In praise of mediocrity

In his 1961 novel Catch-22, Joseph Heller famously turns a Shakespeare quote on its head: “Some men are born mediocre, some men achieve mediocrity and some have mediocrity thrust upon them.”

Being seen as mediocre is something that most of us fear. When I was first ordained, I thought I was going to change the world. In my mind, I would do everything well: I’d have the liveliest parish, be the best priest and never fall into the ruts that others around me seemed to be stuck in. I must have been unbearable.

I have come to see that there is a beauty and necessity in having an exceptionally unexceptional ministry. This is not an admission of failure. Rather, such an acceptance is surely part of the sacrificial vocation to priesthood. It certainly does not mean living life at the lowest common denominator but finding joy in living amid the ordinary.

We seem to exist within a tyranny of excellence. The pressure to be the best and most successful has never been greater. This can be seen in our schools with those elusive “outstanding” Ofsted ratings and in our workplaces with targets and performance management goals. Even in family life we cram our children’s free time with so much “meaningful activity” at the expense of family time and rest together. So many parents are exhausted as they shuttle their children between gymnastics, music lessons, additional tuition and a whole panoply of other busyness. We are in danger of not giving our children the opportunity to appreciate the humdrum.

Social media is also constantly exposing us to the achievements and successes of others as they feel the pressure to post every time they step above the average. Even in the Church there is a creeping culture of excellence and expectation in our consumer age.

​How to continue reading…

This article appears in the Catholic Herald magazine - to read it in full subscribe to our digital edition from just 30p a week

The Catholic Herald is your essential weekly guide to the Catholic world; latest news, incisive opinion, expert analysis and spiritual reflection