Tiny acts of heroism
It didn’t take me very long to understand as a brand new Christian the tiny acts of heroism we Christians are required to commit each day-each minute. If we’re serious, that is. They are, in their own way, much tougher than one glorious and final act of martyrdom and complete abandonment. In fact, Saint Teresa of Avila wryly commented that the martyrs “bought heaven cheaply.” Unfortunately though, I’ve forgotten that lesson. Instead, have reverted to scheduling prayer time but frequently missing or truncating it so much that it’s barely there.
But I remembered a secret: The Practice of the Presence of God written by Brother Lawrence five centuries ago. The book begins with a series of conversations and ends with fourteen letters penned by Brother Lawrence.
On this 6th or seventh read, I ask for the grace to follow Brother Lawrence’s simple, profound wisdom, each moment of my remaining days.
“Brother Lawrence said we ought, once and for all, heartily put our whole trust in God, and make a total surrender of ourselves to Him, secure that He would not deceive us. We ought not weary of doing little things for the love of God, who regards not the greatness of the work, but the love with which it is performed. We
should not wonder if, in the beginning, we often failed in our endeavors, but that at last we should gain a habit which will naturally produce its acts in us without our care and to our exceeding great delight.
The whole substance of religion was faith, hope, and charity. In the practice of these we become united to the will of God. Everything else is indifferent and to be used
as a means that we may arrive at our end and then be swallowed up by faith and charity.”
What that requires is paying attention.
Remember Cain and Abel?
The star of this story is Cain and his inability to acknowledge the excellence of his brother’s offering when compared to the lackluster-mediocrity-of his own. I seriously doubt that Cain got up that day intending to murder his brother. No, he got up “and brought some of the fruits of the soil…”
Cain did precisely what I all too frequently do.
Grabbed a handful of whatever was closest and easiest to gather. Because so often, I am not paying attention. Or I am trying to fit too many tasks into too little time. Hurrying…get this thing done in order to move on to the next thing. Perhaps that’s what Cain was doing too.
But Abel selected one of the best of his flock. To do this, Abel must have taken extensive time…searching through what was likely his large flock to compare and contrast the animals. His intention clear, focused and patiently looking for excellence. And when confronted with the truth, Cain sulked, got angry because he felt shame. So much shame that he was incapable of hearing the warning of his Best Friend.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must rule over it.”
The lay Brother Lawrence writes of a practice of the presence of God.
Ours acts don’t matter all that much–
what matters is the intention, love–and our complete attention, infused by the theological virtues..
It’s been a long time since I’ve saved lives. But I vividly recall the thrill of watching ventricular fibrillation or tachycardia convert to sinus rhythm. By the age of twenty-six, the numbers of ‘saves’ were countless. It’s what I did.
But looking back on those early years, I understand that far more precious to God are:
- My prayers for the souls in purgatory.
- The prayers outside the sidewalk of the wanna be abortion clinic in San Antonio.
- Listening to someone who isn’t making sense but making the effort to understand her.
- Refusal to complain.
- The small daily, often silent, sacrifices to this God I did not know back then.
But then again, maybe all of it: all the willful ignorance of God and His Law brought me here. Wanting to practice the presence of God by tiny acts of heroism.
God knows best what we need. All that He does is for our good. If we knew how much He loves us, we would always be ready to receive both the bitter and the sweet from His Hand. It would make no difference. All that came from Him would be pleasing. The worst afflictions only appear intolerable if we see them in the wrong light. When we see them as coming from the hand of God and know that it is our loving Father who humbles and distresses us, our sufferings lose their bitterness and can even become a source of consolation. Let all our efforts be to know God. The more one knows Him, the greater one desires to know Him. Knowledge is commonly the measure of love. The deeper and more extensive our knowledge, the greater is our love. If our love of God were great we would love Him equally in pain and pleasure.The Practice of the Presence of God
We can’t do this alone.
Maybe like me, you need reminding: We can do none of this alone. Our intellect, will and souls must be illuminated by the theological virtues of faith, hope and charity. Brother Lawrence knew this and taught it. The Catholic catechism declares the theological virtues are “infused by God into the souls of the faithful to make them capable of acting as his children and meriting eternal life. They’re the pledge of the presence and action of the Holy Spirit in the faculties of the human being….the gift of faith remains in one who has not sinned against it.