I heard a homily recently centered around the idea of the “next right thing,” or “one small change.” When I got home and turned to the reflection book I’ve been praying with at night, I found this:
“The solution proposed in the Gospels is that of voluntary poverty and the works of mercy. It is the little way. It is within the power of all. Everybody can begin here and now…. We have the greatest weapons in the world, greater than any hydrogen or atom bomb, and they are the weapons of poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, the reckless spending of ourselves in God’s service and for his poor. Without poverty we will not have learned love, and love, at the end, is the measure by which we shall be judged.”Dorothy Day, quoted in The Reckless Way of Love
Ouch. As usual, Dorothy Day shows me just how much growing I still have to do. Poverty? Our fridge is always full, and we just bought a new couch. I consistently fail at fasting. We’re so-so at alms. Prayer? I can say that I make an effort, but not that it’s always a whole-hearted one.
And after a few days re-reading Dorothy Day’s diaries (in the name of research) all these points have been driven home even further: she complains of so many people who wish “to do big things but not little ones.” Jan. 25, 1946
Which brings me back to the “one small change” idea. Dorothy’s diaries show her repeatedly planning small sacrifices she could make: fasting from meat,June 18, 1950 practicing “joyful silence,”Feb 1944 not complaining about the radio.Feb. 24, 1953
I started small, too. First, I signed up to bring a meal to a friend who had a baby. And as for fasting, maybe I can start skipping my post-putting-Jacob-to-nap snack. Small things.
My week’s reading/research has also reminded me of the impact of doing the small things. As they were moving out of the Mott Street Catholic Worker house, Dorothy added up how many meals they had served to the hungry and homeless during the 14 years they had lived there. She came up with 2,555,000. Conservatively. Nov. 27, 1950
Every day they cooked what they had, opened the doors, and fed people. Many days they felt like failures – the need was just too great. Yet over time their work added up to more than they could have hoped for.
What does the sacrifice of my one snack, day after day, week after week, add up to? Fortunately, that’s not the part I have to worry about. The math is up to God. He feeds the 5,000 with a few loaves and fishes. He makes our poverty and prayer, fasting and alms, however small, more efficacious than any work we might do on our own.
“Do what comes to hand. Whatsoever thy hand finds to do, do it with all thy might. After all, God is with us. It shows too much conceit to trust to ourselves, to be discouraged at what we ourselves can accomplish. It is lacking in faith in God to be discouraged. After all, we are going to proceed with his help. We offer him what we are going to do. If he wishes it to prosper, it will.”Dorothy Day, House of Hospitality
“If he wishes it to prosper, it will.” One afternoon-snack-sized sacrifice at a time.