Fundamental to Catholic thought is the belief the human life is fulfilled in communion with others and with God. That is, that, rather than existing as completely autonomous individuals, independent and separate from others, we exists as one with God and with each other. We are One Body of Christ.
My friend Gerry sent me Thomas Merton’s expression of how that reality impacts how we think of our achievements (and our failures) in a passage taken from No Man is an Island. Merton writes:
“Only when we see ourselves in our true human context, as members of a race which is intended to be one organism and “one body,” will we begin to understand the positive importance not only of the successes but of the failures and accidents in our lives. My successes are not my own. The way to them was prepared by others.”
“The fruit of my labors is not my own: for I am preparing the way for the achievements of another. Nor are my failures my own. They may spring from the failure of another, but they are also compensated for by another’s achievement. Therefore the meaning of my life is not to be looked for merely in the sum total of my achievements. It is seen only in the complete integration of my achievements and failures with the achievements and failures of my own generation, and society, and time. It is seen, above all, in my own integration in Christ.
This seems to me to offer a nice antidote to how people often tend to think of their successes – as resulting from only their hard work and effort and, therefore, as belonging only to them. As we look at our own successes, let us be aware of (and grateful for) the role others have played in bringing them about.