AD astra per aspera. That’s the motto of a school where I was assigned once as its chaplain. It means “To the stars through hardships.” It’s a way to encourage the students to aspire for the best without fear of the sacrifices involved.
The motto certainly injects optimism in the students, motivating them to do their best, but always giving due consideration to their capabilities and other personal circumstances.
It’s also a good reminder to all of us that we have to be both idealistic and realistic. Yes, we should reach for the stars but fully aware of what it takes and of what possibilities we have, given the conditions around.
There definitely will be some tension involved here, but it is a healthy tension that serves only to prod and spur us to action, but does not compromise our physical, mental or emotional well-being.
We however should understand being idealistic properly. It’s not about pursuing fantastic and quixotic dreams. It’s not about running after whims and caprices. These dreams, whims and caprices are largely false and unrealizable. They exist only in our mind.
To be truly idealistic is to go after what is most important to us—our sanctification, our relation with God and others, our capacity to love as we should. It is to aim at nothing less than heaven, the real heaven as distinct from the false heavens and utopias marketed by some ideologies.
But we have to be realistic in pursuing this ideal. And that means, first of all, that God is actually providing us already with everything that we need to achieve our ultimate end. There’s his grace, both the sanctifying and the actual ones. There’s his Church and everything that is in it—his word, sacraments, etc.
To be realistic also means that we really have to know ourselves inside out. We have to have a good inventory of our strengths and weaknesses, our assets and liabilities. We should keep a good running balance of this personal inventory and start making plans of how we can use it optimally.
That is why a thorough daily examination of conscience is always advisable. There we can see the movements of the different elements of our daily life, noting the shifts and changes, the ups and downs, the state and direction of our thoughts, reactions, desires, feelings, etc.
To be realistic is also about knowing the concrete conditions around. That’s why we should always be observant, broadening our perspectives and deepening our insights. With all the new technologies now made available, this should not be a difficult task. We just have to be very open-minded, receptive and perceptive.
Toward this end, it may be good to give due attention to our continuing intellectual and cultural formation so that we can better read the signs of the times and act accordingly.
To be sure, to be both idealistic and realistic will lead us to an exciting lifestyle. It can be full of fun and dynamism. It can lead us to know and to learn more and more things. And most importantly, it can lead us to where we should be at the end of our life. And that is heaven!
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