A busy young husband and father of little ones in my parish carved out many hours to shine metal in our church sacristy. Though a guy who can fix just about anything, he worked meticulously sprucing up candlesticks, sacred vessels, and an old, rusted tabernacle that gets used only once a year during Holy Week. When I asked him why he did it, why he gave his rare spare moments to transform corroded metal into objects of beauty, he responded, “I do it for Jesus.”
Another church member, a middle-aged woman who grapples with cancer, lends her hands to beautify our grounds with flowers, shrubs, and plants year-round. She has that special touch which seems to magically bring forth life around her—not just the blossoms on flowers but the smiles on children and grown-ups who pass by or who want to help her, her husband, and her dog in whatever task they happen to be tackling at the time. Like the young dad, she offers her gifts for the greater glory of God in our midst.
In the Catholic Church, this time of year is a time of saints. Saints are people who inspire us toward better lives, they point us to beauty, truth, and goodness. We begin each October commemorating the feast of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, often called “The Little Flower.” Her little acts of kindness and little ways of doing good in daily life, revealed in her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, became an inspiration for people all over the world to, also, do little things that make others’ lives easier or better. I encounter such people often. When I was a young priest, I was mentored by an old monsignor, Arthur Tighe. Like The Little Flower who promised to spend her heaven doing good on earth, he promised to make the people of Visitation Parish in Kansas City, the site of his first and last priestly assignment, his special charges in the next world. His mission was to love and encourage those placed under his care in simple and compassionate ways. To me and to many, he was a living saint and loving example; I still talk with him in prayer for guidance and insight.
Also, in younger years, I was honored to be associated with the local chapter of the Knights of Malta, an ancient religious order of laymen (and later women) who became modern hospitallers. They were at the heart of local charitable events and projects from Christmas in October to the Dream Factory to the Duchesne Medical Clinic; their mission is to care for those who are sick or who suffer in various ways. Though most of the original group in KC are now old or deceased, their legacy lives on in those who follow them. It was important to those founders to put their faith into action by caring for the lowly and less fortunate among us. Another October saint, Francis of Assisi, who is intimately connected to care for the earth and all God’s creatures, great and small—from his embrace of the leper to his sermons to the trees and birds—inspires us to find God in all things, as do my gardener-friend and noble knights.
This month, in anticipation of All Saints Day, I facilitated a small group of parishioners in a book study of Father James Martin’s classic, My Life with the Saints. They were surprised by the normal challenges that so many of our canonical saints faced and how they dealt with many of the same frustrations we do. As one of the saints, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, famously professed: “Not all of us can do great things. But we can all do small things with great love.” Let us, as Sirach proclaims, praise those godly people, subduers of the land and bearers of the faith, who call us to greater holiness. Let us imitate them by doing small things out of love.