The True Meaning of Greatness

In these times of fear and uncertainty, when our daily lives are severely disrupted by the Covid outbreak, many people forget what “greatness” truly means. Indeed, doesn’t this pandemic show that, biologically speaking, human beings are as vulnerable to disease and death as other creatures in the animal world? At a time when we do not yet have an effective medication or vaccine for this illness, the only thing we can do to prevent its spread is through isolation and hygiene measures. People isolate and distance themselves from each other, struggling against an invisible, fearsome and insidious enemy. Public worship and in-person classes are cancelled as uncertainty and fear reign everywhere. But I dare to say that it’s precisely in such times that we need to realize our fundamental calling for greatness, love and glory.

You may say that I’m joking. What could be more antithetical to greatness than our current helplessness in the face of this pandemic? Indeed, this virus has managed to destroy all of our false notions of greatness. There were some who associate greatness with fame or power, yet we see many well-known and distinguished people succumb to this new virus. Others associate greatness with a country’s advanced military system and weaponry; alas, none of those expensive and destructive weapons are effective against this virus. Still others associate greatness with mighty borders that can keep all unwanted people out of one’s country; Covid is indeed most unwanted, but none of those borders have kept it out. It doesn’t discriminate between people; it attacks the American and the Italian and the Chinese, the rich and the poor, the old and the young alike.

You may ask, “In what does true greatness consist?” You see, whenever Scripture talks about greatness, it always associates greatness with Love. The greatest commandment is that of loving God and one’s neighbor sincerely and wholeheartedly. When the disciples repeatedly argued about who was the greatest, Jesus always pointed them towards a Love that humbly serves and wills the good of the beloved. About this great and everlasting Love, St. John gushed out, “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!”[1] And this love is no mere passion or “feel-good” feeling. The disciples knew what it was like to be beaten and persecuted, to be shipwrecked, to be sick and abandoned and desolate. And yet, they still proclaim a love that makes us “more than conquerors”, which nothing in all creation can separate us from.[2] It is in this Love that true greatness lies, and it is in this Love that we are transformed into Christ’s likeness, and it is in this Love that the world will be created anew.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” the Lord once told us through the prophet Jeremiah, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”[3] Lent is a time of purification, a time when the desert strips us of all false idols and false notions of greatness. We are made to realize that biologically speaking, we are just as prone to disease and death as other animals, for all flesh is like grass, its glory like the flowers of the field.[4] It is our Love that makes us human beings with a capacity for heavenly glory. And this is a Love that no disease can take away from us; on the contrary, this Love grows in adversity, is purified by trials and reaches its complete fulfillment in Heaven. This is the Love that Christ has bequeathed to us and asked us to abide in[5]—the Love that will lead us to true greatness. Let us use this Lenten season of purification, therefore, to find opportunities to grow in this Love.

It is through Love and in Love that the Body of Christ grows and builds itself up.[6] During this time of imposed social distancing and isolation, how can we grow in Love as a Body? First, let us use this time to do some self-examination: how have we as a nation failed to see the people of other nations as fellow members of that same Body, as children of the same heavenly Father? Have we become too insular in our thinking and worldview? Let us also turn our thoughts to those amongst us who are emotionally vulnerable. For many amongst us, past abuse and mistreatment have lowered our “emotional immunity”; we are easily hurt and reminded of past hurts by the insensitive remarks of those around us. How can we bear one another’s wounds and be patient with each other during this time of trial and purification? As we remember our common humanity and shared mortality, let us also remember our shared vocation to greatness and heavenly glory. For we are continually “being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory,”[7] St. Paul once said. It is a glory that is achieved through Love, as our Lord first loved us and laid down His life for us. We can also use this time of isolation to redouble our dedication to our studies and relevant fields of expertise, so that when it is over, we may be better able to serve our fellow human beings.

Let us be strong in Love, dear friends! This year’s Easter celebrations may not be as bustling or animated as those of previous years, but let your faith and love burn brightly. The light of love cannot be destroyed by any plague, war or disaster. It burns brightly in adversity, transforms all things into the good, and will culminate in everlasting glory. True greatness is achieved through Love, and this greatness will last forever. Amidst all the fear, uncertainty and devastation, let us remember this: Christ’s love will win. Always.

[1] 1 Jn 3:1

[2] Rm 8:37-39

[3] Jer 29:11

[4] 1 Pe 1:24

[5] Jn 15:9

[6] Ep 4:16

[7] 2 Cor 3:18