For six days a week – Monday through Saturday – we live our lives in a highly competitive world. Nations compete for power. Politicians – as we have seen recently – compete for votes. Business competes for customers. Workers compete for jobs and promotions. Athletes – like the Mets and the Yankees – compete for victories. All of us, it seems, are competing with someone for something that both of us want but only one of us can have. That is how most of us live six days a week. Then on Sunday we come to church at Annunciation-Our Lady of Fatima for worship where we encounter a totally different emphasis. In Church we pray that God’s will might be done on earth as it is in heaven. We talk about loving our neighbors as we love ourselves. In our songs and in the sermons, we proclaim that the important thing is not how much we can get for ourselves, but how much we can give to others.
So it seems that we Christians are faced with the challenge of trying to reconcile these two different worlds – the secular world of unbridled competition and our Catholic world of caring and sharing as taught by Jesus. How can it be done?
The first thing we need to do is recognize that there is a sense in which it cannot be done. In this world, there are some kinds of competition that have no appropriate place in the body of Christ. Struggles that include bitterness and jealousy and a burning desire to crush an opponent are clearly unchristian. We should know that these things cannot and ought not be reconciled.
But having said that, we go on to recognize that competition is inevitable. Every one of us, in some degree, is a born competitor. The right kind of competition is a major source of human achievement. It can also be a source of pleasure and excitement. Imagine a card game or a football game against opponents who did not strive to win. That would take all the fun out of the game.
So, the question is not whether to compete. In one way or another, we will do that. The question is how to compete, against whom, for what.
Jesus taught us, “If anyone wishes to rank first, he must remain the last of all and the servant of all.” Then he pulled a little child over to Him, put His arms around him and said: “Whoever welcomes a child such as this, for my sake, welcomes Me. And whoever welcomes Me welcomes Him that sent Me.”
What a powerful lesson for us all! So the real field of competition for us as Catholics is not power, nor prestige, nor money, nor fame. It is a competition of service. We are to strive for excellence in usefulness. We should not be content with being a mediocre Catholic. Every one of us should seek to become the best servant, the best helper of people, that he or she can possibly be. Over the long haul, it is the only kind of competition that really matters.