Hidden Greatness – Henri Nouwen

There is much emphasis on notoriety and fame in our society. Our newspapers and television keep giving us the message: What counts is to be known, praised, and admired, whether you are a writer, an actor, a musician, or a politician.
Still, real greatness is often hidden, humble, simple, and unobtrusive. It is not easy to trust ourselves and our actions without public affirmation. We must have strong self-confidence combined with deep humility. Some of the greatest works of art and the most important works of peace were created by people who had no need for the limelight. They knew that what they were doing was their call, and they did it with great patience, perseverance, and love.

We all want love, appreciation, and we all want to be validated and affirmed in some way. All of that being said, we also know that there real best things that we most appreciate in life are often those quiet gestures of love that no one really knows anything about. Much of the greatness that surrounds us daily is indeed a ‘hidden greatness.’ Think about those times when love was expressed to us in the simple form of a pot of soup when we were ill. How about that gesture of support or warm embrace in the time of loss? Think of the hours that friends/family have given us when we needed someone present and we had no need for words. How about those who take time to be with those that others find uncomfortable to be with because they are ‘broken,’ ill, isolated, rejected…the list is extensive?

Greatness is indeed often very unobtrusive. What might we accomplish if we could lay aside our need to be affirmed and praised? What might we be able to change in another’s life if our motive is simply his/her comfort and not our feeling better for having done it? Lent brings us into a time of serious self-examination. Can we repent of our need to be acknowledged and respond this Lenten Season by taking on quiet, unobtrusive, and hidden acts of love for others?  

Let us be reminded of the words of the Gospel for As Wednesday ….

 “Whenever you give to the poor, don’t blow your trumpet as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets so that they may get praise from people. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you give to the poor, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing so that you may give to the poor in secret. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

“When you pray, don’t be like hypocrites. They love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners so that people will see them. I assure you, that’s the only reward they’ll get. But when you pray, go to your room, shut the door, and pray to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees what you do in secret will reward you.

“And when you fast, don’t put on a sad face like the hypocrites. They distort their faces so people will know they are fasting. I assure you that they have their reward. When you fast, brush your hair and wash your face. Then you won’t look like you are fasting to people, but only to your Father who is present in that secret place. Your Father who sees in secret will reward you.

 “Stop collecting treasures for your own benefit on earth, where moth and rust eat them and where thieves break in and steal them. Instead, collect treasures for yourselves in heaven, where moth and rust don’t eat them and where thieves don’t break in and steal them. Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.