Sunday, September 22, 2013

Mind the Pennies

There is a rule of thumb that is helpful in managing our personal finances:  “Mind the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves.” In other words, if we are careful with our smaller purchases, we will have money in hand for big ticket items or for emergencies.

However, it is so easy for us to do just the opposite. We see something in the store we would like to have and tell ourselves, “It’s only five dollars. I can afford that.” Then we see something else we like and something else. Before we realize it, our wallets are empty. The purchases which seemed small and insignificant at the time, when added all together, turned out to be very expensive indeed.

The same principle - Mind the pennies, and the dollars will take care of themselves - is true of our spiritual lives. Jesus puts it this way in today’s gospel reading: “The person who is trustworthy in very small matters is also trustworthy in great ones; and the person who is dishonest in very small matters is also dishonest in great ones.” In other words, if we make good choices in the small details of our daily lives, it will add up to a good and holy life. On the other hand, if we fail to do good when we have the opportunity or if we make bad choices because the sins we commit seem small and insignificant, it will add up to a sinful life. Like those small purchases that turn out to be very costly, those sins which seem insignificant can have a deep, corrupting influence on our consciences and souls.

If God has seemed distant to us and if our hearts have not been inclined to pray, we should ask ourselves if we have failed to be faithful in the small matters of our day-to-day lives. This is when a detailed examination of conscience can be helpful. Have we failed to make time to pray? Have we talked about others behind their backs? Have we looked the other way when someone needed our help? If we find our hearts growing colder and our thoughts leading us away from God, it could be that we are failing to attend to the small details of our life, and those choices are costing us our peace of mind and friendship with Jesus.

The good news is that just as cutting corners can get us into a rut, small steps in the right direction can get us out. It is not always necessary to make big changes in our lives to get ourselves on the path to reconciliation with God. We can often fundamentally redirect the course  our lives are taking by committing ourselves to making good choices everyday. It could be as simple as making time to call a friend who is having a tough time. It could mean going out of our way to give some money to a panhandler. Or it could mean getting up a little earlier in the morning to spend some time with God in prayer. They are small gestures which do not always require much time or effort. But they can go a long way toward training our hearts to be more concerned with the needs of others and our minds to be more aware of the presence and action of God in our lives.

A good example of the spiritual principle we are discussing is provided by Saint Therese of Lisieux. She was a young nun living in France who felt as though she lacked the talents of the other sisters in her convent. She wanted to know what talents she had that could serve God. One day, while reading the Bible she came upon a passage in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians which said: “If I have not love, then I have nothing.” It occurred to her that no talent or gift was as pleasing to God as the ability to love. She realized that love was her special calling. From that day forward she resolved that she would do small things with great love. Whether it was setting a table or sweeping the floor, if it was done with deep love, it would be considered a great work in the eyes of God.

Saint Therese’s “little way” teaches us something simple and yet profound about the life of faith. In the end, it is not really important what or how much we accomplish. Rather, what matters is how great the love we have shown to others is. We would all like our obituaries to be filled with the successes we had in life and the honors we have received. But the most important part of our obituary - what gives true meaning and dignity to our lives - will be the list of people we have loved and who have loved us. They will be the people for whom our lives made a difference. If we love, then we are living a meaningful and fulfilling life. And more often than not, our love is shown not in heroic deeds but in small, everyday acts of charity and kindness to those we meet.

Jesus has gathered us here today. He will show his love to us in a way that seems very small. In the form of bread, he will give us his body to nourish and sanctify us. It is a miracle of love that takes place on altars everyday all over the world. To those without faith, it seems to be an insignificant ritual. But to us who believe, it is the greatest expression of love the world has ever seen. And that love is directed to you and to me. We must now bring that love out into a world that has grown cold because it is only impressed with great honors and successes. We can begin to change that world through small tokens of kindness and generosity. It is possible if we give great importance to the small details and if we show great love in all things.

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