Memorial of St. Pius X, Pope
It was heart-breaking to hear a college student say, “I never feel like I am good enough, and I always feel insufficient.” Her disappointment with herself was a wound at the level of her personal identity. For years she had placed her understanding of self in the opinions of others, and now she was in a particularly low place and feeling rejected by others. It’s a common lie or cultural trap that I have seen again and again.
Some of Jesus’ harshest criticism in the Gospels is directed toward the scribes and the Pharisees, the religious leaders of his day. Two offenses Jesus condemns are vanity and ambition. Vanity is the delight in being praised by others. Perhaps this affects us most often when we “spin the truth” of our being so that other people do not see us as we are, but as we would wish them to see us. We carefully try to control the opinion of others so as to protect our own ego. The scribes and Pharisees did this by spending their energy making sure the works they performed were seen, and that they were held in high regard at public and social events.
Ambition is self-exaltation in order to be over others. Some disguise their ambition as a “pursuit of excellence” or efficiency, but the real reason behind it is the desire to be at the top of the field; to have power over others, with the delusional hope of having the whole community will follow behind them.
Is vanity and ambition really the path we should follow? Jesus offers an alternative when he says, “The greatest among you must be your servant” and “whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” It’s only in the disposition of humility and servanthood that we truly experience greatness in the eyes of Christ. The other types of worldly acclaim and attention never satisfy and always leave us wanting more. Rather than losing our identity, we actually find it in Christ, which serves as a source of deep interior joy.
Reflection Question: How can I better live out of my identity of a beloved son or daughter of God?
Reflection by Fr. Paul Sheller, OSB