"Truly I say to you, among those born of women there has not arisen anyone greater than John the Baptist! Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." Matthew 11:11
"Ryan, you do realize that you can't impress God, right?" Fr. Matthew Pawlikowski, LTC(Ch) U. S. Army
Ever since I was a kid I dreamed of doing great things. My head was filled with stories of knights in armor, kings, saints, explorers, sages, writers. I have always dreamed of leaving my mark on the world, hopefully for the better. I did not want to be average. I wanted my name to be known and to influence the lives of hundreds of people, or thousands. These dreams have taken a multitude of shapes and have led me to do extraordinary things. They led me to sacrifice a decade of my life to the military with ruthless single-mindedness. The caused me to spend my life trying to build myself up into a warrior and a scholar, in the hopes that when the opportunity came, I would be ready to step up to the plate.
These dreams all have one thing in common. None of them have come true. I find myself in the odd position of having spent my life thus far chasing the means, and being (it seems) no closer to the ends than I ever was. The means fail to satisfy, as they inevitably must, and I, like everyone from time to time, am left with a feeling that I am wasting my life and my gifts.
At times like this, you need someone who loves you, because she (assuming that it is in fact a she, although a he could do it in a pinch, though not in the same way) will see you more clearly than you can see yourself. If she is close to God, she will be able to give you just a tiny glimpse of how God sees you also, which is the only point of view that really matters in the end.
She will point out that no life is wasted that is lived with love; that ultimately it is up to God to put a value on your life, not you; and that simply because you cannot see the fruit of your actions, that does not mean that they are not or will not bear fruit.
She will remind you of the great cathedrals, like Notre Dame, which took ninety years to build from 1160-1250, and even when the main construction was finished in 1250, remodeling and other building processes on smaller elements continued for almost another hundred years. The men who broke their backs and spent the the strength of their youth laying the foundations of this magnificent act of worship, never saw its completion. They were long since dead, having left behind a solid base to build upon and strong sons to build upon it. They left millions of tons of rock in the ground, and the Rock of faith in the hearts of the next generation. Even that generation would not live long to enjoy the completed cathedral. Ninety years is a long time. Three generations of men could put in thirty good years of labor on that one building before any of them would see it completed. Did the old gaffer who spent his entire life putting tons of anonymous gravel into an oddly shaped pit by hand, waste that life?
I took a trip to about a year ago to give a talk at John Paul the Great Academy in Lafeyette, LA. The school is housed in an old monastery that the school purchased in a miracle $10,000,000.00 fund raising campaign last summer. The grounds and building are beautiful, old, immaculately kept by volunteers without pay, the perfect venue for a classical Catholic education. The school was established by local Catholic families who simply wanted an alternative to the larger and more expensive parochial schools, or the public schools. They put a lot of time and effort into making this school a thriving organization. It is not an exaggeration to say that they offered up their "lives, fortunes and sacred honor," to providing a worthy education for their children.
One of the things that most struck me about the school grounds, one of its most amazing features, are the trees. (Just so you know, I love trees!) The grounds of JPG Academy are full of gorgeous old oak trees, all well over a hundred years old.
|This one was my favorite!|
The trees are a great metaphor for the school itself, especially the trees that line the front drive. They were originally planted back at the turn of the century, and then ten or twelve years later dug up and moved again to make the lane wider to accommodate automobiles. Now, over a hundred years later, they shade the drive up from the road to the school building. The contrast is unreal. You turn off of a fairly busy country highway, which was baking in the August Louisiana sunshine when I was there, and find yourself in a long, quiet, cool, peaceful tunnel. The tunnel leads you gently away from the noise of traffic and the heat of the exposed highway into the school grounds, and the great old stone building, and the shade of ancient trees, and the sounds of children's laughter.
Some man saw all of that, or perhaps only part of it (he probably did not foresee it being a school) and he designed and commissioned the driveway. He chose trees of good stock and set their roots in good soil. His successors tended those trees, as just one of their many responsibilities, keeping the Spanish moth and diseases in check, weeding around them, keeping the lawns, maintaining the pavement, cutting back the ivy when it showed up. They did not see the drive as I saw it.
Greatness is worth striving for, as is renown and influence and changing the world. All of these are good to aspire to, mostly so that you will learn faster that they are illusions, and the only greatness that matters is the greatness of doing God's will, doing the work that He gives you to do, and doing it well, forgetting about yourself and your own glory and simply looking at Him.
He is all that matters.