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 Fr. Edward Leen - "Success" 
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New post Fr. Edward Leen - "Success"
Fr. Edward Leen, My Last Retreat, pp. 84-90.

“As Little Children”

There is a subtle tendency which overtakes quite a number of persons of goodwill and of real spirituality in the course of their lives. It is the temptation to be persuaded that because they do not succeed in some work to which they are appointed they have failed Almighty God. This temptation can be so strong as to be overwhelming and paralysing, and can plunge a soul into the deepest despondency and thus arrest its spiritual life. Men are exposed to this temptation and women even more so. The younger among you can hardly understand this. The reason women are more exposed to succumb to this temptation is a proneness on their part to identify the successful execution of a task with the pleasing of God. Hence when they see things issue successfully from their hands they are persuaded that they are very pleasing to God. When on the other hand things collapse in their hands they are persuaded that they have failed badly in His sight.

This is an error to be carefully avoided in your lives — for many reasons. If you make success in your tasks and appointments — as men judge success — to be an objective, you are ruining your work at the very base. As in all other cases, you find the devil very subtle to produce something very like what God demands but which is utterly different. Satan is called by the French very aptly: “Le singe de Dieu,” for he imitates God as a monkey imitates man — an imitation which is a caricature and a perversion, but which can be very misleading. God tells us we should be successful, He obliges us to aim at success. “Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect” (Matt. 5, 48). If you ambition this perfection you are a success, but this perfection is not identical with success in your enterprises.

The lives of the saints can lead us astray in this matter, because they have been almost uniformly successful in their lives. Witness St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Catherine of Sienna, and others. In reading their lives and seeing the success of their works we might be tempted to think our lives are worthless in the eyes of God unless a like success should attend them. Hence it is useful for us to read a life in which this is not the case. The most remarkable of these is the life of Blessed Phillipine Duchesne. It is one long tissue of unsuccessful, ill-fated enterprises — from her first essay at being a nun, to her ambitions as a missionary. She dreamed of great conquests and yet everything she set her hand to was a failure. All her work in the New World resulted in abject failure. She succeeded in nothing in her life. Another striking example is found in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Here is the saint who is said to have reproduced most perfectly the life of Jesus Christ on earth. So fair an image of it did he effect in his life that he received the stigmata in testimony of the close likeness. And yet before the end he saw an almost complete abandonment of his ideals and he saw a vast assembly of the friars he had trained, elect another man’s views in preference to his. They followed Elias and left Francis — thinking his ideals too Un-practical!

It is well for us that in this panorama of success in the lives of the saints we have instances of failure. And yet failure is exalted to the altars of God. Phillipine did not fail; still less Francis of Assisi. But their success was not in their work but in their art of living. That is the success you are to put before you as an objective. It is very different from a passion for success in work, which is inspired by the desire to have an assurance for self (in the applause of others) that you are something worthwhile! You may do the most magnificent things, you may rule successfully, teach with distinction, nurse multitudes back to health, be a marvellous doctor, win the esteem of your Superiors and everybody else — and yet you may be a failure. Success in work is not necessarily success in the art of living.

It is at this we must aim. Again I pause to warn you, most earnestly, because in the course of twenty years and more, dealing with nuns in different parts of the world, I have been again and again confronted with this great error: the tendency to place the approval of God in the testimony of works successfully achieved. It is amazing how frequently religious people are led astray by that and so are drawn to spend all their energies of soul and body with extraordinary generosity and devotedness in order to bring something to a successful issue, foolishly believing that this meets with God’s approval. It might be so if they lived in the time of the Old Testament; because in the history of the Chosen People you do find invariably that fidelity to God was recompensed by temporal success and reward. When the Jews were faithful, they were a great people who met with success in battle and whose labours were blessed; when they were unfaithful, disaster was the result.

But there is no excuse for us under the New Dispensation, with Christ’s life before us, to make this gigantic mistake, we who are confronted with the Crucifix on all sides. Christ was an enormous success in the art of living. He was no success in the works to which He set His hand. He failed to persuade the Jews to take right views of religion. He failed to win to Himself those on whom He lavished spiritual or temporal benefits. He failed even to win and hold to Himself the twelve He had chosen for Himself. He failed to convert Judas. He failed to get His thoughts home to the minds of the Apostles. Even forty days after the Resurrection they were still dreaming earthly dreams. He failed in all things and yet in the eyes of God, there was no life like Christ’s. There was no one who grasped and explained the art of living so well. That is why He unhesitatingly bids us learn of Him how to live. He tells us that if we fix our attention on Him and strive to learn from Him how to live, despite failure after failure, in our works we need never know failure but can be a success in life. There is this difference between Christ and all other saints—even Our Blessed Lady. They can be an inspiration, a light showing us how to shape our lives, but their influence stops at that. With Christ we are in presence of something more forcible. Christ is not only a model whom we may study. He is also a force enabling us to reproduce His likeness in our own life.

