An Encouraging Word — A passion for excellence

May I be whole hearted toward your statutes. Psalm 119:80

Father J. Ronald Knott

Father J. Ronald Knott

Sometimes “the sound of my own wheels drives me crazy,” as the old Eagles song goes. I may be “retired” for two years now, but I keep an “Energizer Bunny” schedule as I pass my 72nd birthday.

I tried to stop recently and take some time to reflect on what it is that drives me. Is it that old demon of “never being good enough?” Can it be that “the end” is like a pack of barking dogs over the horizon that I must try to outrun? I probably will never know and I am not that interested in finding out.

I suspect that it is my deep fear of being mediocre that started when I read a life-changing Tom Peters book called “The Pursuit of Excellence” many years ago. One of the things he said about himself that I resonated with was this: “The idea of mediocrity scares the hell out of me!”

What is mediocrity? Mediocrity has Latin parts that together literally mean “halfway up the mountain.” You can see how it still applies — in climbing the mountain — or ladder — of success, mediocrity is in the middle, neither leading the pack nor sprawling on the ground, giving up. As the old Icelandic proverb puts it, “Mediocrity is climbing molehills without sweating.”

Sadly, mediocrity is celebrated and rewarded in our culture. There is always a heavy demand for fresh mediocrity and the least cultivated taste has the greatest appetite. If you need convincing, just sit in front of a TV for several hours a day and watch a few so-called “reality shows.”

Excellence is punished. Archbishop Fulton J. Sheen once said so insightfully (in what was surely an autobiographical statement) that “jealousy is the tribute mediocrity pays to genius.” Father Andrew Greeley, who I quote often, said pretty much the same. Both received the praise of talented people and were recognized for their genius.

They also suffered slings and arrows from the mediocre.

Words by Albert Einstein seem to sum up their predicaments: “Great spirits have always encountered violent opposition from mediocre minds.”

In short, I believe Thomas Merton was right on target when he said, “The biggest human temptation is to settle for too little.”

His friend, Robert Lax, once asked Merton what he wanted to be. “I don’t know; I guess what I want to be is a good Catholic,” Merton answered.

Robert Lax shot back, “What do you mean you want to be a good Catholic? What you should say is that you want to be a saint!”

In defense, Merton responded, “How do you expect me to become a saint?”

“By wanting to,” was Lax’s response.

Sin, as I learned a long time ago, has at its root plain old laziness, the temptation to take the easy road in many cases. In truth, our own tendency toward mediocrity should scare “the hell out of” us.

To read more from Father Knott, visit his blog: FatherKnott.com.

Father J. Ronald Knott

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