Finding Greatness…in the Nothings?

Last night I was thinking about St. Therese of the Little Flower (my confirmation saint), and a thought suddenly occurred to me.

I remember while reading various books about her a number of years ago that St. Joan of Arc was her favorite saint. Both of them lived in France and Therese seemed to feel a connection with the saint. Joan of Arc did great amazing things. She saved France and she died for Christ.

As a girl who has looked up to St. Therese all my life, I know that looking up to a saint and feeling a connection with them makes you want to follow in their footsteps. For example, I wanted to be a nun (a Carmelite, of course), I wanted to do everything with great love, and, yes, I even wanted to die of Tuberculosis.

As these thoughts occurred to me, I realized that St. Therese, I’m sure, wanted to follow in the footsteps of her favorite saint. She wanted to do something great for France, for the world.

And yet, what is she known for? For the little things she did, the “nothings”.

She wanted to be a heroic saint and wished she could go to war and save France, but she got to confine herself in a convent for her Love of God and offer every little action she did too Him.

That may make you laugh or smile, or it may make you feel a little upset. Would not the life Therese lived have be very unsatisfying if those were her desires?

Well, not necessarily. You see, Therese’s first and foremost desire was to do the Will of God. Her love for Him was so great that anything He wished for her to do was the only thing that would satisfy her (look at the determination and patience she had to enter the convent and the sorrow she experienced when she was prevented from entering).

But there’s more! Therese’s “little” things weren’t so little. Her Little Way has influenced so many lives and changed so many hearts. Her Little Way was Mother Teresa’s way of life, to do every little thing with great love. Imagine that! Therese influenced and guided another saint on their way to perfection!

Her littleness became greatness because she had great love. Therese wanted to save France, to do something big like Joan and she did, although maybe not in the way she imagined. She hoped to do something heroic for France but God said, “I have something better. I want you to do something heroic for the world.”

So remember, when you feel upset about the little things you do. About cleaning after your children, about being patient with your co-workers, about anything that just seems inadequate and worthless in the big scheme of things, remember that in littleness greatness is found.

I am sure that once in your life (at least) you have felt that your life is only made up of little things, that when you are asked what you did the only reply you have (though you have worked all day) is “nothing”.  Well, the truth of the matter is that every life only consists in those little nothings. A great politician does many little things to get to where he or she is and has to continue those little things to stay in that place. The bestselling author did many small things to get where he or she is. Daily writing, editing over and over, rewriting stories, discarding stories and trying again. We do small things and over the course of a period of time or our life they amount to great things. But this all depends on how we do them.

Folding the laundry may seem insignificant to you, but what if you folded the laundry in a special way? What if you folded it with great love? What if every time you folded the laundry you offered your actions up with love for sinners? You will fold laundry a mountain of times in your life. Now this action that seemed so insignificant before by the end of your life will be your source of greatness. Your folding the laundry will have given hope, help, and grace to sinners. Your little, insignificant, weekly “nothing” of folding the laundry became an ocean of mercy, grace, and love. You may think it’s silly, but it’s so very true.

Now, imagine, what if you did more than the laundry with great love? What if you did everything with great love? Your ocean would expand to universes. And this is how Therese, Therese called the “Little Flower”, saved her France. This is how her desire to be a heroic saint like St. Joan of Arc was fulfilled in such a perfect way.

You see? Greatness does not only consist in astounding, heroic actions.  It also consists in nothingness.

Carpe Veritatem!

Therese May Signature



That very day, the first day of the week,

two of Jesus’ disciples were going

to a village seven miles from Jerusalem called Emmaus,

and they were conversing about all the things that had occurred.

And it happened that while they were conversing and debating,

Jesus himself drew near and walked with them,

but their eyes were prevented from recognizing him.

He asked them,

“What are you discussing as you walk along?”

They stopped, looking downcast.

One of them, named Cleopas, said to him in reply,

“Are you the only visitor to Jerusalem

who does not know of the things

that have taken place there in these days?”

And he replied to them, “What sort of things?”

They said to him,

“The things that happened to Jesus the Nazarene,

who was a prophet mighty in deed and word

before God and all the people,

how our chief priests and rulers both handed him over

to a sentence of death and crucified him.

But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel;

and besides all this,

it is now the third day since this took place.

Some women from our group, however, have astounded us:

they were at the tomb early in the morning

and did not find his body;

they came back and reported

that they had indeed seen a vision of angels

who announced that he was alive.

