Success and Failure

Some years ago I was watching the Australian Open final when Stan Wawrinka from Switzerland beat Rafael Nadal in four sets. Before the match no one expected that number 8 seed could beat the number 1 seed in a Grand Slam. The tennis world has been ruled for the last several years by the top three players – Nadal, Djokovic, and Federer. For Wawrinka, the taste of victory could not have been sweeter and for Nadal it was a bitter night. As the festivities continued and the crowds went gaga over the new champion, I could see Nadal disappear into the shadows unacknowledged and forgotten. That is when I began to think how our world loves a winner and does not care for losers.

Success and failure seem to dominate individuals’ awareness once they reach a certain age. The pressure to succeed is strong. Good-willed parents try to motivate their children to be successful in whatever they undertake. Our self-esteem is inextricably tied to our successes and failures. Unfortunately success is measured by the university one attends, the degree one obtains and the job one lands. The road to success is often littered with missteps and failures. Hardly anyone reaches the pinnacle of success without being humbled by his or her own stumbles.

All of us should ask ourselves these questions: What makes someone truly successful? What qualifies as real failure? Should we look at success the way our world and larger society look at it? Or, should we view it through God’s eyes? Who, but Jesus Himself, can serve as a better measure of success? As we continue our walk through this Easter time, it is opportune to look at success and failure against the backdrop of the cross.

Many in His own time thought Jesus was a failure. His fellow townsmen wanted to throw Him down the brow of a hill and eliminate Him. “No prophet is accepted in his own country…” Jesus had said. His family thought He was out of His mind because He was so busy taking care of His people that He had no time even to eat. They were about to come and take Him away. Was His life moving towards triumph or doom?

He gathered around Him twelve men, by no means learned, influential or rich, and He taught them for three years. And yet they were fighting for the best positions in His cabinet. When the hour of crisis came, one of His trusted friends handed Him over to His enemies and another denied ever having known Him. His other disciples deserted Him. In the prime of His life, He underwent the shameful death of a criminal. As He hung upon that cross, His executioners taunted Him: “He saved others, He cannot save Himself.” When He died, it was gloomy and dark, much like the hearts of those who had placed their faith and hope in Him. Born in a stable, having lived the life of an itinerant preacher, He had to be buried in a borrowed grave through the kindness of a friend. Was His death a proclamation of success or failure?

During his visit to the US, addressing a group of priests and religious in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Pope Francis said:

We can get caught up measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management, and outward success which govern the business world. Not that these things are unimportant! We have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and God’s people rightly expect accountability from us. But the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes. To see and evaluate things from God’s perspective calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it calls for great humility. The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds: God sees to the fruits of our labors.

And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and produce no fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus. And his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, in the failure of the cross.

Humans might have perceived Jesus’ death as a failure. But in the eyes of the Father, Jesus had fulfilled His mission. His death was a triumph.

God intervened powerfully in His life. The Father re-wrote the life of Jesus. The life of His Son was not doomed to failure. The shadows of Good Friday had to yield inevitably to the certain light of Easter Sunday. Hope sprouted and joy sprang to life. In Jesus’ resurrection God has given the Christian definition of success: “To win is to lose, to lose is to gain. It is in dying that we are born to eternal life. Unless a grain of wheat dies, it does not produce fruit. He who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Contrary to what our culture seems to preach, the man with the most toys does not win. When our life will come to its end, the only thing that will matter is this: Did we fulfill the plan that God had for us? What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world but suffers the loss of his soul?

May the Lord bless the work of our hands!

Mission Statement: As children of God, living in a Catholic community of faith, we are united by the Gospel message of Jesus Christ. Aware that all we have is gift and grace from our Heavenly Father, we strive to give of our time, talent and treasure to build His kingdom on earth. We live this mission, challenged by the Word, nurtured by the Sacraments, and enlivened by the Spirit, to serve our brothers and sisters in peace, justice and dignity. All are welcome on this journey.

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St. Paul of the Cross

320 South Washington Street
Park Ridge, IL 60068

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Phone: (847) 825-7605

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