Sunday, October 11, 2009

Enemy of the Great

As we begin the second quarter today, I’d like to talk a bit about greatness.

The gospel reading from this Sunday is interesting. A young man, perhaps not much older than you, comes to Jesus and says “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answers him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God. You know the commandments: Keep the Sabbath holy, Honor your parents, don’t lie, steal, murder.” “I’ve done these things since I was young” the young man tells Jesusproudly. Jesus, eying him, says, “There is one thing further you must do: sell all your possessions to the poor and come, follow me.” And the gospel says the young man walked away sad, for he was a wealthy young man.

My take on that story is the young man is a good guy. He’s following the commandments. But Jesus challenges him to be great. I think that may describe us all: on the whole, we’re pretty good people. We’re not killing people, most of the time we’re not stealing, we don’t often take God’s name in vain, we’re not sleeping around. But God calls us beyond even those things. He desires us to be great.

I read an interesting book over the break, by Jim Collins, called “Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t”. He studied many companies in Wall Street, trying to figure out if there were common characteristics in companies that had out-performed the market by three times the general averages—the “great companies” vs. those who had only done well (“the good”). One of his findings is an interesting idea: “Good is the enemy of the great.” (repeat). What he means is that often the good companies were happy with their performance—“good” for them had become “good enough”, so they weren’t driven to seek more. Their vision in what they could be, what they could become, was limited, ordinary, pedestrian.

I think that can be true of all of us: you as students, we as your teachers or school leaders. We often measure ourselves against the masses and say to ourselves, “Well, maybe I’m not studying as much as I should, but I’m doing a heck of a lot more that my friend in another school.” “Maybe I could be a better teacher, but I’m sure better than _______”. “Maybe I’m not the best headmaster, but I know I’m better than most”. That kind of thinking will guarantee that we’ll be at most, “better than average” students, teachers or headmasters, but we’ll never be great. We’ll never be the true difference makers in this world if being “good enough” is all we aspire to be.

One of the things I am proudest about JPII is we have one, simple, ambitious goal for you: we want you to be great. We not only want you to be great, we think you can be great. It’s why our graduation requirements are higher than any school in the Nashville area. It’s why we don’t give D’s. It’s why we ask you to take 3 years of foreign language and 3 years of the Arts---both unusually high standards for even elite high schools. It’s why Mrs. Phillips and your teachers push you to take Honors and A.P. classes, even if you’re not sure you can do it. It’s why we play at the highest level of athletic competition in Tennessee, even if at times we struggle. It’s why we emphasize the importance of a life of faith, Mass each week, theology classes that require work just like the other classes, why we pray so frequently together. It’s why we have an Honor code, why we have a Veritas Council, why we emphasize discipline so strictly. It’s because from the first day this school opened, Pope John Paul II has expected greatness of itself and greatness of its students and its teachers.

As we begin the second quarter, don’t be like the young man who merely does what he is supposed to do. Challenge yourself to be more than that. God wants us to use all of our talents to the best of our abilities and he promises us that when we do so, we’ll thrive and be happy. Ask him to help you. He will.

I hope all of you have a great second quarter.

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