You Were Made for Greatness Interview with Fr. Cristino (Jan 21st)
Post date: Jan 9, 2018 9:13:22 AM
The third presentation in our Monthly Speaker Series is themed "You Were Made for Greatness."
Pope Benedict XVI said, "The world offers you comfort, but you were not made for comfort. You were made for greatness." Through the examples of the saints, sacraments and graces, and committing ourselves to being 1% better today than yesterday, we angle our inner compass towards greatness. The transcript of the accompanying interview with Fr. Cristino Bouvette on greatness is posted here.
M: Success is often portrayed as a journey rather than a destination. What is your view on success and how would you define greatness?
C: So I would never separate, for me personally, greatness from the concept of faithfulness. And I really take that from St. Theresa of Calcutta, our beloved mother. She said basically, to paraphrase the saying, “Do not worry about being great, be worried about being faithful.”
And so I would regard faithfulness as the measure of someone’s success. And that doesn’t mean necessarily that only religious people can be successful; what I mean by being faithful is being true to what is required of you. So being faithful means being faithful to your spouse, whether its a christian marriage or not. Being honest to your employer. Being an authentic person. When we live in our faith, we are being - I would consider that being faithful - which means being successful.
M: To ourselves.
M: Amazing. I like that definition. I think you’ve broken down to all the important categories.
Success, as I’ve chosen to define it is broken down to finances, personal growth, health, relationships, spirituality. How are you doing in those categories, personally?
C: I would say, personally, striving. I like how you put that, I’ve never heard someone say that success as a journey instead of a destination. I think I can say, with varying degrees of effort, I am trying to be faithful to improving in each of those different areas. And I also know that I’ve made advancements in those areas as well. That if it's in fact a process instead of just a make-or-break destination, then the process is undergoing and it’s still continuing to happen.I would feel fairly confident in that. But the measure does extend to how faithful I am to keeping on trying and that’s why in some areas we slack off a little bit sometimes and let certain things go. And certainly I would say I would be less successful in those areas.
M: That’s a great answer. I love how it’s kind of like a work in progress. You’re never a masterpiece until the end of your life.
M: Success isn’t something you can achieve without being consciously aware, or without conscious effort. Who in your life, or what in your life, has given you inspiration or motivation for achieving success in your life.
C: Well, I would say there’s many people, but I’ve had outstanding examples in my family. My grandfather in particular is one fo the first people I’ve said that about. He immigrated into this country from Italy with nothing, then sent for my grandmother to come. He raised their family here. He was an incredibly hardworking man; he built a business for himself.
M: In Calgary?
C: In Medicine Hat. And was really a respected man. I remember - he was a tailor - when he died, we were leaving the church to go the cemetery for the burial. And when we turned out into the one intersection, the traffic was stopped because the police were there, and the police were standing at attention as we drove by. And we weren’t expecting that, we never requested that. But they had chosen to do it because he had been tailor for their uniforms and did all their alterations and so the police really respected him. To me I thought, what a small gesture or example how being faithful to your work - all he did was his job, but he did his job so well that he earned the respect of those who employed him. They could’ve said, “We don’t owe him anything because we paid him. He was just doing his job.” But he went above and beyond.
My parents are the same. My parents have incredible work ethic and have been always sp sacrificial in their life, providing for our family. I’ve had some priests and professors in university that I would consider successful people, because of their faithfulness and their family life.
M: It’s been said that the key to success is owning 100% personal responsibility for your happiness. You can’t control what life gives you. So, how have you begun to take responsibility for your happiness?
