Everyone who listens to these words of mine and acts on them will be like a wise man who built his house on rock. The rain fell, the floods came, and the winds blew and buffeted the house. But it did not collapse; it had been set solidly on rock.
Matthew 7: 24-5
Words are true and meaningful to the degree that they are or lead to acts. There are times when words are actions: Jesus’ words of reprimand to the scribes and pharisees, of invitation to the rich young man, of forgiveness of the woman taken in adultery and of us all on the cross; St. Stephen’s words of testimony as he martyred; the words of those who spoke at the cost of their lives against the Nazi or Stalinist or Pol Pot regimes; the words of a young student who speaks out for his or her bullied classmate. In these cases words are acts of love. Words that we hear, however significant they may be, are only “solid” and a life foundation to the degree that they move us to act. There are many of us who consider ourselves highly patriotic U.S. citizens, for example, whose actions seem little influenced by the opening words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.”
Jesus tells those who hear his words, including us, to be moved to action by them, otherwise the dwelling which these words construct is fragile and meaningless. In actual experience this teaching is quite paradoxical. I am often slow to act because of my sense of tentativeness and uncertainty. Is this really the right thing to do at this time? Is this helpful or harmful? Am I competent to undertake this task? Does this person really want my attention or help? How silly or naïve will I look to others and feel if I do this? In a given day, there are countless times, places, and reasons where I fail to act on Jesus’ words because I feel that my actions are not solid enough.
Yet, to reflect more deeply on Jesus’ teaching is to experience reassurance. Jesus doesn’t say that it is effective or successful action that solidifies our dwelling – but simply action. If we do what we can in the moment, we are deepening and solidifying the hold of Jesus’ word in our lives. Our effort may be rebuffed and we may be embarrassed. Our work may be faulty and replete with errors. Our words may be halting and misunderstood. Yet, in truth, none of that matters if we have tried to do what love impels us to in the moment. Whatever the result, Jesus seems to say, we are building our lives on rock when we try to give away, with all our limits and fallibility, the love we have been given.
To be at home with ourselves, we too need to quell the nagging doubt about the adequacy of our lives before God. We need to believe that God is content with us.
“Consider your life,” writes Jean-Pierre de Caussade, “and you will see that it consists of countless trifling actions. Yet God is quite satisfied with them, for doing them as they should be done is the part we have to play in our striving for perfection.” And perfection is not beyond our grasp.
“Perfection consists in doing His will, in being what He wills us to be,” writes Therese. “God does not expect us to be something that we are not. God asks only one thing of us and that is for us to love. And love is not beyond our grasp.
I have no other means of proving my love for you [my God] than that of strewing flowers, that is, not allowing one little sacrifice to escape, not one look, one word, profiting by all the smallest things and doing them through love.
This is not a sentimentalizing of the minuscule, but an expression of an authentic life, the true occupation of the saint. For we can only love, says William Blake, in “minute particulars.” Love is always concrete, never abstract, never a vague mood, always a tangible choice.
Consider your life for a moment. What does it consist of except minute particulars? What else do you have to prove your love except a thought, a word, a look, a deed? That is all that any of us have; yet God is satisfied with our tokens of love.
It is the love of God dwelling in our actions that makes us whole. It is love that keeps us sane.
Marc Foley, OCD, The Love That Keeps Us Sane: Living the Little Way of St. Therese of Lisieux