“If You’ve Been Successful, You Didn’t Get There on Your Own”

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Obama’s campaign speech

There has been a lot of controversy during the last few days over what Obama said to business owners in a campaign speech given in Roanoke, Virginia:

…”look, if you’ve been successful, you didn’t get there on your own…I’m always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there.  It must be because I worked harder than everybody else.  Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there. If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life.  Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive.  Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you’ve got a business, you didn’t build that.  Somebody else made that happen…” (Text obtained from ABCNews.go.com).

Comments state that the speech insults business owners and there is uproar over Obama’s idea of the government taking a heavier hand in the economy to the point of having socialist and communist overtones.  Others say that these statements downplay the financial burden and sacrifices that entrepreneurs have had to absorb in order to survive in the current hostile economic climate.  Owners invest time, money, and energy into their businesses.  They get themselves out of bed in the morning, pay their own utility bills, lease office space, do payroll, purchase equipment, and even make charitable contributions.  When it comes time for profits, the government has its hand ready and waiting to take a heavy chunk in taxes—often to the point of suffocating any progress or incentive to grow.

The real face of charity

Other comments state that it is a good thing to help others who are unable to help themselves due to circumstances out of their control. A lot of people who have been successful can point to mentors or someone who has helped them in their inspiration. However, the argument often goes full swing into questioning charity when given to those who lack ambition. Or to put it simply– those who are just plain lazy and looking for a handout.

If you have been keeping up with my blog, I have talked about charity and when it is not a handout.  It is one of the three theological virtues.  It is a word for the love of God.

But there is something else

In all of these arguments there seems to be something essentially missing.  There is a lack of acknowledging where the help ultimately comes from in the first place. A long time again a priest told me that if we are successful, it is through the grace of God – even if we fail to acknowledge Him.  “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). And there are a lot of people these days who wish to take God out of the equation and to eliminate the concept of “One Nation Under God.”  

A common expression in our individualistic society is that someone gets by through “their own strength” or they are “able to pull themselves up by their own boot straps”.  Truthfully, we do have to take initiative, but ultimately all good things come from God –not from ourselves, not from Grandma or Grandpa, not from our education, not from our “Best Friends Forever”, and especially not from our government.  G. K. Chesterton once said, “Once we abolish God, the government becomes the God.”  Everything comes from God. His abundant grace cannot be overemphasized here.  Cooperating with grace involves seeking and following God’s will to the best of our ability.  Also, we also cannot discount God’s mercy available to us when we mess up due to our own rebelliousness.

And what if we are not successful?

This does not mean that God has not been looking out after us. There are three answers to prayer:  “Yes”, “No”, and “I have something better in mind.”  Most of us really don’t understand the “I have something better in mind” and absolutely detest His “No.”  A well-know quote by St. Teresa of Avila states:  “If this is how you treat your friends, Lord, no wonder you have so many enemies.”  We miss the point when we fail to realize that we live in a world that is tainted by sin. However, suffering is redemptive.The Cathechsm of the Catholic Church states: The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle (2015).  

We don’t have infinite knowledge to know the future.  But God does.  He can see what is best for us and our loved ones.  How many of us have had things not turn out the way we expected or demanded but ended up being grateful to God for a result that was better?

What else is said about this in the Catechism?

“We know that in everything God works for good with those who love Him . . . For those whom He fore knew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, in order that He might be the first-born among many brethren. And those whom He predestined He also called; and those whom He called He also justified; and those whom He justified He also glorified.”

“All Christians in any state or walk of life are called to the fullness of Christian life and to the perfection of charity.”  All are called to holiness: “Be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”  In order to reach this perfection the faithful should use the strength dealt out to them by Christ’s gift, so that… doing the will of the Father in everything, they may wholeheartedly devote themselves to the glory of God and to the service of their neighbor. Thus the holiness of the People of God will grow in fruitful abundance, as is clearly shown in the history of the Church through the lives of so many saints. (Catechism of the Catholic Church 2012-2013).

I have included the above Youtube video by Aaron Shust because it is a good reminder of who gets the credit (also this song is one of my favorites!).

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