Monday of the Third Week of Lent – Option 1 – Lk 4:24-30
In today’s first reading, Naaman gets angry because he wanted Elisha the prophet to do something spectacular to cure his leprosy. His servants, however, give him a beautiful response, a response that is very useful for our lives. They tell him: “If the prophet had told you to do something extraordinary, wouldn’t you have done it? All the more now, since he said to you, ‘Wash and be clean,’ should you do as he said.”
Sometimes, we, like Naaman, think that God should call us to do great things, and that’s really the best way to serve Him. We might have a desire for martyrdom, or want to serve in a very difficult mission in the jungle or among savages. These aren’t bad things, and often God Himself raises up these desires in our souls. But, as religious, God calls us to serve Him each day in seemingly ordinary ways, with simple or little virtues, and these ordinary things are the key to our salvation, the smooth, sure path to heaven.
There are two reasons why the “little virtues,” like humility, sweetness, compassion, candor, and simplicity, are a sure path: first, because they are less dangerous, as it were, than the “big virtues,” and, secondly, because there are always opportunities to practice them. First, they entail less danger for our souls, and, second, we can always practice them.
Regarding the first, virtues are, of course, not dangerous in themselves; they’re good things. However, there could be a two-fold danger for our souls in regard to them: first, if we forget, as we often do, that God is the source of all our good desires and virtues, we can easily fall into pride. As Saint Francis de Sales wrote, “There is less danger of self-love in [little] virtues.” Secondly, when we fall short of practicing these great virtues, as also happens, we can give in to discouragement. Regarding this, de Sales continues by saying “How often we puff ourselves up with fine thoughts about [the great virtues], and build castles in the air as to how we will exhibit them, and, when the occasion presents itself, our great courage dwindles down, and we are glad to hide our heads out of shame.”
The second reason why the little virtues are a sure path is because we always have opportunities to practice them. As Venerable Teresa Valse Pantellini wrote, “God asks us to mortify ourselves in small things rather than in big ones because the big occasions are rare, whereas the small ones are continuous.” De Sales echoes this by saying that “just as flies annoy us more by their number than by their strength, so little affairs trouble us more by their number than larger and rarer ones ever do. [Thus,] great opportunities for serving God are rare, but little ones are a daily occurrence.” His spiritual daughter, Saint Jane Frances de Chantal, agreed, writing, “We cannot always offer God great things, but at each instant we can offer him little things with great love.” For instance, the little virtues can be practiced in the smallest of acts: a kind word, a smile, a small act of gentleness or humility, or even an unkind word restrained, or a joke not made at someone’s expense.
Clearly, the saints understood very well the value of these little virtues. “How much we ought to love those little virtues which grow at the foot of the Cross and are watered by the Blood of Jesus!” wrote de Sales. “They are humility, benignity, bearing with others, sweetness of manner, cordiality, compassion, simplicity, candor, and the like. They are like violets which blossom in the shade, and which have little show but an exquisite odor.” In that regard, Saint Marcellin Champagnt says that the little virtues are not little at all, but rather great, since they represent the crowning and perfection of charity.
At the end of the events recounted in the first reading, an ending which we didn’t hear today, Naaman asks for “two mule-loads of earth” so he could make a shrine to the one, true God in his home country. Let us pray for the grace, through the intercession of Our Lady of Humility, that this Lent we might become servants of our God every day through the practice of the little virtues; in this way, though we ourselves are mere “dust,” we might, like Naaman’s shrine, be a constant reminder of God’s goodness in the foreign land of a society that rejects His love.