Years ago, Stanley Coopersmith of the University of California became curious about why some people succeed, while others with equal talents and opportunities fail. To answer his question, he studied 1,700 students for six years, following them through the key growth years. Coopersmith's findings are remarkable. They show that the most important factor contributing to success or failure is a person's self image. A person with a positive self-image is apt to succeed. A person with a negative self-image is apt to fail.
In other words, if we perceive ourselves to be valuable or lovable, we will probably succeed in what we do. But if we do not perceive ourselves to be valuable or lovable, we will probably fail.
But the effect of our self-image extends even beyond this. Psychologists now tell us that our self-image holds the key to success not only as professional people but also as Christians. How is this so? Our success as Christians is measured by our ability to love God and our neighbor. Studies show that people with a positive self-image are far more capable of loving God and neighbor than are people with a negative self image. The reason for this should be obvious. For love is nothing less than to see ourselves as a gift given to another person. If we don't think we are valuable or lovable we won't be able to give ourselves as a gift to another person. No one gives junk to another person, especially to someone he or she respects or admires.
A critical question, however, remains. How do we develop our self-image? Where do we pick up the idea that we are valuable or lovable? The answer should be obvious. We pick up this idea from other people, especially those closest to us, like our family and friends. No wonder then that the role of parent, to be father or mother is so important in our world today. Parents hold the unique privilege of being the first to shape the identity of their children; to help them come to know and accept their goodness and lovableness through the tender care, the challenging guidance and the forgiving love which they show to their sons and daughters.
As Christians, we believe that God is the ultimate loving parent in our lives. With the love of a father and mother, our identities are shaped by God's abiding and caring love. Today's gospel speaks an important message to us. It says that we are valuable and lovable. For, God himself has told us so. It is up to us to speak this same message of love to one another, especially the young. Their future well-being, not only in this world but also in the world to come, depends on it.