Moments of Greatness
Mary Jo Loebig, O.C.D.
It came to me as a surprise. “As I look back,” he said, “I feel that I really haven't done much of anything in my life worth mentioning.” Still, for myself, I have known this person through the years as someone who has always given of himself to the task at hand and who has faithfully gone out to others with warmth, enthusiasm, and unusual insight. I saw him as someone who has done all things well. How, then, was I to respond?
I thought of St. Therese, the Little Flower, and Therese's Canticle of Love . In the setting of a beautiful composition, the lyric writers have Therese saying: “Beneath your gaze, I've blossomed forth, as a rose in the sunshine. With joyful heart, I've given all to the mystery of love. In peace, I will come before you with empty hands.”1 Therese comes with empty hands only to receive more.
God Does The Rest
I thought of Dorothy Day reflecting on life, while in jail for civil disobedience. She writes: “When I lie in jail thinking of these things, thinking of war and peace and the problems of human freedom, I am all the more confirmed in my faith in the Little Way of St. Therese. We do the little things that come to hand; we say our prayers – and God does the rest.”2 As St. Francis de Sales says: “Opportunities for greatness come seldom while occasions for kindness surround us.”
And, then, there is the story of Eddie in The Five People You Meet in Heaven,3 who says it well. Eddie, a war veteran, experienced his days of fixing rides in the amusement park as humdrum and completely meaningless. On his 83rd birthday, Eddie dies in a tragic accident trying to save the life of a little girl. With his final breath, he feels two small hands in his own. The story unfolds with the people of heaven revealing to Eddie the beauty of his life on earth, a life that seemed so ordinary and lacking any kind of greatness. Edith Stein, Sister Teresa Benedicta of the Cross, refers to this as “God's Secret”, those hidden secrets about our life that someday we will come to know. The beauty of these acts comes from the fact that these acts are pristine and free from self-aggrandizement. They shine with the sun in the interior of the soul.
We have a bishop friend, who is now with God in a different way. Here is one of his life stories, as told to us at his passing. There was a little boy (let's call him Jimmy) of a poor family who wanted to give the bishop one of his new kittens. He asked his parents if he might write to the bishop and offer him a kitten. Finally, his parents acquiesced. One day, while Jimmy's parents were away a short time, a car came into the yard. The bishop, with his driver, had come to see the kitten. I am not sure if the bishop actually ended up taking the kitten with him. While the bishop had done many outstanding things during his life, including a rally to save the small family farm, the story of the kitten ranked with the big ones.
Great Moments Catch Us Unaware
We are conditioned to think that our lives revolve around the great moments. As one anonymous email writer put it, great moments often catch us unaware, mostly because they are beautifully wrapped in what others might consider a small one. We might want to ask ourselves: “So far, what has been one of the great moments in my life?” In looking back, we may find that God did something great through us without our knowing it at the time.
Speaking of the Little Way, I have found that even “little prayers” are powerful, more so than the long drawn-out ones. The author of The Cloud of Unknowing4 speaks of the “little word”. For me, this “word” may be one word or a small group of words. The writer tells us to fasten this word upon our hearts so that whatever happens, it may never go away. Furthermore, this word is an anchor and a shield for whatever may come. Like the humble prayer of Scripture, this word pierces the clouds where God dwells. On our part, we have only to think of the opening of the Liturgy of the Hours: “O God, come to my assistance. – Lord, make haste to help me.” Often, the “word” gives encouragement, such as “All things shall be well,” or “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” These “words” can be very strengthening, and, indeed, a shelter and a shield in rough times.
The Big One
I wonder, sometimes, if the lesser great moments prepare us for the one big one. Connected with Hurricane Katrina, one newscaster tells the story of a woman who waited to be rescued. When the rescue workers actually came, they asked her if she wanted to go with them. “Take my neighbors, first,” she said. “There are many children over there.”
1Sr. Marie Therese (Claire) Sokol, O.C.D. and Sr. Michael Marie, O.C.D., Therese's Canticle of Love .
2Dorothy Day, The Book of Dorothy Day (Springfield, Illinois: Templegate Publishers, 1982), p.59.
3 Mitch Albom, The Five People You Meet in Heaven ( New York : Hyperion, 2003).
4The Cloud of Unknowing , Ed. James Walsh, S.J. (New York: Paulist Press, 1981), pp. 133,134
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