What Makes Anything Great?
Donald Trump has used the phrase, “Let’s make America great again!” What makes anything great? Michelle Obama was famously quoted as saying she was not proud of this country until her husband was elected, and more recently she seems to suggest that all hope is lost? For what does she hope?
My ideas of greatness and Donald Trump and hers are greatly divergent I suspect. I felt the country was so departing from its ideals under the Obama administration that the fundamental freedoms such as religious liberty, and the very right to life were being challenged and profoundly threatened and called into question. I for one, do not take my definition of greatness from politicians or business men, but rather a deeper reflection on what would truly lead to human thriving.
God is great, because God is Good, True and Beautiful! Greatness does not rest in economic or military power but rather in all that is true, good and beautiful. What parent when looking into the eyes of their new child would not say, “This is great!” God is all about greatness, magnanimity, and humility, while the enemy, is all about smallness, selfishness and pride in its pejorative sense. The enemy tries to get us to focus on “my rights”, while God invites us to consider the rights of others.
I had a conversation not so long ago with a CEO who suggested that an alternate translation for the word used to describe the devil was literally, “competitor”, in doing some checking, this can be seen as a fair translation, alternately one could use the word “rival”. It does seem very clear that the devil wants to divide or set people against one another, thus sowing division and hatred.
The world likes to champion “cultural diversity”, I think we would be better served to champion cultural variety! Think of the root of the word, “diversity”, it comes from “division”.
I am convinced that hell is that place (more precisely in theological terms, that state) where people will have and serve what consumed them on earth, oneself! Hell will be filled with those who are perfectly selfish, consumed with what they want, and I am of the mind that God will give it to them, licentious autonomy, or one might even say self-determination! God invites, never compels! Lucifer deceives, and impels other to compel those around them. The devil has no power over God, but attempts to “hurt” God by deceiving humans to destroy themselves. Sin does this, the catechism of the Catholic Church has a great definition of sin,
1849 Sin is an offense against reason, truth, and right conscience; it is failure in genuine love for God and neighbor caused by a perverse attachment to certain goods. It wounds the nature of man and injures human solidarity. It has been defined as "an utterance, a deed, or a desire contrary to the eternal law."
A great society, seems to me, is one that models God’s approach. One that invites, but never compels. There is order and natural laws that guide us, and our task is to more deeply understand nature, so as to preserve and protect human beings. Freedom must be enshrined, but it must be understood as what it truly is, freedom to pursue the true, the good and the beautiful. Society needs to have rules, but these rules must be constrained by right reason. Good science leads to good insight, and thus can be used to gain insight in what seems to be reasonable and true, good and beautiful. Good choices lead to human thriving, bad choices lead to pain, addiction and suffering for the individual and those around them. Who wants a selfish friend? We all have different skills and abilities, we need not feel threatened by the gifts of others, but rather we are called to use whatever gifts we have been given to serve God and neighbor.
There is that old adage, Misery loves company. Many people seemed to feel comfort if those around them condone a validate their choices. This is certainly natural.
We must strive to as Pope Francis says, “Accompany” those around us, but this can never be real love if we do not invite people to truly conform their lives to the true, the good and the beautiful, and thus be engaged in saving their souls.
Imagine you strike up a fast friendship while walking to work one day. You seem to connect on many levels and your new found friend shares that he is a type one diabetic. As you approach your destination your friend invites you to the doughnut shop. You feel comfortable enough to ask him, “Is this really good for you to eat donuts for breakfast?” He says, “My doctor told me I should not eat this stuff, but I really like them so what does he know?” The real friend will invite him to come to another place for something that won’t damage his health, he may reject the offer, but nonetheless true love will always compel us to speak the truth in charity. If we follow the ways of the enemy we might say, “ha, what do doctors know, let me buy you a couple donuts!” The latter is objectively a real failure in charity.
The political climate has come a long way from what John Kennedy said, “It is not what this country can do for you, but rather what you can do for your country!” John Paul II summarizes human anthropology quite well in defining the basic desires of the human person, namely: pleasure, possessions and power.
We are naturally inclined to pursue these things; however, we must reflect deeply on what is our personal end in such a pursuit, is it for oneself, or truly for the other.
God invites us to strive to be a person with a pure heart, the devil strives to deceive us to be the person consumed with oneself, what John Paul II calls the “person of lust”. Lust is understood as one who “objectifies” pleasure, possessions and power. In other words, I want pleasure for myself, things to consume for me, and power because it is good to control others! The person of lust sees others as merely “objects” to be used! The person with a pure heart is striving to bring pleasure to their spouse, using their possessions to serve others, and their power to make decisions that benefit those subject to their authority. The Pure of Heart is the person who reveals real greatness and sees others as the “subjects” they are!
The etymology of “greatness” seems to originally be connected to thickness”. Something “substantial”, one could even seemingly say, something with “substance” It is not a far stretch to see a connection with “being” itself, God is “Being”. Evil is “no thing”, evil totally lacks “substance” or dare I say, “greatness”.
What makes any society great? I propose the following: 1) a society that respects human dignity from the first moment of conception until natural death, 2) religious liberty for all to pursue what they believe to be the truth, so long as their religious or secular beliefs do not give them the license to harm others whether it be a perceived “infidel” or an unborn child, 3) an understanding of real solidarity, we are a human family that regardless of race, religion or culture are called to cooperate with one another and not give into the temptation to dominate another, 4) a real sense of subsidiarity, which empowers people to deal with their challenges locally and not impose some universal “solution” that fails to respect their autonomy, the family, local communities, or the individual.
God is great, because God is true, good and beautiful and IS. We will be great if we pursue all that is true, good and beautiful. Real greatness is measured by how closely we come to what we were created to be! Humility is at the heart of greatness, because the humble person is willing to understand what is true, and realizes that he or she does not define the truth, but rather is subject to the truth. God invites us to be open to the truth so that we can know the true, the good and the beautiful. His adversary, His “competitor of sorts”, wants us to see others as nothing, but merely an obstacle to what “I” want.
One will be great, if they pursue the true, the good and the beautiful, which the Christian knows through faith to be the Christ, Jesus, the Savior of the World!