Somtimes It’s the Little Things that are the Greatest Things – A Meditation on a Quote From St Augustine

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)

And Again:

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.

7 Replies to “Somtimes It’s the Little Things that are the Greatest Things – A Meditation on a Quote From St Augustine”

  1. Timing is everything…:) As I was completing a mundane task of a load of laundry for a moment I gave thought to how easily I can become exhausted with repeating the same tasks from day to day,week to week. Then I realized that in the routine of little things in life such as doing laundry for my family, there will come a day when perhaps I may no longer obtain the ability to complete the littlest tasks of daily life. Each day is a precious gift hand crafted by God for each one of us to embrace regardless of the size of the events and the challenges they present.

  2. A German saying my grandfather taught me is: Wer den Pfenning nicht ehrt, is des Thalers nicht wert. (He who honors not the penny is not worthy of the dollar.)

  3. I guess Saint Augustine came up with “The Little Way” before Saint Therese of Lisieux? But, I will still give her credit for promoting the cause. God Bless St. Augustine and The Little Flower.

  4. My sentiments exactly! Here is a wonderful (yet long!) quote from the wonderful G.K. Chesterton about the joy that can be found in simple monotony:

    “All the towering materialism which dominates the modern mind rests ultimately upon one assumption; a false assumption. It is supposed that if a thing goes on repeating itself it is probably dead; a piece of clockwork. People feel that if the universe was personal it would vary; if the sun were alive it would dance. This is a fallacy even in relation to known fact. … The sun rises every morning. I do not rise every morning; but the variation is due not to my activity, but to my inaction. Now, to put the matter in a popular phrase, it might be true that the sun rises regularly because he never gets tired of rising. His routine might be due, not to a lifelessness, but to a rush of life. The thing I mean can be seen, for instance, in children, when they find some game or joke that they specially enjoy. A child kicks his legs rhythmically through excess, not absence, of life. Because children have abounding vitality, because they are in spirit fierce and free, therefore they want things repeated and unchanged. They always say, “Do it again”; and the grown-up person does it again until he is nearly dead. For grown-up people are not strong enough to exult in monotony. But perhaps God is strong enough to exult in monotony. It is possible that God says every morning, “Do it again” to the sun; and every evening, “Do it again” to the moon. It may not be automatic necessity that makes all daisies alike; it may be that God makes every daisy separately, but has never got tired of making them. It may be that He has the eternal appetite of infancy; for we have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we. The repetition in Nature may not be a mere recurrence; it may be a theatrical ENCORE.” ~G.K. Chesterton: ‘Orthodoxy,’ IV.

  5. Great quote and reflection. Yes, our lives are but the sum of the little things we do each day. They may seem unimportant, but when done with love and intent, they are priceless. I think children know this best.

  6. Dear Msgr. Pope,
    Yes, the 40 years or so have made many of us lazy and irreverent. It is good to have the changes to the
    Roman Missal for both the clergy and the faithful. I can’t wait for Nov. 27.

  7. Spiritual gains of value and God’s graces are often “little things” They may not have a stupendous headline like a good news article or a hook at the beginning like a stupendous commercial or lots of flashy special effects like a rock concert. Perhaps they’re more like a snowflake. A small and seemingly insignificant thing that we may think is of no great account. But, like snowflakes, look what happens when there’s many and many of them. Wonderful things like snowmen, tobogganing, ski-ing, snow angels, etc. And, when one is careless and contemptuous about their impact on us, they may have an effect on us like a vehicle going out of control and sliding off a cliff into a deep and fearsome pit.

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