Feeling a Failure

Most of us, at some time or other, feel a failure. The reasons we do so are many and various. Sometimes we have indeed failed someone or something, and living with that knowledge can be painful in the extreme. More often, we feel a dissatisfaction with self which may be entirely irrational but which nevertheless clouds our vision, makes our spirits plummet and proves impossible to shake off by our own efforts. I wonder if St Maximilan Kolbe felt a failure during his last days in the bunker as he slowly starved to death. His life had been full of activity and, as this world goes, success. He had realised  a vast spiritual ambition but now he was reduced to his humanity alone. He had had compassion on a married man and volunteered to take his place, but after that last fine act of generosity there was the slow working out of its implications in the heat and stench of the bunker. The hymn singing and attempts to lift the spirits of others were surely an effort, and there must have been times when he doubted, felt like giving up, questioned whether it had any value, simply wanted it all to end.

The difference between a martyr and ourselves is that a martyr goes on when we give up; accepts humiliation and failure when we rail against them or despair; sees God, where we see only emptiness or evil. St Maximilian may have felt a failure, just as Jesus on the Cross may have felt a failure; but the failure was swallowed up in victory. He is an encouragement to us all, and it is no accident that it was his compassion, rather than all his many other gifts and works, that taught him how to be a true Christian in the hell of a Nazi death cell.

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12 thoughts on “Feeling a Failure”

  1. Thank you for this.

    His story is one of bearing suffering while striving to care for others, raising their spirits in a modern day hell.

    His courage is an inspiration to us, if only we could persevere in similar circumstances.

  2. St Maximilan Kolbe was no doubt a saint, but you say the difference between a martyr and ourselves is that a martyr goes on when we give up; accepts humiliation and failure when we rail against them or despair; sees God, where we see only emptiness or evil.
    I have often met women who have given up their entire lives nursing one family member after another, who have neither the dignity of the religious life nor the approbation of the world. Intelligent women who rail against God in quietness, whose emptiness is sometimes a cavernous pit but who carry on caring and worshipping because they are trusted. Are they too not martyrs? Did not Theresa of Calcutta feel a similar void? I have often felt privileged to be in the company of the drudges of this world, the martyrs no one seems to notice. I do not think Sainthood is always a tidy or pretty thing, do you? How can it possibly be?

    • Helen, I think you are trying to force an interpretation on my words that they will not bear. It is not always what we do but the love with which we do it that transforms what you call drudgery into worship and witness.

      • This note simply responds to one word in your exchanges : Karl Rahner has a beautiful meditation on Alltag (in German), translatable as ‘drudgery’ . It’s ‘ God of My Daily Routine ‘ in his book, Encounters with Silence. I think he and D. Catherine see things very similarly.

  3. My apologies, that was not my intention, I felt inspired by what you said and was speaking from the heart. We all have our favourite saints of course, but if I am honest I find the high spirituality of some and their great acts of love a tad over whelming, which was of course the attraction of Thérèse of Lisieux for a whole generation. You say, ‘It is not always what we do but the love with which we do it that transforms what you call drudgery into worship and witness.’. It can of course, but it DOES matter what we do, and I think God must sometimes love those who keep going despite his absence, silently screaming and kicking all the way to heaven, as much as he loves the great saints.

  4. Helen, I think you are illustrating exactly what Sr Carherine was saying. The people of whom you speak fulfill all her criteria for martyrdom. After all, the word “martyr” means witness. To be a witness we don’t have to shed blood.

  5. thanks for this–a refreshing alternative to the suggestion on universalis, that ‘doing the right thing’ was ‘obvious, natural, and easy’. I doubted that very much, and appreciated what you had to say.

  6. I am reading the book of Job at the moment. I’m never quite sure who is telling the real truth. Is it Job, is it Eliphaz the Temanite or is it Bildad the Shuhite? Where is God in all that misery and wise counsel?

  7. A person can be starved but a Christian can chose it as a sacrificial fast and reap the Spiritual rewards as they draw closer and closer to God. What a glorious victory in the face of the enemy. It can only take to them edge of insanity, utter defeat and humiliation.

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