This week in our new summer message series, Wonder Women: Female Heroes of the Bible, we meet one of the four matriarchs of the Old Testament. The wife of Isaac and daughter-in-law of Abraham, Rebekah was a strong woman in every respect. Though often depicted as quiet, humble, and willing to serve, Rebekah also had a sharp mind with strong opinions and was not afraid to voice and act on them. But the ambitious dreams she held for Jacob, her favorite son, eventually drove her to deception and manipulation.
Rebekah’s betrayal, however, ultimately accomplished God’s plan. Her moral complexity therefore makes Rebekah an intriguing character in the Bible. Was her deception in the end justified? Was her ambition precisely the driving force needed at that point in salvation history?
Ambition derives from the latin ambitio, which literally means “going around canvassing for votes.” An ambitious person therefore ultimately seeks power, honor, and recognition, either for herself or for another. Ambition is not wrong in itself and is a necessary attribute in life. God gave us an ego to accomplish and build things through creativity and an inner drive to succeed. The quality becomes problematic only when “proper ambition,” as Aristotle termed it in his Nicomachean Ethics, exceeds the “golden mean” and spills over into greed or “unhealthy ambition” focused, not on the greater good, but on selfish personal interest.
Here are three ways to discern whether you should curb your ambition.
1. Consider the End.
The moral quality of ambition in part rests on the objective pursued. If your goals align with God’s, then your determination to achieve that purpose will honor God. Otherwise, you should rethink your plan. Rebekah’s duplicity was the conduit to the development of the ancient Israelite nation. The end she pursued therefore was good.
2. Consider the Means.
The ends, however, do not justify the means. Rebekah used dishonesty to defraud her eldest son of his birthright. In Catholic moral tradition, lying is an “intrinsic evil” that can never be justified. Assuming Rebekah did in fact lie, could God have achieved his own ends without the falsehood?
3. Consider the Intent.
The difference between proper and blind ambition often emerges in the motive of the one acting. Though many seek power and prestige, Saint Paul tells us that our only ambition should be to please God (2 Corinthians 5:9). Was Rebekah’s conduct based on her desire to promote her favorite son or to fulfill God’s prophesy and the higher purpose that Jacob, and not his brother Esau, would be the father of the twelve tribes of Israel?
Rebekah was by no means perfect. Heroes rarely are. Even in their weaknesses, however, God never fails to bring about his plan through the imperfect people he chooses, like you and me.
 For her complete story, click here to listen to our weekend message on the Messages page.
Spiritual growth results from a series of difficult choices to step out boldly rather than retreat to familiar corners and to make bold moves rather than always taking the safe course. Genuine disciples of Christ do not let fear stop them from making the bold move that God is asking them to make. Instead, they embrace the uncertainty of change, the pain of suffering, the risk of sharing, and the inconvenience of real commitment, in order to make bold moves on behalf of the Lord.
For the seven weeks of the Easter season, we have been inviting you to reflect on a bold move that you could and probably should make in your life. Each week in our bulletin we have offered a few practical tips for getting ready for that move. As we come to the end of the series this week, we recap all the tips we’ve been suggesting. Here are the six clues to connecting with your next step in faith.
1. Stay Connected With People
Despite the fact that much of our happiness results from our connections with other people, the levels of chronic loneliness in our culture are staggeringly high and continue to rise. Get rooted in a spiritual community or a small group of believers who will help you think through your next step and hold you accountable to take it, because staying connected to others will help you stay on course.
The apostles began the great adventure of spreading the faith by sharing everything in common. They gathered to comfort each other and wait for inspiration to make their next move. For two thousand years, Christians have found their power in assembling and praying together on Sundays.
But we also need to assemble in smaller groups to share our lives with people we have come to trust. One bold move you could make is to spend more time with the loving people of our cozy faith community. Explore the small groups section of our website or contact us to start one of your own. All you need is three or more trusted friends.
2. Stay Connected With Faith
When Jesus appeared to his disciples gathered in fear behind locked doors, he “opened their minds to understand the Scriptures,” and “was made known to them in the breaking of the bread.” Worry and doubt in our troubling world often are exaggerated by a lack of understanding about faith.
To have the courage to make a truly bold move in our lives, spend the time and energy to grow in faith. Dust off the Bible and start reading it, as well as other spiritual books, because staying connected to your faith will help you find your way.
3. Stay Connected With God
Without reliable power, transportation, and utilities, developing nations struggle to achieve economic success. The same is true of our spiritual lives. Without a strong spiritual infrastructure, we will remain stuck in an impoverished relationship with God. Daily spiritual habits keep us connected to God by helping us to stay focused on what is eternal.
But the foundation of our faith should never be rooted in guilt, shame, or fear. Establishing a positive spiritual rhythm to the day, making prayer, quiet time, and Sunday Mass attendance something you like to do, and choosing one daily spiritual activity you actually enjoy will help you stay connected with God and make your bold move easier.
4. Stay Connected With Your Future
Most of us are ashamed by something we have done in the past, and we often are prevented from moving forward by the unforgiving chains we have imposed on ourselves. But “God is greater” than whatever our hearts condemn us of having done wrong (1 John 3:20).
