I found this quote from 1973:
Man can learn self-discipline without becoming ascetic; he can be wise without waiting to be old; he can be influential without waiting for status. Man can sharpen his ability to distinguish between matters of principle and matters of preference, but only if we have a wise interplay between time and truth, between minutes and morality.Note the trademark alliteration -- he was very good with words.
I had to look up "ascetic" (which is a word suggestive of "severe self-discipline and abstention from all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons", New Oxford Dictionary). I'm so glad asceticism isn't a required trait.
I'll never forget the moment in April 1997 when Elder Maxwell stepped to the pulpit, having recently been diagnosed at age 70 with leukemia, suddenly bald and frail. I didn't know that only a few weeks earlier he had emerged from 1100 hours of chemotherapy and medical treatment. He joked:
"My thanks to the First Presidency for this opportunity, during which, as you can see, the lights combine with my cranium to bring some different 'illumination' to this pulpit."Then, a little later:
"Those who emerge successfully from their varied and fiery furnaces have experienced the grace of the Lord, which He says is sufficient (see Ether 12:27). Even so . . . such emerging individuals do not rush to line up in front of another fiery furnace in order to get an extra turn!"As an aside, the gospel isn't something that comes naturally to people -- I don't think it's supposed to.* For most of my youth the gospel to me had always been a dark fog, where only occasional sparks and flashes illuminated pieces here and there. They mostly made sense, so I was generally happy and interested in seeing more. Then one day (a couple years before), Elder Maxwell came along and sliced the curtain of fog wide open, and the sun shone in like broad daylight on the whole scene, gospel and world.** For me it was blinding, and amazing. Here finally was someone who spoke my language, and knew exactly what I needed to know for the gospel to finally make sense.
So sitting watching conference, I trembled a little to see him like this -- how would he respond to being pushed to the edge of death?
Brothers and sisters, if I have any entitlement to the blessings of God, it has long since been settled in the court of small claims by His generous bestowals over a lifetime. ...He spent the next 8 years battling leukemia, and yet he continued delivering powerful sermons and writing books, while still attending to all the duties of an apostle. President Hinckley said he "accomplished more in these last eight years than most men do in a lifetime." Most of us slow under drag -- this man accelerated.
Mortal experience points evermore to the Atonement of Jesus Christ as the central act of all human history. The more I learn and experience, the more unselfish, stunning, and encompassing His Atonement becomes!
When we take Jesus' yoke upon us, this admits us eventually to what Paul called the "fellowship of [Christ's] sufferings" (Philip. 3:10). Whether illness or aloneness, injustice or rejection, etc., our comparatively small-scale sufferings, if we are meek, will sink into the very marrow of the soul. We then better appreciate not only Jesus' sufferings for us, but also His matchless character, moving us to greater adoration and even emulation.
One of my few heroes.
* "But the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know [them], because they are spiritually discerned." - 1 Cor. 2:14
** Of course there are many things still well beyond view...