Thursday, May 19, 2011

Am I A Failure?

I received a call last night from Jack, with whom I served in the army, nearly 40 years ago. I remembered him, and even what he looked like back then. He’s been in contact with some from our old unit, and is thinking of having a reunion next year – not a bad idea, although I might not be able to attend, depending on how things go with mom. We had a nice conversation, and Jack mentioned some of the guys from the unit and what they were doing now, and I found that I didn’t remember most of them, and in fact, remembered few of the 100+ guys from our company, and the time we spent together in Fort Hood, Texas.

Jack talked about getting together and exchanging information on what had happened during our lives, in fact the bulk of our lives, since then, and that got me to thinking. If I were summarizing my life in a few short sentences to someone, how would I put it? How would I describe myself, not now, but the whole of my life? If I were objective --- if I could look at my life through God’s eyes --- what would I describe?

The first place my brain went to were my failures. I guess that thought, of looking at me through God’s eyes, immediately caused me some shame. If He were the one asking me to summarize things, I’m afraid I might find myself hemming and hawing, trying to put the right spin on things, my failures. I don’t think I’m unusual in thinking that way; I think most of us would look at our sins first, if we stood before God. Oh, I know all about confession and forgiveness and love and mercy, but I’m talking about what would be our thoughts if we were standing before our Father, right now. If a huge portion of our life had passed, and now we were suddenly in front of Him, what would we be thinking to tell Him about? I think we all would go back to the point where we last met, and start from His view --- His hopes for us, or perhaps from our view then --- our expectations or desires, which I suspect would be much in line with His. And going from there, I think I’d see the failures first. But like the father of the Prodigal Son, I don’t think He’d let me dwell on my failures very long. In these 40 years, I have learned some things about God, and His ways. He’d love me in spite of myself, and my failures. But if it were just me there talking to somebody, or even looking in the mirror, I’m not sure how easy I’d get off the feeling of failure.

I expected so much more of myself. I still do.

You know the point of life, a well-lived life, is to grow in holiness. I’ve written of it before, and I’m sure you’ve thought about it, and perhaps even asked yourself: Am I growing in holiness? I look back at much of my life and think that I didn’t see much progress for a long time; perhaps even a going backwards. And I look forward and the few years remaining, and I wonder: How is this all going to add up, in total? Am I to be deemed a failure?

For some reason this morning, as I thought on these things, I saw the image of life as being like a person on a train, for life surely is a journey. Baptism got us the ticket to get on life’s train, and heaven is the destination we are paid through. And we are off on the journey.

Now in heaven, Scripture and the Church tell us we shall be part of the Body of Christ, with Him as the head. We are part of the Body, even here on earth, but we are not yet perfected. That says we must change, and for the better, while we are here, so we can be perfect there; that’s the growing in holiness part of our life. So, on this train with us are people who will also be part of this Body in heaven, our brothers and sisters in Christ. Now if we are to be perfected in Christ in heaven, with them, it makes sense that we don’t grow independently on our trip, for once in heaven, we will be working together, but still unique parts of this Body. So, along the way it makes sense that we should both learn what these other parts do, and how we can get along with them. And even further, we should begin working together, helping one another. One hand learns to clip the nails on the other; one finger scratches an itch on the back; one foot coordinates its pace with the other, so we don’t all fall down. It’s something we need to learn to do, if we’re to be together perfectly in heaven. Unfortunately, the trip on the train, our life here on earth, is not perfect.

There will be some of us on the train that just want to be left alone; (I’m not sure what those people think will be going on in heaven). There will be some of us who think the ride never ends, or that the only purpose we have is to enjoy the ride --- they never leave the club car; life is just to be a joy, for themselves alone. And there are a few who will lose their tickets and be asked to leave, or even leave of their own will: “This ride’s not for me,” they might say. (If not heaven, I wonder what they think their destination is?)

