The other day I was watching one of my kids favorite movies with them, The Incredibles. We all love this movie as it has many well thought out moral stories and ethical questions answered. But one of my favorite lines in the movie, and forgive me for the paraphrasing, is when Mr. Incredible's son, Dash, has a ceremony at school for the children that are 'graduating' 4th grade and moving to the 5th and Mr. Incredible answers saying, "That's ludicrous! They keep creating new ways to celebrate mediocrity!" How true is this statement! In the Gospel of Matthew Ch. 25, Jesus gives us the Parable of the Talents. In this parable Jesus shows us how we are to use the gifts and talents that God has given us. The two men that use their talents and bring back twice as much are given great rewards, whereas the man that puts his one talent in the ground and does nothing with it is basically given a death threat, 'And throw this useless servant into the darkness outside, where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.’ As human beings, and even more as creatures of God, we are meant to use every single ounce of talent that we contain to proclaim and further the Kingdom of God. No one wants to be mediocre, just look at the celebrity worshipping culture we live in. Everyone wants to be recognized as great, the problem lies in how the culture defines greatness and how we are teaching our children to be great.
True greatness lies in responsibility and sacrifice. Taking from some of my favorite examples, St. Francis Xavier, Bl. Franz Jagerstatter, St. Clare, Joan of Arc, and Bl. Miguel Pro, these amazing men and women sacrificed their blood, sweat and tears for the greater glory of God and will be known through the annals of history because of that sacrifice. Magnanimity, or greatness of soul, is not supposed to be easy. Legends and heroes are those that gave every fiber of their being over to a great cause worth dying for. Edward Sri put it this way,"The magnanimous person pursues greatness in proportion to his ability. He humbly takes stock of all the gifts that God has given him and seeks to use them as best he can. As Aquinas explains, 'Magnanimity makes a man deem himself worthy of great things in consideration of the gifts he holds from God.'" Sri then goes on using Aquinas to explain why some people prefer not to strive for greatness, 1. they are ignorant of one's own qualification, or 2. fear of failure. In the first instance, we are all qualified in our own way to be great, simply because we are children of God. While it is very easy to think of yourself as little or insignificant, and these thoughts can definitely help with humility, they should never stray us away from the end goal of celebrating eternity with our Lord and Savior. The second reason, fear of failure, is something that is ingrained into all of us and I believe a large part of that is because of our concupiscence. Fear of failure dissipates when we know we are following the will of God. While doubt will always reside due to human failings giving up is never an option for those that desire to honor their Creator. In our Catholic Faith we have the greatest cause that this world can offer. God Himself came down from His thrown to die for the very same cause.
It seems that during the founding of the United States people had an understanding that they could do great and wonderful things as long as they worked hard for it. But the latest psychology taught to our children and us is that everyone is OK just the way they are and there is no need to try for anything out of the ordinary. But if self-perfection is no longer the goal then self-destruction will be the end result. One word that neo-liberal secularists hate is: control. Self-control, i.e. control of the passions, is compared to the ever-feared poison apple given by some evil witch for us to devour and die. But, true self-mastery is just the opposite, it is Jack's magic beans and when planted into fertile soil and watered with truth we grow like the beanstalk, toward the heavens. John Milton once said, '"He who reigns within himself and rules his passions, desires, and fears is more than a king.", and when one thinks of the greatest men and women of our times they were not the 'fly-by-night flim-flamsies' that believe truth is relevant (see pictures of Occupy Wall Streeters for examples). They knew that truth and goodness were worth dying for only because they were, and still are, the ultimate goal. The higher we regard truth the closer we come to God, the closer we hold goodness the more we travel on the way of perfection.
“The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” Pope Benedict XVI