Greatness is often measured by externals. In our histories and in our popular culture, greatness is about affecting as many as people as possible. Although there is an awareness of quality, it is a quality that translates into quantity. Truth, goodness, and beauty are put at the service of power, prestige, and attention. I do not want to completely dismiss this dimension of greatness. There is a certain excellence that occurs in society that should be recognized. However, in our understanding of holiness, we can take this worldly attitude and measure spiritual greatness according to this standard.
We seem to find support for such prejudices in the lives of the saints. Often, when we discuss saints, we tend to focus on great accomplishments and heroic acts of virtue. On a certain level, this is an important part of forming the imagination. When we are young, we need to use our imagination to stir the heart. There is nothing more beautiful than the young person who is filled with zeal and longing to imitate the lives of the saints. There is nothing more disappointing than a young person who lacks such vision.
But ultimately, Christian maturity is about discovering that the interior has priority. What made the saints great was not the externals, the things they did, but the depth of their relationship with the Lord. What makes the saints shine in the midst of the darkness of the world is that they have a deep faith, hope, and love. Due to their intimacy with the Lord, they were called out to witness to this intimacy by a particular mission.
We are all called to be saints; we all have a particular mission.
The reality is that our mission might not be the stuff of canonizations. This does not mean that it is less important or less significant. More and more, I am convinced that is the everyday events which are the things that truly transform the world. When one is able to do the common, daily things with great faith, hope, and love, I believe that this is the stuff of salvation.
A mother feeding her children, carefully preparing the meal with focus and devotion. A doctor, carefully discerning the illness and remedy. A father whose work is long and difficult, but done with great simplicity and reverence, all for the sake of his family. When God enters into these daily encounters, the average is transfigured into the divine. God’s divinity shines through our frail humanity, and reality becomes vivified by the dynamic indwelling of the Spirit. This is the contemplative dimension of existence. When we learn to see with the eyes of faith, what seemed insignificant and secondary suddenly is discovered as the one thing that really mattered.
Sure, great feats and heroic deeds are important and they inspire. However, it is the everyday things that transform the world.