The Power of One

I was given a book as a Christmas gift by one of my godchildren this past year called The One Thing by Gary Keller and Jay Papasan. It has strengths and weaknesses, but a great central premise: Keep returning to and focusing on one thing. Know your goal; know the steps to get there; and then start taking those steps one at a time.

When someone learns these lessons of humility, peace, and focus, their life transforms and transcends the ordinary. One extraordinary model of the wisdom of one thing at a time is Mother Teresa of Calcutta (1910-1997), the great saint and foundress of the Missionaries of Charity whose feast day we celebrate on Sept. 5.

She once said, "Just begin one at a time. One, one, one. If I had not picked up that first person dying on the street, I would not have picked up the thousands of others later on" (Praying with Mother Teresa: Prayers, Insights, and Wisdom of Saint Teresa of Calcutta, [Marian Press, 2016], p. 39).

When she first left her convent to obey Jesus' call, Mother Teresa went out from the safety and serenity of a life with a teaching order out onto the streets of Calcutta, serving the poorest of the poor while enduring a lifetime of spiritual darkness.

She could easily have been overwhelmed the weight of the cross handed to her by God. But she didn't try to carry the weight of all the poor, or all the years to come, or all the times she'd be asked to sacrifice all at once. No. She made one act of love at a time and helped one poor person on the street at a time.

One at a time.

Our current challenges can seem overwhelming: the abuse crisis, the culture of death, wars and rumors of wars, the breakdown of the family, and on the list goes.

But the wisdom of Mother Teresa applies even in a time of crisis. One thing at a time. One step at a time. One soul at a time. One conversation at a time. One work of mercy at a time.

Do the one work of mercy that's asked of you right now. Love your family, or help your friends, or do good to the stranger. Say the prayer, merit the indulgence, or venerate the Divine Mercy Image. Do the one act of love of God or neighbor. And then do another. And another. Don't stop, save for necessary rest, renewal, and self care.

Mother Teresa explained, "Do not imagine that love to be true must be extraordinary. No, what we need in our love is the continuity to love the one we love. See how a lamp burns, by the continual consumption of the little drops of oil. If there are no more of these drops in the lamp, there will be no light. ... What are these drops of oil in our lamps? They are the little things of everyday life: fidelity, punctuality, little words of kindness, just a little thought for others; those little acts of silence, of look, and of thought, of word, and of deed. These are the very drops of love that make our life burn with so much light" (pp. 35-36).

The motto of the Christophers, a Catholic ministry of faith and culture, is "It's better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Well, the darkness is very deep right now. So light a candle. Make an act of love. Then make another. And another. The more candles we all light right now in this darkness, the better everyone can see. The less we will stumble; the more hope we'll have; the better we'll be able to find each other in this vast night, and band together, an army of faith, hope, and love, facing down the gathering darkness.

Indeed, Mother Teresa did just that. She did her one thing. She lifted her one poor person. Then she lifted one more. And one more. And soon, she, like St. Francis of Assisi, St. Benedict of Nursia, and many other founders of religious orders before her, had created a tremendous congregation devoted to love of God and neighbor because her own love was contagious.

It's enough, and more than enough, to do one thing. As Mother Teresa said, "God does not look for big things- He looks for how much love we put in the giving" (p. 39).

So our choices matter, each little one thing, every choice for love or for indifference; for sanctity or for sin. No matter how little our acts may seem against the evil of our time, our answer to evil must never be ruthlessness born out of despair. Let us remember the wisdom of St. John Paul II, shared in his book Memory and Identity: "[T]he limit imposed upon evil, of which man is both perpetrator and victim, is ultimately the Divine Mercy."

One way we can help limit evil is by spreading the word of the Divine Mercy message and devotion. Jesus promised St. Faustina, "My daughter, do not tire of proclaiming My mercy. In this way you will refresh this Heart of Mine, which burns with a flame of pity for sinners. Tell My priests that hardened sinners will repent on hearing their words when they speak about My unfathomable mercy, about the compassion I have for them in My Heart. To priests who proclaim and extol My mercy, I will give wondrous power; I will anoint their words and touch the hearts of those to whom they will speak" (Diary, 1521).

Let us recommit, in imitation of Mother Teresa, to our one thing. Let us take up our Rosaries and offer one Divine Mercy Chaplet, one Rosary, for the Church and the world, for peace on earth and peace in every heart. Let us pray for a successful new evangelization, transforming our culture into a culture of life, and thereby ushering in a civilization of love. And let us work while the light lasts, lighting candles in the darkness by performing works of mercy, sharing the Divine Mercy message and devotion to one person at a time, persistently, patiently, planning to continue across the rest of our lives, and beyond.

Let us do one good thing with love. And then another. And another.

Mother Teresa of Calcutta, apostle of the works of mercy, pray for us!

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