Raissa noted the death of Charles du Bos. She quoted him as stating, “The mark of a great life is failure.”
When I first read this, as a younger person, I skimmed over this mysterious line. But, now, I understand, at least is part, what this means.
First of all, one must understand that success in the world is not the same as living a great life. One knows “great” people who did not have success in this life. The list proves to be endless: all the martyrs, such as SS. Edmund Campion, or Philip Howard, or Margaret Clitherow; those who were simple in the eyes of the world who never obtained “success”, such as Joseph Cupertino, Gemma Galgani or Pier Georgio Frassati and so on.
It is one thing to say that saints did not have success, but another thing to note that they experienced failure.
Failure is absolutely not tolerated by modern society. If someone fails at a career, or financially, or even in relationships, that person evokes either disdain or pity, but not admiration.
So, what did Charles du Bos mean by failure?
One can only surmise, but here is my take on this mysterious sentence.
One must fail in one's self, one's pride, one's own confidence in order to find the love of God. One cannot be “successful” in the eyes of God. One is merely a creature prone to sin and doomed to die.
In fact, the lives of the saints reveal failure consistently.
For example, St. Bernadette died from a long and painful disease, tuberculosis of the bone, and yet, the Blessed Virgin showed her the location for the sacred spring which has healed so many generations of faithful Catholics. Bernadette may be see as a failure, one not healed through one's own given charism.
Or, take the case of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who resisted the Nazis and ended up in prison, in a concentration camp, being put to death for sacrificing his life for another. In the eyes of the State and many people, his death would be considered the end of a life of failure.
Or, take dear and glorious St. Joseph, hardly recognized even in the Gospels, yet chosen to be the Foster-Father of Christ, the Son of God. Joseph, a humble and lowly carpenter, living in poverty all his life, may easily be seen as a failure in the eyes of the world.
To be a failure could mean that one allowed God to strip one of all pretensions and false views, to destroy the ego, and make room for God in one's soul.
Some people fail in their careers, some in the eyes of their families, and yet, these same people carry the light of God into the world.
To have a “great” life may be a subjective ideal, but one cannot deny that those saints whom the Church venerates form a groups of considerable failures.