Godly Ambition

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Wednesday of the Twenty-Eighth Week in Ordinary Time


Luke 11:42-46

The Lord said: “Woe to you Pharisees! You pay tithes of mint and of rue and of every garden herb, but you pay no attention to judgment and to love for God. These you should have done, without overlooking the others. Woe to you Pharisees! You love the seat of honor in synagogues and greetings in marketplaces. Woe to you! You are like unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk.” Then one of the scholars of the law said to him in reply, “Teacher, by saying this you are insulting us too.” And he said, “Woe also to you scholars of the law! You impose on people burdens hard to carry, but you yourselves do not lift one finger to touch them.”


Opening Prayer: Lord, I come to you today full of plans and goals. I want to glorify you and I desire to do your will. Please grant me the grace to work selflessly for the building of your Kingdom on Earth. Grow in me your fruits of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Help me to avoid the temptation to vanity and self-glory. 


Encountering Christ:


  1. Godly Ambition: God has always used his priests to guide his people in the proper worship of him. It is a privileged class and bears a great responsibility. In this Gospel passage, Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for their hypocrisy and corruption. They had turned their ambition inward by performing godly acts to attain honor for themselves. Turning God-given privileges into means for personal benefit remains a strong temptation whether we are religious or laity. Priests can be tempted to personal acclaim by the success of their ministries, and parents can be tempted to self-congratulation for raising worldly successful children. One way to discern whether our ambitions are in check and our priorities are aligned is to take a spiritual “time out,” like a weekend or weeklong silent retreat. There, in the quiet, Our Lord can speak directly to our hearts.
  2. Ambitious Journey: To avoid becoming parasitical in any way, we can draw strength and inspiration from the powerful example of St. Paul. Before he became a saint, Paul was a greatly ambitious Pharisee named Saul. Saul believed he was doing God’s will as he dragged Christians from their homes and had them imprisoned. Saul was severely rebuked by Jesus, and subsequently realigned his priorities so that they became God’s priorities. He wrote, “Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but [also] everyone for those of others. Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:3-9).
  3. Ambition Rewarded: When we are busy doing God’s work—strenuously exerting ourselves to spread the Gospel—we can sometimes forget that success is measured not by honor, power, wealth, or pleasure but by the degree to which we fulfill God’s will. Two examples show us that authentic and lasting recognition comes only through God. First, Therese of the Child Jesus, was a young, sickly, hypersensitive nun considered of no account by her peers. When she died, her religious sisters could think of nothing worthy to write about her in her obituary. Just under thirty years later, she was canonized and exalted as a Doctor of the Church, with papal accolades including “expert in the science of love” and “the greatest saint of modern times.” Second, the “example extraordinaire” is the Virgin Mary. She seemed nothing more than a poor wife and mother whose son was tragically killed. She founded nothing, she built nothing, she spoke little. Yet more foundations, buildings, and movements are named for her than any other person in the history of the world. Even the secular periodical National Geographic named her the “World’s Most Powerful Woman” in 2015. When we are ambitious only for the glory of God, we avoid the pitfall of being “unseen graves over which people unknowingly walk,” and instead bask in God’s eternal acknowledgement, affirmation, and appreciation. 


Conversing with Christ: Lord Jesus, you humbled yourself so I could be lifted in, with, and through you to the Father. Your efforts were done purely for love of the Father and to secure my freedom from sin and eternal salvation. I want to follow your plans for my life yet I am tempted to turn back in fear that I will suffer. Take my hand, Jesus. Help me trust in you. 

Resolution: Lord, today by your grace I will make a list of my plans and goals for the next year. I will take that list to prayer and ask you if my plans are your plans. Any that are not, I will let go. 


For Further Reflection: Meditate on the second chapter of St. Paul’s Letter to the Philippians.


Nan Balfour is a wife, mother, and grandmother. She volunteers as a writer and speaker for Pilgrim Center of Hope, a Catholic evangelization ministry that answers Christ’s call by guiding people to encounter him so as to live in hope as pilgrims in daily life.

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