What Is Greatness?

Weirdly enough, when I think of greatness, I think of Tony the Tiger going, “They’re grrrrreat!” when referring to Frosted Flakes. The world (or at least our American society) seems to think of greatness in this way, too. Something that stands out from the rest, something to encourage others to consume, something that’s well known, well worth the money, well worth the time invested, and so on. You’re great if you are successful, if you manage to overcome odds and climb to the top of the pile.

Can you be great on the bottom of the pile? Can one of the “least of these” be great? I think so.

Greatness can be loud and shared with others (the world’s way), and greatness can be more unassuming and self-contained (God’s way). To me, to be great is to influence others with your actions more than with your words, because people will discount what you say when you start to do something that contradicts it. To be great is to be humble, to do the right thing without expecting a reward or praise, to live an ordinary life with no grandiose plans, to let others have the spotlight.

Humility is not thinking less of yourself, it’s thinking of yourself less. —C.S. Lewis

In the Tomb

Happy Easter! Yes, it’s still technically Easter in the Catholic Church. It’s going to be Easter until June 4, the feast of Pentecost. But anyway… I was musing about a homily I heard from our parish priest a few weeks ago. I’m sure it’s nothing new, but every now and then, people need to hear the same thing they’ve heard before as a reminder.

The message was deceptively simple: Put it in the tomb. All your worries, fears, anxieties, grudges, grievances, anger… anything icky inside your soul. Make a good confession. Take all that mess in your soul, put in the tomb and roll the stone over it. Then forget about it. It’s in the tomb, and it’s gone.

Sounds easy, but the reality of the task is more difficult than you’d initially think. I imagine sins as clinging, heavy wisteria vines draped around a person’s soul (just without the beauty and lovely scent). You have to work to pry them off. You may even have to cut them, and it may be painful. Rolling the stone over the tomb is not easy either. After all, it’s a heavy burden, and keeping your past sins and grievances out of your head is hard, especially when you are faced with daily struggles and memories that threaten to bring them all back.

One day, when the stone is rolled away from the tomb, we will find that our sins have been defeated and our weakness has been made perfect. Until that day… we struggle to remain close to God and keep our Baptismal promises to Him.

Angels Singing

Advent was here and gone in less time than it took to blink. Before I knew it, we were lighting the last candle on the wreath, and the Mass schedule for Christmas Eve, Christmas, and New Year’s was printed in the parish bulletin. It didn’t feel like there was a lot of time to build up Christmas spirit, especially with it being 75 degrees and pouring rain this entire week.

But this Advent, I’ve restricted myself to listening to only Christmas music because there’s nothing worse than waking up three days before one of the most sacred holidays of the year with the latest piece of Top 40 awfulness stuck in your head. Much better to constantly be humming along to “O Come All Ye Faithful” or “The First Noël.”

So I was looking at the lyrics of “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear,” which was written in 1849, and realized that the world hasn’t much changed. With human nature being the way it is, you can’t expect it to. Every year, it’s the same thing: human beings are too caught up in all the noise to focus on the angels singing, and it seems like every year, the holidays get more frantic and hurried. The commercials get more insistent, Christmas decorations appear in stores earlier and earlier, pop stars keep destroying traditional Christmas hymns, and in all the rush, we don’t actually hear anything.

I think peace and quiet would make an excellent Christmas gift, but there is not normally a way to achieve that unless someone gives you an all-expenses-paid trip to a deserted island or offers to babysit your kids for a week. Almost always, nobody will, so we have to carve out our own small slice of time (maybe a half hour, maybe even a whole hour, if you’re lucky) away from all the stress and craziness so we can get some perspective on our lives and the world.

Look now! for glad and golden hours
come swiftly on the wing.
O rest beside the weary road,
And hear the angels sing!