Somtimes It’s the Little Things that are the Greatest Things – A Meditation on a Quote From St Augustine

By: Msgr. Charles Pope

affectionate-couple-335One of my favorite quotes from St. Augustine is not all that well known. Here it is in Latin and then my own translation:

Quod Minimum, minimum est, Sed in minimo fidelem esse, magnum est. (St. Augustine – De Doctrina Christiana, IV,35)

What is a little thing, is (just) a little thing. But to be faithful in a little thing is a great thing.

I first saw this quote on the frontispiece of a book by Adrian Fortescue et al. describing the intricate details of celebrating the Old Latin Mass. That form of the Mass has an enormous amount of detail to learn. Things like, how, exactly, to hold the hands, when and how to bow, what tone of voice to use, what fingers should be used to pick up the host, and on and on. Some might see these details as overwhelming and picky. But as the quote above states, and Fortescue apparently wanted us to think, love is often shown for God in reverence for the little things.

It’s so easy to become lazy, even about sacred things like saying Mass. I often have to remind myself about little things like the condition of my shoes. Are my vestments clean? How about the altar linens, are they properly cared for? Do I bow and pause at Mass when I should. How is my tone of voice? Do I walk reverently in the sanctuary? Am I careful to pronounce the sacred words of the liturgy with care, and a prayerful spirit? Some may find such questions tedious and borderline scrupulous. But when you love, little things are often important.

Married couples may also struggle to remember the little things that show love. A kind remark, a simple thank you. Flowers brought home for no particular reason. A simple look, a hug,  the gift of listening attentively. Cleaning up after yourself in the kitchen. Perhaps just a simple reassurance, “I’m glad I married you” or “You’re a great Father to our children.” Maybe it’s just a quick phone call to them from work saying, “I love you and was thinking about you.”

One of my fondest memories of my mother is that, when I was a child, and even well into adulthood, when she saw I was sad or stressed, she’d come to me and look at me with a smile, and then mess up my hair. It was her little way of saying noticed and cared, and that everything would be fine. Today I have lost a lot of hair, but what I have left, since it is very fine and a little oily, tends to stick straight up, especially toward evening.  Some will tell me to comb my hair. But I just smile and say, “It will go straight back up in 5 minutes.” But for me it is a fond memory of my mother (who died in 2005), and somehow I know that it must still be her, messing up my hair and saying, “It will be alright.”

Just a little thing, but a precious and powerful thing.

Yes, just little things. But to be faithful in little things is a great thing. A Gospel comes to mind:

Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness! (Matt 25:21)

And Again:

Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10).

Little things? Who cares!? Apparently, God does! Little things are great things to those who love.

Try not to overlook the little things. Too often we let “big things” get in the way and forget that, even when big things happen, it’s often the cumulative effect of little things that has the greater effect. Don’t forget to show your love and concern for God, and for others in the little things. And be open as well to the little things that come your way, from God, and from others.

In what little, and even hidden ways, has God shown his love for you today?

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14 Responses to Somtimes It’s the Little Things that are the Greatest Things – A Meditation on a Quote From St Augustine

  1. JabbaPapa says:

    Quotes from Saint Augustine are often misused, but here I think the Monsignor has captured the delicate essence of Augustine’s teaching, as a fundamental description of the quiet nature of religious spirituality itself.

    The paradox of God’s Most Awesome Majesty is indeed that it tends to be expressed in the tiniest and most minute detail of the simplest life.


  2. Gertrude says:

    Indeed Jabba. My Spiritual Director never tires of telling me that it is in the quietness that we hear God. and this is indeed a lesson that does not usually come naturally to us caught up as we so often are in the maelstrom of every day life.

    I love the quotation above:

    Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much. (Luke 16:10).


  3. kathleen says:

    It is precisely St Therese’s “Little Way” to God that made her such a beloved saint. She saw how small, hidden, routine deeds and sacrifices, done day after day for love, were worth as much (or more) than spectacular heroic achievements. It is a path that everyone can identify with, although it also requires humility, constancy…… and moments of prayerful silence to hear the promptings of the Holy Spirit within our hearts.


  4. Robert John Bennett says:

    Yes, the quote by St. Augustine almost brings tears to your eyes. But, as Monsignor Pope suggests, when the quote is applied to Mass in the extraordinary form, it becomes one more reason why most priests in this archdiocese (Cologne, Germany) want nothing to do with that Mass. It’s just too much trouble – and it’s in that strange language. Fortunately, though, the Cardinal does allow a few priests to say the traditional Latin Mass in two parishes, one in Cologne and the other here in Dusseldorf. (It is also allowed by the Pope and bishops in at least fifteen other towns and cities in Germany and Austria.) Certainly it’s made up of “little things,” but what a majestic Mass it is, really worthy of the God Who becomes present as it unfolds. You can’t help asking yourself, “What were they THINKING when they suppressed it?”


