Grace to you!
Meditations on God’s Word in Scripture are powerful food for spiritual nourishment. Sometimes, I read a bible story and I wonder if there is any thing concerning us that Scripture has not dealt with, explicitly or implicitly.
For instance, the gospel reading in our Catholic Tradition today is from Luke 9:46-50. The first part of it (verses 46 and 47) is an inside scoop conversation, revealing the temperaments of Jesus’ disciples. I found they were like any of us – arguing and quarreling about who is the greatest.
Guess what? Unhealthy competition was creeping in. Doesn’t that sound typical?
Unhealthy rivalry is one of the vices common to human nature. It can be subtle. Hardly do we know it’s locked somewhere in our mind. A trigger? It rears its ugly head.
I remember a time in my spiritual life. We were a bunch of friends in spiritual solidarity. We formed a strong prayer-partnership. [Teamwork in the spiritual life helps.] We were so united in the pursuit of spiritual growth that each person wanted to be better than the other. Call it holy ambition, or anything you want; we, like the disciples, were competing for who would be the best.
There is nothing wrong in wanting to be a better person or, as Saint Paul advised, to aspire for greater gifts (See I Corinthians 12:31). It wasn’t long, though, rivalry was growing among us. People were competing for who fasted more, prayed longer, read more spiritual books, had more profound spiritual insight or manifestations than the other, etc.
We didn’t notice because we were absorbed in the pursuit of spiritual excellence, ignoring the subtle human element. Unidentified rivalry cost some of us some spiritual setbacks.
I use the above spiritual example to describe a more common human temptation. Competitive spirit or rivalry is everywhere insofar as human relationship is concerned – from business to professional, religious, social or family life. Sibling jealousy is a euphemism for a red flag capable of destroying brothers and sisters too. Close friends aren’t shielded either. Unchecked rivalry is poisonous to healthy spirituality and relationships.
Mother Angelica, the American nun with Italian wit who founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), had an amazing gift of discernment. While Western media are built on ratings, measured by how many viewers a network and a show could attract, she saw the high risk of unhealthy rivalry in the system. She decided that all the programs on her television network would never subscribe to a rating system, so the hosts wouldn’t be tainted by ambitious rivalry. Smart move. Some may not have liked her strategy – it wasn’t good for business – but spiritually, it was healthy.
You see, rivalry is in each one of us. We have to put it in check, allowing the grace of God to triumph. Never let it take the better of us.
Jesus’ answer to rivalry is a childlike heart, the kind that accepts God’s revelation and plan for us, for everyone; and seeing oneself as just a piece of the puzzle, a puzzle larger than life. Attitudinal change is implied – simplicity of life and heart.
Unhealthy rivalry doesn’t make us succeed; instead, it sucks our spiritual perspicacity, leaving us empty and spent.
How about being grateful for the blessings of others, knowing that their blessings are our favors too? Their joys are positive vibes in our spiritual life. The sweetness of being least so God can be great in all is wonderful.
I pray that God be magnified in our lives, so we can be less and God great. By so doing, we see others (friends, co-workers, business partners, members of our religious community) not as rivals, but indispensible parts of the puzzle – God’s garden. Amen.
God love you. God bless you.
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Fr. Maurice Emelu
Father Maurice provides a daily blog of reflections based on the bible readings of the day from the Catholic liturgical calendar. You will find these reflections helpful for your spiritual growth, inspiration and developing your own thoughts. It may also be helpful for ministers in preparing their sermons for liturgical celebrations.