31st Sunday in Ordinary Time, Matthew 23:1-12
Jesus spoke to the crowds and to his disciples, saying, “The scribes and the Pharisees […] preach but they do no not practice. […] All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation ‘Rabbi.’
It should give every priest of the New Law pause to recognize that the chief criticism which our Savior levels against the Pharisees is that they are vainglorious and ambitious. They sit in the chair of Moses and have accrued to themselves great pastoral responsibility, but have failed to exercise their authority for the good of the sheep and have instead sought only to gain worldly honor for themselves.
As the Fathers and Doctors of the Church consider this passage from Scripture, they comment on the danger of the vice of ambition (and also the sin of vainglory) which can be so injurious to the priestly vocation. Ambition in the priesthood can mean the desire for a “more important” parish or a more prominent role in the diocese, but it is most especially typified by the desire for the episcopal rank. The height of ambition and pride for a (diocesan) priest is seen in his desire to be a bishop.
Is it lawful to desire to be a bishop? What must the priest do in order to avoid the sin of ambition? For direction on this point, we look to the greatest doctor, St. Thomas Aquinas.