13th Sunday in Ordinary Time (July 2, 2017)
Jesus’ words are initially very strong. He speaks of taking up one’s cross, of loving him more than our parents and family. These are stunning challenges. Did Jesus see the shock of his disciples? Probably. Perhaps that explains his next words:
If anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is one of my disciples, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.
It is as if Jesus is reducing his call for sacrifice to a more palatable, bite- sized piece. We may hesitate somewhat at reaching to shoulder the cross of Jesus’ experience or balk at loving him more than our family. But, all of us can offer a thirsty person a cup of water. Sharing water may seem like a very little thing - unless you are the one who is parched.
This is self-sacrifice. Self-sacrifice is the common denominator of loving actions. It calls us to move our attention off ourselves, to recognize our neighbor, be sensitive to his thirst for our water, for our time, for our talent.
Francis de sales recognized this and made this one of his basic teachings. He writes:
"Important tasks lie seldom in our path; but all day long there are little things we can do well, if we do them with all our love.”
Literature and theatre provide great examples of men who have delusions of grandeur:
Don Quixote, the character in Cervantes’ play, who sallies forth to set the world aright, but tilts only with windmills. He ends without realizing his impossible dream, but -- but along the way -- gives the prostitute-barmaid her dignity and self-worth, as she becomes Dulcinea.
Walter Mitty, in the delightful story by James Thurber, “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty” is a very average man who sees a humdrum situation, then daydreams his way to make himself a delusional hero of an imaginary event.
Then, there is the tragic play by Arthur miller, “death of a salesman.” Willy Lohman is the depressing and haunting lead in a play that shows the futility of a pitiful man, sadly imagining himself to be the man he is not.
It has been well said that great doors swing on small hinges. Relatively small rudders turn great ships, but the lack of that relatively small thing can be lethal.
What gives value to all human actions, big or small, is the heart from which acts flow and the love that expresses itself in them. Opportunities for showing compassion are very frequent. Cold cups of water, random acts of kindness, kind words change the world -- one person, one moment at a time. Our lives, like the lives of those we meet in life, turn on small acts. Don’t the Christopher’s remind us that it better to light one small candle than to curse the darkness?
And who knows? A pattern of small acts may dispose us to something big if the opportunity presents itself.
St. Francis de Sales recognized that most of us are unlikely to find the cure for cancer or be able to bring about world-peace.But, every one of us encounters countless small occasions for becoming Christ to others every day, living Jesus. Francis said so wisely: “Do ordinary things extraordinarily well.”
Isn’t it true that our most important memories of childhood are often not the great sacrifices of our parents? Often our favorite memories of our parents are the small, ordinary moments: moments like my parents being in pretended awe at my “magic show’” when, in retrospect, I did the absolutely dumbest tricks. Or -- being sick, falling asleep and waking to see my mother sitting quietly in a chair close to my bed. A small thing. A fond memory forever.
I’m sure you have your memories. Little things do mean a lot.
St. Francis de Sales seems to have a preferential option for small acts of thoughtfulness. This is his practical judgment. We can waste our lives dreaming big dreams of doing marvelous things that will, in all probability, never happen.
Ours is a wonderful parish, a wonderful gathering of the people of god. We are recognized by visitors as being a friendly people. Let’s try to be even more aware to welcome the stranger, to become hypersensitive to both our fellow parishioners and visitors, to be pro-active in kindness towards one another and to those whose paths we cross.
Little things mean a lot. They make up just about all we’ve got.