Thursday, May 28, 2009

Column: The Little Things

This column appeared in the Catholic Standard and Times on 28 May 2009.

When Jesus raised his eyes and saw that a large crowd was coming to him, he said to Philip, “Where can we buy enough food for them to eat?” Philip answered him, “Two hundred days’ wages worth of food would not be enough for each of them to have a little.” One of his disciples, Andrew, the brother of Simon Peter, said to him, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish; but what good are these for so many?” -- Jn. 6:5,7-9

Chris fractured his hand playing dodge ball and spent much of the last two months with it encased in a bulky cast. He complained rarely and was loathe to ask for accommodations at school or home. Chris is a trooper. Still, there were things he just couldn’t do, big — ride his bike — and small — carry a pan of water to the stove.

Late on a recent afternoon I was out running errands when I realized with a start that we needed to eat dinner early enough to get to Mike’s chorus concert. I grabbed my phone to call Chris and ask him to put a pot of water on to boil, when it occurred to me that I’d temporarily lost the help of my assistant chef.

It was a small thing, but without that little bit of help from Chris, dinner preparations were at a standstill until I came home. As I came home and cooked dinner, I thought about this Gospel passage from John where dinner preparations for a multitude similarly turned upon one small gesture by a young boy.

St. Augustine, in his reflections on John’s Gospel, notes that miracles “have a tongue of their own, if they can be understood … let us not only be delighted with [their] surface, but let us also seek to know [their] depth.” Why did Jesus need anyone to bring him loaves or fish for this miracle?

It strikes me that a crumb caught in his cloak would have served as well. Confronting the hunger of thousands, a crumb seems as much help as a loaf or even five, the miracle equally overwhelming. Augustine pushes us to go beyond hearing this miracle speak of God’s greatness to seek its deeper meaning in our own lives.

I often forget how much the small things I have to offer God can make a difference, like Chris’ help in the kitchen matters to me, and so fail to even make the effort. Like the disciples, I find myself at a loss when confronted with how little I bring in the face of enormous need, and yet I hear in this miracle God saying how much He desires even the little that I have.

St. Therese of Lisieux sought such a little way to God. In her autobiography, The Story of a Soul, she cherishes not the great deeds that she can do, but her insignificance: “the greatest is that He has shown me my littleness and how incapable I am.…”

In his incapacity, Chris has reminded me that all any of us has to offer is nothing in the sight of God — yet God desires and cherishes what we bring to Him as if it could feed a multitude. Which of course, given His abundant grace, it can.

God, our provider, You are the orphan’s hope and the widow’s bread. Strengthen our faith, that with simplicity of heart we may come to trust in You alone and hold back nothing in serving You. Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, Your Son, who lives and reigns with You in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God for ever and ever. Amen. --Opening Prayer from the 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B.

1 comment:

  1. I remember the feeling of wonder I had when I first caught the reference to the boy. Maybe tonight while doing my examen (which I have returned to) I will try to search my life/day to find some small things that I don't tend to give thanks for...