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 | By Cristina Umaña Sullivan

To the Class of 2023, true success is relational

One of the most viewed commencement speeches on YouTube is one given by Kyle Martin, the 2019 valedictorian of The Kings Academy in West Palm Beach, Florida. In the address, he honestly relates that when he discovered he could be chosen as valedictorian, he doggedly pursued it and succeeded. However, 15 seconds after receiving this achievement, he realized that the price he paid to get it was very high — it cost him many important relationships.

In his speech, he said he was thankful to learn that the most important thing is not to achieve success, but to have healthy relationships.

"Nothing is more important than having healthy relationships. Nothing," Martin said. "Not even your achievements or your successes. And here's why: it's through our relationships that we influence other people, impact them, and create change in their lives. Your life is meaningless without the relationships you have. We have been placed in this world by our Creator and we have a purpose: to establish the Kingdom of God and that we all attain salvation."

These words, besides being inspiring, are very true. It is refreshing that they are spoken by a young person at this time in history when more and more young (and not so young) people are drifting away and breaking the relationship they have with Jesus Christ. I would like to add one more ingredient to this great lesson that Martin shared. He said that our purpose on earth is to establish the kingdom of God and for all of us to attain salvation. I completely agree, but there is another purpose just as important — that we attain holiness.

Your Holiness is a phrase for the pope that gains more and more strength thanks to the renewal and encouragement that St. John Paul II left as a legacy (he canonized the most saints in history). One of the greatest feats among many during his pontificate was to remind us that holiness is embracing God's exclusive, and non-transferable, plan for each of us. God has made each person unique, and therefore, our calling has not been seen before in history — and it will not be repeated. One of the requirements to canonize someone is that the person has not copied anyone, that is, he or she has not intended to do what another saint has already done. Simply put, holiness is about us becoming who we are in fullness without comparing ourselves to anyone, without competing with anyone, without crushing anyone — to be the best version of ourselves, unique and unrepeatable.

At this point I might ask, isn't holiness the same as attaining salvation? They are closely linked. We must first receive the salvation given to us by Jesus' sacrifice on the cross to cultivate holiness, but accepting salvation is not enough to attain it. To clarify the difference, imagine that you win a prize for a million dollars. You have two options: accept it or not. Now, once you receive that great prize you can enjoy it, invest it and produce interests, share it, use it for your needs and quite possibly those of many other people. The salvation given to us by Christ's sacrifice is the prize, and we can accept it or deny it. Holiness is about enjoying, putting at the service and "investing" the gift of salvation that is given to us.

True success, then, is precisely embracing salvation and putting it at the service of the unique and unrepeatable plan that God has designed for each of us. How can we do it? Letting ourselves be loved by God and responding to that love the way only each of us can. It is not worth copying, comparing ourselves to anyone, much less demanding that others respond in the same way that God asks us.

Another part of Martin's speech enriches the way in which true success can be achieved. He said, "As you spend your life on this earth, the greatest good you can do to any person is to show them the way to know Jesus Christ. But first, the relationship with him must be the first one that you cannot neglect. If you don't have a relationship with him, build it. There is no better way to start or end any chapter in your life than with him."

Sometimes we mistakenly think that to change the world we need to hold a position of power and influence, and fortunately that is not true. Cultivating and caring for the relationship with Jesus is the greatest good we can do for the whole world. What transforms the course of history is choosing love and going to the source of love — God himself. In the Eucharist we will be able to receive it fully in order to give it fully. We will be very surprised to see all the works the Lord can do in us when we abandon ourselves to his divine will. He said so himself: "Amen, amen, I say to you, whoever believes in me will do the works that I do, and will do greater ones than these …" (Jn 14:12).

On behalf of the entire team of The Catholic Miscellany and the Diocese of Charleston, we wish all 2023 graduates the best blessings and especially the greatest success of all: holiness.

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Cristina Umaña Sullivan is a cultural sociologist who has been dedicated to evangelization for more than 10 years with a specialty in Theology of the Body and identity creation from a Christian perspective. Email her at