His homily in Philadelphia today reminded me of a meeting I had with Peter Grace some twenty-five years ago. At the time of our meeting, Peter was in his nineties. He had been a CEO longer than any man in corporate history.
The grandson of the founder of W. R. Grace, Peter had taken the helm of the billion-dollar company while still in his thirties and carried the scars of some fifty years on the public stage. Grace had been lionized and vilified, praised for his visionary leadership and denounced for his aggressive business tactics. Respected, loved, and feared by his peers, few in corporate America had as much power.
To all appearances, Peter’s life was an open book. Yet, the more I learned about the man the more I found that like an iceberg the best part of him was concealed from public view. He was the leader of an ancient order called the Knights of Malta, a group dedicated to living an exemplary Christian life. He led and directed good works all around the world.
When I asked him to tell me the greatest lesson of his life, Peter said that as a boy he was tutored by Father James Keller, founder of The Christophers.
“Whenever I came to him to describe some great horror I had heard about or some injustice in the world, Father Keller’s response was always the same,” Peter said.
“As I finished describing whatever caused my concern, he would say — ‘Well, what are you going to do about it?”
This is the most persistent question in life. As Pope Francis reminds us, the crying of a child, the homeless man on the street, the neighbor in distress are all questions to which we must respond.
Every moment provides a chance. Every situation presents a challenge. Every problem is an opportunity.
Life questions man. We must answer.