What is the antidote to the blinding whirlwinds of selfish ambition and jealous envy? It is not simply to reject our ambitions, passions or desires, we must daily submit these desires to the reality that the earthly fulfillment of them is not necessarily the goal. As C.S.Lewis says in his essay The Weight of Glory "We are far too easily pleased", however, we are never deeply satisfied. This Sunday's readings are filled with the consequences of selfish ambition, which may temporarily please us, but in reality will blind us to our real needs. Which explains Saint James in the second reading where he explains why we do not receive from the Lord what we ask for. We do not know what we really need. As I read over the Gospel for this Sunday I was thinking of another C.S. Lewis quote from the same essay. "It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us..." But how do we strengthen and hone our ambition for this eternal joy, how do we catch sight of our hearts desire?
"Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, 'The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.' But they did not understand the saying and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, 'What were you arguing about on the way?' But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them, 'If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.' Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them 'whoever receives on child such as this in my name receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the one who sent me."
Jesus instructs his disciples, they perceive in His words deep mysteries, and profound destinies, but they are afraid to go deeper with Him. Maybe they are afraid of what Jesus is predicting: Suffering? Death? They do not seem to quite understand what He means by resurrection. Even so, great ambitions and passions are stirred up. And, as often happens in our human weakness, these passions are misunderstood, and misdirected. Their half-hearted understanding of the unlimited love of God leads them to apply the energy of these great stirrings in their soul to arguing about gaining earthly glory for themselves. They have missed the higher calling of their Lord. They are following the ambitions in their hearts along a very horizontal trajectory, but Jesus is leading them to the heights of glory, and you cannot get attain that through egotism. Then, later on in the day when they had come to a place of rest, Jesus asks them "What were you arguing about on the way?"
Right here is the opportunity to depart from the earthbound path. Do you take a moment each day to allow the Lord to speak to you, convict you and redirect you? Do you take at least a quiet minute or two for a daily Examen? In the Gospel there is a silence that follows the Lord's question. This feels to me like an Examen prayer; the twelve disciples, are not perfect, not always doing things with a deep understanding of themselves or of Christ (they sound a bit like me actually)...but, unlike the wicked men in the first reading, they have the humility stop and listen to Jesus, they have opened their hearts to Him enough to allow the Lord to show them where they are transgressing and where they are violating their training.
And there is no need to be afraid to deeply examine your motives and your desires with His help, as the disciples originally were. The Lord will not harshly condemn all of your misdirected passions and desires; He will show you what they are for. He will purify your vision for things that are eternal, and this will reorder your desires. He will help you to take your focus off of yourself so you can see the least and the weakest around you and you will bear upon yourself a bit of the weight of their salvation, to weaken your selfish motives - for you can never expect any earthly compensation for this service. And with a purer vision you will see that the initial desire for greatness and glory is an inborn desire to catch the eye of the Beloved and have him smile upon you. It sounds like such a little thing, so easily overlooked for what appears to be glitzier and grander achievements in the here and now, and yet it is everything. But it takes time and a willingness to listen in prayer and attune yourself to the deep stirrings of His Spirit in your soul.
In the end the ambition and desire to be the greatest is not necessarily an evil if you submit your motives to Christ's direction. It is our fallen response to the longing to be approved of and enfolded into the arms of the Father. The fulfillment of our deepest desire is to be that child wrapped in the arms of Jesus.
I don't know why, but I really think that this song is a great preparation for anyone who might feel just a little intimidated by allowing Jesus in to direct all the strength and potency of our passions to the fulfillment in the love that awaits you in the arms of Jesus. Do not be afraid to allow Him to show you where your passions are directing you!
Peace and Grace! Heidi