One of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine is not all that well known. Here it is in Latin and then my own translation:
- Quod Minimum, minimum est,
- Sed in minimo fidelem esse,
- magnum est.
- St. Augustine – De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35
- What is a little thing, is (just) a little thing.
- But to be faithful in a little thing
- is a great thing.
I first saw this quote on the frontispiece of a book by Adrian Fortescue et al. describing the intricate details of celebrating the Old Latin Mass. That form of the Mass has an enormous amount of detail to learn. Things like, how, exactly, to hold the hands, when and how to bow, what tone of voice to use, what fingers should be used to pick up the host, and on and on. Some might see these details as overwhelming and picky. But as the quote above states, and Fortescue apparently wanted us to think, love is often shown for God in reverence for the little things.
It’s so easy to become lazy, even about sacred things like saying Mass. I often have to remind myself about little things like the condition of my shoes. Are my vestments clean? How about the altar linens, are they properly cared for? Do I bow and pause at Mass when I should. How is my tone of voice? Do I walk reverently in the sanctuary? Am I careful to pronounce the sacred words of the liturgy with care, and a prayerful spirit? Some may find such questions tedious and borderline scrupulous. But when you love, little things are often important.
Married couples may also struggle to remember the little things that show love. A kind remark, a simple thank you. Flowers brought home for no particular reason. A simple look, a hug, the gift of listening attentively. Cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen. Perhaps just a simple reassurance, “I’m glad I married you” or “You’re a great Father to our children.” Maybe it’s just a quick phone call to them from work saying, “I love you and was thinking about you.”
One of my fondest memories of my mother is that, when I was a child, and even well into adulthood, when she saw I was sad or stressed, she’d come to me and look at me with a smile, and then mess up my hair. It was her little way of saying noticed and cared, and that everything would be fine. Today I have lost a lot of hair, but what I have left, since it is very fine and a little oily, tends to stick straight up, especially toward evening. Some will tell me to comb my hair. But I just smile and say, “It will go straight back up in 5 minutes.” But for me it is a fond memory of my mother (who died in 2005), and somehow I know that it must still be her, messing up my hair and saying, “It will be alright.”
Just a little thing, but a precious and powerful thing.
Yes, just little things. But to be faithful in little things is a great thing. A Gospel comes to mind:
Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matt 25:21)
Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10).
Little things? Who cares!? Apparently, God does! Little things are great things to those who love.
Try not to overlook the little things. Too often we let “big things” get in the way and forget that, even when big things happen, it’s often the cumulative effect of little things that has the greater effect. Don’t forget to show your love and concern for God, and for others in the little things. And be open as well to the little things that come your way, from God, and from others.
In what little, and even hidden ways, has God shown his love for you today?
In this video you will see grouchy New Yorkers in the Subway. It is Monday morning, it is cold and early. They are sullen. But something, just a little thing really, lifts their souls. Try not to smile by the end of this video.