On The Altar of Success

Juneau - Altar of Success


To all people raised to be a success in a Western  capitalist society:

Have you  sacrificed all on the altar of success? Since preschool, society has pushed you to excel, to rise above your peers.  You were groomed for success, to get into the best universities and snatch the most prized careers. Well, it is nice to have confidence, to fulfill your dreams, and have a sense of satisfaction in your chosen field of work but that will not make you happy. Just take a look at the generations that have gone before you.  The all too common mid-life crisis is a testament to the failure of a life focused on career advancement to the exclusion of family. Men and women bemoan the fact that they did not have time for nurturing and loving their spouse or children.

\”Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.\” [1 Peter 4:8]

All too often, family life crumbles to ashes, sacrificed on the altar of success.

As for childcare, society relegates this arrangement to women who are often treated as second class citizens. I want to yell out as loudly as I can that raising children is definitely not a default chore for women who were not successful in the world of business, power and wealth. Exactly how you, the next generation, love and form your children will directly influence the kind of society that they in turn create.

Do you want a world focused only on success and the ruthless accumulation of wealth? Really listen to the radical ideas presented in the Catechism of the Catholic Church:



CCC 2401–  The seventh commandment forbids unjustly taking or keeping the goods of one\’s neighbor and wronging him in any way with respect to his goods. It commands justice and charity in the care of earthly goods and the fruits of men\’s labor. For the sake of the common good, it requires respect for the universal destination of goods and respect for the right to private property. Christian life strives to order this world\’s goods to God and to fraternal charity.


CCC 2402 – In the beginning God entrusted the earth and its resources to the common stewardship of mankind to take care of them, master them by labor, and enjoy their fruits.187 The goods of creation are destined for the whole human race. However, the earth is divided up among men to assure the security of their lives, endangered by poverty and threatened by violence. The appropriation of property is legitimate for guaranteeing the freedom and dignity of persons and for helping each of them to meet his basic needs and the needs of those in his charge. It should allow for a natural solidarity to develop between men.

CCC 2403 –  The right to private property, acquired or received in a just way, does not do away with the original gift of the earth to the whole of mankind. The universal destination of goods remains primordial, even if the promotion of the common good requires respect for the right to private property and its exercise.

CCC 2404  – \”In his use of things man should regard the external goods he legitimately owns not merely as exclusive to himself but common to others also, in the sense that they can benefit others as well as himself.\”188The ownership of any property makes its holder a steward of Providence, with the task of making it fruitful and communicating its benefits to others, first of all his family.

When a person blindly follows the dictates of a capitalistic society to become a personal success, his focus becomes egocentric, and not on God, family or community.

What will you focus on as you embark on the rest of your life? Do you set your heart simply on the accumulation of wealth and success or will you live out true Christian social principles, and consider the universal destination of goods? Will you create a race of humans who are becoming increasingly shallow, cold and cynical about relationships, family and love? Do you want your offspring to be more comfortable texting you, their parents, than speaking with you face to face in a warm, loving way because it is more cost effective way of passing on information?

Family is crucial.  It is the foundation of society. I am pleased that my adult children, raised on a farm with little technology, are completely modern. Yet, they are open to life and family. They are beginning to grasp how important their own young families are.

Just after his daughter’s birth, my son turned to his dad and said, \”Dad, I think that this is the best thing that I have ever done in my life.”

And , a year later, as his little daughter lay sleeping on his chest, Daniel said, ”Now I know why you and Dad had so many kids.”

Can you imagine that if you put family first before your success, your kids will be healed by love, and set free to serve the world in and through Love? It would be heaven on earth. It would be the beginning of a revolution that would change the face of the earth. In doing so, I assure you, you will be happier, more content, and live longer, if you treasure family more than money and success.

Share on facebook
Share on google
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on pinterest

9 thoughts on “On The Altar of Success”

  1. We always also seem to get the balance wrong going both ways, probably in part to worshiping capitalism, too. Moreover, we are more materialistic (i.e. believing that the material world is the only “true” reality) than we often like to think. We therefore don’t seem to be having the discussion we need to have: how to steward whatever God gives us in ways that are pleasing to Him. This is where Catholics can truly weigh in, but instead, we are content to unthinkingly pick up what the larger culture throws down, cutting in various directions. The culture, whether we are “for” or “against” it, seems to provide the primary hermeneutic for these issues in so many cases, whereby we risk relegating love of God and the Church to pious bromides lacking in depth. This would also speak to one of your earlier posts on Pope Francis and how certain hot-button issues are about Love and about Jesus Christ, and not about activism in “winning the culture wars.”

