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JOHN LANCASTER SPALDING
[Address by Bishop J. L. Spalding, Roman Catholic Bishop of Peoria, III., since 1877 (born in Lebanon, Pa., June 3, 1840; – -), delivered at the opening of the Spalding Institute, Peoria, December 6, 1899.)
How shall I live? How shall I make the most of my life and put it to the best use? How shall I become a man and do a man's work? This, and not politics or trade or war or pleasure, is the question. The primary consideration is not how one shall get a living, but how he shall live, for if he live rightly, whatever is needful he shall easily find. Life is opportunity, and therefore its whole circumstance may be made to serve the purpose of those who are bent on self-improvement, on making themselves capable of doing thorough work. Opportunity is a word which, like so many others that are excellent, we get from the Romans. It means near port, close to haven. It is a favorable occasion, time, or place for learning or saying or doing a thing. It is an invitation to seek safety and refreshment, an appeal to make escape from what is low and vulgar and to take refuge in high thoughts and worthy deeds, from which flows increase of strength and joy. It is omnipresent. What we call evils, as poverty, neglect, and suffering, are, if we are wise, opportunities for good. Death itself teaches life's value not less than its vanity. It is the background against which its worth and beauty stand forth in clear relief. Its dark form follows us like our shadow, to bid us win the prize while yet there is time; to teach that if we live in what is permanent, the destroyer cannot blight what we know and love; to urge us, with a
Copyright, by A. C. McClurg. Published by permission. Toyo
power that belongs to nothing else, to lay the stress of all our hoping and doing on the things that cannot pass away. “ Poverty,” says Ouida, “is the north wind that lashes men into Vikings.” “Lowliness is young ambition's ladder.” What is more pleasant than to read of stronghearted youths, who, in the midst of want and hardships of many kinds, have clung to books, feeding, like bees to flowers? By the light of pine-logs, in dim-lit garrets, in the fields following the plough, in early dawns when others are asleep, they ply their blessed task, seeking nourishment for the mind, athirst for truth, yearning for full sight of the high worlds of which they have caught faint glimpses; happier now, lacking everything save faith and a great purpose, than in after years when success shall shower on them applause and gold.
Life is good, and opportunities of becoming and doing good are always with us. Our house, our table, our tools, our books, our city, our country, our language, our business, our profession,—the people who love us and those who hate, they who help and they who oppose—what is all this but opportunity? Wherever we be there is oppor. tunity of turning to gold the dust of daily happenings. If snow and storm keep me at home is not here an invitation to turn to the immortal silent ones who never speak unless they are addressed? If loss or pain or wrong befal me, shall they not show me the soul of good there is in things evil? Good fortune may serve to persuade us that the essential good is a noble mind and a conscience without flaw. Success will make plain the things in which we fail; failure shall spur us on to braver hope and striving. If I am left alone, yet God and all the heroic dead are with me still
. If a great city is my dwelling place, the superficial life of noise and haste shall teach me how blessed a thing it is to live within in the company of true thoughts and high resolves. Whatever can help me to think and love, whatever can give me strength and patience, whatever can make me humble and serviceable, though it be a trifle light as air, is opportunity, whose whim it is to hide in unconsidered things, in chance acquaintance and casual speech, in the falling of an apple, in floating weeds, or the accidental explosion in a chemist's mortar.
Wisdom is habited in plainest garb, and she walks modestly, unheeded of the gaping and wondering crowd. She rules over the kingdom of little things, in which the lowly-minded hold the places of privilege. Her secrets are revealed to the careful, the patient, and the humble. They may be learned from the ant or the flower that blooms in some hidden spot or from the lips of husbandmen and housewives.
