Waiting at the bus station the other day, I overheard a woman telling another: « Oh, my son Simon is really ambitious! » To which the second woman replied: ‘Well, this can be good sometimes, but at other times… not so good… » The bus arrived as the proud mother of Simon kept mentioning all the good qualities of her son.
Sitting in the bus, I kept thinking about… ambitions. Good? Not so good?
Amazingly, in the first words of today’s 2nd reading, Paul tells the Corinthians to be… ambitious!
« Be ambitious for the higher gifts. » (1 Cor.12:31)
So, this is what makes ambitions good or not so good: what we aim at, what we strive for. When people speak of ambitions, they often think in terms of wealth, reputation, influence, success in different areas of their personal and social life. Yet, often when they reach the goal they had set for themselves in any of those areas, they do not feel satisfied. Something is still missing. Perhaps it is because they have not attain what Paul calls « the higher gifts. » And Paul adds: « I am going to show you a way that is better. »
Did you notice that, in the illustration here, the word ambition is used in the singular – one can think of ONE over-riding ambition, a goal of a special kind which is worth leaving all the rest – like all the unused letters around the word ‘ambition’. Paul tells us very clearly what is the one thing we should try to achieve – we are to LOVE.
If there is one word which is used and over-used it is this small word ‘love’! You will hear people say: « I love this film. » « I love ice cream. » « I love walking in the woods. » « I love it when you say: ‘I love you’! » But to make sure we are not mistaking the kind of love expected from us, we are given a description of it: it « is always patient and kind, never jealous, never boastful or conceited, never rude or selfish; it does not take offence and it is not resentful. It delights in the truth; it is always ready to excuse, to trust, to hope and to endure whatever comes. » So this is the way we are to be ambitious.
But I must admit that, every time I come across this text, I feel like saying: ‘Lord, I’ll never manage that!’ And every time too, I am gently reminded that I am not expected to manage this on my own. The One asking us to live in this way is ready to enable us to do so…