Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.

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The triumph of failure, these are strange words to a success oriented culture like our own. In the culture in which we live success is what it is all about. Winning is what we strive for in our games, our careers and our politics. As one successful football coach expressed it, “Winning is not everything, it is the only thing.” Everybody wants to be number one. Winners are what the “rat race” is all about.

Diametrically opposed to this success oriented culture is the Christian culture in which failure can be a success. Jesus was the greatest failure of all. He was rejected by the people he came to save, deserted by his followers, betrayed by one of his apostles for thirty pieces of silver, scourged, crowned with thorns and crucified, a death so ignomious and disgraceful that Rome would not let one of its citizens suffer such an end.

Jesus chose the weak to conquer the strong and the foolish to confound the wise. He said if you want to be first you have to be last. If you want to save your life you have to lose it. If you want to be the greatest you have to be the least important. If you want to be the leader you have to be the servant of all. In the Beatitudes Jesus said that blessed are the poor, the mourners, the meek, the persecuted and those who suffer. He lived among the outcasts, tax collectors and sinners. He said he came not for the healthy but for the sick, not for the just but for the sinner.

It is strange that his apostles who lived so close to him would not grasp this fact. On at least three occasions he told them that he would have to suffer, die and be raised on the third day and they refused to believe. It is stranger still that we some two thousand years later, who begin our prayer with the sign of the cross, wear a crucifix and celebrate Good Friday, still do not get it.

But it is difficult to constantly project this successful image. I am not always happy, successful and in charge of the situation. It keeps us from reaching people. We could not be understanding and compassionate because we have never failed. “You have to walk the walk to talk the talk.”

Even if it were possible to always be successful it would not be desirable. To live without failure is to live a superficial life. Failure saves us from throwing away the real values of life for the passing tinsel and bauble. Failure makes us realize our need for God and for others. It gives us intimations of mortality, reminding us that we have not here a lasting city. It enriches our lives, makes us sympathetic, understanding and capable of giving and receiving compassion.

The fear of failure keeps us from attempting many good things. What is worth doing is worth doing poorly, is worth failing. This is the sin of many good people they play it too safe, they do not launch out into the deep. Life is a risk. Without God I can do nothing but with God I can do anything that he asks me to do.

The fact of the matter is that in the real world we are all losers. We are all fickle, fallible, sinful human beings with this transcendental neediness for the Creator. Not only is it ok to fail, it could be our greatest achievement. It could bring us to Jesus. Without him we can do nothing but with him we can do anything that he wants us to do.

“But may I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me and I to the world.” Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block, to the pagans foolishness, but to those who believe the power and the wisdom of God. “If I be lifted up I will draw all things to myself.” And that is what is meant by the Triumph of Failure.


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