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On the Importance of Little Things

February 7, 2018

I have found that one of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine is not all that well known. Here it is in Latin, followed by my own translation:

Quod minimum, minimum est,
Sed in minimo fidelem esse,
magnum est
.

What is a little thing, is (just) a little thing,
But to be faithful in a little thing,
is a great thing.

(De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35)

I first saw this quote on the frontispiece of a book by Adrian Fortescue. Fortescue applied it to the intricate details of celebrating the Old Latin Mass. That form of the Mass has an enormous amount of detail to learn: how exactly to hold the hands, when and how to bow, what tone of voice to use when, what fingers should be used to pick up the host, and so on. Some might see these details as picky and overwhelming, but Fortescue apparently wanted us to think about the fact that love is often shown through attention to 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. Are my shoes in good condition? Are my vestments clean? Have the altar linens been properly cared for? Am I bowing and pausing during Mass when I should? Am I using the proper tone of voice? Am I walking reverently in the sanctuary? Am I pronouncing the sacred words of the liturgy with care and a prayerful spirit? Some may find such questions tedious or even too 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 thank you, flowers brought home for no particular reason, a caring look, the gift of listening attentively, cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen, a reassurance like “I’m glad I married you” or “You’re such a great father to our children,” a quick phone call saying “I love you and was thinking about you.”

Yes, they’re just little things, but to be faithful in little things is a great thing. These passages come 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? God does. Little things are great things to those who love.

This song says, “You must be faithful over a few things to be ruler over many things. Be thou faithful unto death and God will give you a crown of life.” It ends with this rousing chorus: “Well done good and faithful servant, well done!”

And because I mentioned the details of the traditional Latin Mass, here is a video that illustrates that little things can mean a lot. Those who are unaccustomed to this form may find such details stuffy, but to those who appreciate them, these “little things” are small signs of love for God and are a way of suppressing a kind of careless informality. One should be natural, not robotic, but some of these small details can add a lot to reverence.

Filed in: Faith • Tags: ,

Comments (2)

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  1. Patricia Barry says:

    Wonderful to see, no limit to reverence.

  2. alle says:

    Msgr. Pope,

    Thank You for such a beautiful summary! One of the things I love most about honoring the details,
    is how it helps to magnify the Image and Likeness of God! When we honor HIS details, we have the opportunity to
    magnify and show gratitude to him… Very beautiful!!