Small Things with Great Love


As you can imagine, I get lots of mail in my office. Most of it’s fairly routine – invitations, requests, suggestions, complaints, reports, newspapers and newsletters. A lot of the mail I handle personally, even typing the response myself; some I forward to a member of diocesan staff who I know will respond with far more information and expertise than I have.

Every so often, though, a piece of mail arrives that really grabs my attention. Such was the case with the simplest of letters I received the other day.

It came in a small, non-descript, white envelope. It was anonymous, no name or address to be found anywhere. It had just four words scribbled at the very top of a crumpled, torn, little piece of paper: “donation for priests’ groceries.” A five-dollar bill was included.

“Oh my,” I said to myself, or maybe even out loud. I was really taken aback by what was, I’m sure, a sincere gesture of compassion, a gift of love for our priests. I don’t know – perhaps it was prompted by the recent collection for our retired priests, or by the Catholic Charity Appeal now underway. The fragile cursive script in which the words were written suggests that it might have come from a senior citizen. The “widow’s mite” I thought to myself.

In any event, I was deeply moved by the gesture.

On another occasion recently I had a conversation with a very devout Catholic lady who was upset that she was unable to get to church on Ash Wednesday to receive ashes. She explained that she intended to go, but then ran behind schedule when she stopped at a nursing home to check on her elderly father, and then got tied up with a long phone call from a relative whose husband is seriously ill with cancer.

I explained that her charitable deeds were far more important than getting a smudge of ashes on her forehead, that they captured perfectly the spirit of Lent and the goals of this Year of Mercy.

A modest but thoughtful monetary gift given from limited resources to take care of our priests; two acts of compassion for family members that interrupted the carefully planned schedule of a very hectic day. Of such good and generous deeds is the authentic Christian life fulfilled, I reflected later in prayer.

I also thought of what Blessed Mother Teresa famously said: “God has created us to do small things with great love. I believe in that great love that comes, or should come, from our heart, should start at home – with my family, my neighbors across the street, those right next door.”

As Christians we often pray for peace and justice in the world, but it’s easy to get discouraged when we realize that as individuals there’s not much we can do to change the direction of the world; to rid mankind of war, terrorism, crime, poverty, drug addiction or homelessness. And yet, as Mother Teresa reminds us, great love begins with my own family and my neighbors across the street.

This Jubilee of Mercy is focusing on the Corporal and Spiritual Works of Mercy, practices that embody Christ’s call to love and compassion. The Corporal Works of Mercy in particular encourage us to do things like feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick. Some of these practices we can fulfill rather easily in our daily life if we’re alert to the needs around us, if we’re intentional with our charity.

Think about the opportunities that come your way almost every day.

Can you give a break to someone in traffic who’s trying to merge in front of you, or someone in the check-out line in the drugstore standing there loaded-down with purchases?

Can you visit a relative in a nursing home, or an elderly neighbor who doesn’t leave the house very often and just sits home alone all day, quiet and depressed?

Can you make a phone call or drop a note to someone who lost a loved one to death a month ago, who might be really grieving now that the planning and activity of the funeral has come and gone? How about someone whose beloved pet, a longtime companion, just died?

Can you offer to drive someone with limited mobility to Mass on Sunday, or to do a few errands, or maybe just for a ride along the coastline on a pleasant afternoon?

Can you give a little time, money or food to your parish food pantry or soup kitchen or just a few words of appreciation to the good folks who volunteer there?

Can you make the effort to go through your closet and then donate to charity the extra clothes and multiple shoes you have and never use?

If you’re healthy enough to do so, can you make certain that your neighbor’s house is free of ice and snow – or recruit your teenage kid for the task?

Can you . . . ? (This is where you fill in the blank with your own ideas of everyday charity.)

Life is filled with many opportunities to do “small things with great love.” Lent, and this Year of Mercy, are perfect times to discover them, and do them.

By the way, that five-dollar donation for priests’ groceries? I sent it to the Cathedral. Certainly don’t want the priests right next door to go hungry!