Mercy in the Small Things

Mother Teresa (who is about to become a saint) once said, “We can do no great things. Only small things with great love.” This provides us the way to approach mercy, compassion, and peacemaking.

Saint Teresa of Calcutta (as she will be canonized) was influenced by St. Thérèse of Lisieux , a nineteenth century nun who died in obscurity in France at age twenty-four. Yet the spiritual simplicity of her little way writings proved to be powerful influence on many, including Mother Theresa and me.

When I was in fourth grade, I made my confirmation at Our Lady of Perpetual Help (OLPH) in Oakland, New Jersey. I was a shy child and I had all the emotional and spiritual maturity you’d expect in a ten-year-old.

After being given a list of saints to choose from, I chose Thérèse for some very important reasons:

  • I loved imitating my mom who had recently converted and chosen Teresa of Avila for her confirmation saint so my mom and I would share almost the same name
  • The French spelling of Thérèse’s name was cool
  • I could find a book about her in the OLPH school library (long before the internet)
  • She was also called the “little flower” and was always pictured with roses; roses are my birth month flower
  • I liked her idea of the little way

My confirmation was memorable for many things but most notable was the compassion shown by the Archbishop of Newark, who performed the ceremony. He was the epitome of one of the definitions of mercy (Webster’s Collegiate dictionary): compassion or forbearance for someone subject to one’s power. And I definitely believed he had even more power over me than the nuns whose frightening black habits hid everything except their hands and faces.

Mother Joseph insisted we memorize the Baltimore Catechism since the Archbishop would ask us questions about our faith. I was terrified that he would call on me. Even after he was so kind to the children he did call on, whether or not they answered correctly, I continued to quake in my white robe and red beanie. But the Archbishop exhibited no wrath. No anger. Just bemused enjoyment and kindness.

Mercy in the smallest of things.

I was so relieved by his mercy that I never forgot it. I was also so relieved that I wet my pants. I never forgot that either.

trinity sunThe grace I received that confirmation day slowly did its work. Thérèse’s little way eventually married the Jesuit notion of seeing God in all things. Together they have guided (and challenged) me in my adult life.

I have come to realize that how we behave in the littlest of things will inform how we act in all things, especially when we are attentive to the consequential results of our behaviors.

When we are attentive, we correlate thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and results.

So let us again reflect on the ways we are called in this moment now to embrace mercy in the small things. You may use the prayers and reflection questions in the preparation post or you may reflect on the following questions:

  • In what small ways did I encounter mercy today?
  • Did I miss an opportunity to be merciful toward someone today?
  • Can I see the Sacred in these smallest things?

Our Prayer today:

May we observe ourselves acting with mercy and kindness in the smallest things; may we also be attentive to the results and thus glimpse the face of God.

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