From Their Biography

What do all successful CEOs, athletes, authors, scientists, inventors, or anybody who made it have in common? What do Steve jobs, Michael Jordan, Dante Aleghieri, Louis Pasteur, Leonardo Da Vinci have in common? We often forget that they were not born famous, wealthy, and successful. We forget they were once unknown and unimportant. We tend to forget about their hard work, the setbacks they encountered, and the determination they showed before they got to stand on the pinnacle of the world’s cathedral. It can help us if we remember that they failed just as you and I have and will. They knew setbacks, dark nights, the bottom, and bitterness. The difference is whenever they fell, they dust themselves off and try again. They learned from their failure and moved on to the next challenge.

What makes them stand out? Why are their names on everyone’s lips today? The answer lies in their ability to remain focus on the goal. FOCUS is what they share in common. It is ingrained in their personality and honed in their DNA. They persevered despite thick and thin. And at the end, they win the prize. Perhaps, their advice can help us on our own journey (whatever that journey is).

Take Jerry Seinfeld for instance. The first time he went on stage, he was booed, ridiculed, and humiliated. What did he do? He went back to that same theater next time with renewed confidence and better prepared. He stayed at it. He kept the fight, and he won the war. It is inevitable that we lose some battles. But it is contingent on us to win the war. We learn from the losses and use them to win the war. Life is a battleship; those who survive are heroes. As someone once said, “the rule of life is tough, but once you reach the top, the view is pretty amazing”. So what does Seinfeld learn from his failure? “Keep your head up in failure and your head down in success.” Courage and focus make him one of the most beloved comedians on television. Failure then is part of the game. As Janet Fitch eloquently says it: “The phoenix must burn to emerge.”

Another inspiring figure is the British author J.K. Rowling, whose brilliant writings we have grown admiring through the Harry Potter movies. She knows what it means to give herself to the one thing that matters. Once she discovered the one, it grabs her whole being. Once she found the pearl, she sublimates all her energy to it. This is how she expressed her attitude at a commencement speech at Harvard university: ”… I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me. Had I really succeeded at anything else, I might never have found the determination to succeed in the one arena I believed I truly belonged.”

Know this: those who don’t fail are those who don’t try. Failure can be the wings upon which you reach success. Don’t be afraid to ride on it. Many seem to thrive on it. It motivates them to keep on improving. Michael Jordan has an outstanding take on failure. The best basketball player in NBA history, the legend, the champion has lost many games, missed many shots, but he used them to win five championships and a handful of MVPs. As he puts it: “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” He failed and that motivates him to improve.

churchill2-300x224What to say of the most successful person in human history, Jesus Christ, the son of Mary and Joseph? He asked the father to take away the cup from him. 3 times he fell on his way to Calvary; he endured 480 strokes, nailed to a cross, beaten beyond recognition, and humiliated to death. He persevered to the very last breath. The result is astonishing and magnificent, astonishingly magnificent, and magnificently astonishing; “I have made all things new”; the whole human race is redeemed. Creation is restored. Greatest success than this there is none. By the power of Christ crucified, we can do all things. No mountains are too steep for us. so in our efforts to be a a more virtuous person, a holier Christian, a better teacher, parent, child etc. We will know setbacks and many dark moments, but we can use them for our benefits. Focus. “Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith” (Heb. 12:2). Pray for the grace to stay focus. There will be noise around you; there will be distractions; there will be threats. Just keep your eyes on the goal. Focus on the one thing you know you can do. Fail at it. Try again. Do better the second time. The only people who never tumble are those who never mount the high wire.

The Depth of Our Helplessness

We are in this life in a spiritual journey to meet our Lord. We have to face many spiritual battles before we can finally reach the mountaintop. These battles cannot be won based on our own power. The conversion story of Augustine is a testimony to this. Despite the many efforts he personally made to find the truth—God, he never finds it until he understands that he must not rely on his own power. It is only God’s grace that enables us to turn to him. Although he was wholeheartedly looking for happiness, it could not be found without God’s grace. Two of the questions he asks show the primacy of God’s grace over personal effort. First, “why do I hesitate to abandon secular hopes and dedicate myself to God and the happy life?” (Confessions book vi, xi (19)). Second, if God is the author of supreme good, why do I have the power to will evil and reject good? (Book vii, iii (5)) I want to show that regardless of how willing we may want to surrender to God and do the right thing, God’s grace is indispensable in order to make that choice.
After Simplicianus told Augustine the story of Victorinus and St. Anthony, it became clear to him that he needs to convert to the catholic faith. He understands that there is no delight for him unless he turns himself to God. However, he quickly realizes having the knowledge that God is the source of happiness that he is seeking, and actually embrace that happiness are two worlds apart. As he put it, “the enemy had a grip on my will and held me prisoner”. His new will to enjoy the only source of pleasure was not strong enough to conquer his older will. His two wills were in conflict and robbed his soul of all concentration (book viii, v (10)). By saying this, he clearly understands that his happiness does not lie in worldly affairs, but he could not give them up on his own; though the burden of the world weighed him down, he could not turn to God until he called upon Jesus to fill him with power to overcome the disease of worldly allurements (book viii, v (12)). That tells us, even if we know what to do, our intellect and will need help to act. We need God’s grace. Without grace, we cannot make heavenly choice. We are in good shape only when our source of energy is God.
We have the power to reject good and choose evil because we have the power of choice. To understand the second question, Augustine works out some principle. God is good. All that he created is good. If they were not good, they would not exist at all. Evil has no being; so it was not created (by God) (book vii, v (7)). It enters the scene as a result of our bad choice. Humans are created with the power to choose. As such, he can choose whatever he pleases. As a result, he makes good and bad choice. God lets them choose lest he interfere with their freedom. To avoid evil, we need to regulate our choices. On our own, we will always fail. We need God’s grace to help us order our choices. That’s possible when we embrace the mediator between God and man— Jesus Christ (book vii, xviii (24)). It is only with God’s intervention do we receive the grace to make good choice. Yes, we find the grace to serve the Lord willingly only when we put on Jesus Christ (book viii, xii (29)). Unless we put our spiritual mouth at the fountain of God’s delight and drink avidly, the truth we are seeking could not be found (book ix, iii (6)).
It is my hope that no one has to look deep to realize how much God is necessary in his lives. From the breath we respire to our greatest accomplishment, I hope it is easy enough to see God’s fingers in all of them. So when you realize how much you’re contingent upon God, please take a moment to thank him for being so generous to you today. It’s as simple as that!