Engaging in God’s will for our lives starts with doing what is small and humble
By Anamaria Scaperlanda Biddick
Esther Summerson, Dickens’s orphaned protagonist of “Bleak House,” stays the night at the Jellyby house on her way to her new home with her guardian. Before she arrives, she hears Mrs. Jellyby described as “a lady of very remarkable strength of character.”
Upon arrival at the house, one of the children has his head stuck through the iron railing. Esther makes her way to him, after being warned that “the young Jellybys are always up to something,” and helps him get unstuck. The boy, once loose, proceeds to gather a hoop stick and beat Esther’s driver. Soon, as they are introduced to Mrs. Jellyby, another child falls down a whole flight of stairs, to little notice of their mother.
Esther’s companion describes Mrs. Jellyby thus, “Seeming to look a long way off, as if she could see no nearer than Africa,” where she is very concerned with a project that involves writing many letters such that it occupies her entire time and attention as Mrs. Jellyby herself explains.
Through their time at the Jellyby residence, Esther and her companions see that their initial introduction is not an anomaly, a temporary lapse of attention, but the normal state of things.
The character of Mrs. Jellyby, written so long ago, illustrates a temptation even greater today: to ignore what is immediately in front of us as “frivolous” in favor of “more important” issues, including correcting the many injustices of the world. I see this temptation within myself, for keeping up with the news and thinking about how to right a wrong is often more interesting than folding laundry, watching a 1-year-old stack blocks or choosing just the right word to write.
In a world that prizes and lauds the grand solutions to widespread problems, it is easy to think God’s will for us lies in combatting what is huge and evil with what is big and good. But, that is often not how God works: He manifested himself to us a small, vulnerable baby.
Engaging in God’s will for our lives starts with doing what is small and humble, and doing so with love. It begins with our duty: to God, to our families, to our job and to any commitments we’ve made. Our vocation always begins with God’s call to us, today.
Two recently canonized saints, Saints Zelie and Louis Martin, offer an example. They lived a simple life of hard work and prayer. The center of their life was their home where they passed on the faith to their children, including Saint Therese of the Child Jesus, a doctor of the Church.
Their home was one of laughter and joy, prayer and love, tenderness and mercy. They worked hard at their businesses and endured the sorrow of losing four children in infancy. They did not engage in grand schemes, but through their vocation as parents, they modelled Saint Therese’s Little Way and lived a life of holiness.
Blesseds Luigi and Maria Beltrame Quattraocchi provide another example of holiness. Like the Martins, they attended daily Mass and centered their family life on prayer. As a family, they were consecrated to the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Through their love for the Gospel and the circumstances of their lives, they were called to extend their concerns beyond the domestic sphere. During World War II, they opened their home to refugees and dealt generously with anyone who came to their door for help. Maria volunteered with the Red Cross. They helped found a charitable organization to bring sick pilgrims to Lourdes as well as other lay Catholic associations.
Both married couples provide examples for how God’s will for our lives begins with responding to our duty today and doing so with love.