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    oil painting of water lilies

    Fidelity in Little Things

    True love to God thinks nothing small. It acts with simplicity.

    By François Fénelon

    April 7, 2024

    Great virtues are rare; the occasions for them are very rare; and when they do occur, we are prepared for them, we are excited by the grandeur of the sacrifice, we are supported either by the splendor of the deed in the eyes of the world, or by the self-complacency that we experience from the performance of an uncommon action. Little things are unforeseen; they return every moment; they come in contact with our pride, our indolence, our haughtiness, our readiness to take offence; they contradict our inclinations perpetually. We would much rather make certain great sacrifices to God, however violent and painful they might be, upon condition that we should be rewarded by liberty to follow our own desires and habits in the details of life. It is, however, only by fidelity in little things, that a true and constant love to God can be distinguished from a passing fervor of spirit.

    oil painting of water lilies

    Claude Monet, Nymphéas en fleur, ca. 1914-17. oil on canvas.

    All great things are only a great number of small things that have been carefully collected together. He who loses nothing will soon grow rich. Besides, let us remember that God looks in our actions only for the motive. The world judges us by appearances; God counts for nothing what is most dazzling to men. What he desires is a pure intention, true docility, and a sincere self-renunciation. All this is exercised more frequently, and in a way that tries us more severely, on common than on great occasions. Sometimes we cling more tenaciously to a trifle than to a great interest. It would give us more pain to relinquish an amusement than to bestow a great sum in charity. We are more easily led away by little things, because we believe them more innocent, and imagine that we are less attached to them; nevertheless, when God deprives us of them, we soon discover from the pain of privation, how excessive and inexcusable was our attachment to them. The sincerity of our piety is also impeached by the neglect of minor duties. What probability is there that we should not hesitate to make great sacrifices, when we shrink from slight ones?

    It would give us more pain to relinquish an amusement than to bestow a great sum in charity.

    But what is most dangerous to the mind is the habit it acquires of unfaithfulness. True love to God thinks nothing small. All that can please or displease him is great. It does not produce constraint and weak scruples, but it places no limits to its fidelity; it acts with simplicity, and as it is not embarrassed with things that God has not commanded, it never hesitates a moment about what he does command, whether it be great or small.

    Those persons who are naturally less exact ought to make an inviolable law with themselves about trifles. They are tempted to despise them; they have a habit of thinking them of no consequence; they are not aware of the insensible growth of the passions; they forget even their own most fatal experience. They trust to a delusive courage, though it has before failed them, for the support of their fidelity.

    “This is a trifle,” they say, “it is nothing.” True; but it is a nothing that will be everything to you, a trifle that you prefer to the will of God, a trifle that will be your ruin. There is no real elevation of mind in a contempt of little things; it is, on the contrary, from too narrow views, that we consider those things of little importance, which have in fact such extensive consequences. The more apt we are to neglect small things, the more we ought to fear the effects of this negligence, be watchful over ourselves, and place around us, if possible, some insurmountable barrier to this remissness. Do not let us be troubled at this constant attention to trifles; at first it will require courage to maintain it, but it is a penance that we have need of, and that will at last bring us peace and serenity. God will gradually render this state pleasant and easy to us.

    Source: François Fénelon, Reflections and Meditations Selected from the Writings of Fenelon (New York, P. O’Shea, 1864) 161–164.

    Contributed By FrancoisFenelon François Fénelon

    François de Salignac de La Mothe-Fénelon (1651–1715) was a French Catholic priest and archbishop whose best-known work is The Adventures of Telemachus, first published in 1699.

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