28 October 2007. 30th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sirach 35, 12-18; Psalm 34; 2 Tim 4, 6-18; Luke 18, 9-14
Many of us have the bad habit of always comparing ourselves with others, especially in a very competitive world. It happens in two extremes. First, we have the image of the Pharisee who compares himself with the Publican. By gloating on his gifts — “Thank you Lord for I am not like him!” — the Pharisee props himself up, puts himself at a higher level than the Publican. The Pharisee has a superiority-complex: he prides on his gifts. On the other hand, there is a kind of humility that is a misconception. We think that humility is a denial of one’s gifts. We know that we can sing, but we don’t. We know that we can dance, but we don’t. We are afraid that when we use our talents, others may think that we are showy. Or, we always think that our gifts is not as good as the gifts of others. In both cases, they are sins because they are founded on a lie or a deception. Those who think that they are superior deceive themselves of the fact that their gift comes, not from them, but from God. Those who have a false humility deceives themselves of the existence and purpose of their gifts. Both of these cases is a case of comparison.
When we compare ourselves with others, we know that we already lack something or that we start to compare ourselves by choosing just one trait and building our whole judgment on it. Both suffer from a poor self-image: we have to pride ourselves with our status or gifts to cover our inadequacies, or that we have to justify our lack to avoid painful criticism. By doing this, we already played a game that we already lost. For example, many students in UP and Ateneo enjoyed some popularity in their high schools because of their academic performances. But when they come to the university, they suddenly feel inferior because they find that other students are far better than them. And so they begin some negative self talk: “I am not intelligent… I guess that makes me less worthy… maybe I am dumb and stupid.” This forms a cycle which reinforces itself: we first suffer from low self-esteeem, thus we lack self-confidence, then we find that we lack something in comparison with others, and then it reinforces our false image of ourselves, which damages our self-confidence.
Paul’s letter to Timothy helps us re-orient ourselves and break this cycle. Paul acknowledges the gifts and the Giver of the gifts. He said that the Lord rescued him and gave him strength. This is also the stance of the Publican and many others. St. Ignatius of Loyola realizes that we are so poor because everything is gift. And because they are gifts, they have to be cultivated at the service of others as an acknowledgment of the Giver. And so, when we are able to paint well, we mirror the God of Beauty. When we are able to perfect an exam, we mirror the God of Wisdom. By cultivating our talents, we give glory to God.
By developing a habit of gratitude, we are able to break the cycle of comparison: since each is gifted, then there is no reason for us to compare ourselves with others. No one is superior than others, and no one is less gifted. Our motivation is not competition, but developing our full potential as an acknowledgement of God. When we see how gifted we are and how loved by God, then we have built our self-confidence.