Consider this comparison; it is imperfect and falls far short of the prototype. Suppose an amateur artist is in front of an easel, with the purpose of painting the face and form and character of Michelangelo, who sits as model. The artist may be good, and may produce a fair likeness, but how far more successful would he be if the model had the power to infuse his own genius and skill into the artist at work. How much greater would be the result. It would be a masterpiece, produced entirely by the amateur, yet stamped by the genius of the master.

Christ sits as model for us, but He does not leave us laboriously working to reproduce His features with our own abilities. He sits there and causes His own Divine power to pass into our hands. That is what is called the “Spirit of Jesus “ in our souls, and if we allow that Holy Spirit to work He will produce the likeness of Christ in our souls. That is what the Holy Spirit does.

Though Christ achieved human perfection in conduct in which God Himself could not find a flaw—though it is an expression of a Divine way of acting — yet in spite of that sublimity His perfection remains within the compass of the purely human and purely imitable. Ascending into the Heavens though it is, yet it strikes its root in earth; His perfection though Divine is creature-like in its form. The same perfection is Divine and yet creature-like: a striking paradox. Nothing becomes the creature like humility, and yet Christ can describe His character as being humble. “I am Divine yet humble, I am humble because I am Divine.”

It is amazing that God could come on earth and could speak, eat, move, walk, work, and in all these things the men dealing with Him could find no flaw. Yet it could escape their notice that such perfection was Divine. Men saw God acting and they thought it so ordinary that they failed to notice it. There is something thrilling in that thought—that the Great Infinite God could be described by His creatures as quite ordinary! “Whence has He learning? Did we not see Him grow up in Nazareth like ourselves, and toiling like ourselves, weeping like ourselves, feeling joy and sorrow like ourselves, exactly like ourselves in all things?” They could not find any fault in it but did they believe that this was the great God behaving and acting as it became the great God of Heaven to behave? Could we ever dwell sufficiently on that thought? It is so enthralling! Ars est celare artem—” The height of art is to conceal the artistry!” Here is the perfect exemplification of this aphorism. Here is the supreme artistry of God, the artistry so perfect that it was not noticed.

If the air is charged with vapour, you see it; if it is perfectly pure, you cannot see it. It was because of the consummate transparency of Christ’s behaviour as a child, boy and young man, that He passed unnoticed and unobserved. It is an amazing achievement of God. That God could strive to be ordinary and could succeed! God did not play at being a baby, God was a baby. He did not play at being a boy, He was a boy. When we say: “God became man” we imply more than the ontological conception of one Divine person with two natures. God became man not only from the ontological point of view but also from the psychological point of view. He was Man through and through, Man in every sense of the word. He was Man in all that is implied of human experience, sin alone excepted.

And then He says: “Learn of Me.” We answer: “I am willing, but how can I grasp this flawless perfection? It is too ethereal, too perfect. It escapes my grasp as the rainbow does.” “Yet it is not so difficult,” Christ answers. “I will reduce it to a formula for you — learn to be humble.” “Lord, I believe, I see your perfection is based on humility and I know if I am humble I will be like you. But, Lord, it is extremely difficult to understand what humility is. It is as evasive as your perfection. I cannot grasp it with my mind or imagination. I would willingly be humble, but how?” He says: “My child, I will trace for you a discipline and if you observe it, you will inevitably arrive at humility.” Did God make His word good? The fact of history proves He did, because in all ages we have seen men and women succeeding in that art of being humble, and that fact — that men of all ages, in all countries, rich and poor, learned and unlearned, and even children — have learned, is a proof that this discipline can be reduced to a simple form, not only in theory but also in practice. It does not require the genius of St. Thomas to put it into practice; no, a child of five can do it. It is easy to grasp and easy to put into practice.

The Apostles wanted badly to know this formula. They were harassed by ambition and pride and desire of success. They were filled with emulation: “There was also a strife among them, which of them should seem to be the greater” (Lk. 22, 24). So hard is it to be even aware of these faults, that the Apostles were many months with Our Lord and yet they had no misgivings about asking Him who should be the greatest. It seemed quite the natural thing to do. Our Lord took a little child and said (Mt. 18, 3): “Look at this little one, unless you become converted and become as this little child you shall not even enter the kingdom of Heaven. You quarrel as to who will have the highest place in the kingdom of Heaven, but unless you imitate the humility of this child you shall not even have a place in the kingdom of Heaven.” It was a startling thing for these men to have a little child put before them as their model. No wonder they were bewildered.

