Monday, March 2, 2020

Greatness

As a Catholic school principal, I would often remind our students and teachers that they were created for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood.

Another version of this reminder took this form and tied in a root belief: you were created by God on purpose for excellence. 

I also leaned heavily upon a quote that I thought, until about a month ago, that Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI had said: “The world offers you comfort. But, you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness.”

In preparation for a recent presentation, I searched for the exact language and styling. What I unearthed surprised me. 


He did, however, proclaim similar messages. From his 2005 address to the German pilgrims who came to Rome for his papal inauguration, Benedict XVI stated:
The ways of the Lord are not easy, but we were not created for an easy life, but for great things, for goodness.
Christ did not promise an easy life. 
Those who desire comforts have dialed the wrong number. Rather, He shows us the way to great things, the good, towards an authentic human life.
In a 2007 encyclical letter to the entire Church, Benedict XVI expounded upon this theme, explaining more about the greatness for which we were created:
Humans were created for greatness - for God himself; we were created to be filled by God. But our hearts are too small for the greatness to which they are destined. They must be stretched (Spe Salvi, #33).
To me, these authentic statements made by Benedict XVI pose two nuances to the non-quote that I had previously repeated. 

First, Jesus Christ is the greatness we must receive, become, and offer to others. We were created so that we would become and act more and more like Christ. Greatness in this sense is explicitly and unequivocally synonymous with Christ. 

Second, this transformation, this becoming, this stretching requires more than just an absence or lack of comfort. It demands effort, struggle, pain, and even suffering and death.

So, even though he didn’t actually say those words, Benedict XVI probably agrees with the statement incorrectly attributed to him. We were made for Christ and this does not promise a life of comfort and ease. In fact, the Gospel and its message should affect and upset us so that we, in turn, can use the power of the Gospel, the greatness in us that is Christ Himself, to affect and upset the world (St. Pope Paul VI). 

Our purpose, our students’ purpose, our teachers’ purpose, the purpose of all the members of our school communities and of all people everywhere is to come to the fullness - or greatness - of life in Jesus Christ, and in doing so help others come to this greatness as well. 

This greatness dictates that we, like our God in whose image we were created, operate at the highest level of cognitive demand and pursue truth, goodness, and beauty, while developing every capability within us. 

This life in Christ insists that we recognize our “duty to exist for one another” (Consecrated Persons and Their Mission in Schools, #35). Our Triune God exists within the context of relationships; we, too, exist in the context of community. 

This fullness demands sacrifice, emptying, suffering, and dying. As disciples of Christ, our greatness lies in our willingness to lay down our lives, pick up our cross(es), and follow Him. We find ourselves and our greatness only in making ourselves, like our Savior did, a sincere gift to others.    

When we approach our work as Catholic school leaders with this frame, we come to see that our pursuit of greatness necessitates a pursuit of Christ. We come to understand that this pursuit requires struggle. We come to recognize how vital other people are in both our formation as well as the success of the mission of this ministry. 

As such, we purposefully embrace the both-and nature of this work. Struggle and greatness. Trials and joy. Exhaustion and energy. Confusion and learning. Reason and faith. Death and resurrection. Me and Christ. You and Christ. 

Everyone and Christ.

All of us are created for greatness, built for holiness, and destined for sainthood, and Christ doesn’t call us to this - to Himself - and then expect us to do it all by ourselves. He gave us Himself and each other. 

It won’t be easy and that’s okay; we can do hard things, great things, Christ-like things. 

Let’s get to work.