Can a Christian have ambitions?

May 31, 2008

I remembered one day, when I chatted with a friend of mine, and she asked whether it’s ok for us as Christians have ambitions? And I remembered this recently since I began to enter the working life. Is it wrong? Is it right? Can we have a better life without ambitions?

And I found what the Lord teaches just in the Mass readings for one of the weekdays last week. It’s again from James 🙂 You can read the whole 1st reading from James 3:13-18.

This is what James said about ambitions:

[14] But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth.[15] This wisdom is not such as comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, devilish. [16] For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.

It’s earthly St. James said, when we have this jealousy and selfish ambition.

This is from Oxford English Dictionary on the word ambition:

  1. The ardent (in early usage, inordinate) desire to rise to high position, or to attain rank, influence, distinction or other preferment.
  2. Ostentation, display of the outward tokens of position, as riches, dress; vain-glory, pomp. Obs.
  3. A strong or ardent desire of anything considered advantageous, honouring, or creditable. Const. of (rarely for) a thing, to be or do something.
  4. The object of strong desire or aspiration.
  5. Canvassing, personal solicitation of honours. (L. ambitio.) Obs.

If you read through those definitions, you can see that ambitions can have two directions, one is “self”, and the other one is “other” (cf. definitions 3 and 4).

James condemned all those selfish ambitions. It’s earthly, unspiritual, and devilish, he said (what a word: devilish). But if want to be true to the Gospel, we know what James said is true. These selfish ambitions go against the Gospel values. It is against the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. We can see what James said is true: there are disorder and every vile of practices. Can’t we see this in the world today?

This is why we are “troubled” when we ask this question. We know it is against our faith, and we know it is against who we truly are, a Christian, not of the world, but a pilgrim in this world.

Before I end, let me say another trap that is very subtle. Our human brain has the capacity to rationalize things. We have the tendency to look for selfish things and we say that is for our spouses, for our families, for the better of human society, so that we can give more the Lord, etc (of course there are people who have sincere desire to do good for others and for the Lord, I am not talking about this, we know which one is which). And hence, we rationalize our desire and say it is good because it is for others. I know this because this happens to me very often.

There is a true story of two men which I know. One of them said to the other, “I want to get more money so that I can give more the poor, I can build houses just like this and that person did”. The other man said, “I already have money from my work, and have been giving to the poor, you can do the same if you want to.”

And so let us pray for one another that we may live the Gospel truthfully as it is.