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Fast from Success

April 2, AD 2014 6 Comments

If I look deep, I find my inner self hooked up to a drip IV of success. I heard once at a summer retreat that we all look to the three “P”s to wrongly satisfy our inner desires and insecurities: power, prestige or popularity.

It is natural to want good things for ourselves and loved ones. Worldly success cannot be entirely wrong: we are happy when our spouse feels competent at work, we rejoice when our child wins a competition, we are contented when a family member has a successful career, family life or personal feat. Catholics do not believe, as Jehovah’s Witnesses do for example, that the world is condemned and there is no point in investing in it. It is good to pursue education if that is your gift and calling. If God gave you a talent, He wants you to use it and not only will that bless others but it will make you feel good in the meantime. The contestants on Master Chef love cooking and having success in that competition and with the dishes they create give them immense personal satisfaction.

As with anything, what counts is our true intentions and what goes on in our heart. You can use your intelligence to show off what you know or you can see it as one type of talent that will almost surely mean deficiency in other talents that “less intelligent” people might have. You can use your social ability at work to gain popularity and say the right things, or you can be genuinely interested in others and have that warmth and generosity towards every person (even the difficult ones) that can’t be faked. You can use your blog to promote yourself and look really cool or you can use it as a more humble means of communication and expression. You can be dependent on anything in this hunger for success: a shiny career, craftiness, great style, beautiful things/materialism, orthodoxy in the faith, profitable projects, number of people in groups, followers of your blog, etc. Even family size is used to show off in certain circles, when it is the deepest, most intimate thing that should be discussed between couples. Church teaching doesn’t give a number of kids you should have, but again points to the heart, saying “be generous”.

So how much of our effort is commendable and going into making use of God-given talents to bless our lives and those around us? And how much of our effort is just going into the exterior, and not preparing our inner soil for God’s seed of Grace? In the Gospel reading that marks the Lenten season, one of Jesus’s temptations in the desert is to have all the kingdoms in the world, and so also we should be careful not to be hungering for the world, but worshipping and serving only God. Mary didn’t have worldly success. She didn’t “do” anything: blog, publish, start a ministry, have an impressively large and well-dressed family. She did accept quite a lot and she accompanied Jesus, even when He was ridiculed, tortured and died as a criminal and amongst criminals, with “one on his right, the other on his left” (Lk 23:33). She was totally authentic and totally transparent, and focused on her interior life and not on how she looked to others. When things went wrong or not according to her plans, she didn’t despair. Instead, she lovingly integrated them into her heart, keeping them and reflecting on them (Lk 2:19).

“Without neglecting her duties – we see how she hurries to her cousin Elizabeth’s house -, Our Lady maintains a continuous attention to He who is in her interior. In her there grows, towards Him, a love that becomes more intense, more vibrant, more tender each day.” (Translated from Maternidade e Vida by Joao Paulo Pimentel, p. 25)

This Lent I am reflecting once again on the IV I am constantly needing attached to my arm: of others’ approval and shiny worldly success, not only for myself but even for those that I love. This Lent, let’s make serving and worshipping God the focus of our interior life, even in the most unsuccessful situations. This Lent, let’s fast from success.

About the Author:

Julie Machado is a 30-year-old wife, mother and Portuguese-American who grew up in California, but moved to Portugal for college and has been there ever since. She has a degree in Theology from the Catholic University of Lisbon and has special interest in Pope John Paul II’s Theology of the Body. She blogs at Marta, Julie e Maria.

  • JQ Tomanek

    Wow, this one strikes the heart. Great article Julie!

  • Lots to pray about and examine my heart with in this post….Thanks for your honesty and boldness!

  • JQ Tomanek

    “And as I close this chaotic volume I open again the strange small book from which all Christianity came; and I am again haunted by a kind of confirmation. The tremendous figure which fills the Gospels towers in this respect, as in every other, above all the thinkers who ever thought themselves tall. His pathos was natural, almost casual. The Stoics, ancient and modern, were proud of concealing their tears. He never concealed His tears; He showed them plainly on His open face at any daily sight, such as the far sight of His native city. Yet He concealed something. Solemn supermen and imperial diplomatists are proud of restraining their anger. He never restrained His anger. He flung furniture down the front steps of the Temple, and asked men how they expected to escape the damnation of Hell. Yet He restrained something. I say it with reverence; there was in that shattering personality a thread that must be called shyness. There was something that He hid from all men when He went up a mountain to pray. There was something that He covered constantly by abrupt silence or impetuous isolation. There was some one thing that was too great for God to show us when He walked upon our earth; and I have sometimes fancied that it was His mirth.” GK Chesterton at the end of “Orthodoxy”

    • JQ Tomanek

      If introducing a relationship with God, forgiving sins, healing, being born of a virgin, feeding the hungry, walking on water, changing water to wine, changing bread into His body, exorcising demons, raising people from the sleep of death, changing the status of women, ushering in a new era of creation, teaching that love is the greatest of virtues which was novel to world, dying for my sins and yours, resurrecting from the dead, and ascending to the Father all sounds like an uneventful life, I would have to wonder what you are comparing it to.

  • Kendall

    Love this.

  • lucyoo

    I never thought, in my whole life, that I would be writing to thank someone for casting a love spell on my marriage, but that day has arrived! It’s true that I didn’t believe in this kind of thing at all, but now i do since i had my husband back to my life last month after all i have been through as a single mother but now i can give thanks to Dr. Ekaka email: ekakaspelltemple@yahoo.com for the love spell he had on my husband and now we are living as a happy family again. It was truly a one-of-a-kind experience…