By Dint of Little Things


I want to be holy. I want to be a saint. That’s all that matters in this life… that someday we all get to heaven.

I know that it’s only possible with God’s grace, and I know I have to cooperate with that grace to grow in holiness. But often those thoughts become detached from my every day experience. Priests preach about the spiritual life, and I know I need a better prayer life. But it all seems like something out there somewhere. Somehow I’ll become holy. Somehow I get closer to God. Somehow I’ll have consolation in prayer and hear His voice and feel His presence.

The other day I was sitting at daily Mass, and something quite simple struck me.

The first step to that better prayer life, a spiritual life like the saints’… was simply showing up to Mass that morning.

For many of us, it might be difficult to get to daily Mass. For me, it requires waking up about two hours earlier than I otherwise would need to. It occasionally requires not having my morning coffee until after Mass, and it means having my act together to get ready for the day quickly and efficiently, while sacrificing the slow-waking-up-process that I relish.

Perhaps for others getting to daily Mass would mean skipping your lunch break and eating on the run, or not taking that walk that you normally love in the middle of your work day.  Maybe it means dragging your little kids with you or breaking up an established routine.

That Monday morning, as I started my day in front of my Creator, He reminded me that this was how I grew in holiness. It isn’t something out there somewhere. It’s not something particularly lofty. It was simply waking up early, sacrificing my morning quiet cup of coffee, and getting to Mass. Advancement in the spiritual life is made up of lots of little things- little concrete actions.

Little things, one after another. Getting used to that early alarm. Rearranging my routine so I have time for the most important thing of the day: Mass. A very practical decision: get out of bed and efficiently get ready for my day so I can get out the door.  It wasn’t glamorous. It was practical. It was small. But that’s how the spiritual life grows.

St. Josemaría Escrivá reminds us, “Have you seen how that imposing building was built? One brick upon another. Thousands. But, one by one. And bags of cement, one by one. And blocks of stone, each of them insignificant compared with the massive whole. And beams of steel. And men working, the same hours, day after day… Have you seen how that imposing building was built?… By dint of little things!” (The Way, 823)

We often become fixated on the imposing structure. We marvel at the spiritual lives of the saints, whose prayer and daily witness were so united to God. And we forget that we are—more often than not—looking at the finished product. We are reading their life stories and seeing a bird’s eye view. We are seeing the forest, not the trees. We are gazing at the building, not the bricks. I want to have a deep spiritual life like the saints. But somehow I forget that they might have struggled with making time for Mass, too.

I want to be a saint. I want to get to heaven. I want to live a virtuous life that mirrors Christ to my neighbor.

It is a lofty goal. But it starts with daily decisions. Little, concrete steps. Repeated steps, blow by blow, again and again. I will do everything I can to make it to Mass today.

With the grace of God, I will begin.


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About the Author

Joannie Watson

Joan Watson was born and raised in Lafayette, Indiana, but college and graduate school took her to Virginia, Ohio, and Rome. After graduating from Christendom College with a B.A. in History and Franciscan University with a M.A. in Theology, she moved to Nashville, Tennessee to be part of the explosion of Catholic culture in the middle of the Bible Belt.

She has been blessed to work for Dr. Scott Hahn at the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology and the Dominican Sisters of St. Cecilia at Aquinas College. She is presently the Director of Adult Formation for the Diocese of Nashville. She also serves as the Associate Editor of Integrated Catholic Life.

When she’s not testing the culinary exploits of new restaurants or catching up on the latest BBC miniseries, she’s FaceTiming with her eight nephews and nieces and enjoying her role as coolest aunt. She likes gelato, bourbon, and the color orange.

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