How To Be Great
Two roads constantly open in front of us.
One leads us to an artificial sense of conceit
and blank acclaim, the other grounds us constantly
to our real self of littleness and truth.
Foolishly, many take the first road. The
wise prefer to walk along the other route.
The Master himself is clear, “Everyone who
exalts himself will be humbled, and he who
humbles himself will be exalted.”
A successful executive and his wife were
out for a drive. Running low on gas, they
stopped at a dumpy-looking gas station. While
the executive went inside to pay the bill,
he noticed that his wife and the gas station
attendant were absorbed in conversation as
if they were old friends. It turns out that
they had gone to high school together and
had dated seriously for over 10 months. The
executive bragged, “Gosh, were you lucky
I came along! Because, if you had married
him, you would be the wife of a gas station
attendant instead of the wife of an important
chief executive officer.” The reply was blunt,
“My dear, if I had married him, he’d be the
chief executive officer and you’d be the
gas station attendant.”
I remember reading one time about a political
leader in Washington DC who one evening,
remarked casually to his wife, “My dear,
do you know how many truly great men there
are in the world today?” Without a second
thought, she replied, “No, I don’t, but I
do know there is one less than you think
This is why the book of Proverbs counsels
us, “If you have played the fool and exalted
yourself …clap your hand over your mouth!”
The Battle of the Wilderness was the first
battle between Major Grant and Major Lee
in the American Civil War in 1864. During
this battle, Union general John Sedgwick
was inspecting his troops. At one point he
came to a parapet, over which he gazed out
in the direction of the enemy. His officers
suggested that this was imprudent and perhaps
he ought to duck while passing the parapet.
“Nonsense,” snapped the general. “They couldn’t
hit an elephant at this distance.” A moment
later Sedgwick fell to the ground, fatally
A young woman came to speak with the priest
about a problem that was troubling her. “You
know, when I am in Church, I just cannot
control myself. I keep looking at the other
women and I cannot help not realizing that
I am the most pretty of them all! None of
them others can compare with my beauty! Am
I sinning, Father?” “No, my dear, you are
not. You are just short sighted!” And, let
me add, dumb!
Pride makes us artificial. Humility makes
us real. The desert fathers abound in stories
like this one. To one of the brethren appeared
a devil, transformed into an angel of light,
who said to him: “I am the angel Gabriel,
and I have been sent to you.” But the brother
responded, “Are you sure? You must have been
sent to somebody else. I haven’t done anything
to deserve an angel.” Immediately the devil
ceased to appear.
The Saints are so free of this obsession
to be always number one and to be acclaimed!
Saint Paul in the First letter of Corinthians,
exclaims, “I am the least of the Apostles”,
in Ephesians, he claims to be “the very least
of all saints” and in Timothy, he becomes
even bolder, “I am the foremost of sinners.”
He is lucid in his thinking, “Who makes you,
my friend, so important? What do you possess
that was not given? If then you received
it all as a gift, why take the credit to
Saint Francis de Sales makes a short commentary
on this. “I am despised and derided, and
I resent it; just so do peacocks and apes.
I am despised and derided, and I rejoice
in it; thus did the Apostle.” We are just
little servants of an illustrious Master!
Cardinal Newman gives us a healthy conclusion.
“Do you desire to be great? Make yourself
little. There is a mysterious connection
between real advancement and self-abasement.
… If you bear with the arrogant, submit to
insult, endure ingratitude, render good for
evil, you are as by a divine charm, getting
power over the world and rising among the
creatures. God has established this law.
Thus He does His wonderful works.”
True humility brings contentment.
(c) Fr. Pius Sammut, OCD. Permission
hereby granted for any non-commercial
provided that the content is unaltered
its original state, if this copyright