A Formula for Success

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt
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I recently received a copy of Arrowsmith, the outstanding magazine published by St. Sebastian’s School in Needham, Mass. Arrowsmith is, without a doubt, one of the fine scholastic publications in the country – the layout is perfect, the stories are timely, the writing is of Pulitzer Prize caliber, and the photos . . . well, the photos are simply stunning.

Okay . . . my nephew Dan is the Director of Communications at St. Sebastian’s School and Editor of Arrowsmith, and it’s important that I say nice things about him because someday in the not-too-distant future he could end up being one of my primary care givers.

However, while paging through the current Arrowsmith, I came across a brief article that describes a new entryway wall that was dedicated at the school last spring. But it was the inscription on the wall that really caught my attention: “Love God, work hard, and take good care of one another” – simple words with a profound message, not only for the students of St. Sebastian’s, but for all of us.

The exhortation to “love God” is, of course, the foundation of our faith and the beginning of the moral life. When Jesus was asked to name the greatest commandment He replied directly, “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” (Mt 22:37) And while the command to love God is clear enough, it’s the totality of the requirement that challenges us every day. We’re to love with all our heart, soul and mind. No nuance or ambiguity in that demand, is there?

In one of his classic expressions, Pope John Paul wrote that we live in a world characterized by a “practical, existential atheism.” In other words, he explained, people no longer bother to deny the existence of God; they simply go about their daily lives without Him. And in truth our culture has become increasingly secular, pagan and atheistic. God is a nuisance to some, a pious antiquity to others. And it’s in that daunting context that we’re challenged to love God “with all our heart,” to make that love the driving force of our lives.

And so, if we love God we keep His commandments, we reverence His name, we worship Him regularly, we respect His handiwork in creation, and everyday we try to comport ourselves as His children, authentic reflections of His image and likeness. All that, and more, is contained in the simple two-word phrase, “love God.”

The St. Sebastian’s inscription goes on to say “work hard,” a key ingredient in the recipe for success.

It’s true that many successful people are blessed with enormous talent, but we also know that some individuals have failed because they squandered their talent – they lacked personal discipline, weren’t terribly motivated, and didn’t work very hard. On the other hand we probably also know some folks who were less gifted – weren’t as fast, strong, intelligent or talented – but still achieved enormous success simply through grit and determination, in other words, by working their tails off to achieve their goal. It’s always true – success requires hard work.

Super athlete Lance Armstrong said, “I’ve read that I flew up the hills and mountains of France. But you don’t fly up a hill. You struggle slowly and painfully up a hill, and maybe, if you work very hard, you get to the top ahead of every body else.” And General Colin Powell speaks from experience in pointing out that just wanting something isn’t enough – “You got to study for it, work for it, fight for it with all your heart and soul, because nobody is going to hand it to you.”

Finally – if the first words of the inscription, “love God,” express the vertical aspect of the Christian Faith, the final words describe the horizontal aspect: “Take good care of one another.” Jesus Himself linked the two. He followed the first command to “love the Lord your God,” with the words, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt 22:39)

The exhortation to “take good care of one another” has a societal meaning, I’m sure, and one measure of the moral quality of society is how we take care of the weakest and most vulnerable in our midst. But our society isn’t always known for its generous spirit and fraternal care, and the tightening of the economy makes the situation even more difficult for our neighbors in need. Witness the plight of the unemployed, the homeless, single parents, the indigent elderly and immigrants, for example.

Even when society fails its corporate obligation, though, loving and caring for one another can be a personal exercise. Each one of us can make a difference for someone else, and we should. But do we? Do we take care of our families, friends and neighbors? Are we sensitive to their personal and material needs and try to respond – not only with financial help, but more often with personal presence, a caring attitude and a remembrance in prayer? Even a few well-spoken words of forgiveness, understanding, or encouragement can make a huge difference in someone’s life. It’s one of the ways we “take good care of one another,” and it doesn’t cost a dime.

So congratulations to the good folks at St. Sebastian’s School who provided the new wall and the wonderful inscription. And thank you! You’ve given us all something to think about.