As Our Lord was about to go to the Cross, He prayed to His Father in Heaven, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do” (see John 17:4). It might seem like an astonishing thing for anyone to say — and especially someone who defines the virtue of humility. But humility dispenses with modesty. A truly humble man who is six feet tall doesn’t, in a spirit of false modesty, say that he is only five foot eight.
We take delight when our projects come out right because we have all experienced doing things badly. I have a hobby of sketching, and there are times when I have been pleased with what I have drawn — but I also have closets full of mistakes. It is the second-rate carpenter who does not notice the cracks; the first-rate carpenter is as aware of the defects as he is of the apparent perfection in his work.
But not one person has been able to say to the perfect King, “I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do.” And indeed, in another context, the people affirmed Him with astonishment: “He has done all things well” (Mark 7:37). They were accustomed, as we all are, to imperfect people. And in fact, just as we do, they preferred imperfect people: Others’ flaws excuse our own, all while we imagine that our peculiar imperfections are themselves a subtle kind of perfection. And so many of those who heard and observed Our Lord fled. More would have stayed, if He had told them the lies about Himself and themselves that they wanted to hear, for in their eyes, Christ’s real offense was that He was not a blank slate upon which they could write their own ideas. He was the Truth, and that Truth was inescapable. One either embraced it or fled from it.
There is a school of philosophy called idealism. It doesn’t mean reaching for the highest and best, but rather believing that something is true simply because it is your idea. The French have glorified Western civilization in many ways over the centuries, but since at least the time of Descartes, many French thinkers have placed more confidence in their pet theories than in demonstrable facts. It is said that a typical French philosopher will ask, “That may be true in practice, but how is it in theory?”
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