St. Augustine and the little things
May the God of hope fill our hearts with joy and peace.
Throughout the Order we are preparing in one way or another to celebrate the great feasts of St. Monica, Our Father St. Augustine and Our Lady of Consolation and likewise in some latitudes of the Recollect geography are preparing to start a new course; a course that will have as its motto one of the phrases of the 69th sermon of Our Father St. Augustine: Do you aspire to great things? Begin with the smallest things.
I wondered if an important man like Augustine in his time would have time to take care of small things and minor matters. A man who was attentive to defend sound doctrine and to combat heresies, especially Donatism and Pelagianism; who made his writings reach the Councils, of which he did not participate because of his multiple pastoral occupations; who wrote so much and about such important things and with such depth, that we would need two lifetimes to read his immense literary production; that he spiritually accompanied many of the faithful personally and through his letters; that he resolved daily, as a judge, many matters that arose in the Church of Hippo; that he gave his opinion, traveled and was involved in the affairs of other churches in Africa; that he was attentive to the direction that the monasteries founded by him and those inspired by his way of life were taking; that he prepared his sermons exhaustively. Could one of the few sages and saints who has written a treatise on the sublime and unfathomable Mystery of the Holy Trinity be concerned with the little things of everyday life? I believe that the answer is clear to all of us, because we have all read and listened to the Rule of Our Father countless times. It is impressive to perceive how Augustine descends to the smallest and most minute details, to the smallest things, which perhaps we would not take into account, but which for him did not go unnoticed because he judged that they were important: the food, the exterior bearing, the washing of the clothes, the reading in the refectory, the feeding of the sick, the treatment of the women, the looks, the discussions and murmurings, the bathing of the body, the way of asking for books, the footwear and the clothes, etc.
It is not difficult to discover why a man like Augustine, busy with such important matters and tasks, noticed and had time to pay attention to these little things as well. The closer we are to God, the more attention we pay to the small details, for it is almost always in them that God reveals himself to us.
In his sermons and pastoral writings, St. Augustine emphasizes the need to cultivate virtues such as patience, compassion and humility, which we can consider as domestic virtues and which help us to maintain harmony and love both in family life and in the community. These virtues are fundamental to build healthy and lasting relationships, to overcome challenges and conflicts that may arise in the domestic sphere and also help us to persevere in our spiritual journey.
As we said in the circular of March 24, 2023, God is patient enough to endure centuries of small days. His Kingdom, which will one day cover the earth, does not start out large. It grows from an old man and his barren wife (Is 51:2). It grows from the smallest of all peoples (Dt 7:7). It grows from a mustard seed and a little leaven (Mt 13:31-33). It grows from an embryo in the womb of a virgin (Is 9:6-7). It grows from twelve illiterate men (Acts 1:8). God uses small things to do great things.
Jesus, the human face of the Father, called together all his disciples who were wandering in the temple to show them the testimony of the poor widow who had just placed in the chest all the coins she needed to survive (Mk 12:41-44). Mk 12:41-44); and he compares the Kingdom to the mustard seed, the least of all (cf. Mt 13:31), which becomes a tree in which birds come to nest; and he tells us to become like children – little ones – if we want to enter the Kingdom of heaven (cf. Mt 18:3-4).
The Gospel of Jesus contrasts with our society, which seeks prestige, fame, to attract attention, to be recognized, to shine, to possess riches… Even our consecrated life is affected and infected by the desires of the world and we can often feel overwhelmed by the challenges and goals that we impose on ourselves and want to achieve. The Holy Father warns us of the danger of “careerism” in religious and priestly life. Francis says that careerism is the plague for priests and one of the most horrible forms of worldliness (Audience with Spanish archbishops, on the occasion of the 125th anniversary of the creation of the Pontifical Spanish College of St. Joseph in Rome. April 1, 2017). We have not come to consecrated life or to the Order to climb the ladder or to make a career, we have come to live in holiness of life in community and to bring God to our brothers. It is not wrong to have big dreams and aspirations in life, but without forgetting that dreams are usually forged and are made of small gestures and details, even those to which we do not give the least importance. In fact, Pope Francis has more than once reminded us that there are three words that define people: permission, thanks and forgiveness (Pope Francis to couples in Krakow on July 29, 2016). Indeed, it is in those little things that we stake our being or not being for God, because little things done with love have a taste of eternity (St. Therese of the Child Jesus). And because holiness does not depend simply on the greatness of our actions, but on the intensity of the love that accompanies those actions. In the words of Augustine: put love into the things you do and things will have meaning, take love away from them and they will become empty (Sermon 138, 2). The secret to holiness is to do the ordinary things of daily life with extraordinary love every day. That is the key!
When we do things with love, with dedication and devotion, no matter how small they may seem, they take on an eternal dimension. A simple gesture of kindness to a person in need, a word of encouragement to someone who is suffering, an act of service to those around us, a glass of water to one who is thirsty, all these seemingly insignificant acts can have a significant impact on people’s lives and on our own souls. Let us not forget the proverb attributed to the writer Eduardo Galeano that says: many small people, in small places, doing small things, can change the world.
Let us not wait our whole lives for big events or opportunities that may never come. On the contrary, let us not waste our time building castles in the air, let us build on the small things of every day, because cathedrals are built stone by stone and the most beautiful hearts are made of small stories built of small details.
Therefore, brothers, do not underestimate the power of the little things when you do them with love and do not forget that every day we are presented with the opportunity to make a difference in someone’s life, whether it be with a kind word, a helpful gesture or a sincere smile. No matter how insignificant it may seem, every act of love has an impact that transcends time and space.
In a world full of haste and superficiality, let us be those who make a difference through the little things. May our love expand and reach out to all those around us, illuminating the way and bringing a taste of eternity to every encounter.
May our Mother and Queen of Consolation, who was attentive to the needs of her cousin Elizabeth, the bride and groom at Cana and the disciples of her Son, teach us and help us to live attentive to the needs of those around us who need us most.
Happy Augustinian Feasts.
May the Lord bless us with his peace.
Madrid, August 22, 2023
Feast of St. Mary Queen
Friar Miguel Angel Hernandez OAR