"As a priest I am called not to be successful, but rather to be faithful to the Good News." So says the new bishop-elect of the Diocese of Southern Virginia, the Rev. Herman “Holly” Hollerith, IV. This standard, I submit, applies not just to priests, but to all of us: What matters is not our apparent success or failure in the world, but whether we remain faithful to God and his Good News.
Fr. Hollerith's comment is found in his nominee statement, where he tells of an important moment in his spiritual journey:
Perhaps one critical and vocationally formative moment occurred when I was a young rector of a parish in South Carolina. I had hit a low in my ministry and was feeling like all my efforts to enlighten minds, raise the consciousness of my flock, and resolve problems had come to naught. I honestly felt the parish was moving backward in time, and I was pretty sure it was my fault and that I was simply an inadequate leader.
Across the street from the parish rectory was a neighbor of mine, a prominent retired priest, who had been a supportive mentor and sounding board. I wandered over to update him on my lack of progress and feelings of failure.
Finally, in mid-sentence he stopped me, pointed his finger right at my nose and said, “Your problem, Hollerith, is that you have confused success with faithfulness. They are not the same thing, but you have yet to figure this out and you think, only when you are successful, that you are doing the will of God.”
Those words hit me right between the eyes, because they were the words of Christ. Faithfulness and success are not the same thing! As a priest I am called not to be successful, but rather to be faithful to the Good News. It was a critical spiritual moment in my life that has since defined how I see things.
(Italics in original; bold-faced emphasis and extra paragraphing added.)
We have to remember that the world will always tend to reward the appearance of success more than it does faithful effort alone. (We should also remember that the appearance of success can be fleeting, as recent turmoil in financial markets unhappily reminds us.)
And we can't just blithely ignore results, the reality of what our efforts actually produce. Being faithful to the Good News requires facing the facts and being willing to change course when necessary.
But if we do the best we can —
- to face the facts;
- to appreciate the goodness of the creation;
- and to seek the best for our neighbors as we do for ourselves;
— in other words, if we do our best to follow the Summary of the Law — then we can stop worrying about whether we'll ever see "success" in our lives. Instead, we can luxuriate in the trust that in the very long term, things will turn out OK.