On September 11th, we were glad to welcome Dr. Don Briel, the founder of the Catholic Studies program at the University of Saint Thomas. Dr. Briel’s presentation focused largely on his reflection upon Fr. Edward Leen’s book, The Imitation of Christ, specifically a passage titled The Triumph of Failure.
This reflection called us to look upon the life of Christ for a way to approach our own conversion and evangelization efforts. Our Lord’s life, by earthly standards, was a complete failure. He preached to thousands, performed miracles, and yet wound up crucified on a Cross. How could the world judge this as a success?
On the other hand, we hear our Lord’s call to perfection, Dr. Briel reminded us. We often cast it aside as a challenge that is impossible to fully engage and therefore one not meant to be taken literally. For why would our Lord command us to attempt something that will result in failure?
Leen resolves these questions by stressing that our Lord’s life was marked primarily by his endurance, not his action. It is here that we are reminded that we are not called to be successful, but faithful. Our success is not measured by earthly quantitative standards, but rather how we can become more Christ-like.
Christ’s was a life of passion, and herein lies the secret to Christian perfection. As Christians living in modernity, we are so often crippled spiritually by our need to quantify the fruit of grace, and these poor results (or even great results) can distract us from the call to engage the cross in the present moment. To be perfect, according to Leen, is to learn to put on the Mind of Christ in the present situations of life.
In one moment, that might mean be to preach the Gospel; in another, to rebuke sin; in another, to suffer death. If we look at the call to holiness as something that can be worked out now–not always looking for future results that may never come–then we are learning to live as our Lord lived.