A young woman in her twenties – a “girl in bloom”, as Vinicius de Morais would say – eager to take life seriously and, who knows, to consecrate herself to God, confessed honestly: – “What is difficult is to take off”.
She belonged to one of those groups of young people who meet to “enjoy Jesus Christ”, but she really wanted to “take off”, to gain altitude, to overcome the attraction of a cushioned, selfish and fluffy life.
For a plane to take off, the jets have to pull with full force, and if they stop working, the plane falls apart. None of us takes off without the ignition of the soul and a lot of fuel of will, effort, persistence, courage.
These virtues, however, have gone out of fashion like 18th century loopholes. That is why I was pleased to hear some experts in educational theory insist some time ago on an educational aspect that sounds “reactionary”. “We must educate in contrariness”, they argue.
“Young people, and less young people, must be informed that it costs money to reach one’s goals. That life is far from being a paid party; it is also made of frustrations and even setbacks”. Without discipline and renunciation, without hard training and dedication, without rivers of sweat and rigorous diet, there are no football players and no Olympic medals are won.
The truth is that proverbs such as “What it costs is what it’s worth” and “What goes around comes around comes around” have had their day in the sun. According to the politically correct discourse, today everything must be made easier.
I believe that there is virtue in the middle and that between “the letter with blood is what gets in” and “learn English in seven days” there is a world: the human world of daily effort, of persistent work, of swallowing disappointment and moving forward because it is worth it, wiping away tears and staying in the trench when the trench is important.
This is certainly not the air we breathe, but the opposite: the conviction that what isn’t fun doesn’t matter, what doesn’t immediately gratify must be put aside. We live in the age of “consumer hedonism”, of pleasure in sips, of the gratifying and fun present. We want payment for any effort, like dolphins eager to swallow a fish as quickly as they finish their number of acrobatic leaps.
That English can be learned in seven days, with a hilarious method and a teacher who tells exciting stories; or that the use of a computer is enough for the new generations to become competitive is nothing but nonsense.
What goes around comes around. One of the great keys to life consists precisely in knowing how to postpone gratification, because that is what turns desire into will. Only those who resist the temptation to eat whatever they feel like eating on the hour will be able to feel the satisfaction of having lost weight. Only those who study things that are sometimes fun, sometimes boring and tiresome, will end up acquiring knowledge about them. The sayings “Patience is the mother of science” and “Closed books do not make scholars” are right. Those who do not resist the temptation to throw everything out of the window when friends or community or family are not the wonders they dreamed of, can only savour the full measure of friendship, fraternity and communion of life.
Aristotle taught, more than 24 centuries ago, that in the pursuit of happiness or the attainment of any ideal, there is a great deal of gift and gift. The skills we receive in greater or lesser numbers, the people we meet in life and who, some more than others, help us to “take off”, the social opportunities we have been given – all of this is a gift, an offering, for which we must keep our eyes wide open and our hearts grateful. But, having said that, it is worth adding that happiness or success does not fall from the sky. It is the daily cultivation of abilities and gifts, the wise postponement of gratification, that enables us to realise our dreams. He who learns by hard work what justice or freedom is worth, appreciates them properly; he who stubbornly seeks the truth, feels the real pleasure of discovering it.
Do you know how Euclid replied to King Ptolemy, who wanted to learn geometry quickly, as it suited his royal haste? “There are no shortcuts to geometry”. There are no shortcuts to the things that really matter in life. For prayer, for example, there are no magic formulas or instant revelations. To become a great sculptor, engineer, musician or biologist, there are no recipes from a pharmacy.
However, it is important to give meaning to our efforts, to “help” them. How? By not taking our eyes off the goal. It is easier to “take off”, when we think of the joy of satiating our eyes, up there, with sublime landscapes and horizons. Sacrifice is better sustained when we know that through the cross we reach the light, the resurrection, as we say in Christian language. At the time of sowing, we must think of the harvest. The will we have to fulfil a plan, to realise a project, mobilises our strength: it makes us firm in the decision we have made and full of courage in the face of difficulties.
We are able to take off and soar on high when we are swept along by a great love. “Love – according to Master Eckart – is like the fisherman’s hook. The fisherman cannot catch the fish until it is caught on the hook. The one who is caught in Christ is so deeply caught that the feet and the hands, the mouth and the eyes, the heart and everything else that the person is, belongs to Him alone. I hope you are lucky enough to be caught. Because the more you are caught, the freer you will be”.
Abílio Pina Ribeiro, cmf
(PHOTO: Marten Bjork)