“CONGRATULATIONS, James!” I shook the hand of the brilliant new high school graduate.
“You’re welcome, Father,” he said. He took out a handful of shiny gold medals from his pocket and asked, “Oh, Father. I was wondering if you can bless my medals.”
“Sure!” I was also happy that besides being their school’s valedictorian he also received numerous leadership awards. “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit…,” I blessed his medals.
“Thanks, Father,” he smiled while pocketing the medals.
“Strange,” I said, “shouldn’t you be wearing them instead of hiding them in your pocket?”
“You’re right, Father,” the medals jingled as he slowly pulled them out again. “But you see, Father, I didn’t get our school’s highest award.”
“What would it be then?” I asked.
“It’s called the Most Distinguished Student Award,” he said while staring blankly at the medals.
“So how’s that supposed to be more special than being valedictorian?” I said shrugging my shoulders.
“It’s supposed to be for the student who has never flunked any subject during his entire high school. So even if you average highest, but had some failing marks then you can no longer deserve such a much coveted award.”
I was trying to figure out in my mind what subject it could have been that James could have failed. The boy was a born winner, except that –it dawned upon me– he wasn’t much into sports. So I asked, “Was it P.E.?”
“That was back in first year when there was no other sport ‘cept basketball,” he gave me a smile expressing that it was something obvious.
“That’s alright dude. Guess you’re dad would have said that…,”
“You can’t have everything,” he completed exactly what I was about to say.
“You got me there, James,” I chuckled.
“Mom and dad understand and are very proud with what I’ve already achieved. Dad just told me to learn from my failures or limitations.”
“You know James?” I said.
“Yeah?” he noticed I was speaking in a more serious tone.
“There’s nothing wrong with flunking in the many good things of life, but we have to know how to flunk out of the bad ones.”
“I don’t get you there, Father,” he frowned at me.
“Let’s say, you expected to get a good grade for a project you really invested a lot of time for. But then in the end you get a low grade because you may have overlooked something. You shouldn’t really worry about this, especially when you’ve done the best you could.”
“Okay, so what?”
“Where you and I should learn and be ready to flunk would be in the things that separate us from God. Since we’re all ‘experts in sinning,’ we ought to aim for getting ‘Fs’ in pride, vanity, anger, greed and lust.”
“Isn’t this approach a bit negative, Father?”
“It may seem like that at first, but flunking out of these vices actually means struggling to get A’s in the virtue oppose to them. It would be wrong to over focus on what one does wrong or what one ought to avoid. It would be more positive and fruitful to consider what good one can concretize each day out of love for God and fellowmen.”
“How about the occasions when our weaknesses do come up once in a while, Father?”
“Well, even though they may seem like failures, they are actually only apparent failures. This is true if the person resolves to immediately go back to God with the humility like that of the Prodigal Son. And he manages to even learn from his mistakes and his conversion becomes more firm and sincere.”
“You mean to say, Father… that…,” he smiled as he came upon a realization.
“Yes, James! That one can really never fail in the spiritual life as long as he struggles with the sincere resolve to begin again, use the supernatural means and to find –like St. Paul– strength and joy in his own weaknesses. In this way, he no longer struggles alone, but always in and with the grace and love of God.”