But suppose they were not bewildered, but pondered on this strange thing and said: “Is He serious? He seems to be, and He may prove right as He always does.” So they ask Him: “If we accept that statement, how are we to become as little children?” Our Lord would smile and say: “By prayer.” Prayer is the thing that makes us something. That question was implicitly made by the Apostles one day. They saw that it was prayer that made Him great, and they said (Lk. II, I): “Lord, we would like to pray like You, teach us how to pray.” Our Lord answered: “You are making a mistake as to what prayer really is. You think prayer is an accomplishment, like a facility in doing human, natural things. Prayer is not like that, prayer is an attitude of soul, an attitude towards God. Hence this is how you pray: Our Father . . .“ He was not teaching them a formula merely but an attitude of soul, a spirit. If we succeed, by grace, in having the attitude of soul to God that a child has to his father, then we are praying and then we are humble.

Humility consists in achieving a child-like attitude towards God, the complete “givingness” of a child towards its parents. It seeks everything from its parents, brings all its difficulties to them for enlightenment. Take any little child with its mother. It depends for all on the mother and counts on her. Take a child of one year. Could you imagine anything more helpless? It can do nothing. It should be terrified at the vast universe that surrounds it. Is it terrified? Not at all. It has no consciousness of the danger or of being at the mercy of the universe. One of the most beautiful things in life is the contemplation of a child in its utter trustfulness, fearlessness, and confidingness. The mother is there. It is not surprised at being taken up. It does not fear lest it be not fed. It does not fear lest it be not dressed, it does not fear lest it be not caressed. It takes it all for granted. Nothing more beautiful!

Christ was like that. His life was a complete exemplification of that attitude. He was towards His Heavenly Father exactly like a child. He regarded Himself as a child executing His tasks in His Father’s house. “Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s business?” What an amount of spirituality in that sentence. There you have the “Our Father” in act, carrying out the Father’s business with the docility of a child. The child’s docility consists in being what it is — in being a child. The child does not protest against its dependence. It does not clamour to think its own thought and go its own way. There is loving acquiescence in its dependence — and therefore there is docility which is the principal expression of the child’s humility.

That is why Our Lord’s life was a lesson in docility. It was simply the fulfilment of the desires and wishes of His Father. Things of great moment and things of little moment marked His career. Things of great moment did not appeal to Him for themselves alone. He worked miracles, spoke with power, exercised all the virtues, but it was not the fairness of virtue, or the splendour of courage, or the beauty of chastity in themselves that appealed to Him. Their only appeal was that they were things commanded by His Father. Hence the lowliest act was as great in His eyes as the sublimest act of virtue, inasmuch as the lowly one was stamped with the command of His Father as well as the others. He did not reason further.

Christ did not leave us in any doubt that His purpose was the doing of His Father’s will. One day when He was trying to persuade the Pharisees of the truth of His doctrine, He besought them to give heed to His truth because, He said: “I seek not My own will, but the will of Him that sent Me” (Jn. 5, 30). This He puts to them as the grounds for their believing in Him. Again, at Jacob’s well (Jn. 4, 31-34), when the disciples ask Him to eat, He says with great wistfulness: “You ask Me if I am hungry — you wonder why I am not — what satisfies My hunger is the fulfilment of My Father’s will.” When He has done something to fulfil His Father’s will He is satisfied. That is His food and drink. In obedience to His Father’s will He had spent half an hour in conversation with a Samaritan woman and raised her to the heights of sanctity.

St. Paul admits us to the colloquy between Father and Son prior to the Incarnation. “Sacrifice and oblation thou wouldst not. . . . Behold I come to do Thy will” (Heb. 10, 5-9). Christ’s life began with that pledge of obedience and He pursued its course in the exact fulfilment of it and ended in that death to which He was committed by that initial promise.

Lest we should be mistaken, He tells us again and again, that He claimed no other distinction for His actions but that they were acts of obedience*: “I do nothing of Myself, but as the Father hath taught Me, these things I speak.” “I speak that which I have seen with My Father.” “I came not of Myself but He sent Me.” “I act as He dictates.” “The Son doth nothing of Himself but what He seeth the Father doing.” He is as a pupil carefully noting His Master’s words. Eighteen years of His life were the consequence of one act of obedience. Mary asked Him why He had left them. She did not understand and used Her maternal power to tell Him to come home. 1-le left His work and came home to spend eighteen docile years of obedience to His creature. And yet we find it so hard to give up something when we are told!

Nothing changed when He began His public life. His whole life was “victimised“, a life of obedience, and He never allowed us to have that obscured from our minds. A few hours before His death He says: “Father, I have glorified Thee on earth, I have finished the work Thou hast given Me to do” (Jn. 17, 4). His obedience was entire, prompt, heroic and uncalculating. It carried Him on to that fearful death on the Cross: “I lay down My life… For this commandment I have had from the Father” (Jn. 10, 18). He never once hesitated, was always perfectly docile.

