The Word — The true test of mettle

Published 2:47 pm Friday, January 6, 2023

By Jan. 23, 2016, British explorer Henry Worsley had traveled 913 miles on foot across Antarctica. He was attempting the first unsupported, unassisted crossing of the continent. It was “the hardest form of travel quite possibly on the surface of the earth.” He displayed “extraordinary traits of courage and determination” in attempting this daunting, lonely feat in extreme weather conditions. It was an attempt at a magnificent athletic and psychological triumph.

Although Worsley’s mission failed tragically when he died of organ failure after calling too late for help, his legacy and remarkable grit are my point. “…(H)is spirit is an inspiration for us all to… pursue our passion with gusto and tenacity to endure.”

Reading about Worsley made me think: undertaking such a dangerous, unusual adventure was something he wanted to do, something he was determined to do. We all know how it is – if we want something badly enough, generally we make it happen. This led me to ask myself if the measure of a man’s worth is really in his determination to do what he wants.

It helped me to take a look at some of the words of Jesus. “My meat is to do the will of him that sent me….” (John 4:34) “… I came down from heaven, not to do my own will, but the will of him that sent me.” (John 6:38) “Father, if thou wilt, remove this chalice from me: but yet not my will, but thine be done.” (Luke 22:42) It was amid great fear and heaviness that Christ faced His greatest accomplishment, the salvation of mankind through His crucifixion.

One perspective is that the true test of our mettle lies in our determination to accomplish something we don’t want to do, when we know it’s right, rather than in our determination to do something we do want to do. There are lots of examples, from getting out of bed to get to work, to committing to daily prayer, to staying faithful to a spouse.

Not that our focus should be testing our own mettle, though. Our value lies in the fact that through Baptism, we are sons of God, meant to share heaven with Him, not in the fact that we can force ourselves to do things we don’t want to do. At the same time, however, Christ requires a certain amount of effort from us.

It is simply a reality that our life is a test, and that it wouldn’t really be a test if there weren’t some difficult things to accomplish. “For even as the body without the spirit is dead; so also faith without works is dead.” (James 2:26) The test comes not when we accomplish what we want to do, even when that is an exceedingly demanding feat, but when we embrace the cross offered by Christ, as He accepted His own cross from the hands of His Father.

Br. Maximilian Watner is on the the staff at St. Thomas Aquinas Seminary in Buckingham County. He can be reached at