  5. Toadspittle says:


    “It’s just too much trouble – and it’s in that strange language. “ plaints BobbyJonB.

    Dutch street slang again, no doubt. Toad agrees. Something should be done.
    And soon.
    Brought tears to his eyes, anyway.

    Jabba is right, as usual. The Devil is indeed in the details.


  6. afmm says:

    Dear Robert John Bennett

    Let us pray wholeheartedly for the majority of priests in Cologne and Dullseldorf who scorn the EF and all the careful ‘ little things’ that should accompany its reverent celebration. Some at least may be older and may be replaced by younger, more dedicated and reverential priests like those we are fortunate to have in at least one parish in Washington DC. That parish is also blessed with an older priest whose reverence when saying Mass is palpable.
    There are also signs of hope, mostly among the younger clergy, in Virginia and EVEN parts of England.



  7. afmm says:

    PS RJB

    You might want to read on the internet “Catholic and Loving it” by James Preece.


  8. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    afmm, I am so all agog to read what you mean by “EVEN parts of England”! I scent the beginnings of something here, if you have the wish to back up what you assert.



  9. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    I regret to see the ‘wine tasting’ school of literary criticism invoked above.

    The rigorous and indeed severe St Augustine might agree.



  10. JabbaPapa says:

    the ‘wine tasting’ school of literary criticism ??? What on Earth is that ??!?

    St Augustine “rigorous” and “severe” ????!!??

    Long-winded and completist maybe ; but “severe” ?? Gosh !!!


  11. Wall Eyed Mr Whippy says:

    Thank you JP; glad to help…

    The “wine tasting school” is that which comments on a text by means which rely solely on mere subjective opinion and not through objective verification. One could say that it is elitist and authoritarian. I fear that Msgr Pope (great name) suffers from this. It is quite arbitrary, like wine tasting, and carries with it all the mockery which this attracts. It employs the lexis and register of wine tasting as above, eg, “the delicate essence”. It is the form of criticism used by Oxbridge up until the ’90s, when it had to be abandoned. It has no valid place in literary criticism. You will know that literary criticism emerged from Biblical criticism, started in German universities.

    The phrase was coined by Terry Eagleton, Marxist, Catholic, and friend of the late Father McCabe.


  12. JabbaPapa says:

    “Marxist Catholic” is an oxymoron, I’m afraid…

    As for literary analysis, it is hardly the sole invention of some Germans and Oxonians, but it has multiple sources, and multiple methodologies. Including Hellenic, Latin, Mediaeval, Christian, Arabic, Jewish, other English, Spanish, Irish, US, French, Finnish, and Italian sources.

    Subjective opinion is an essential element of literary analysis, as it is the only existing source of empirical data from textual reception by the individual – unavailable otherwise.

    I take note of another of your tedious attempts to disparage my writing with “mockery” that is somehow deserved in your mind. But in fact, you’re just talking out of your usual one-sided dogmatism, aren’t you.

    Literary analysis, in fact, necessarily involves a combination of objective, subjective, and factually material analyses of the texts ; which varies according to the needs of the analysis, instead of according to the needs of whichever ridiculous a priori approach of them.

    Biblical analysis began not only some centuries before any universities ever even existed in “Germany”, but some centuries before the birth of Christ.

    Monsignor Pope’s reading is, in short, not arbitrary in the slightest ; but it is personal, informed, and educated. You are likely confusing your own need for sterile and abstract textual deconstruction with the actual needs of a respectful approach of the textual realities.

    Oh, and your lecturing is simultaneously condescending, inaccurate, presumptuous, juvenile, and arrogant — particularly when directed against someone who is less than ignorant of the subject matter involved…

    In fact, ALL variant readings of texts are interesting, wherever the literary meanings do not contradict them.

    I continue to find your attitudes in this forum to be unpleasant ones.

    But I suppose that you will now accuse me of being like Pol Pot, or Goering, or Ayatollah Khomeini, or whichever caricature in your arsenal of online banality that you have as yet neglected to provide me with…

    I look forward to your next protestation of fullsome innocence with resignation, but not pleasure.


  13. JabbaPapa says:

    OTOH you could always decide to make the occasional post that wasn’t snide …

    You might find that your posts would attract less hostility if you didn’t insist on systematically disparaging the writings of others.


  14. JabbaPapa says:

    You know – it’s in the little things, and our small little lives, that the delicate essence of spirituality can be found !!

    Anyway, I don’t know if you’ve sipped this year’s Beaujolais Nouveau ; but it’s far better than it usually is !!!


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