C: I have learned how important it is to distinguish between happiness as a feeling and happiness as a disposition. I believe that the mark of a person who really gets life - and I’m not perfect at this though I’m trying - is someone who decides to be happy, someone who doesn’t feel like being happy some days but doesn’t show that he doesn’t feel like it. That we exert some force in our life, some pressure to say “I will only make the circumstances around me worse by not choosing happiness in this moment.” That doesn’t mean that it’s an easy choice, in fact it’s hard to choose, because nothing around you in that moment lends itself to making you feel happy. And so, that's when the choice becomes all that more important because we realize this isn’t going to be about my sentiments, this isn’t going to be about everything in my life lining up exactly the way I want it to. In fact, I can say, in my own life, that I usually don’t get my way. Things don’t really go the way I would’ve expected, or hoped, or had imagined. But I try not to let that make me a sour or bitter person. To say, 'whatever is happening now, must be what God wanted to happen,' so if I try harder to accept that and appreciate that, that I would say, is the key to joy - as a disposition, not a feeling, so not like I don’t get some emotional high off not getting my way. I choose to try not to let that take away my cheerfulness, my generosity. So it’s concerted effort, that I’m not perfect at it. I’m trying. We have to acknowledge what we have been and it’s always the people who are closest to us who will notice it. My closest friends will say “is everything okay?” And they only notice that because I’m showing signs that I’m not okay. So, obviously it’s not 100% of the time, but at least desiring to be that way, to move in that direction is a big part of it.
M: That’s very special. So would you say that that disposition of happiness is fulfillment? I know that people have put it in terms that happiness is different to fulfilment.
C: Yes, that’s why Bishop Robert Baron in his series of catholicism, he points out a work of art where Jesus looks disfigured and just in pain, and he says, “This is the happiest man on Earth because He was fulfilling the will of His Father. Nothing made Him happier than to fulfill the will of His Father.” And so, we too, I think, if we learn that our fulfillment comes from pleasing God, then nothing will disappoint us so much that it takes away from us that experience of serving the Lord.
M: Yeah. Do you tell others that when you’re helping others seek their vocations?
C: I try to point that out to them. That our happiness, that the fullest extent of our happiness lies in making a good discernment about what is God’s will for our life. He will accommodate us, but only to a certain point because He’s made us a certain way. And that’s why our world is full of so many miserable, miserable people who convince themselves that because they’re not using themselves for the purpose for which they were created, and so they are condemning themselves to a life of being miserable. Even if they are putting on a show and pretending to be happy, they convince themselves that they are happy. Because we cannot be fulfilled if we are not accomplishing God’s will for our life.
M: That definitely makes sense to me. So, the next section is habits and change. So, personally, whatever you’ve affirming, I found that you’re really getting more of whatever your affirming. Is there something you tell yourself everyday, every morning, every night?
C: I try every morning, and the end of my prayer, to say, “Lord grant all that I think, do and say today be for Your glory.” And then at the end of the day, I review all the ways that I am certain that they were not - that the things I say, think and do were not for His glory. And instead of being disappointed in myself, or being discouraged tat I never seem to be improving, I just try to say, “Okay, I see these things. These are the failures of today. So, what can I do tomorrow, even in a small way, to try to prevent them from being repeated.” And that technique of my beginning and ending of the day with prayer, helps me to not to give into disappointments over the fact that I’m not that I aspire to be.
M: You’re not perfect.
M: That’s amazing. So every day you’re changing even that 1% to be better than yesterday.
C: We always try to do that. We are advancing beings. St. Augustine says - I think it’s St. Augustine, might’ve been another Church father but any rate, one of the Church fathers says - that if we are not advancing in the spirit of joy, we are digressing. There is no staying still, there is no plateau, you’re either going up or rolling back down the hill. If you’ve ever climbed up the steep section of the mountain, you know that you have to keep leaning forward and keep moving. If you’re standing up and not thinking about it, you’re gone. You’re rolling down that hill.
M: Yeah, from personal experience, I believe that. So this is kind of tied into that. What are your daily or weekly or monthly routines? And would you say that you designed your current lifestyle? And what did you have in mind when you picked some habits in particular?