He is wise who finds a teacher in every man, an occasion to improve in every happening, for whom nothing is useless or in vain. If one whom he has trusted prove false, he lays it to the account of his own heedlessness and resolves to become more observant. If men scorn him, he is thankful that he need not scorn himself. If they pass him by, it is enough for him that truth and love still remain. If he is thrown with one who bears himself with ease and grace, or talks correctly in pleasantly modulated tones, or utters what can spring only from a sincere and generous mind-there is opportunity. If he chance to find himself in the company of the rude, their vulgarity gives him a higher estimate of the worth of breeding and behavior. The happiness and good fortune of his fellows add to his own. If they are beautiful or wise or strong, their beauty, wisdom, and strength shall in some way help him. The merry voices of children bring gladness to his heart; the songs of birds wake melody there. Whoever anywhere, in any age, spoke noble words or performed heroic deeds, spoke and wrought for him. For him Moses led the people forth from bondage; for him the three hundred perished at Thermopylae ; for him Homer sang; for him Demosthenes denounced the tyrant; for him Columbus sailed the untraveled sea; for him Galileo gazed on the starry vault; for him the blessed Savior died. He knows that whatever diminishes his good-will to men, his sympathy with them, even in their blindness and waywardness, makes him poorer, and he therefore finds means to convert their faults even into opportunities for loving them more. The rivalries of business and politics, the shock of conflicting aims and interests, the prejudices and perversities of men, shall not cheat him of his own good by making him less just or kind. He stands with the
Eternal for righteousness, and will not suffer that fools or criminals divert him to lower ends.
If we have but the right mind, all things, even those that hurt, help us. “That which befits us," says Emerson, "embosomed in beauty and wonder as we are, is cheerfulness and courage, and the endeavor to realize our aspirations. The life of man is the true romance which when it is valiantly conducted, yields the imagination a higher joy than any fiction.” May we not make the stars and the mountains and the all-enduring earth minister to tranquillity of soul, to elevation of mind, and to patient striving? Have not the flowers and the human eye and the look of heaven when the sun first appears or departs, power to show us that God is beautiful and good ? Shall not the great, calm Mother whose fair face, despite the storms and battles of all the ages, is still full of repose and strength, teach us the wisdom of brave work without noise or hurry? It seems scarcely possible to live in the presence of nature and not be cured of vanity and conceit. When we see how gently and patiently she effaces or beautifies all traces of convulsions, agonies, defeats, and enmities, we feel that we are able to overcome hate and envy and all ignoble passions.
Since life is great, nay, of inestimable value, no opportunity by which it may be improved can be small. Higher things remain to be done than have yet been accomplished. God and His universe still wait on each individual soul, offering opportunity. In the midst of the humble and inevitable realities of daily life each one must seek out for himself the way to better worlds. Our power, our worth will be proportionate to the industry and perseverance with which we make right use of the ever-recurring minor occasions whether for becoming or for doing good. Opportunity is not wanting—there is place and means for all —but we lack will, we lack faith, hope, and desire, we lack watchfulness, meditation, and earnest striving, we lack aim and purpose. Do we imagine that it is not possible to lead a high life in a lowly room? That one may not be hero, sage, or saint in a factory or a coal-pit, at the handle of the plough or the throttle of the engine? We are all in the center of the same world and whatever happens to us is great, if there he greatness in us. The dis
believers in opportunity are voluble with excuses. They cannot; they have no leisure; they have not the means. But they can if they will; leisure to improve one's self is never wanting, and they who seek find the means. There is always opportunity to do right though he who does it stand alone, like Abdiel,
“Among innumerable false, unmoved,
Let a man but have an aim, a purpose, and opportunities to attain his end shall start forth like buds at the kiss of spring. If we do not know what we want, how shall anything be made to serve us? The heedless walk through deserts in which the observant find the most precious things. Little is to be hoped for from the weavers of pretexts, from those who tell us what they should do, if circumstances were other. What hinders helps, where souls are alive. Say not thou lackest talent. What talent had any of the great ones better than their passionate trust in the efficacy of labor ?
The important thing is to have an aim and to pursue it with perseverance. What is the aim the wise should propose to themselves? Not getting and possessing, but becoming and being. Man is not only more than anything that can belong to him; he is greater than planets and solar systems. We easily persuade ourselves that were circumstances more favorable we should be better and happier. It may be so, but the mood is weak and foolish. There is never a question of what might have been where true men think and act. The past is irrecoverable. It is our business to do what we can here and now, and regrets serve but to enfeeble and distract us. The boundless good lies near each one, and though a thousand times it has eluded us, let us believe that now we shall hold it fast. From failure to failure we rise toward truth and love. The ascent is possible even for the lowliest of God's creatures. When, indeed, we look backward through long years of life, lost opportunities rise before us like mocking fiends crying, Too late, too late, Nevermore, nevermore; but the wise heed no voice that bids them lose heart. They look ever forward, they press