You can learn to forgive yourself by openly admitting your faults, reflecting on the vastness of God’s mercy, giving yourself the same advice you would give to someone else in a similar situation, and realizing that refusing God’s mercy also is a serious sin. When we allow ourselves to be bound by the past, we will never be able to move into the future. After all, you can’t make a bold move until you let yourself off the hook.
5. Stay Connected To The Big Picture
Despite our good intentions, we often become mired in our comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. Whether it’s the people we associate with or our views on certain topics, sometimes we are prevented from moving forward by not being able to see more broadly.
If we want to know God, we must move beyond negative perspectives, cultivate unexpected relationships, broaden our horizons with new endeavors, and begin to see and love the world more like God sees and loves it. After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could be making.
6. Stay Connected To The In-Between
Most of us are waiting for something. Waiting can be painful, but while we’re waiting for God to act, he’s actually helping us to grow in maturity and become more and more like Christ. Waiting is the womb in which spiritual greatness is formed, and those who wait will not be disappointed.
You can learn to delay gratification by gradually increasing your spiritual focus, remembering the wins in your life, and realizing that the waiting will not be forever. One day, we will see that, while we were waiting, God was loving us and preparing us for a bold move.
So, what is your bold move going to be?
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the spiritual power of waiting and delaying gratification.
Among his last words before ascending into heaven, Jesus told his disciples to wait. For many people, waiting is a lost art, which can keep them from moving forward in healthy ways because they grow impatient and opt for inferior choices and lifestyles, instead of waiting for the richness of God’s gifts. Here are three easy ways to strengthen your ability to delay gratification.
1. Build Up To It.
Connecting with God takes time, effort, and self-control. It usually doesn’t come naturally and often requires delayed gratification. Start small and build up slowly. If you don’t pray regularly, try a simple invocation at night before you go to bed or first thing when you wake up. My favorite is the Abandonment Prayer by Charles de Foucauld. Or listen to spiritual talks and the Sunday messages we post on our website as you drive to work or take a walk. Once you gradually begin to increase your focus on spiritual things, your desire for the cheap imitations of this world will naturally and organically fade away.
2. Realize It’s Not Forever.
I love my iPhone, but it’s definitely an antique. I sinfully covet the brand new iPhone X but have been holding back until my current model has reached the four-year mark. It’s difficult waiting, but at least I can see the end in sight. Jesus told his disciples that it was not for them “to know the times or seasons that the Father has established” (Acts 1:7), which can make waiting for God to act definitively in our lives even more challenging. Some of us may lose heart because nothing ever seems to change. But Jesus will come, seminary professor Brant Pitre argues, when the bride, his Church, is ready. Our task is to prepare our souls for him and to realize that the waiting one day will be over.
3. Remember the Wins.
Staff members at a Catholic church in Maryland get together every Tuesday morning to celebrate what they call “weekend wins.” Church is simple but not easy. So they prop up their spirits by naming what they have witnessed on Sundays as the positive outcomes of their hard work. To help you delay gratification and wait patiently for God, deliberately remember the wins in your life that God already has given to you. Studies have found that gratitude is correlated with the ability to wait longer for better rewards. Indeed, gratefulness changes the pain of waiting into the joyfulness of expectation.
When it comes to God, delayed gratification is never in vain. One day we will discover that, while we were waiting, God actually was lovingly preparing us for our next bold move.
Our Sunday message series, Bold Moves, is laying the groundwork for us to take the next step for God. This week’s message features the power of broadening our perspective.
Most of us have developed comfortable habits, routines, and circles of friends. As enriching as these may be, we sometimes are prevented from moving forward by the failure to see more broadly. Here are three ways to step out of the predictable patterns that may be holding us back.
1. Cultivate Unexpected Relationships.
Cornelius was a Roman centurion who received a vision from an angel telling him to send men to meet Peter, one of the apostles living in a town called Joppa. Peter received a similar vision and agreed to accompany the men back to Cornelius’ home, where Peter exclaimed: “In truth, I see that God shows no partiality.” Once unthinkable to associate with people who were not Jewish, Peter now realizes that “in every nation whoever fears [God] and acts uprightly is acceptable to him.”
Most of us tend to associate with people who are similar to us. If you want to broaden your perspective, seek out new relationships with those outside of your comfort zone. People of different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and even belief systems can contribute to positive growth in our thinking and help us to discern the new horizons to which God is leading us.
2. Try To See As God Sees.
“Whoever is without love does not know God,” Saint John says in the second reading. Many times our perspectives are limited because we prematurely foreclose the option to love. Instead of loving as God loves, we unduly narrow the field of our love. “God sees not as man sees,” the Bible says, “for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). While God does not condone or accept every human endeavor, the Creator nevertheless made beautiful things out of us. To widen your outlook, try to see the world as God sees it, especially the other human beings around you.
3. Go Out On A Limb For God.
At his farewell dinner, Jesus told his disciples that he no longer called them “slaves” but “friends” because he had chosen them, not the other way around. When we consider our lives from this perspective, entirely new vistas open up for us. If Christ has chosen us, then our lives do not belong to us. Jesus has chosen us to “bear fruit” by loving others through the rather uncomfortable enterprise of mission and ministry. To broaden your horizons, try something new. Join one of our small groups or outreach ministries. Explore our website for more information.
After all, if the range of your vision remains small, you won’t be able to see all the bold moves you could make.
Father Roger Gustafson