Problem of Life's Failures
by Father Charles Irvin, M.Div, J.D.
Simon Peter was a Fisherman. It was his Livelihood. He wasn’t a Sport Fisherman, fishing simply because he liked
to fish. His Life depended upon his Skill and his Talents in catching fish. So did the Security and Happiness of his Family. Not only
that, but the Livelihood of the Men who worked for him, depended upon him, as well as the Security and Happiness of their Family Members.
Peter knew what he-was-about, because he had to.
We find him in today’s Gospel Account in a Moment of Failure. We shouldn’t think it
was his only Failure. He probably encountered many other such moments in the years he had been
in business. Was this Failure the last-straw? Was this the Final Failure
for him? Was he about to abandon his fishing business and start out all over again in a new business? We don’t know. But many of us do
know the feeling, many of us have had moments of such Profound Doubt that we’ve been ready to Give Up.
We’ve had times, haven’t we, when we’ve been beset by a certain Nostalgia and Sentimental Memories of earlier days, days
when we began out Careers and Marriages with High Hope, with Dreams and Expectations of our futures. Such moments can be Pleasant Reveries
or they can be memories of times of Terrible Doubts. In them we can
Severely and Harshly Judge ourselves to be Failures.
Have we made a difference in the lives of those around us? Can we yet make a difference in the lives of those around us?
We had such High Hopes, such Promise, back in those days of beginnings when we began our Careers, entered into our Marriages, and started
our Families. They were such seemingly happy days, days of happy anticipation over all that we were going to accomplish, all that we were
going to do. All of that was before Life dealt us its Cruel Blows causing us to enter into
Moments of Depression, a Sense of Loss, and days of
Living in Failure.
In writing his letter to the Ephesians, Saint Paul wrote: “For our Struggle is not
with Flesh and Blood but with the Principalities, with the Powers, with the World Rulers of this present darkness, with the Evil Spirits
in the Heavens…” He was reminding them that we are dealing with Immense Forces in our World, Forces that seemingly seek to
Beset us and Destroy us by Destroying
our Spirits, Corrupting our Souls,
and reducing us to regarding ourselves as little more than a Bunch of Failures.
today’s First Reading we find the Prophet Isaiah in such a state-of-mind. His
Soul was Heavy; he was in Near Defeat. His Nation
was divided between North and South. The Assyrians had conquered the Northern Kingdom of Israel and then carried away the
Israelites into Captivity in Babylon. The Southern Kingdom of Judah was
Languishing in one Civil War following after another. Religion had fallen into little more than
observing a Series of Formalities. Real belief in God had all but vanished. King Uzziah,
once Wise and Trusted, had Fallen into Disgrace and had recently
Died in Dishonor.
On top of all that, Isaiah, whom History would later regard as one of the Greatest of all Old Testament
Prophets, found himself at this point held in-Contempt by those to whom God had sent him. No one was
listening to him; some wanted to get rid of him by Killing him. Isaiah was, to say the least,
very conscious of his Failures and Limitations.
Once again you and I are presented with the Problem of Failure. And
Failure raises Questions, Questions about ourselves and Questions about
God. If God is so Good, we are asked, why is there
such Terrible Suffering in our World? Why did God allow the
Holocaust? Why does God allow babies to
Die? And then we are told: “I can’t imagine a God that would allow Evil and Pain to afflict innocent
But isn’t that the Problem? Why, we need to ask, should
God be limited by our puny little Human Imaginations? The Problem, you see, is with
us – not with God. Is God limited by our
Limitations? Do we allow ourselves to only Worship a God Who is
so small that He fits into our Little Intellectual Categories?
Peter was offered a window-of-opportunity that came to him when he would have least expected it, after a
Night of Failure. He took the chance, gave God what he did have,
namely Hope and Trust, and suddenly
Defeat was transformed into Victory. Peter, admitting he was a
Sinner, became the Rock upon which Jesus would build His
Church. Jesus was saying to Peter: “Look, I know you are
Brusque, Impulsive, Strong-willed, and even a Racist Bigot. But you’ve given Me your best, and now I’m going to give you My Best”.
Isn’t it true that people who have been Wounded become Great Healers? Recovering
Alcoholics become the Best Rescuers of drinking Alcoholics. Slow
Learners become Great Teachers. Aren’t some of our Greatest Athletes people who have been told they have no talent? Remember that
Ludwig van Beethoven wrote his Greatest Symphony when he was Stone Deaf.
Winners never quit and Quitters never win. If we try to limit God by
our own Limitations, we will only succeed in limiting ourselves. The great Jewish
Prophet Isaiah was, like Simon Peter, given a window-of-opportunity in the Midst of Failure.
He took the Opportunity and said: “Here I am Lord, send me”. Peter, having confessed that he
was a Sinner, heard Jesus respond: “Do
not be afraid; from now on you will be a Fisher of Men”. Peter responded to the Challenge, the Opportunity, and became
the Chief of the Apostles.
How then, do we respond to Failure? Do we see it as a Challenge, and then, at a
Deeper Level see that every Challenge is but an Opportunity? Do we respond as did Isaiah and Simon Peter? To do so we
cannot limit God by our own limited little imaginations. We are not responsible for everything
that happens in our lives. We are responsible only for our Responses. No one else is, only we are -- not
God, not Others, not Life. Such, then, is the Challenge of
Faith, for Faith is not simply our adherence to a
Creed or to a set of Doctrines. Faith is how
we Act in Life, the Arena in which God comes to us.
You may think that everything depends upon you, but you would be very Wrong-Headed in thinking that way. And you
may think that you are a Failure and will never make a difference in the World. You would be
equally Wrong-Headed in thinking that way. The only way to face Life is with the Belief that “with God,
anything is possible”, and then live our Lives while depending on Him.