A spiritual principle I take to be true is this: The more beneficial something is spiritually, the more pushback you will experience. For example, whenever I plan on going to Confession — even when I am really sure that this time I will make it — I somehow develop temporary amnesia and don’t remember to go until an hour after it is finished. Likewise, when I plan on going on a faith-based retreat, all sorts of petty problems crop up: the car gets a flat tire, I get a cold, the sitter can’t make it.
And that’s when I know: whatever it is I am trying to do must be really, really beneficial. It must pack a lot of spiritual power.
I so believe in this spiritual principle that sometimes I think it is possible to realize how spiritually powerful something is by how hard it is to accomplish it. Based on how hard the devil works to tell us otherwise, I have come to believe that the Little Things of the spiritual life must really matter.
How often are you also tempted to brush aside daily prayer with children (I just want them in bed!), your own set time for daily prayer (I’ll just pray throughout the day), regular Confession (I went not that long ago), spiritual reading (I really need to plan my kid’s birthday party), Adoration (it’s on the only night we have at home), Bible-story reading (they hear about it at religious education), and so on? The list of excuses is endless.
Father Jacques Philippe, a renowned spiritual author, was at the campus of Notre Dame last month. I attended his presentation on the Beatitudes and family life. He said that all of the little efforts we make in the family — teaching our children to pray, forgiveness, caring for one another, self-sacrifice, and so on — have immense spiritual value for the whole Church, her priests, and for the whole world.
The little things matter.
They will change us, and they will change the world. Wasn’t it Saint Teresa of Calcutta who said that if you want to change the world, go home and love your family?
Father Philippe cited a French priest who makes the claim that throughout various ages of Church history, there are privileged vocations vis-à-vis assuring (or reinstating) the sanctity of the Church. Although all vocations are occasions of holiness, some vocations are, for that point in time, privileged in terms of helping to sanctify the Church. For example, the blood of the martyrs in the first centuries watered the ground of the church, as did the desert fathers later, the monastic orders in medieval times, and the great missionaries afterward. In this age of the Church, the author believes, it is the vocation of family that is the essential and privileged vocation in assuring the holiness of the Church.
How do we, mothers and fathers and children, live out this great call to fight for the Church and for our world? The answer is … in the little things. We can’t see their effects — in this we are like those who have not seen and yet believe (John 29:20). We are called to believe that faithfulness in the little things matters. Teaching our children to pray, getting up in the middle of the night again, calling forth the best in our children again and again, forgiving one another, caring for the weakest member of the family: These are not acts just for us, and not just for our families, but for the whole world.
And judging from the fact that we are so tempted to abandon these little things, I am inclined to believe that Father Philippe and the author he cites are correct. This is all the more reason to ask for the grace to be faithful to the details of the spiritual life.
Copyright 2019 Amanda Woodiel