    We need to think more carefully about “success”: success for the sake of success is meaningless, because it has no direction for having no end other than itself. Now, success for God, for His glory? That’s something else. Success for God is a way and a means of sharing Him with others: evangelizing rather than proselytizing. But it means keeping Him constantly in the loop and listening when He speaks. That’s where “fear and trembling” will be appropriate, and why the Sacraments are necessary. Catholics should also be very careful of what the larger culture codes as “Christian,” who we view as allies, and how even our allies will require evangelizing.

    Child-rearing is not at all somehow the work of “second-class citizens” and those who are “not successful.” Women who work and who have a family, however, tend to get squeezed by both extremes, certainly in Catholic circles: there is this constant narrative where the only “holy” woman and “heroic” mother is the one who “gave it all up” to raise a big family, and that a woman should keep her talents only at home. A woman who chooses to be a stay-at-home mother is not a second-class citizen or a “nobody.” But a woman who chooses to work is not unholy because she works, either, and it does not necessarily follow that a woman who works does not put her family first. None of that is what the Church teaches.

    What is simply infuriating is the willingness of many Catholics to cede way too much ground by making this almost exclusively about more money versus more children. They would also prefer to cede ground to “well-educated” Catholics who blow off Church teaching for thinking that their education makes them “too smart for Catholicism,” and who eschew how the Catholic tradition is intellectually viable because it is spiritually viable, and vice versa.

    It would seem that what’s missing from these discussions is the right relationship between matter and spirit– which misreading of Vatican II running in two directions in the Church and bad catechesis to the point of so many Catholics being clueless regarding the Incarnation, makes not only crucial, but imperative. There is a very real spiritual component that comes with parenthood, which the Church does not understand as exclusively biological. Joseph Ratzinger wrote about this so
    beautifully in his letter to the Bishops while head of the CDF.

    It all comes down, I think, to the larger culture having ideas and concepts of motherhood and parenthood that compartmentalizes family and work, when both are meant to be integrated into the vocations of motherhood and fatherhood (by the way, there’s a parallel in the inability to have these discussions in the fact that enough Catholics don’t even know what a priest is, don’t understand or respect celibacy, and don’t even have any concept of “Church” outside the walls of their parish, or if we’re lucky, “the Vatican.” When we don’t know that a priest is a husband and a father in his own right, I think it narrows our sense of husbands and wives, and mothers and fathers, to the material and biological plane).

    The mother of one of my priest friends is a pediatrician. When she had her two sons, she worked less, and her husband worked more. When the boys grew, she worked more, and her husband helped out looking after them. Her husband helped take care of the kids while she did her residency in another country. The eldest son looked after the younger. Both of those sons are priests. Many to most American Catholics having these kinds of discussions also seem never to account for the possibility of such an example, just as few of them seem to be aware of Dr. Elizabeth Anscombe, who went to Oxford, was a leading authority on Wittgenstein at Cambridge, was a practicing Catholic, and had seven children.

    Instead, we would rather have the same tired discussions about women and family that reduce almost every discussion about family to size. Never do I read any mention in those discussions of hope and grace regarding differing circumstances. And almost any and all discussion of Joseph Ratzinger is almost exclusively liturgical– as if the only great thing the man ever did was to free up the Latin Mass, to issue “Summorum Pontificum” and to write Spirit of the Liturgy (who cares about everything else he wrote, right?). Along with how profoundly he wrote about Christ, his letter to the Bishops about the cooperation between men and women in the Church and in the world is so beautiful on women and motherhood, and how celibacy and virginity in the Church prevent us from viewing both as having an exclusively biological destiny (from the standpoint of his theology and the way he actually thinks liturgically, it’s almost obvious). Yet, so many Catholics ignore it.

    We have next to no discussions about what women as mothers do at home contribute to how she stewards as a mother God’s goods in the workplace, and vice versa. Being a T.A. for graduate school has brought these question home for me repeatedly: what would I teach my own children and why, and why should it be different from what I teach my students? What am I teaching my students? They may be “someone else’s children,” but they are in my care as human beings (and why do we assume that our vocational parenthood only begins as soon as we learn that we’re expecting a child? Is this part of what we “expect when we’re expecting”?). What is a human being? How should I see my discipline and work in the light of faith, in light of the fullness of the Truth? Some women and men in academia do balance family and work well, and in fact, some of the best professors I have ever had– all of whom are on my dissertation committee– are as awesome as they are, in good part because they are good parents.

