Many of the saints we celebrate seemed to have lived hundreds of years ago in lands far from here. However, Constance, an Episcopal nun, and her companions that we celebrated today are known for their work in Memphis, Tennessee during a Yellow Fever epidemic in 1878.
The epidemic in that year was the third in a decade, and by the time it reached it’s height, 30,000 people had fled the city and some 20,000 remained. Death tolls averaged 200 per day and at the end 5,000 had died. Constance and many others who worked alongside her succumbed to the disease, because instead of fleeing, they remained and cared for the sick, dying, and the many orphaned children. The High Altar at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Memphis is a memorial to Constance and her Companions and a reminder of their sacrifice.
It is very unlikely that we would ever find ourselves in these types of circumstances unless we go looking for them, so we may never even have the occasion to serve in such a capacity. Yet that does not invalidate or trivialize the things we do. Mother Teresa said, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.” True. You will likely never be called to die while serving others, but how often are you called to service in your day-to-day life? Plenty.
When I read at night, it’s almost always brain candy. One that I completed awhile back and that they are making the movies from is the Divergent series by Veronica Roth. Towards the end of the final book, Tobias, one of the main characters says, “There are so many ways to be brave in this world. Sometimes bravery involves laying down your life for something bigger than yourself, or for someone else. Sometimes it involves giving up everything you have ever known, or everyone you have ever loved, for the sake of something greater. But sometimes it doesn’t. Sometimes it is nothing more than gritting your teeth through pain, and the work of every day, the slow walk toward a better life.”
It is the Constance and her Companions, those Martyrs of Memphis that made the ultimate sacrifice, that become our inspiration and help us to make the smaller sacrifices of day-to-day living. The types of sacrifices that allow us to set aside ourselves and love those around us. Sometimes those sacrifices don’t seem like much, they may just be a part of our everyday lives – going to work and doing a good job so that we might provide for our families, volunteering for a few hours at places like Loaves and Fishes, or sending a few dollars to Episcopal Relief and Develop so that they can purchase mosquito nets to fight disease – but those small sacrifices add up. In the words of Veronica Roth, those small sacrifices make up “the work of everyday,” bringing all to a better life.
Look to Constance and her Companions as inspiration for the daily sacrifices you are called to make and realize that in the midst of even the most difficult ones, our Lord will be with you; and in all these works, great and small, He is glorified.