blue skies, palm trees, mountains
-a desert delight-
Monthly meetings with fellow neighboring clergy were a regular feature of my life as a parish priest. Local clergy would meet for these regular gatherings, supposedly to share information and support one another; however those meetings often turned out to be a far cry from an opportunity for mutual support.
I attended hundreds of these clergy meetings, and they always had a similar theme running through them - each of us boasting about how great or how special or how innovative our own programs were.
Someone would announce that they were having a summer program for neighborhood kids- arts, crafts, games. Sometimes there would be a nod of support, but more often than not the others in the group would try to "one up" each other: "We are going to do the same thing this summer, but we managed to get some local celebrities to come and speak to the kids."
The thing is that I was just as guilty (if not more so) of perpetrating this boasting fest at these clergy meetings, and by the time the meeting was over I would inevitably be exhausted - it's hard work trying to prove how important you are.
In my retirement, I have looked back at my years as a parish priest and reflected on what worked and what didn't. I must honesty say that the thing I regret most about my days in the ministry was my overly ambitious spirit.
The dictionary defines "ambition" as, "an ardent desire for rank, fame, or power." I regret how ardently I desired rank, fame and power - a better program, a bigger congregation, a bigger budget, a more prestigious title.
I regret how ardent I was in my desire, because my ambition was always a stumbling block for me on my spiritual journey.
Thomas Merton once said:
When ambition ends, happiness begins.
Ambition is a pure act of the ego. The ardent desire for power inevitably cuts a person off from others. It's lonely when you live isolated in that ego shell. Relationships with others are indeed the only way to find happiness in this life, and in relationship with others we encounter the living presence of an abiding God.
I may regret my ambition, but I am not wallowing in my regret. In fact, I now rejoice that I am far less ambitious now that I am retired. I no longer have to prove myself with titles or bigger and better programs or parishes. So, while I can't take the past back, I can live differently in the present.
St Paul gives some good advice:
Love each other with genuine affection,
and take delight in honoring each other.
The end of ambition is indeed the beginning of happiness.
I am much happier.