By Christina Capecchi
I do not understand Kate Gosselin.
I cannot comprehend how marital strains and rumored infidelity convinced the reality star and mother of eight it’s a good time to launch a media campaign, one that results in the yellow, capitalized headline “We might split up.”
How could thinking out loud about divorce (to People magazine, no less) possibly reduce her odds of it?
Kate’s is one of several media blitzes that has left me scratching my head. I don’t understand, for example, how badmouthing the Palin camp could help Levi Johnston realize what he insists is his most urgent goal: greater access to his baby boy. (And, he later admitted, he’s also fishing for modeling gigs.)
These ill-advised campaigns reek of ambition — the blind, ravenous kind Shakespeare wrote about.
As a teen I was fascinated by Macbeth’s demise. “I have no spur to prick the sides of my intent,” he professed, “but only vaulting ambition, which o’erleaps itself, and falls on th’other…”
It is a physical description of oversized aspirations. Macbeth’s ambition shoots so high it cannot be contained; it falls well beyond its limits, beyond safety and sanity.
That Shakespearean tale intrigued me because I felt ambition welling within and wondered how to manage it. My love of writing has always come with a desire to be read. In fifth grade I wrote to my favorite author asking, “Do kids ever get published?” I yearned to reach a wide audience.
We all harbor ambitions and secretly question their scope and our chutzpah. Are we sorely deluded to dream of the corner office? Are we way off base to imagine the major leagues?
The very word ambition sounds suspicious — and for good reason, when you consider its origin. It comes from the Latin word ambitio, which is, literally, the act of soliciting votes.
That’s fitting in our vote-for-me culture, begging, “Ooh, ooh, pick me! Make me the apprentice, the next top model, the top chef, the most popular blog!”
This reality-TV-to-YouTube era breeds “vaulting ambition,” the Susan Boyle effect, to be catapulted from obscurity to idolatry. Which leads me to wonder: What does it mean to be an ambitious Catholic? How does that guide us? Does it restrict us or alter our approach? Should it?
I asked Father Peter Williams, the vocations director in my archdiocese.
“If you have musical gifts and you’re on American Idol, yeah, you better try to win,” he said. “Go for it! As Christians we’re not supposed to be timid, but at the same time, allow yourself to be checked when it’s not healthy and not glorifying God.”
That last clause is the litmus test: Does my ambition glorify God? How does it affect my relationship with God and loved ones? Does it invite people into my life or push them away? Does it create peace or frenzy? Would Grandma be proud? Am I proud of myself?
We are called to multiply our talents, not to bury them. The key is to keep the fruits of those talents in proper perspective. This month’s Old Testament readings underscore that idea, highlighting our submission to God’s infinite power. We witness Job’s wake-up call.
“Hearken to this, O Job! Stand and consider the wondrous works of God! Do you know how God…makes the light shine forth from his clouds?”
And so, we can pursue our earthly ambitions with a divine perspective, with humility and confidence, doing our small part to advance the greater good.