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“Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” by Father George W. Rutler

March 22, 2015
by Fr. George W. Rutler
The annals are replete with the failures of famous figures. Although some accounts are embellished, Abraham Lincoln’s setbacks are daunting. He lost his job and was defeated for the state legislature in 1832 and then failed in business. He had a nervous breakdown in 1836 and was defeated for Speaker of the Illinois House two years later. In 1843 his nomination for Congress failed, and he was defeated for the U.S. Senate in 1854 and 1858, between which he lost the nomination for the Vice Presidency.

That is only half of the picture. After disappointment in 1832, he was elected captain of the Illinois militia in the Black Hawk War. Following the failure of his business, he was appointed postmaster of New Salem and was twice elected to the state legislature. His law practice grew, and he was admitted to plead before the U.S. Supreme Court. His rejection for land officer in 1849 was followed by the offer of the governorship of the Oregon Territory, which he declined. He dusted himself off and was elected President in 1860.

Winston Churchill long struggled with his “Black Dog” of depression. His advocacy of the disastrous Gallipoli campaign in the First World War seemed to put him on the shelf of ruined men, and from then on he was often mocked, painting pictures to keep moral balance during his “Wilderness Years.” Only because Lord Halifax demurred the premiership following Chamberlain’s resignation did King George VI appoint Winston as a second choice in 1940. Early war defeats seemed overwhelming. The military occupation of Norway was a demoralizing calamity.

The point is that if one falls, one can get up again. Churchill said, “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” This counsel is more than the banal “positive thinking” of glib men. It is rooted in a genuine humility that is willing to be helped up by a conviction of Providence, rather than refusing to get up out of crippling pride. Still, such persistence was a specimen only of natural virtue. Great figures in history who perdured are not in the choirs of saints unless they have also employed the theological virtues of faith, hope and love. Not all the great are saints, but all the saints are great. Saint John Vianney said: “Not all saints started well, but all of them ended well.”

In the Stations of the Cross we recollect: “Jesus Falls a First Time. Jesus Falls a Second Time. Jesus Falls a Third Time.” That only makes sense if we also whisper: “Jesus gets up a First Time. Jesus gets up a Second Time. Jesus gets up a Third Time.” When the Anti-Christ tries to push us down, Christ can lift us up to life eternal. “Even if good people fall seven times, they will get back up. But when trouble strikes the wicked, that is the end of them” (Proverbs 24:16).
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