Okay I have to admit, I’m really not qualified to write a post on the newly canonized Saint Teresa of Calcutta. I know relatively little about her… but somehow, something she said has become one of my favorite quotes. I didn’t know until recently that she was the one who said it- it was just something I read on the Internet one day, and it got stuck in my head. I’m sure most of you have heard it before:
“Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”
Such a simple concept- not anything particularly mind blowing. It could have been said by anyone. And yet, if you look up quotes from Mother Teresa, it is one of the most popular. Why? What is it about this little piece that touches us so much?
I think it’s because it tells us exactly the opposite of what society tells us to do. Society tells us to aim big- to be successful, you have to have lots of money and be famous and have lots of things, etc. Society tells us that we should aim to be the next big actor, the next big scientist, the next big businessman… and more often than not, after the initial wave of enthusiasm and inspiration, we find ourselves discouraged by such high expectations. For most of us, it isn’t practical to expect that we can be the next big [fill in the blank], even if we would like to be.
Into all the chaos of the challenges to be “big” come Mother Teresa’s gentle words- “Do small things with great love.” She doesn’t ask us to be the next big actor, or scientist, or businessman, or whatever. She demands just the opposite- small things. Things that we can realistically do, not in the future when we’re rich and famous, but right now.
Right now, we can pray. Right now, we can make a little sacrifice. But even more than that, if you are doing something completely normal, like schoolwork or a chore, it also counts as one of those “small things.” It doesn’t have to be a particularly ‘spiritual’ (for lack of a better word) thing, like prayer and sacrifices, although those are both necessary as well. Simply carrying out your daily business becomes a great thing, when done with great love either for your neighbor or for God.
And therein lies the secret- doing little things is not so little after all, in the eyes of God. Little things become great because of the great love with which they are done. Saints are the perfect example of this. It wasn’t big deeds that made them great- it was their great love. That’s why St. Therese of Lisieux is no less loved or revered than St. Catherine of Siena, though St. Therese spent her life in a cloistered convent while St. Catherine traveled across Europe to have words with the Pope. Because St. Therese -the poster child of the “small things” philosophy- did little things with great love for her Lord, she is just as great of a Saint as the rest. On the other hand, it was not St. Catherine’s travels and accomplishments that earned her heaven. It was carrying out God’s will -whether that was spending two years alone with Him or dragging the Pope back to Rome- with great love that made her a Saint.
Maybe you noticed something in that example- namely, that we are supposed to be a big [fill in the blank] after all. Specifically, we are made to be great Saints. But as the example has shown, being a great Saint doesn’t require big deeds, like being big according to the world would require. Being a great Saint requires only that we carry out our daily business -the consistent, little things that God calls us to- with great love. And doing something with great love is simply doing something for the glory of God- doing it as Christ would do it, which sounds impossible but is much more understandable when applied to little things.
So ironically, Mother Teresa is not asking us for something so different from society, after all. She, also, asks us to be something big. The difference is simply that, unlike what society says, we don’t have to seek out a big position to do something big. Our greatness doesn’t come from what we are doing (like being a big-name actor), but how we are doing it (with great love) and what we are doing it for (God, not the world). Did you catch that last set of parentheses? That’s the most important part. The reason the world’s expectations are so discouraging is because they are placed in the wrong thing- in the fulfillment of self centered desires, which can never be fulfilled because we always want more. And rightly so, because secretly we are all seeking something immensely higher than ourselves: God. If we look for Him in ourselves, though, we will never be satisfied and never feel like we can attain the goal. But if we truly look for God- and we do this by doing small things with great love, because God is Love- then we will have fulfilled the highest expectations that can ever be set for us, and we will have become great without trying to meet the impossible demands of the world.