There is something consoling in the thought that this life can be simplified to these terms—by carrying out the programme enjoined by Our Father. We cannot perhaps be heroic, but we can be obedient. It is comparatively easy to be obedient, provided we know what obedience is.

* Cf. Jn. 5, 19, 30; 8, 26, 29, 42.

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Sun Jun 17, 2007 10:42 am
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New post Re: Fr. Edward Leen - "Success"
At last I read it. It is delicious, thanks John!

Some comments/questions though :) (I can´t help it :mrgreen: )

When the author says:

Quote:
Men are exposed to this temptation and women even more so. The younger among you can hardly understand this. The reason women are more exposed to succumb to this temptation is a proneness on their part to identify the successful execution of a task with the pleasing of God.


He didn´t explain why is this. Which is the reason for a woman to think that way...? Perhaps some woman in this forum will help me? Perhaps my good new friend Katie will help me? :D

Quote:
The lives of the saints can lead us astray in this matter, because they have been almost uniformly successful in their lives. Witness St. Ignatius, St. Teresa, St. Vincent de Paul, and St. Catherine of Sienna, and others. In reading their lives and seeing the success of their works we might be tempted to think our lives are worthless in the eyes of God unless a like success should attend them. Hence it is useful for us to read a life in which this is not the case. The most remarkable of these is the life of Blessed Phillipine Duchesne. It is one long tissue of unsuccessful, ill-fated enterprises — from her first essay at being a nun, to her ambitions as a missionary. She dreamed of great conquests and yet everything she set her hand to was a failure. All her work in the New World resulted in abject failure. She succeeded in nothing in her life. Another striking example is found in the life of St. Francis of Assisi. Here is the saint who is said to have reproduced most perfectly the life of Jesus Christ on earth. So fair an image of it did he effect in his life that he received the stigmata in testimony of the close likeness. And yet before the end he saw an almost complete abandonment of his ideals and he saw a vast assembly of the friars he had trained, elect another man’s views in preference to his. They followed Elias and left Francis — thinking his ideals too Un-practical!


This is just excellent. I never heard of Blessed Phillipine Duchesne but now she is my patron saint :)
We can add to this list the poor Gemma Galgani whose whole life was an ardent desire to be Passionist and yet he never got it.
I knew the example of St. Francis and I recall Dom Grea had to suffer exactly the same as him! That`s terrible!

I`d like to end with a quote I love it! It is from Fr. F. Prat.

Quote:
"Holy Wednesday was a day for resting. It seems He spent it in Bethany along with His Apostles, to whom He wanted to devote His last hours of His earthly pilgrimage. When he left the Temple, on Tuesday night, His public Apostolate was closed, and humanly speaking, it ended in a failure".

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Leon Bloy


Sun Aug 12, 2012 10:47 pm
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New post Re: Fr. Edward Leen - "Success"
Cristian, another good example is the life of Charles de Foucauld. He spent himself for the conversion of the Moslems, and I don't think he converted one! :)

In respect of women, I think it might have to do with the nature of their position as the handmaids of men. Their role is not generally to decide on what is to be done, but rather to work on the means and execution. Men, on the other hand, have to decide on objectives. So it is natural that somebody for whom the objective is a given, will feel that their work is valuable or not insofar as it achieves the objective. Men, who have to work out what to achieve, knowing that they may be mistaken, ought to keep in mind that perhaps their choice is mistaken, so they cannot expect success. They ought to see that in the end what matters is that they act well and do their best.

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Mon Aug 13, 2012 4:58 am
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New post Re: Fr. Edward Leen - "Success"
John Lane wrote:
Cristian, another good example is the life of Charles de Foucauld. He spent himself for the conversion of the Moslems, and I don't think he converted one! :)


Indeed, he converted no one, yet they called him "the saint" ;)

Quote:
In respect of women, I think it might have to do with the nature of their position as the handmaids of men. Their role is not generally to decide on what is to be done, but rather to work on the means and execution. Men, on the other hand, have to decide on objectives. So it is natural that somebody for whom the objective is a given, will feel that their work is valuable or not insofar as it achieves the objective. Men, who have to work out what to achieve, knowing that they may be mistaken, ought to keep in mind that perhaps their choice is mistaken, so they cannot expect success. They ought to see that in the end what matters is that they act well and do their best.


Thanks John! You know, I had a very interesting chat with a firend of mine and I asked her what she thuoght about your response and she agreed completely! She explained me a lot of interesting things on woman in general... and the conclusion I took was: "oh boy, women are really complicated!" :lol:

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Leon Bloy


Fri Aug 17, 2012 10:30 pm
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New post Re: Fr. Edward Leen - "Success"
Cristian Jacobo wrote:
"oh boy, women are really complicated!" :lol:


They're a lot like firearms. Without the requisite training, they're deadly. Just stay away from them. :)










PS I won't say which party needs the training... :)

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Sun Aug 19, 2012 8:05 am
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