greatness

In 1715 when France’s King Louis XIV died, his body lay in a golden coffin. He had called himself the ‘Sun King’ and his court was the most splendid in Europe. To demonstrate his greatness, he had given orders that during his funeral the cathedral would be dimly lit with only a special candle set above the coffin. As those in attendance waited in hushed silence, Bishop Massillon began to speak. Then slowly reaching down, he snuffed out the candle, saying, “Only God is great!”

A humbling statement to be sure. Also a good reminder to keep our own egos in check. Bishop Massillon’s words “Only God is great!” raise the issue of human ability and greatness. To assert that humans cannot attain greatness would be foolish. What about Einstein, Marie Curie and countless others we could attach the title of great to?

Perhaps what makes these and other individual’s great is the work that they accomplished. Greatness was not sought for its own sake, but was a bi-product of their accomplishments. Most importantly they did not name themselves as great, this title came afterwards and was made by others. In rather stark contrast to Louis XIV pronouncement.

This brings me to the current political landscape in Canada. We are embroiled in a federal election and the rhetoric provided by each party is astounding. If I have a complaint with the way the parties approach the election it is that through television advertising they continually tell me why the other parties are unfit for leadership. The implication being only their leader is suitable, only their leader is great.

Canadian politics has become a cult of personality. If I only believe what I see on television then elections are won on the strength, merits and charisma of the party’s leader. I recognize that in saying this I have made some broad generalizations. However, I hold that more money is spent telling the voter why other candidates are unsuitable than is expended informing us why a particular party is right for the country.

As I consider the political scene in Canada I do so with two questions in my mind. First who will stand up for my values? As a Christian there are certain issues which are important to me. Issues of justice and equality, ensuring that the needs of all individuals are looked after.

Second, who do I ascribe greatness to? On this issue I stand with Bishop Massillon, only God is great. I see the example made by Jesus Christ who taught “Blessed are the poor in Spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers” (Matt 5). As a follower of Christ, these are the values that I stand for and Jesus is the one who I call great.

This election we will need to ask ourselves what we stand for and what we believe greatness is. Then we will need to mark the box next to the name of the individual we consider to best fit those standards.

Putting A Face to Greatness was originally published in the Northumberland Today on September 2, 2015.