On January 2, the memorial of St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory Nazianzen, the second reading was a moving sermon describing the relationship Gregory had with his friend and fellow student Basil. While it extolled Basil’s intellect and the warmth of their relationship, it ends like this:
Different men have different names, which they owe to their parents or to themselves, that is, to their own pursuits and achievements. But our great pursuit, the great name we wanted, was to be Christians, to be called Christians.¹
So many wish to achieve greatness in offering their great contribution to human society, but St. Gregory offers the real reason behind learning: to glorify God. Friendship, and even a little healthy competition serves this singular purpose and helps to keep the soul grounded.
The same hope inspired us: the pursuit of learning. This is an ambition especially subject to envy. Yet between us there was no envy. On the contrary, we made capital out of our rivalry. Our rivalry consisted, not in seeking the first place for oneself but in yielding it to the other, for we each looked on the other’s success as his own.
There’s a popular phrase that says “it’s lonely at the top”. There are many who are famous that often self destruct because they either withdraw from others or associate with those who do not share a mutual love of God and the other. Often, the famous seek to be worshipped, and the worshippers seek to overthrow the famous.
To truly find the fulfillment in aspiration towards great things, intellectual or otherwise, St. Gregory rightly suggests that the fundamental goal is to obtain the name of follower of The Christ. On that quest, while lonely at times, one can never be totally alone. The disciples of Jesus are supposed to be many. It is that shared name Christian that ought to drive our pursuits. In this way, we glorify God and His creation in right order.
¹Oratio 43, in laudem Basilii Magni, 15, 16-17, 19-21; PG 36, 514-423.