C: So, the only thing that happens daily in my life, other than eating and sleeping is prayer. Prayer and spiritual reading, and of course, the holy mass. There’s no greater gift as a priest than being able to celebrate the mass everyday of your life. I never wonder, ‘oh how will I get to mass today?’ So, those are the uncompromising things of my routine. Part of my weekly routine would be those things but then also exercise. I basically try to exercise everyday, but then if something has to go one day, its exercise that I would have to let go of first - which I’m not promoting, but it’s just the reality. So, my commitment to being fit and healthy is, I think, being responsible. I think God should get 60 long years out of me. So I need keep myself healthy, make sure that I’m capable of planning that out. And then monthly, is basically just all of those things, but I make sure that I have at least one day out of a month that I spend with a really good friend and done something that I really enjoy, to relax. And also a day of recollection, set aside a day of extended prayer, time and quiet. I should also include that in my weekly job, I also do confession. I like to go to confession once a week, so that keeps me on a short leash - which I need.
M: That’s amazing. So I know you pray every morning and probably every night. In between, do you ever set aside time for prayer as well?
C: Yeah, I like to make sure that I - the prayer that the Church prays, the hours - that I set aside time in the day to mark certain hours for that. Whenever that is appointed. But then, to also look for time to visit Jesus in the blessed sacrament at least once. To pray the rosary. So those don’t happen at the same time everyday, but that they happen everyday is more often than not.
M: That’s great! I definitely want to integrate some of those into my daily routines.
C: Yeah? And that’s a good word for it, is integration: it takes time.
M: Definitely does. So the next ties into that. Change starts from within. There’s ‘be the change that you want to see in the world,’ or Zig Ziglar said, “Attitude not aptitude is what determines your altitude.” Like how far you will go is determined by attitude. So, where’s a good place to start? What attitude should we begin to take for personal growth?
C: Humility. And the acknowledgement that we are not perfect and that we need to change. If we don’t believe that, we’re not going to put in the effort. If we’re satisfied with ourselves, we become evil. So, I was very inspired when someone, early on in his pontificate, interviewed Pope Francis, and they said “Who is ? As a person?” And he said, he’s a sinner. Simple as that. I am a sinner. And he’s not the first person to answer in that way. Another dear saint to me, St. Josemaria Escriva once said, “I am a sinner who’s in love with Jesus Christ.” So, he qualified that part of him to say, “I know I’m a sinner but I know that I’m struggling against my sin out of love for our Lord.” I think that that is a good starting point for us. The capacity to properly acknowledge where we are weak and desire to overcome those weakness, desire to improve so that we are moving more in the direction that we desire to.
M: So you have the desire first. Where do you go after that desire? Because it can be overwhelming when you look at all your flaws and think ‘I have this big mountain to climb, where do I go from here?’
C: I guess that relates to what I talked about earlier, with regard to examining your conscience at the end of everyday and formulating resolutions. Specific concrete things to improve tomorrow.
M: Those are some great tips. So, with change comes fear. What is fear to you and how do you overcome it?
C: Fear to me is not being in control. So as long as I feel in control of something, I don’t get afraid of much, but when I know that I can’t be in control or I know that I have lost control of something, that causes me to be afraid. So what I try to do - this is never my instinctive reaction - but what I try to do when I become aware of when I am afraid, is to thank our Lord for this reminder that I am not in control of anything, though I appear to be in control of many things. And to let this be an opportunity to remind me to trust and to trust in myself, my future and my goals.
M: So still keeping that humble attitude the entire way.
M: So it’s ironic how things that are of the most importance to us; our families, our liberties, our minds, our health, all these things are given free to us, but we often take advantage of them. So, like in the parable on Sunday, how might we make the most of these gifts in multiplying them?
C: I think the key of that parable was the realization that what had been entrusted to them was not their own, that they were a steward of it. And therefore, to show themselves a good steward, to not just preserve intact what they received, but to show that they were able to make it grow. So, I think that if we were to look at our gifts and talents not as possessions, but as things that we have received, of which we are stewards, we are inspired then, to multiply them, to make them grow. To get more out of them for the good of the world, the Church and our own community,
M: So would you say that faith is one of those things that we’re given, that its not ours and we’re responsible for making it grow?
C: Exactly. Exactly. We teach that faith is infused into our hearts at baptism and how we live out our faith directly influences the extent of which it grows.
