The books that sell best on Amazon indicate that people want to know how to achieve success. That is hardly a surprise. Look at these titles: How to Succeed, or, Stepping-Stones to Fame and Fortune; Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals; and How to Succeed. Some make it seem as if there’s one secret to mastering anything: How to Succeed in Everything: A Workbook. Then, there is specialized success, too: for college, U Thrive: How to Succeed in College (and Life); for business, Driven: How To Succeed In Business And In Life; for children, How Children Succeed: Grit, Curiosity, and the Hidden Power of Character; and even for a very small group of people: How to Succeed as a Federal Judicial Law Clerk.
Relatively few people set their caps toward failure, and I have a sneaking feeling these books are really just how to succeed books with contrary titles: How to Fail at Almost Everything and Still Win Big; How to Fail: The Self-Hurt Guide; and How to Fail as a Therapist: 50+ Ways to Lose or Damage Your Patients.
So, here we are today, all celebrating. Something great and life changing has occurred. So has success been achieved? Who succeeded, and at what?
Just a few days ago, what had been achieved was total failure. Jesus had failed to win hearts and minds to his side. He had failed to avoid capture. He had failed to have good people around him. He had failed in his own defense. He had failed, in fact, to survive.
Nonetheless, He announced It is accomplished. Was failure what he had sought to accomplish, as if he had picked up one of the abovementioned books on the subject? No. He has accomplished the will of His Father. He succeeded in being obedient in every detail to what seemed to be a program to bring about His humiliation and destruction.
But the will of the Father was not that His Son be destroyed; no, His will was that Jesus save everybody, including especially those who destroyed Him, by sacrificing Himself even unto His own complete destruction. This is the great work that went in to what we celebrate today.
For by accepting death, Jesus conquered death, and by rising from the dead, changed death forever for us who unlike Him are rightly doomed to die. He did this by choosing freely to deny Himself every shred and vestige of success, and taking upon Himself the consequences of yielding that success to all and every person’s grasping for the success they insist upon and crave.
Already the separation of a few days makes it hard for us to remember that apparent catastrophe, as we welcome His victory. But as we rejoice that Jesus has changed our own deaths into a pathway to His eternal life, let us remember how we got here.
None of the above books, nor the people who buy and read them, would propose as a path to success what we celebrate here this weekend. But we have all the information we need to identify the path to the one true and lasting success. What looks for to the world like failure gives us confidence to get through our days of difficulty.
Submitting our will to the will of the Father, even when it seems to lead us to destruction, is the path to life. Recognizing that acceptance and approval mean nothing if they distance us or separate us from the Cross, is the path to life. Yielding what we desire, so that someone else may have what he need, is the path to life. Giving our life in love that another might live, thrive, and grow, is the path to life. Being faithful to the one who is unfaithful, is the path to life.
By all means, claim as your own the victory that Jesus succeeded in winning for us. At the same time, recognize so-called failure as the only path to it, and be not afraid.
Fr. Gallaugher, Fr. Markey, and all of us here pray daily for your Easter joy. As we rejoice today in the liberation from death that Christ our God has won for us by His submission to failure in all things but doing His Father’s will, please accept my humble wish that you and all your loved ones enjoy a blessed Easter, Feast of the Lord’s Resurrection, and of our victory.