Spirituality for Today – August 2013 – Volume 18, Issue 1

Greatness Is Earned – Not Bestowed

Rev. Msgr.Frank Wissel

More than 15 years ago, the world grieved the loss of Princess Diana. It was estimated that the telecast of her funeral had an audience of 2 billion. For a week or more, stories about her dominated the headlines of major newspapers. People who had never seen her cried unashamedly at her death. It was an event without parallel. She was only 36, but commanded the admiration and affection of millions. How did this woman so young attain such a far-flung popularity?

A photo of Princess Diana

No doubt, part of it was her position in the royal family. In 1981, she married Prince Charles, and that gave her instantaneous fame. Had she not been the Princess of Wales, it is doubtful that she would have attracted so much attention. But that position in the royal family did not last. Her marriage to Prince Charles ended in divorce, but her popularity kept on growing. Marriage may account for her fame, but it does not explain her appeal. Fame does not always equate to popularity. One of the best known names in history is Adolph Hitler – yet he is the opposite of popular. He is reviled, and probably no name is more universally hated than that of the former German Chancellor.

Another facet to Princess Diana's fame was her good looks. She had a natural beauty that most of us do not have. But again, this does not explain her popularity. There have been many beautiful women. But some of them have been more hated than loved.

It seems to me that three factors combined to produce the enormous popularity of Princess Diana. One, she was human and admitted it. At a time when many young women were struggling with eating disorders, she confessed to the same struggle.

Two, she had compassion and did not hide it. One picture showed her in a hospital chatting comfortably with an AIDS patient. Another showed her holding a child whose feet had been blown off by a land mine. The third factor was that she had courage – and used it. It is not easy to be a single mother of two teenage boys. Not even for a princess. She was that and managed to make it look like fun.

I think we can say that Princess Diana was given fame, wealth and beauty. And these were largely handed to her on a silver platter. But the gift pretty well ends there. Her enormous popularity was an achievement. Some things cannot be given to anyone by anyone.

They have to be earned. There is a Gospel reading in which James and John ask Jesus for special standing in the kingdom of God. And Jesus answered, "It is not mine to give." The two apostles wanted to be great men. The plain truth is that greatness cannot be given. It is a quality of life that must be earned.

This is one of the surest ways to analyze greatness. If it can be given, it has nothing to do with whether or not we are great.

Consider position as an example. It can be given. A corporation can hire you and a year later, make you chief executive officer. Does that mean that you are a great person? It has nothing whatsoever to do with your greatness as a person. Political office is the same thing. If enough people vote for you, they can make you mayor, or governor or senator. But all of the voters in the world cannot make you a great man or a great woman. Greatness has nothing to do with position.

It also has nothing to do with possessions. The test is the same. Money can be given. And that means that it is irrelevant so far as greatness is concerned. You can win the lottery. It is not likely, but you could. And overnight, you would become a multi-millionaire. Your life will undergo some drastic changes. The country club will seek your membership. But all the money in the world cannot make you a great person. Greatness is a quality of life that can only be earned.

Generosity is a good example. That is a quality of life that no one can give to you. You have to build it for yourself. And the only way to accomplish that is by doing generous things. Take your lottery winnings and use them to help someone. Take your executive position in the company, and use it to encourage someone. Take your elective office, and use it to serve the least fortunate people you know. It may not make you a great person overnight – but you certainly will be headed in the right direction.

Greatness cannot be given to anybody. Even Jesus could not do that for two saints such as James and John. But true greatness is within reach for everybody, even ordinary people like you and me. Jesus said, "Anyone among you who aspires to greatness must serve the needs of all."