St. Alberto and the Success of Failures


At the close of the feast of St. Alberto Hurtado, SJ (about whose life I wrote this time last year), I thought I would simply relay a small reflection that the Chilean Saint gave on the last morning of a weekend retreat.  I like this short conference because it hints at the non-competitive relationship between time and eternity that only saints manage to maintain.  Whereas, at least to some, thoughts of heaven or eternal life can only represent pious distractions from pressing, ‘real world’ concerns, St. Alberto’s life testifies to the contrary.  An indefatigable energy is granted to those who keep the eternal in view.  The true apostle can press on through apparent failure and risk involvement in the most intractable social problems precisely because, from the perspective of eternity, nothing done in love can be done in vain.

The Success of the Failures

Retreat meditation on the resurrection of the Lord.

It is not all Good Friday.  Christ has risen and is my hope! “I am the Resurrection” (Jn 11, 25).  Today is Sunday and this idea must dominate my thoughts.  In the midst of suffering and testing… optimism, confidence and joy.  Always joyful: because Christ is risen, he has conquered death and is seated at the right hand of the Father.  And it is Christ, my hope who has risen.  My Father, my Friend, he can die no more.  What glory! In the same way I shall rise “in Christ Jesus”… and after these days of enormous, threatening clouds, I shall see Christ.

Because each day that passes I am closer to Christ. Grey hairs… heaven is very near.  When will this weak link finally break… “I desire to die and be with Christ” (Phil 1,23). Because Christ triumphed and the Church will triumph.  The gravestone and the guards believed he was trampled under foot.  This will happen as well with our labor as Christians.  It will triumph! The greatest apostles are not the most attractive; nor are the greatest successes those with the finest outward display.  In Christian action there is the success of failure.  There are triumphs that are more like late bloomers! In the world of the invisible, what appears useless is the most effective of all.  A complete failure accepted willingly means greater supernatural success than all the triumphs put together.

Sow the seed without concern for the results.  Do not grow tired of the sowing.  Give thanks to God for the apostolic fruits of my failures.  When Christ spoke to the rich young man of the Gospel, he failed but how many since have heard that lesson.  In the face of the Eucharist many walked away from him but, how many have come since then! You will labor! Your zeal will appear fruitless but how many will live thanks to you!

After his resurrection, our Lord was not content to enjoy his own happiness.  Just as the joy of the teacher is the knowledge of his students… his hope is not complete until all have learned; just as the hope of the ship’s Captain is not complete until the last person is saved… It would be unthinkable that Christ would content himself with his own salvation.

All of heaven looks with great hope to the earth.  St Ignatius has placed great hope in us and he will not know fulfillment until the last Jesuit has entered heaven.  Hope is the link that unites heaven with earth.  We cannot imagine a tranquil heaven with large comfortable couches.  St. Peter has his eye on the Vatican all day.  Earth is the daily paper of heaven.  This is why we can call out: Look here.  Save us we are perishing! Remember this is your work that is burning.  Look here you saints! Look at your work! Pray for us! The Church does this in an urgent, impelling way!

Heaven is not completed: a large part of the Church is missing.  And when a poor man covered with the dust of earth arrives, how much joy there is in heaven! The Lord tells us: there will be more joy in heaven… (Lk 15,7).

All of heaven is interested in what is happening on earth! And this is why our Lord appears to his Mother… [NB: In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius presents Jesus as making his first post-resurrection appearance to his mother].  He is interested in everything, even in the catch of his apostles; in what they eat: Is there anything left to eat? He ate and distributed the pieces (cf. Jn 21, 1-14).  It was to show us that more than his own eternal happiness, he is interested in his work on earth.

3 Responses to St. Alberto and the Success of Failures

  1. therese says:

    “Nothing done in love can be done in vain.”
    How much we need that teaching repeated over & over to us today. Parents feel rejected by their children; spouses rejected by each other…the list goes on & on. The temptation often given in to is to think: What does it matter? Why should I give myself anymore? What happened to my family?
    We forget that, just as a molecule of water or a carbon atom is recycled throughout the planet & never lost, just so is anything that we’ve done for love. Gone, maybe, but never lost.

  2. Jay Hooks says:

    Thanks, Aaron. This reminds me of all the setbacks and adversity that Ignatius faced in his pilgrim years. He had many excuses not to forge ahead, including suspicion from high Church authorities (the Holy Inquisition) and rejection by superiors of religious orders (the Franciscans in the Holy Land).

    The story of the first Companions seems like an account of plans-fallen-through in which, time and again, they bring their obstacles to discernment, rather than a single initial vision that was borne through to the Society’s founding. Ignatius could have read these challenges as failures. He certainly had the perseverance and eternal perspective that St. Alberto had. But what’s more, Ignatius viewed the “failures”, it seems, through the lens of God’s will and communication: through these setbacks, God was helping him and the nascent Society to find His will.

  3. Joe Simmons, SJ says:

    Very touching, Aaron. A nice post. Have a great year of theology! In Christ, JS sj

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