But for the majority of us, there is both a growing in holiness and a unique purpose on this train. Some of us may have a religious vocation, and be conductors on the train, explaining sights along the way and giving some advice on how to prepare for the weather at the destination. Some of us have related jobs in keeping the train going, adding fuel to the engine or oiling the wheels. These are important jobs, even if they seem mundane. But most of us are just there to prepare for the destination, and help each other prepare. Yes, there is some personal hygiene we have to we have to do for ourselves, putting on make-up and perhaps deodorant --- and for some of us lots of it. But much of the preparation is done by helping one another, even if only encouraging another. This thing called faith --- none of us has even been to this destination before --- is a very trusting thing. We only got a ticket on this particular train because someone very convincing told us what a great place it is, and that He’d make sure we were taken care of during the ride. We need each other to boost our sometimes failing confidence along the way. “It will be as He says.”

As I have loved you, you must also love another. From the entire human race throughout the world, this love gathers together into one body a new people, to be the bride of God’s only Son. They love one another as God loves them so that they may be brothers of his only Son. For when God is all in all, there will be nothing left to desire.” -- From a treatise on John by Saint Augustine

Holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord. -- Heb. 12:14

“Even supposing a man of unholy life were suffered to enter heaven, he would not be happy there. We see that in this world that men have their own enjoyments, (and) are led to act as if it will be the same in another world. (They assume) once admitted into heaven that they would be happy there, and deny that some preparation is necessary. Or, we think we can recommend ourselves to God when we will, some temporary attention to religious duties. But heaven, it is plain from Scripture, is not a place where many different and discordant pursuits can be carried on at once, as is the case in this world. Here every man can do his own pleasure, but there he must do God’s pleasure.

Heaven then is not like this world; I will say what it is much more like --- a church. Were a man to come there who had suffered his mind to grow up in his own way, he would prove himself to be an isolated being there. He would be in the presence of the Supreme Power whom he never on earth could bring himself steadily to think upon; the Holy God would be no object of joy for him. Further, without holiness, no man can endure to see the Lord. Inward separation from this world is necessary to our admission into heaven, because heaven is NOT heaven, is not a place of happiness EXCEPT to the holy.

Nay, I will venture to say more than this --- it is fearful, but it is right to say it --- that if we wished to imagine a punishment for an unholy, reprobate soul, we perhaps could not fancy a greater than to summon it to heaven. Heaven would be hell to an irreligious man. How forlorn would he wander through the courts of heaven! He would find no one like himself.

To obtain the gift of holiness is the work of a life. No man will ever be perfect here, so sinful is our nature. Many men, it is true, are contented with partial and indistinct views of religion, and mixed motives. Be you content with nothing short of perfection; exert yourselves day by day to grow in knowledge and grace; that, if so be, you may at length attain to the presence of Almighty God.”
--- from a sermon by Blessed John Neumann on Holiness Necessary For Future Blessedness.

And so, what of my original thoughts: the asking of myself if I am a failure? I think I see from further thoughts, and readings this morning, that as long as I live, this train ride to heaven is not over for me. I am still, with the help of God and of my neighbor, to grow in holiness. And of those imperfections of mine along the way, those (yes) failures? Well, they are just the trash I accumulated along the way. When I arrive, it shall be left on the train.

We need not worry that our life is a failure; if we are still alive and thinking, we have not yet arrived at the destination. No matter how much trash we have accumulated along the way, it can be left behind. Just ask any conductor what to do with it. And then get out and mingle with the other passengers, and help them, and let them help you. For we all must prepare, together, for a great destination.

If you should think that you are alone in this life, perhaps that your mistakes make you an outcast, you could not be more wrong. The train of life is full of others, and they are well aware that you are meant to be part of the Body of Christ, and each and every part is important, even you. And your neighbors want you to find, understand, and be the best you can be, where you are meant to be. For their perfect operation, in the Body, depends on you, too. We are all in this together. There are no failures on the train; there are no outcasts, alone. There will be no one alone at the destination. Have faith.

Do Not Be Anxious.


  1. Thank you, booklady. In writing this I neglected to mention another reminder I had that day. At morning mass there was an older man assisting the priest at the altar. Although I had seen him, I didn't know him. After mass, the priest announced who he was, and that he was being ordained a priest the next day! He looked to be perhaps 60 years old. It was yet another reminder, that it is never too late to change our lives.