    Moreover, it is not at all true that a woman who stays home is always going to be the best of mothers, as anyone who has ever grown up with a stay-at-home mother who always hovers and who does not know when to back off knows: a woman (or a man) is going to be a disaster anywhere– at home or in the workplace– if that man or woman always wants everything their own way (and does not know how to deal constructively with or keep in check what Jennifer Fulwiler once called “fear-driven selfishness”– and certainly can’t be bothered to make any effort, either). In addition, there is not as much a sense as there should be that these are God’s children, not “our” children: whatever God means for them, we have no right as parents to stand in His way.

    The latter point comes up, incidentally, in almost any discussion of “helicopter parents,” surely. But also in those with big families and vocations to the priesthood: enough comments tend to be about how those with big families are more open to vocations than smaller ones, because the smaller ones are worried about grandchildren, whereas at least with the bigger families at least have “some to spare”– I can still have my grandchildren while also giving God His “due.” Win-win. Except, those comments do not account for the possibility that He could call all of our children to the priesthood or religious life, regardless of size, whereby we’d still be in the same worry boat as those with smaller families, and far less “generous” than we imagine ourselves to be, save a radical trust in God.

    There is also almost no similar discussion for men regarding headship of the family and stewardship: simply because a man “provides,” does this mean that he’s making all of the sacrifices necessary, because he’s “bringing home the bacon”? Is a man’s headship and stewardship based on the size of his paycheck, or is it based on a God-given authority as head steward of spiritual and material gifts going far deeper, which is always given to serve others? Why would it be “wrong” for a husband to make less money in order to stay home a little to spend more time with the children so that his wife can finish her education, say, whereby they both take turns looking after the kids?

    1. Your articulate comment brought me to tears as well as to a place of hope and joy for the future. You have verbalized many of my own convictions. Most of us only skim the teachings of the Church missing Her deep, spiritual and psychological insights into our human nature, insights rooted in wisdom and a universal truth that transcends current trends in society.

    2. Thank you for your very kind words. I was hoping I didn’t come off as way too grouchy!

      I’m of Asian descent. The subject of this post is especially compounded for many minorities, because it encapsulates their hopes, fears, and dreams about “making it.” So I’ve been thinking with these issues for a very long time. In late 2010/early 2011, Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother came out, and it caused quite a stir over whose parenting methods were “superior.” Emphasis on discipline and the drive to succeed are two things I know only too well, and so a lot of what she was writing was familiar– if uncomfortable– territory for me. As a Catholic, I winced in many places, and I was outraged. Precisely because I already had a fond and familiar counter-example who did not skimp on discipline and authority, precisely because both those things nurtured a simple faith and receptivity to profundity in him, and also led to the ability to guard his heart in order to keep it big and loving: Joseph Ratzinger. I know a good deal from experience and observation how “success for the sake of success” can lead to not living the Gospel in one’s family and in one’s home.

      The other good counter-example that showed me that Christianity demands discipline and spiritual toughness was Kimberly Hahn: how many parents do we know of find it easy to humble themselves and ask their kids for forgiveness when they have been hurtful or unjust? What, then, is authority for?

      Also, the examples of other intellectual-heavyweight saints further prompted me to ask what it means to be “successful for God”: Thomas Aquinas. Augustine. Hildegard of Bingen. Edith Stein. Their idea of “success” is holiness; fidelity, and not at all what we tend to think of as “success.” And yet, they didn’t give up the gifts that God gave them; they just let Him use what He gave them to make them saints– hence, Ratzinger’s famous “dear young people, do not be afraid of Christ! He takes nothing away, and He gives you everything!” This fits wonderfully with Francis’s recent “nobody in the Church is useless!” …which is a far cry from the likes of Amy Chua’s earlier exhortation that “losers are all special in their own special way!” when her husband told her that she needed to back off and not drive one of her daughters too hard in unproductive ways. We are meant to be diligent and give our very best to the Lord, precisely because all is from Him and for Him.

      What does it mean to believe in, to have faith in, and to trust what the Lord has given me? Writing a doctoral dissertation– whereby I only learned to offer it up very recently after experiencing a sense of being spiritually and intellectually dead– has tested this repeatedly. I’ve wrestled constantly with the realization that He wanted “in” to that dissertation. When I don’t offer it up, it’s a form of trying to hoard it and hide it from Him.

      Sainthood and holiness is not primarily or exclusively about the intellect and a conversion that happens only in one’s head. But Catholics whom the Lord has given strong intellects have a right to know that the Church will feed them when they are hungry, and that she will teach them to nurture that gift in a way that is pleasing to the Lord.

  2. Pingback: H. H. S. Mandate: U. S. Bishops 'Stand United to Resist' - Big Pulpit

  3. Excellent analysis of the cultural conundrums of North American and European societies. We could learn muxh from many families in South America where family is a premium value.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Sign Up for the Catholic Stand Newsletter!

%d bloggers like this: