“The difficult thing is to take off”, confessed a young man, eager to consecrate himself completely to God.

He belonged to a group of young people who had gathered to give wings to their dream and really wanted to “take off”, to gain altitude, to overcome the attraction of a cushioned and selfish existence.

To take off, the plane’s jets have to pull at maximum power. None of us takes off without the ignition of the soul and a lot of fuel of will, energy, persistence and courage.

These virtues, however, have had their glory days. That is why I liked what I heard at a pedagogical conference: “Adolescents and young people must be educated in adversity. They must be aware that it is difficult to achieve goals. Life is far from being a fun game; it is also made of frustrations and even setbacks”.

Without discipline and renunciation, without hard training and a strict diet, there are no football stars, no medals and trophies to be won.

The truth is that sayings such as “What it costs is what it’s worth” and “What goes around comes around” have gone out of fashion. According to the politically correct discourse, nowadays everything has to be easy.

I believe that virtue lies in the middle and that between one extreme, “blood, sweat and tears”, and the other, “learning English at zero cost”, there is a whole world of daily effort, persistent work, overcoming disappointments and, sometimes, dry tears.

We live in the age of buttons that make everything easier. Press one button and a ticket comes out; press another and a coffee comes out; press another and the lift goes up or down; press another and sounds and images come out. But you don’t press a button and mathematics or physics comes out. It takes commitment and perseverance.

There are many people who don’t think like that. What is not fun doesn’t matter. What doesn’t give immediate pleasure is put aside. One wants immediate reward for any effort, like the Benfica eagle after flying over the stadium.

That English can be learned in seven days, with a very entertaining method and a teacher who tells fascinating stories; or that the mere use of a computer is enough to make the new generations competitive, is pure nonsense.

What goes around comes around. One of the great keys to success is precisely knowing how to postpone gratification, because that is what turns desire into will. Only those who resist the temptation to eat what they feel like eating can feel the satisfaction of having lost weight. Only those who study things, sometimes in a fun way, sometimes in a hard way, end up acquiring solid knowledge. The proverbs “Patience is the mother of science” and “Closed books do not teach literacy” are right. Only those who resist the temptation to throw everything out of the window when friends or family are not the wonders they dreamed of can savour the full juice of friendship, stability and the communion of life.

Aristotle taught that our happiness or the attainment of our ideal is, to a large extent, a gift and a surrender. The skills we have received to a greater or lesser extent; the people we know who, to a greater or lesser extent, help us “take off”; the social opportunities we have been fortunate enough to have… all of these are gifts, to which we must keep our eyes wide open and our hearts grateful.

But having said that, we must add that happiness or success does not fall from the sky in leaps and bounds. It is the daily cultivation of our skills and gifts that enables us to realise our dreams. He who painstakingly learns the worth of justice or freedom, savours and appreciates them properly; he who doggedly searches for truth feels the true pleasure of finding it.

King Ptolemy wanted to learn geometry quickly, as befitted his royal pressures. “There are no shortcuts to geometry,” Euclid told him. There are no shortcuts to the really worthwhile things in life. There are no recipes for becoming a great sculptor, or engineer, or musician, or biologist.

But to make sense of our effort, and to “help” it, it is important not to take our eyes off the goal. It is easier to “take off” when one thinks of the joy of satisfying the view, from above, with sublime landscapes and horizons. At the time of sowing we have to think of the harvest. The will to carry out a project mobilises our strength: it makes us firm in the decision we have taken and fills us with courage in the face of difficulties.

We are able to take off and fly to the heights when we let ourselves be carried by a great love. This is what Master Eckart taught, referring to Jesus Christ: “Love is like a fisherman’s hook. The fisherman cannot catch the fish until it has taken the bait. He who is united to Christ is so deeply united that his feet and hands, his mouth and eyes, his heart and everything else belong to him alone.  May he be lucky enough to be caught. For the more you are caught, the freer you will be.

 

Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf

(PHOTO: Bing Hui Yao)

 

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