​Answer to Unhealthy Rivalry

A beautiful Cultural Dance display at Bamenda, Cameroon, West Africa. Copyright Maurice Emelu

Grace to you!

Meditations on God’s Word in Scripture are powerful food for spiritual nourishment. Sometimes, I read a Bible story, and I wonder if there is anything concerning us that Scripture has not dealt with, explicitly or implicitly. 

As an example, the gospel reading in our Catholic Tradition today is from Luke 9:46-50. The first part of it (verses 46 and 47) is an inside scoop conversation, revealing the temperaments of Jesus’ disciples. I found they were like any of us—arguing and quarreling about who is the greatest. 
The unhealthy competition was creeping in. Doesn’t that sound typical?

The unhealthy rivalry is among the common human vices. It can be subtle. Hardly do we know it’s locked somewhere in our mind. A trigger? It rears its ugly head.

I remember a time in my spiritual life when this glared in my face. We were a bunch of friends in spiritual solidarity. We formed a strong prayer-partnership. [Teamwork in spiritual life helps.] We were so united in the pursuit of spiritual growth that each person wanted to be better than the other. Call it holy ambition, or anything you want; we, like the disciples, were competing for who would be the best.

There is nothing wrong in wanting to be a better person or, as Saint Paul advised, to aspire for greater gifts (See I Corinthians 12:31). It wasn’t long, though, a rivalry was growing among us. People competed for who fasted more, prayed longer, read more spiritual books, had a more profound spiritual insight or manifestations than the other, etc.

We didn’t notice because we were absorbed in the pursuit of spiritual excellence, ignoring the subtle human element. Unidentified rivalry cost some of us some spiritual setbacks. 

I use the above example relating to spiritual life to describe a more typical human temptation. Competitive spirit or rivalry is everywhere insofar as a human relationship is concerned. From business to professional, religious, social, or family life, we deal with it regularly. Sibling jealousy is a euphemism for a red flag capable of destroying brothers and sisters too. Again, it is subtle, but some siblings live like enemies due to unresolved rivalry. Close friends aren’t shielded either. The unchecked rivalry is poisonous to healthy spirituality and relationships.

Mother Angelica, the American nun with Italian wit who founded the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN), had a fantastic gift of discernment. While Western media are built on the rating system, measured by how many viewers a network and a show could attract. Better rating meant more advertisement and money. she saw the high risk of unhealthy rivalry in the system. She decided that all the programs on her television network would never subscribe to a rating system so that unhealthy ambitious rivalry wouldn’t taint the hosts, the organization’s mission, and vision. Smart move. Some may not have liked her strategy—it wasn’t good for business, but spiritually, it was healthy. Godly.

You see, the temptation to the unhealthy rivalry is in each one of us. We have to put it in check, allowing the grace of God to triumph. Never let it take the better of us.

The Blessed Lord’s answer to the vice of unhealthy rivalry is a childlike heart, the kind that accepts God’s revelation and plans for us, for everyone, and seeing oneself as just a piece of the puzzle, a puzzle larger than life. Such recognizes that one person can’t change the world unless the person were God. It takes a team to have a more significant impact. Attitudinal change is implied, such as simplicity of life and heart.

Unhealthy rivalry doesn’t make us succeed; instead, it sucks our spiritual perspicacity, leaving us empty and spent. 

How about being grateful for the blessings of others, knowing that their gifts are our favors too? Their joys are positive vibes in our spiritual life. The sweetness of being least so God can be great in all is lovely.

I pray that God is magnified in our lives so that we can be less and God great. May we see others (friends, co-workers, business partners, members of our religious community) not as rivals, but indispensable parts of the puzzle—God’s multi-faceted and colored garden. Each piece plays a vital role. Amen.

God love you. God bless you.

Fr. Maurice Emelu

[Monday of the 26th Week Ordinary Time of the Year. Job 1:6-22; Luke 9:46-50] 

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Fr. Maurice Emelu

The Reverend Dr. Maurice Emelu is the Chair of a number of non-profit boards and a professor of digital media and communication at John Carroll University, United States. His research and practices focus on digital storytelling and design, media aesthetics and theo-aesthetics. Dr. Emelu lives where digital media technology meets culture, communication, philosophy, theology and society. He is the founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc.

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