M: Yeah, it’s one of those divine mercies right? Absolutely. So what are three things that you would recommend people introduce into their lives in order to achieve greatness or happiness?
C: Well, I would say daily prayer. Then I would say, some aspect of physical fitness, some form of discipline of the body. Then I would say, some act, some consistent act of service. Going out of our way to serve others.
M: Okay. And how would you classify those? I know prayer is personal, so you’re helping yourself to grow personally. Training your body is helping your mind? Does it help your mentality?
C: It does. But it also takes discipline to be healthy and active, and we cannot grow in the spiritual life if we are not disciplined.
M: So its cultivating that habit of discipline.
M: So I’ve been told that relationships are supposed to be the key to your happiness and your future health. There a study where your relationships at age 50 - how happy you are with them - tells you more than your level of cholesterol at age 50 about your health at age 80.
M: It’s quite interesting. I’ve also been told that your 5 closest friends, or who you spend the most time with will tell you where you will be in the future. They influence you the most. So, how would you - what would you say to somebody about choosing who we surround ourselves with, that we have to limit these associations and disassociate ourselves from certain people and expand our associations with people we want to be more like?
C: Well, on the one hand we have to be clear about only associating with people we think makes us a better person - or at least are providing us with the opportunity to be a better person. Then we should also identify what it is in other people that we aspire towards ourselves. Because, yes, we really are inspired by other people in our own lives. But then the other side of that is to be detached from other people. Not require their respect and attention, because otherwise we become attached to them. And our whole life is spent trying to get that, always looking for that and if thats our attitude then we become distractible. Because we’re always looking for the next recognition instead of focusing on being faithful to the task at hand.
M: Wow, that’s some great insight. That’s right and I agree. So there’s supposedly a difference between a job - what people work at to earn a living - and a career - where people move up and actually put work in - and a calling. So how would you advise others to make their vocations a vacation?
C: Well, I would say, don’t take a vacation from prayer. That’s the first thing. But also to see that our vocation is a decision; its a free choice that we make. But more than being a choice that we’ve made for our benefit, its the response to someone’s invitation. When you RSVP to go to a party, its going to the party that does you a favour. The RSVP does the other person a favour and so when we live out our vocation, we are doing ourselves a factor in that we are fulfilling our purpose but the first thing we did is respond to someone else’s invitation. We’re saying to the Lord, “You asking me to do this is enough of a reason for me to want to do it.” And having that attitude will direct us to our vocation.
M: Okay, so it’s like the Lord is inviting us to His wedding and whether or not we decide to come is our responsibility and its a gift to us.
C: Exactly, it blesses us afterwards.
M: So when we decide to go, then we’re working towards our vocation?
M: Okay, so whichever which way God decides to lead us, we need to put faith into that.
M: So, we live in a culture of instant gratification, as you know. And it can turn us into reactive, nonthinking animals. So we don’t want to sleepwalk, or drift through life, just being mediocre, as you said. So how can we navigate through the collective unconscious of the world that we live in?
C: Well, I think the same way that we navigate through anything, which is having our eyes fixed on a certain point. People talk about getting out of a forest at night because they fixed their eyes on a star. You know, or ships at sea figuring out where to go because of the lighthouse - or actually, the lighthouse is telling them where not to go, because thats where the rocks are. So we navigate through our just awful mess of the world as it is right now, by keeping our eyes fixed on a destination. For us, that’s heaven.
M: So that’s the most important thing: to set a goal and to always strive towards it.
C: And to have that goal always be in front of us and never be perfectly attained. Anyone who’s ever said, “I am finally the holiest I want to be,” as much likely or not. But a person who can say I am a sinner, I need to keep going.
M: So how do we keep going?
C: By reminding ourselves of it everyday. You hear the stories of soldiers who take a picture of their wives or their children out of their pocket everyday or multiple times a day to keep them going. That’s why I say the daily mass is the most important part of my day. As I look at the host, I’m reminded of my destination, where I’m going, what my life is about.
M: That’s amazing. Well, I think that concludes the interview. Thank you for your time.
Thank you Fr. Cristino for your inspiring words.