Sept. 23, 2018: 25th Sunday B
Do you ever consider yourself ambitious? In a positive sense, ambition is desire and determination to achieve success. In a negative sense, ambition is an inordinate seeking of recognition or honor. Ambition is morally good when the recognition sought is not selfish and the means used are not evil. Also true through, is that ambition becomes sinful when motivated by pride or pursued without concern for justice or charity. A kindergarten teacher made a poster of her students’ responses when she asked her students the following question: “When I grow up, I’d like to be…” Little Toby said I want to be a veterinarian because I can help pets get better. Isabella said she want to be a ballerina because she loves to dance. David wanted to be a fireman since he likes explosions and fire. Then Little Albert said, “When I grow up, I’d like to be a person who stays home and does nothing.” Albert is certainly not ambitious, but he certainly makes up for it with his honesty.
In a way, ambition is part of our makeup in that we have an innate desire to make a name for ourselves. We see a glimpse of this tendency even in the apostles. As the disciples and Jesus made their way to Jerusalem, Jesus again foretold of his Passion, Death, and Resurrection. The disciples were confused and fearful to ask what he meant and found it difficult to believe in the reality of His kingdom. Their ambition was to receive glory and praise for being with Jesus, the Messiah -- a triumphant ruler in the line of David who would restore the fortunes of Israel. The disciples had hoped that being associated with this kind of Messiah, would win top roles and positions of honor in the coming messianic kingdom. While Jesus was trying to teach the disciples about self-sacrificial love on the cross, the disciples were dreaming about making a name for their own. So Our Lord pointed out to them, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Modern disciples also need to be reminded of the dangers of careerism and personal ambitions. Pope Francis’ message to cardinals, bishops, and priests echo Our Lord’s exhortation about servant leadership. He said that all types of priestly ministry require great inner freedom which calls for vigilance in order to be free from ambition or personal aims, which can cause so much harm to the church. He called on priests and bishops to make their priority the “cause of the Gospel and the fulfillment of the mission” entrusted to them, not self-fulfillment or public recognition. He said that by cultivating a life of prayer, one can transform ordinary, daily work into a means of sanctification.
The same can be said for all of us. St. James’ words are instructive, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice. But the wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy or insincerity.” We all have been in workplaces, church and civic groups where personal ambitions of a few have caused disorder and ill feelings. We also have experienced people who have sown peace and order by their selfless motives and actions on behalf of the good of others. While personal ambitions can bring out the worst in us, the attitude of service can bring out the best in all of us.
Who is the greatest in God’s kingdom? The one who is humble and lowly of heart, who models himself after Jesus who came not to be served, but to serve. If we want to be ambitious, ponder these words from St. Dominic Savio, “I am not capable of doing big things, but I want to do everything, even the smallest things, for the greater glory of God.” If we want God’s glory, we must empty ourselves of selfish ambition, vanity, and pride. Only the humble vessels can cooperate with the Holy Spirit who desires to accomplish great things for God’s glory. Are we ready to humble ourselves and to serve as Jesus did?