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

Recovering a Fallen Culture

I have been reading the blog posts on The American Conservative for a few years now, and I’ve learned a few things from what I’ve read: (1) being “conservative” is in no way the same as being a “Republican,” (2) being “conservative” is much more than a political position, and (3) history must be examined and taken into account in order to explain much of the cultural change that is going on today.

Rod Dreher is my favorite writer on The American Conservative, so when I heard that he was going to write a book, I got all excited, marked its release date in my planner, and actually went out and bought a brand-new copy (which I rarely do because most new books aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on or the exorbitant price). Anyway, I just finished reading said book, titled The Benedict Option, and found that it was well worth the price.

Dreher argues that America, following the trend in Europe, has become a post-Christian society; that is, the heyday of Christianity is over and many of those who claim to be “Christians” are really only nominally Christian because their beliefs are no different from those of the wider secular culture. Authentic conservative Christianity as it was once known is dying, and Dreher postulates that the only way America can be redeemed is to live in accordance with what he calls the “Benedict Option,” which is based on the Rule of St. Benedict of Nursia.

Why do we need the Benedict Option? Not so orthodox Christians can act as if they are superior to everyone else and retreat from the world, leaving non- and nominal Christians to fend for themselves. The Benedict Option is needed to retain the sanctity and importance of traditional religion, to remember that we are mere humans under the love and protection of God our Creator, and to renounce the current culture of materialism and all its false dreams and empty promises.

How can we bring about the Benedict Option in our communities? By bringing eight elements back into our lives: order, prayer, work, asceticism, stability, community, hospitality, and balance.

  • The opposite of order is disorder, in that our political system as we know it is rapidly losing any sense of order it may once have had.
  • The opposite of prayer is refusing to speak to God or even to acknowledge His existence at all. As a culture, America tends to relegate God to certain places where it is convenient for Him to be present, such as church on Sundays.
  • The opposite of work is sloth or making excuses as to why one is not fit to work. Many in today’s younger generation believe that they do not need to work to get by or that everything will be given to them.
  • The opposite of asceticism is self-indulgence. Look at all the things that you have but do not need or use. Look at all the modern-day conveniences you take for granted.
  • The opposite of stability is transience. A person rarely stays in his community of origin for his entire life. He moves all over the place like a leaf being blown about in a storm. He is therefore directionless and may lack a sense of real belonging.
  • The opposite of community is isolation. We think we have community when we communicate with others online, but the fact is that we are becoming steadily more isolated, as the Internet brings to us exactly what we want to see and hear at any given time, thus keeping us inside our little bubbles.
  • The opposite of hospitality is hostility. We are called to welcome the stranger, but the news media can often cause us to believe that we have enemies everywhere and that we are never safe. We are taught to defend ourselves at the expense of greeting someone who may very well teach us something important.
  • The opposite of balance is imbalance. It is so important to know that everything has a purpose, everything has a reason (turn, turn, turn), and that there is a time and place for everything. An improper lack of balance or being too fixated on any one thing can easily distract a person from focusing on what truly matters.

These opposites form a picture of the fallen America that Dreher portrays in his book… but it is still an America worth saving, if we are willing to take an honest look at ourselves and do the work with a persevering spirit. I highly, highly recommend The Benedict Option, especially for those of you who attend church and are seeing a culture of secularism invade what was once your sacred space.

 

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.