and St. Therese of the #LittleWay

I thought I had Father David Link all figured out. I spent three years of my life immersing myself in his life story and then writing a book about him. But it was not until I read Story of a Soul: The Autobiography of St. Therese de Lisieux and Three Gifts of Therese of Lisieux, by Patrick Ahern, that I fully comprehended the colossal secret behind his success. This secret is the Little Way of St. Therese.

Let me explain.

St. Therese is a role model of how one’s own “littleness” can be used to great advantage. She saw herself as a tiny white flower blooming for just a moment of time in this awesome universe. Keenly aware of her smallness vis-a-vis the overall scheme of things, her genius was in discovering a redeeming purposefulness in performing even the most anonymous tasks with immense love. Her living legacy is the insight that all of us can do the same.

Having read Therese’s autobiography and, subsequently, Bishop Ahern’s book about her, I am thunderstruck by the uncanny connections between the little saint and the subject of my book.

Therese chose to use her days on earth as if they constituted a forward march straight into the outstretched arms of Love itself. The cadence by which she stepped was “confidence, nothing but confidence” – confidence, that is, in a God who is merciful, tender, and very much in control. In fact, whatever Therese was asked to do was accomplished with equanimity, humility, and confidence.

Curiously, as if they were bookends, Dave Link represents a counterbalance to Therese’s signature style. Even though Dave has been asked to do some very important things, he fulfilled those callings with equanimity, humility, and confidence. This is because, like Therese, he maintains a sense of proportion. He knows that we are but a grain of sand. Even so, he realizes that each one of us is an integral part of God’s master plan. Thus every action undertaken by every person is potentially redemptive and important.

Father Dave gives his late wife, Barbara, to whom he was married for forty-five years, credit for whatever good he has achieved in his careers as an attorney, academic leader, and as a priest and prison chaplain. That Barbara nurtured a lifelong devotion to St. Therese explains some of the uncanny connections that color the late-in-life-career of Father Dave–an accomplished professional who could be doing almost anything.

Here are some of the cosmic winks that connect Saint Therese and the Links:

Therese made her final profession of vows on September 8, 1890. September 8 is Barbara’s birthday.

Dave and Barb were married on July 12, 1954. July 12 is the wedding date of Therese’s parents, both of whom have been beatified.

Dave and Barbara Link were deeply involved in their home parish, St. Therese of the Little Flower Catholic Church in South Bend. They were also profoundly committed to helping the homeless of South Bend. Dave is co-founder of the renowned www.cfh.net.

St. Therese is the patron saint of priests; St. Barbara is the patron saint of prisoners.

Like Therese, Dave traded an easier existence for a purpose-driven life. When he could have taken a vacation, he strapped on a tool belt as a volunteer for Habitat for Humanity instead. When he could have been enjoying a roaring fire at home, he plowed through snowstorms and kept watch over homeless men in a subterranean shelter. And now, at a time when he could be golfing or visiting his children and grandchildren, he chooses instead to go behind the razor wire where, as chaplain at six of Indiana’s state prisons, he shows incarcerated men that miracles happen when they choose to walk the Little Way.

Dave shares Therese’s philosophy that we will not be evaluated on the works we have performed when we are summoned from this earthly life. The question, he says, will not be, “What have you done?” Rather, it will be, “Did you act in such a way that other souls were led to Me? Have you brought any camerados along with you to the gates of My heaven?”

Father Dave inhabits a place in my heart that is reserved for precious few. His gentle constancy and wellspring of strength remind me of my beloved father. His goofy sense of humor reminds me of what it was like growing up with five incorrigible brothers. He is admirable but fallible. He inspires me but, even so, he is, quite simply, one of us. I walked away from my first meeting with Father David Link knowing that he was someone special. Of course, I did not yet appreciate the many aspects of his extraordinariness but I came to understand that he is whom he is because, like St. Therese, he works confidently, lives compassionately, and loves completely. And these are certainly actions that all of us can perform.