Cardinals, Catholics, and Frank Sinatra? Finding Truth in Unfamiliar Spaces

And now, the end is near
And so I face the final curtain
My friend, I’ll say it clear
I’ll state my case, of which I’m certain
I’ve lived a life that’s full
I traveled each and every highway
And more, much more than this, I did it my way

The opening verse to Frank Sinatra’s “My Way” echoed throughout Tauron Arena Kraków, familiar words to the several thousand young Americans gathered for the day’s catechesis session. Every World Youth Day pilgrim immediately leaned forward in his or her seat.

The singer? Luis Antonio Cardinal Tagle, Archbishop of Manila. His friendly smile projected onto the giant screens, Cardinal Tagle spoke of this famous song and its connection to the “culture of success” in our society.

“We always convince ourselves [that] you can be what you want to be. And do it by yourself. If you allow others to help you, to guide you, you do not qualify as successful.”

His idea of a “self-made human being” is not uncommon, especially in a world where the individual is key to a productive workforce, family, etc. Children, especially girls, are taught in many settings to become the archetype of these “strong, independent” leaders—people who generate their self-worth from success and frown upon failure. I, too, often thrive on perfectionism, this idea that every decision I make must be planned, calculated, and implemented to help my pursuits.

Cardinal Tagle’s words from last summer came at a point of reflection this evening after a long and emotionally draining week. I always reverted to my daily routine by each day’s end: cooking dinner, doing the laundry, washing the dishes, and so on. These chores provide the sense of independence I need as a college student home for the summer. But adulthood is more than washing a plate or broiling fish. It’s more than valuing both successes and mistakes because I claim them as my own. It’s about recognizing the spiritual influences in my life and thanking those who shaped me into the person I am today.

Similarly, Sinatra’s lyrics are more than just part of a catchy song. Sure, they emphasize a healthy dose of control over our lives. But independence can be too much of a good thing if it stops us from recognizing the hand there all along.