Ignatius of Loyola (eventual founder of the Jesuits), while serving in the military, was hit by a cannonball and severely injured. During his time recovering (and enduring multiple, very dangerous surgeries), he had a spiritual awakening and turned toward God.
This event and long recovery was a turning point for him. In his own words, before his injury and spiritual awakening:
I was a man given to the vanities of the world, whose chief delight consisted in martial exercises, with a great and vain desire to win renown.St. Ignatius of Loyola, Autobiography
Put simply, Ignatius was focused more on prestige than on God and serving others.
Prestige in Consumer Culture
In the United States and other Western countries, we live in a consumer culture in which prestige, fame, accumulation of wealth and possessions, and worldly accolades are marks of success. Having a name that people recognize, whether that be in certain work circles or in general as a “household name”, is thought to be the pinnacle of achievement.
Yet, many people who experience prestige figure out pretty quickly that it’s not all they were expecting it to be. As Jim Carrey said:
“I think everybody should get rich and famous and do everything they ever dreamed of so they can see that it’s not the answer.”
Consumer culture has convinced us that striving for wealth, stuff, and worldly accolades should be the goal of our existence. This obviously benefits businesses and consumer culture, because we buy and consume and work harder than we should to continue to buy and consume even more. But it damages us in the process.
When we continuously chase consumer society’s definition of prestige and success, we find ourselves on a hedonic treadmill, less and less happy with the level of prestige, wealth, and fame we get each time. We are being set up for dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and a deep feeling of failure.
God’s View of Prestige
Jim Carrey reminds us that prestige and wealth and fame are not the answer to life’s big questions.
So what is the answer?
God. And serving others.
People have been chasing prestige for centuries– Jesus’ disciples also had issues with this. Even at the Last Supper they had with Jesus, they were chasing after prestige:
A dispute also arose among [the disciples] as to which one of them was to be regarded as the greatest. But Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those in authority over them are called benefactors. But not so with you; rather the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like one who serves. For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.Luke 22:24-27
Jesus quickly shuts down the disciples’ pursuance of prestige, and instead points them to serving God and others.
For Jesus, and for followers of Jesus, prestige does not lie in fame and worldly accolades. Prestige lies in being in service to God and our fellow humans.
Jesus flips the table on consumer culture (literally and metaphorically!) and says that serving is much more prestigious than being served. Jesus invites us into service, gaining satisfaction from fulfilling our God-given calling rather than chasing after an elusive consumer definition of prestige.
How is Jesus inviting you to turn away from consumer society’s definition of prestige, and instead serve God and others?
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