Thursday, November 17, 2011

Great Things for God

Many in the Catholic world know about St. Therese of Lisieux's "Little Way of Love."  She was the baby of the family, a girl of 15 entering the Carmelites, with elder sisters as her "mothers" since their mother died quite young.  Also known as "the Little Flower", Therese's autobiography The Story of a Soul inspired and caught the imaginations of thousands after her death at age 24 in 1897.  How fascinating to consider that one could please God by doing little things.

Somehow, over the ensuing century, in our times, it seems that the idea of doing little, or even very little, has taken root in people...not having to do much at all regarding spiritual matters, or pleasing God.  The idea of being known, famous, and great is the rage through insta-fame via internet videos, dressing and acting in ways to garner attention, and doing the illegal for attention. People want to make it BIG in this day and age--even Christians trying to break into the book market, Christian radio and television talk programs.

When Pope John Paul II was yet alive, people declared him "JPII the Great."  How many have been inspired and wanted to follow suit in some Mother Teresa-type, documentary quality outreach--start and hope for a big, great, well-known project, even their own religious order or movement?  So, is the Little Flower's little way little?  Look how big and great it became. 

As a child, I recall sitting in the back of a high school auditorium watching a play performed by my mother's high school drama class.  I was young enough not to be left home alone at night.  During the performance, at a certain point, for whatever reason, I thought about God.  I sensed Him; and I promised deep in my soul that I would do great things for God some day.  I really, really meant it.

The promise and thoughts of it never left, although over the years my life was nipped and tucked whenever I'd begin to rise in the world, even the world of the temporal church--first Protestant and then Catholic.  A couple weeks ago the intensity of the promise to do great things for God arose once more.  Another memory surfaced--that of an elder sister who taunted me when I was a teen and again said that I was going to do something great for God.  She challenged, "What are you going to do?  You're just a kid."  I responded, tearfully yet determined, "I don't know what, but I will do it when I am grown up!"

Over the years, it seems there is more curtailing of worldly interactions and activity whenever I renew the promise to do great things for God.  This has been true in the secular or church world. Currently, I am directed that I must not go to Mass.  It has to do with a rare situation in Mass, such that my director has determined it for the best that I not attend due to issues some have had, injury sustained, and a priest's being uncomfortable with it.  Amazing it is, how God truncates in ways unanticipated!

Once more I ponder a childhood promise to do great things for God.  I begin to understand just how great is this promise and how greatly can everyone do great things for God!  The Little Flower never really fooled me with her Little Way.  Maybe it worked well in that time period to motivate people to offer their little thoughts and actions.  But Therese, other than being a little girl (relatively so in personality and age when she died), did great things for God through her suffering, teaching novices, and praying for missionaries.  None of what she did was little at all.

Yet I've noted some adult Little Flower enthusiasts, in child-like voices, say they can only do little things because they are so little, like the Little Flower.  Has the charm of the Little Way, over time, become an excuse and means for relegating ourselves to very little, and thinking it is quite humble to do so, all the while restricting ourselves from all the great things that a soul can do for God?

Of course, many of us comprehend the idea behind the Little Way--to encourage those who feel they cannot do anything at all for God, to at least help them think they can do something very little.   But there is also another way, a way of doing great things for God.  It is a matter of changing perspective and attitude to that of God's greatness. Thus,  I am going to do--have done all my life--great things for God.  I can do great and greater in each present moment of my life:  great writing for God, great reading for God, great cleaning the garage for God, great suffering for God, great praying for God, great living, loving, laughing and crying for God...and great realizing God's greatness, all for God!

How can this be? Does it go against humility?  Is this not outrageous to think or speak or write that one can do great things for God? But what would be at all wrong with doing great things for God?  Why relegate and limit ourselves to doing little or even less for God?

Humility, according to Msgr. Adolphe Tanquerey in his classic on the spiritual life, involves truth and justice.  We must know ourselves as we are and act upon that knowledge.  He writes of St. Thomas who says that in man two things may be considered: what there is of God, and what there is of man.  Of man there is whatever points to defect; but of God, all that makes for salvation and perfection.

Tanquerey adds that justice, then, absolutely demands that we render to God, and to Him alone, all the honor and glory.  Yes, there is some good in us, our good nature and our supernatural privileges.  Humility lets us see this good but that it is contemplating the gifts and graces of God in us, not ourselves that we admire.  God is great and expects great things from us, for He is great who made us and all things.

I recall the Irish Da, a priest of many years, having chastised me. "Why is it that you think you have to do something big?"  Well, what is wrong with doing something big for God if our great God has given us great graces?  Isn't it all right to do great things for God?  What's so terrible about that? 

As I was telling my dear spiritual director about doing great things for God, he--not immediately grasping this--mentioned the Little Flower and humility.  I persevered despite his saying I'm resistant, which is true.  After confession I exclaimed, "This sacrament is a great thing for God!"  Then I mentioned a young mother who understood what I was saying about doing great things for God.  She got it!  She realized changing diapers is a great thing for God--perhaps even greater if a greater mess.

Everything can be a great thing for God because God is great.  The Little Flower did not really do little things; all that she did were actually great things for God.  Yes, when I asked the spiritual director, "Is it not true that St. Therese did great things?" he admitted it is so.  Why think and do little when everything we think and do is great for Him due to His greatness?  In fact, we do anything at all because it is God's greatness that is doing it, for His Real Presence is great in our souls, as God greatly created all souls.  What a great thing for God is a soul who recognizes God's greatness in creating souls!  Thus every soul is a great soul, simply in being greatly created by our great God who is all greatness. 

This is all very great--just thinking of it is a great thing for God.  Remaining in His Love is a great thing for God, and all we do are great things for God once we realize that it is the great God Who in His greatness--the greatness of His Real Presence, the great Trinity that is great Love--is doing it all, gives us all these great graces, to do all these great things for God.  We are filled with His greatness and give back what is given, all great things for God.

Tears, struggles, thoughts, praises, despairs, virtues--no matter how rudimentary in our delivery--all are great things for God.  So perhaps the Little Flower really meant that all the little things she did for God, of course, are actually great things for God.  How else or other can they be when He is so great and it is all from His greatness?  Doing great things for God is possible only in humility for it is humility that dictates the reality that all greatness is God, not us, and even the little is great: for, through and in God.  How joyous to know that God gives us all graces to do great things for Him!

When a soul recognizes its Great Creator, God, all that flows from the Great God through that soul into thought and action is a great thing for God.  Now to put a painful arm and shoulder back into the sling: a great thing to do for God.

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