Some Thoughts on the Price of Greatness

What is the cost of greatness?

Two friends were recruited for the USA Marine Corps. Like any other elite military corps, the Marines pride themselves as the most rigorous, the toughest to graduate, and rightly so. Twelve weeks of intensive training culminating in the Crucible, equip candidates for the tough job. 

Admission into the elite training is itself a sign of exceptional skills and strength. It suggests one has the potential it takes to stand out. Evidence shows only a few succeed.

These two friends were the strongest, most resilient, and positive-minded among their peers. But only one made it to the final list and graduated a Marine. The difference between the two lies in what makes for exceptionalism, for greatness. It’s like the difference between a star and a super-star.  


Look back when you were a teen. You, probably, had many dreams; some realizable, others spurious. About the realizable ones, you would observe you met some and didn’t meet others. Some, you chose to abandon along the way.

Sometimes, you have regrets for some of your dreams you could have achieved had you worked harder. You feel remorse, believing that if you were more determined and had broken the boundaries of convenience through sacrifice, you may have achieved more. 

Before I continue, a caveat: No need to dwell on the past. I am just referring to this with a view of looking ahead, not behind. The future is still in our hands, ordered through the hands of providence.   

Many things may have played a crucial role in achieving some of your dreams. They may include determination, hard work, sacrifice, and for me, most importantly, grace. Also, were your relationships along the line plus benefits of mentorship.  

A perspective of the Saint Peter’s Basilica, Vatican. Photo by Angelo Senchuke, LC, from Cathopic.

In each of us is a great treasure, the hidden treasure of true greatness. Though we are ordinarily weak, yet what is in us is strong.  

I love a biblical description from Saint Paul. He says, “We have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us” (2 Cor 4:7).

How to break loose this treasure for greatness is cooperation. Cooperation with God’s power, God’s grace capable of leading us to the finish line. We, ourselves, must keep resilient, determined, and sacrificing to the end. In the Blessed Lord’s words, “We have to drink of the chalice of suffering” (Mt 20:22).

We also cooperate through smart and hard work, making a better, if not the best use of our opportunities.  

It isn’t merely about who knows whom, because, no matter the connections we have, there are certain things we have to do for ourselves. It would help if we did the talking, the working, make the sacrifice, and do the follow-up. These are things we must do for ourselves.

Crucial Lessons

There is a spiritual example of this. When the Lord Jesus spoke to James and John (and their mother) about the way to greatness, he alluded it lies in suffering. Scripture reports that the duo’s mother came to Jesus with a unique request that they become his two most decorated allies (Mt 20:20-28). Regarding this request, whether it was their mom’s sole initiative or she was speaking on James and John’s behalf, is not the issue here. They already had the best connection, namely, Jesus. They were members of the inner circle (Apostles). Nonetheless, they must do for themselves what the crown of their relationship entails—carry the cross. Remember that famous quote from Saint Augustine; “God can’t save you without you.” 

If you expect somebody else to do all the sacrificing for you, then forget about greatness. One could build the best relationships in the world, without commitments to leverage the opportunities through good work ethic and sacrifice, it is as good as dead. The hand roughened by the wood of the cross is anointed with the aromatic oil of glory. 

At the entrance of “Glory Place,” a sign is posted:  Show me your hands, your marks, and your pains. Those proofs you have the access code. As Jesus spoke to the doubting Thomas, “Put your finger here and see my hands…place it in my side” (Jn 20:27), meaning his wounds. The proof of the glory was the cross.  

Therefore, we glean from the two sons of Zebedee, James and John, the Blessed Lord’s hard lesson.  It deals with matching one’s zeal with reality. The feisty brothers must learn the rules. They realized that zealous spontaneity must be matched with consistent action, the apex of which is sacrifice.

No surprise, the first person to lead the way to heaven among the Apostles was James. 

He, after all, received the crown of glory. He was martyred around 42 or 43 AD in the hands of Herod Agrippa. At least, he showed his wounds. He bore the mark of Christ. 

Saint James the Apostle, pray for us. Amen.

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Fr. Maurice Emelu

The Reverend Dr. Maurice Emelu is the Chair of a number of non-profit boards and a professor of digital media and communication at John Carroll University, United States. His research and practices focus on digital storytelling and design, media aesthetics and theo-aesthetics. Dr. Emelu lives where digital media technology meets culture, communication, philosophy, theology and society. He is the founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc.

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