Being faithful in things great and small

July 3, 2021 • 6 min

From Introduction to the Devout Life, page 196
By St. Francis de Sales

Chapter XXXV.

We must be faithful both on great and small occasions.

The sacred Spouse in the Canticles, says: “That his spouse has wounded his heart with one of her eyes, and one of the hairs of her neck” (chap. iv. 9). Now, among all the exterior parts of the human body none is more noble, either for its construction or activity, than the eye, and none more mean than the hair. Wherefore the Divine Spouse would give us to understand that He is pleased to accept not only the great works of devout persons, but also the least and most trivial; and that to serve Him according to his liking, we must take care to serve Him well, not only in great and high things, but in those that are small and low, as we can both by the one and the other wound his heart with love.

Prepare yourself, then, Philothea, to suffer many great afflictions, even martyrdom itself, for our Lord; resolve to surrender to Him whatever is most dear to you, when it shall please Him to take it: father, mother, husband, wife, children, brother, sister, nay, even your eyes, or your life; for all these sacrifices you ought to prepare your heart.

But as long as God does not send you afflictions so sensible or so great, since He requires not your eyes, give Him at least your hair. I mean, suffer meekly these small injuries, little inconveniences, and inconsiderable losses which daily befall you; for, by means of such little occasions as these, managed with love and affection, you shall engage his heart entirely, and make it all your own.

Little daily charities, a headache, a toothache, or a cold; the bad humour of a husband or a wife; the breaking of a glass, contempt or scorn; the loss of a pair of gloves, of a ring, or of a handkerchief; little inconveniences to which we put ourselves by going too soon to bed, and rising early to pray or communicate; that little bashfulness we feel in doing certain acts of devotion in public; in short, all these trivial sufferings being accepted and embraced with love, are highly pleasing to the Divine Goodness, who for a cup of cold water only has promised a throne of felicity to his faithful servants. Therefore, as these occasions present themselves every moment, the good management of them will be a great means to heap up a score of spiritual riches.

When I saw in the Life of St. Catherine of Sienna her many raptures and elevations of spirit, her many words of wisdom, nay, even sermons uttered by her, I doubted not but that, with the eye of contemplation, she had ravished the heart of her Heavenly Spouse. But I was no less comforted when I found her in her father’s kitchen, humbly turning the spit, blowing the fire, dressing the meat, kneading the bread, and doing the meanest offices of the house with a courage full of love and affection for her God; for I esteem no less the little and humble meditation she made amongst these mean and abject employments, than the ecstasies and raptures she so often had, which, perhaps, were given her only in recompense of her humility and abjection.

Her manner of meditating was as follows: Whilst she was dressing meat for her father she imagined that she was preparing it for our Saviour, like another St. Martha, and that her mother held the place of Our Blessed Lady, and her brothers that of the apostles: exciting herself in this manner to serve the whole court of heaven in spirit, whilst she employed herself with great delight in these low services, because she knew such was the will of God. I have produced this example, Philothea, in order that you may know of what importance it is to direct all your actions, be they ever so mean, with a pure intent to the service of God’s Divine Majesty.

Therefore, I earnestly advise you to imitate the valiant woman, whom the great Solomon so highly commends: “She put out her hand,” as he says, “to strong things,” that is, to high, generous, and important things, and yet disdained not to take hold of the spindle (xxxi.) Put out your hand to strong things, exercise yourself in prayer and meditation, in frequenting the sacraments, in exciting souls to the love of God, and in infusing good inspirations into their hearts, and, in a word, in the performance of great and important works, according to your vocation; but never forget your distaff or spindle, or, in other words, take care to practise those low and humble virtues, which grow like flowers at the foot of the cross, such as serving the poor, visiting the sick, taking care of your family, and attending to all your domestic concerns with that profitable diligence which will not suffer you to be idle: and amidst all these occupations mingle considerations similar to those which I have related above of St Catherine.

Great occasions of serving God present themselves but seldom, but little ones frequently. “Now he that shall be faithful in small matters,” says our Saviour, “shall be set over great things.” Perform all things, then, in the name of God, and you will do all things well: whether you eat, drink, sleep, recreate yourself, or turn the spit, provided you know how to refer all your actions to God, you will profit much in the sight of his Divine Majesty.

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