As I get older, I find myself reminiscing more on my life, not only on the various events but also on key sayings that have helped direct me. I would like to share some of these with you and invite you to think about key “mottos” that have influenced you.
My father takes center stage for the first lesson. He was a natural born salesman and very successful in business. I remember him telling me, when I was in high school, “Never exaggerate the value or quality of a product you are selling. It’s a form of lying.” I am grateful to my dad for this important kernel of wisdom.
Both my father and my mother had a strong commitment to the virtue of honesty, which I learned the hard way at times, especially when I was a teenager! “Honesty is the best policy,” sums up their thinking on the matter.
In the first two years of my life as a Jesuit, in what is known as the Novitiate, I had the good fortune of meeting Jesuit Father Carroll O’Sullivan. I had been struggling with issues to do with my self-image and I shared this concern with him. He gave me a mantra, which I have used many times over the years: “God loves me and nothing else matters." I have also shared this truth with others and it has benefitted them, as well.
Once in awhile I have found myself desiring greater faith. There is a prayer I learned in college that goes like this: “I believe, help my unbelief.” But I like the following variation better: “I believe, help me to believe more deeply.” Similarly, the Jesuit motto of “Finding God in all things” has become for me: “Finding God’s love in all circumstances.”
As a Jesuit, I have been asked to move to some places that were blessed and some that were more difficult in terms of climate for a native Californian. For example, I was blessed to live in San Diego, which has one of the nicest year-round climates, for 16 years. To go to the next location – Southern Alberta, Canada, where it can be below zero in the winters – I needed some extra divine help. Enter the following quotation from Eleanor Roosevelt: “You must do the thing you think you cannot do.” An addition to this saying is one that a nun friend of mine gave to me: “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it.” Both sayings carried graces that not only helped me to move but to stay there for nine years. Living in Canada was also a blessing as I came to know the wonderful people there.
After giving a very successful week-long retreat to a congregation of religious brothers, in terms of graces they were receiving, I asked my good friend, the late Joe Conwell, SJ, how much of what happened was God and how much was it me. His answer both amused me and satisfied me: “It’s 100% you and 100% God; it’s just that God’s 100% is greater than your 100%.”
Fr. Max Oliva, SJ