I recall my astonishment when I heard Fr. Robert Ryan -- a priest whom I greatly admired, who taught me my first classes in Gregorian Chant, who was director of music for the Archdiocese, who was one of the hundreds of loyal wise and holy priests of his generation say to me, "What good have I accomplished in my life?" At the time I had been a priest for five years and Fr. Ryan had been made pastor of a suburban parish. Was he perhaps now going through a mid-life (or post mid-life) crisis? If so, how could a man of such high stature in my mind have come to doubt the importance of his life and priesthood to me and to many, many others?
A partial explanation for Fr. Ryan's self complaint is the fact that no humble person (as such was he) esteems himself. He correctly estimates that God alone does all good things with only sleight cooperative effort on the human side, and he knows that everyone often fails to do good. But there is more to Fr. Ryan's introspection. Even the achievements regarded as great by human standards are of little real consequence. All things are vanity and a chasing after the wind. The Acts of the Martyrs do indeed relate real human greatness, but this is due more to the grace of God than to the valour of the martyrs themselves. God's evaluation of human merit uses a different standard than we may use. He expects great things from us only because He wills them and enables them. God ultimately will say to those who will be saved, "Well done, good and faithful servant. Because you have been faithful in small matters I will entrust you with greater. Enter into your Master's joy." It is those "small matters" that catches my attention. All our life's work, no matter how impressive, is only in the end but a small accomplishment. God, however, expects us to do things little or great very well. The merit is not in the estimated size or value we place on them but in the degree of love and fidelity with which we do them. All things, no matter what they may be, are in fact small before the infinite majesty of God. Yet we often fail to do the little required of us, or we do it poorly. The reason for our failures is that our love for God is little.
The service we render to God must take great account of little things. The slightest acts of virtue and the avoidance of little faults are of great value because they are pleasing to God. Little deeds of this kind are signs of great love, while the greatest human acts without it are trifles. God does not value the intrinsic greatness of our deeds but the love with which they are performed. What we notice is only the superficial aspect of them while their divine value, their supernatural value, is not seen. Few of us will have the chance to accomplish great things. Yet God wants everyone to be faithful, even in the smallest matters. The lives of most of us will in the end be nothing other than the sum of many such small things.
If anyone of you should reflect on his life and wonder what good he has done, he ought to take "the supernatural perspective." A person in a state of grace who does his daily work, no matter how menial, and does it for the love of God merits an eternal reward. Applying this to yourselves, you ought to concentrate on doing whatever has been set before you as your duty and do it well. God rates the worth of it, which may be much h igher than the far more impressive work of someone else who acts without reference to God. The one is a natural, the other a supernatural act. God estimates the infinite difference between them and He judges them according to his standard.
Do the little things you have to do every day for the love of God. Renew this as your daily intention, though you do not have to be conscious of it before every act, nor make it every day. A life passed in this way will be rich, full of merits, even though you may from time to time have doubts that you accomplished very much. Many little deeds of virtue, many little refusals to commit faults, many little good works of every kind. Sanctity is within the grasp of everyone.
Fr. PerroneRelated: Thomas Howard, Splendor in the Ordinary: Your Home as a Holy Place(Sophia Institute Press, 2000).