Then some of those with us went to the tomb

and found things just as the women had described,

but him they did not see.”

And he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are!

How slow of heart to believe all that the prophets spoke!

Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things

and enter into his glory?”

~Lk 24:13-35

Have you ever been speaking to a friend or acquaintance about someone, complaining about how they do this or that? If you haven’t, keep it up. I know I’ve done it a countless amount of times.

Imagine one of those situations. Imagine speaking to your friend about your other friend x. said this today. I can’t believe she would do that! I thought she was better than that.” On and on. But then, someone walks up to you and asks what you’re talking about. Awkward!

What are you supposed to say? “Oh, I was just kinda sorta bashing one of the people I claim as my friend, no big problem, right?” I don’t know about you, but I’m sure not going to say that. I’m probably going to say something like, “Well, we were just discussing…how people should be genuine.” Makes me look intelligent, right?

When I heard the above passage from Luke’s Gospel, I was struck with the similarity between my little “gossip chats” and the conversation between the two men. First clue, it says they were “discussing” and “debating”. “Well I don’t think that’s what it means.” “Yeah, but he promised us. He must have been lying.” “I’m not so sure.” Second clue, when Jesus interrupted them (even though they didn’t recognize him for who he was) “they stopped, looking downcast“. Sounds even more and more like two friends caught in the act of gossiping. Third clue, they change the subject. “Oh, surely you must have heard about Jesus. We had just been hoping he was the Messiah, you know?”

What do you think they really had been saying? Go back to your conversations with your friends. If you thought that someone was the Messiah who died and never rose as you thought, you’d probably have some hard things to say. People don’t mince words when they are alone with friends. We know that from personal experience.

Think about it: these men were angry with Jesus in a way. They thought they had had a hood pulled over their eyes. They felt ashamed and they were venting about it. Here’s the question: is it wrong to vent our pent up stress and emotion?

Let’s think about that a moment. Talking about our feelings, about our struggles, helps us cope with them. It helps us understand what’s going on in our mind. It also helps us look at things more objectively. When we keep things trapped in our minds, they can seem much worse than they really are. So is it wrong to speak our thoughts? No, I don’t think so.

Now, I know right now you’re feeling confused and at a discord. These men were speaking ill about Jesus, that can’t be right. You’re absolutely correct. It wasn’t right. You’re still confused. How can it be right and wrong at the same time? Let me clear that up for you: it’s not both right and wrong at the same time.

It is right and maybe even good to speak about your feelings as long as you take the time to understand other’s feelings and give them the benefit of each and every doubt. That’s what these men weren’t doing. They said that Jesus claimed he would rise again on the third day. This was how they seemed to be proving to themselves he wasn’t the Messiah. What’s the problem here? The tomb was empty. They didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. He was a powerful, good prophet. You could see the admiration they had for him by the way they spoke about him, but the moment he didn’t suddenly appear to them after leaving his tomb they got upset. They didn’t wait in hope that the empty tomb meant he had risen. No, they just assumed it was all a lie.

Was it a lie? No. Was it right and good that they didn’t wait in hope? No. Was it honest of them as followers to speak of him that way? No. Was it respectful? No.

Was it shallow of them to see the empty tomb and not seek him out, not wait in hope for his return? Yes, it definitely was.

It begs the question though, where was Jesus? Shouldn’t he have come immediately to his followers to prove he was alive, to prove he truly was the Messiah? I think not. Jesus did what he did for a reason. This passage is a story of faithlessness. It’s a story of impatience. It’s a story of not holding our tongues. It’s a story of gossip. Jesus was testing his followers, just as he tests us by making us wait for a response to our prayers.

This test only proved to these men that they were mistaken. It proved that they still had a long way to travel in their journey of life.

The moral of this passage is this:  think 7 times about a situation, think 7 times about what the other person in the situation might be encountering, think 7 times about why you feel the way you feel, think 7 times about whether a person is the problem or your reaction to the person is the problem, then you can speak.

Give people the benefit of the doubt. Put yourself in their shoes. Don’t say about others what you wouldn’t want said about you. Treat others with the kind of respect and kindness that makes them smile.

We can rant or vent, by all means. But let’s just make sure that in ranting or venting we aren’t bashing an innocent man who happens to be the King of the Universe.

Carpe veritatem!

Therese May Signature