Homily for January 28, 2019
Catholic Schools Week
How Do You Define Success?
She was a young girl, only nine years old when she died of pneumonia. She never learned to read. She lived in poverty, working as a shepherd girl and living in a shack. She practiced great penances such as giving away her food to children poorer than her, and suffering her illnesses without complaint.
He, on the other hand, was an accomplished CEO and visionary of one of the greatest companies in the world. He was a billionaire, a household name, a man who dabbled in Zen Buddhism and whatever other spirituality was in vogue that season. He had so much money that he would often use drugs just for the heck of it, knowing that with his position, he would never get caught. He cheated his friends and his employers out of their legitimate pay, often parked in handicapped spots even though he wasn’t handicapped, and abandoned his wife and daughter when he got tired of them. He ruled the world – pretty much everything and everyone bowed to him – there was no desire of his that he couldn’t have.
Of these two lives – St. Jacinta Marta and Apple founder Steve Jobs – which one would be considered a successful life? How do you define success?
This is what I ask us to consider this morning. You may have noticed that our motto for Catholic Schools Week this year is “Learn, Serve, Lead, Succeed”. This motto could also be in the hallways of Westhill or Stamford High, or on the tagline of any insurance company or bank. There’s nothing in that motto that really sets us apart as Catholics – until we dive deeper into the definition of these words – and particularly the word “success.”
The world considers successful the man or woman who is at the top of their game. Good job, good money, nice house, beautiful family. And those things are good – they’re just not the highest good. But for too many people, that is how they define success: get good grades, win athletic trophies, get into a good college, into a well-paying and respected job, get married to a beautiful spouse and settle down and live your life, then retire early and play golf in Florida. And that’s it.
But I would say that success is about so much more than that. It’s more about who you become than about what you do or what you have. St. Jacinta Marta accomplished nothing very significant in her life, according to the world’s view of success. She was one of the three children who, in 1917, saw Mary the Mother of God appear to them in Fatima, Portugal. Over the course of six months, Mary appeared six times to them, teaching them about holiness and urging them to share the message of prayer and penance with the world. At the final vision, on October 13, 1917, over seventy thousand people had gathered to see if these three children were telling the truth about actually seeing Mary. This great crowd saw a true miracle – the sun began to dance in the sky, change colors, and plummet to the earth. This was recorded with photographs and even by atheistic newspaper reporters.
But St. Jacinta, the young girl who had the visions, didn’t fit anyone’s profile of a “successful” individual. She was poor, illiterate, simple, often-sick, and too young. She had no “bright future” ahead of her. She died at the age of nine, having done nothing with her life except prayer and sacrifices. But now she is a saint – and that is the truest kind of success anyone can achieve.
Because all of the worldly definitions of success don’t matter one bit in eternity. Jacinta became like Christ through her prayer and sacrifices – she allowed God’s grace to transform her and make her holy.
I was blessed to go to Fatima in 2012 for a week of retreat. It was a beautiful time, to be able to pray right in the spot that Mary appeared. But after a few days, I wanted to explore a bit, so I started wandering outside of the town, walking along a dirt road to another town a couple miles away. There, I found a very simple church – white walls, plain glass, just a simple house of worship. I went in, and there above the baptismal font was a very simple sign – “On this spot was baptized St. Jacinta Marta”. I was moved to tears – this was so…ordinary. It looked like any parish church in America. Simple, not a tourist attraction, but just an ordinary church…and it produced a saint. Nobody would have expected that this ordinary church would be the place where a saint was baptized, where she received her first Communion, where she spent long hours in prayer before the Eucharist.
Could ordinary places produce extraordinary saints? Could Trinity Catholic High School produce saints? I look at this excellent ad campaign “Imagine You” and wonder – what would it look like it for one of the posters to say, “So-and-so, TCHS Class of 2021, Saint”? As the author Leon Bloy once said, “The only true tragedy in life is to not become a saint.”
This is what makes Catholic Schools different – we define success differently than Westhill or Stamford High. Not only do we want you to achieve a lot, to win those sports trophies, to get into a good college – we also want you to become holy – a follower of Jesus and a saint. And no matter what else happens, if you have become holy, that will be a successful life.