It has been a singular blessing to be appointed by Pope Francis to minister in the Diocese of Providence. I am doing my best to learn the ways and the beauty of my new Rhode Island home. There are so many unique aspects of our state and its communities. I am particularly fond of our closeness to the sea. Coming from a larger state, I also value the more human scale of Rhode Island. We are, of course, the smallest state in the union. I wonder if we appreciate the advantages that come with smallness.
In larger states, leaders are increasingly isolated from the population. Staffers precede them in carefully scripted visits. Their entourage and security make certain that there are no surprises and so it is a rare thing to have an ordinary conversation with a governor, mayor or senator. It has been quite the pleasant surprise for me to see that in Rhode Island, it is still quite common for elected officials and government officials to take part in community gatherings and interact with the people they serve. Here in Rhode Island, the folks who go to work, pay their taxes and raise their families have more of a voice than those who live in larger states. By necessity and tradition, Rhode Island leaders must be accountable to the community.
Even as the wider culture finds itself so driven and divided by partisan interest, we live in a state where those on the other side are often neighbors, colleagues, or even family members. Is this not an opportunity to choose a different path?
That more human scale also means that all of us can make a difference by advocating for those values and beliefs closest to our hearts. I encourage the Catholics of Rhode Island to pray for our leaders and to thank them for their public service (1 Tim 2:1-2). I also encourage us to make certain that we vote, and that we express our most deeply held convictions by our vote and our communications. In a state on such a human scale, faithful citizenship makes a difference!
As I reflect on our smallness, I find myself thinking of another word, “littleness.” St. Therese of Lisieux famously taught the Church her “little way.” A Saint and Doctor of the Church, she never founded a religious order, she never went to the missions to proclaim great visions. She spent her early days in a small French village and then her religious life in a cloistered convent less than a mile from her rural home. She died at the early age of 24.
By the grace of God, this “little one” has brought light and joy to millions by the “story of her soul.” She meditated on the scriptures, absorbing the mystery that divine power is really the power of love, and that all of us, whatever our talent or state of life, can participate in that great mystery in our own way, even if that way might appear “small” from the perspective of the world.
It is so moving to see how another Theresa, Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta, took up this little way in her mission and ministry, proclaiming that we are called to “do small things with great love.”
I am delighted to live in the nation’s smallest state and I praise God for the gift of its people and this grace filled opportunity to live the “little way!”