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Official Website of the
Catholic Diocese of Little Rock
Published: September 1, 2019
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor preached the following homily during a Mass to celebrate his father's 90th birthday on Sunday, Sept. 1, 2019.
Many people imagine celibacy must be the hardest thing about being a priest, but, as a matter of fact, gross violations of celibacy are pretty uncommon. Indeed, that's why they are so shocking; if they happened all the time, they wouldn't be news. A more common threat is the vice of ambition, which well-meaning people reinforce whenever they tell their pastor: "You'd make a good bishop!"
What they don’t realize is that unlike in business, success in the things of Jesus is not about career advancement. It is a matter of dedication, not ambition. People think that being a bishop is surely better than being a simple priest and definitely better than being a lay person. It’s not! It is simply one role among many other worthy roles in the life of the Church. What is better is whatever God wants us to be, not what the world considers success.
In today's Gospel Jesus addresses the issue of ambition. He uses his story of the guests at a wedding banquet to warn us not to seek the places of honor lest a more distinguished person come and the host have to tell us to give up our places, and humiliated, go and have to take our seat in the lowest place. Rather, we should take the lowest place right from the start. If the host wants us to sit at the head table, he'll come and get us. The last shall be first and the first last.
Ambition or dedication? This may be the greatest spiritual challenge that any of us ever faces and your choice will impact every sector of your life. It is the choice between pursuing success as the world judges success or placing yourself at the service of others in a way truly worthy of the Lord.
Notice that ambition and dedication are opposites. Ambition is living for oneself, one’s own advancement while dedication is living for something bigger than oneself. Ambition is about upward mobility — the pursuit of power, while dedication is about downward mobility — the search for opportunities to serve, which often requires us to risk doing things just because they are right, even though they are not in our own personal self-interest.
Jesus is the Son of God, but he came to earth to serve, not to be served, pouring out his very life on the cross for our salvation. Jesus made himself our servant and that's why we want him as our King. Jesus takes the lowest seat, but every one of us wants him to sit at the head of our table.
Today, we celebrate Dad’s 90th birthday and I think he — and Mom — are for all of us a powerful example of just what Jesus is talking about here. Dad progressed in his career out of dedication rather than ambition. Indeed, for him one of the biggest turn-offs is when people brag about themselves or their accomplishments. Dad was never one to brag.
I don’t think any of us had any idea of exactly what Dad did at Conoco because he never talked about it. I figured it must be something big if the company kept sending him to London, Stockholm, Hamburg, Brussels, Milan and Dubai — none of our friends’ dads were traveling to foreign countries like this, but he never bragged. He began his career in the computer department in 1953 — very early on ... one of the pioneers in computers, think of what the world was like 66 years ago.
But what we did know loud and clear was that compared to his family, none of this mattered to him. He and Mom were dedicated to raising us the best they could, so he worked hard to provide for us so that Mom could stay at home and work hard caring for us on the home front. Their only ambition was to be the best parents possible, for our benefit and for the greater glory of God.
Dedication is the opposite of ambition. The person who is living for something bigger than himself invariably brings that big-hearted attitude home with him. The dedicated person is not interested in who sits at the head of the table at home. What he cares about is that the needs of all are met. In our family we always knew that Dad was in charge, and that he almost always did whatever Mom said. They were a team. In them the two really had become one.
Ambition or dedication? This may be the greatest spiritual challenge that any of us ever faces and your choice will impact every sector of your life. It is the choice between pursuing success as the world judges success or placing yourself at the service of others in a way truly worthy of the Lord. Ambition or dedication. The first shall be last and the last shall be first.