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It is a terrible cancer, far worse than physical cancer: the cancer of careerism. Clerics, they say, are more prone to contract it. Once it grips you, it eats into you and destroys you from within. Compared to it, the other types of cancer are harmless since these only devastate the body; this one ravages your very soul. What is worse, it is contagious, for I felt some of the symptoms stealthily getting hold of me.

Living, knowing and working with clerics in Rome, I was more pained than shocked when, the other day, I heard someone say how among clerical circles people are prepared even to trample upon the corpses of companions and colleagues in order to rise higher. It brought to my mind ghastly scenes of the holocaust! How high do they want to go and where, if ever, will they land? All these attempts at self-aggrandisement, like that of building the Tower of Babel, to my mind, can have but one destination: doom, disaster and destruction. "Unless the Lord builds the house, those who labour toil in vain" (Ps 127:1). It must collapse and crash falling beneath its own weight. Alas at times they are abetted, unwittingly, by their own superiors as they angle for posts and positions. I have heard of one whose curriculum vitae was 'amplified' so that he could jump the queue and steam ahead of his colleagues for a promotion.

I do not want to be either self-righteous or Pharisaic. Could I not say with Augustine: "There goes myself but for the grace of God"? Neither do I want to judge, condemn or much less envy those who jockey for these 'high places'. They are being devoured piece by piece, dying a death in slow motion, till they are ultimately reduced to mere skin and bone. Rather, I feel sorry for them, for like a misguided missile that has missed its target, they dart through the air dangerously. Woe to the one on whom they explode!

Today is the feast of the Annunciation of Our Lord. Contemplating the attitude of Mary, I was struck by her total openness to God's grace. No human being could ever have been honoured more than Mary, the woman whom I love most. God could have chosen a Cleopatra who, according to tradition, bathed in milk to keep her skin soft and pure as that of a child. Her beauty was indeed skin deep. Instead, God preferred Mary, a simple pure village girl from Nazareth, bathed in and full of the fragrance of grace, to be the Mother of His Son. Her beauty was that of a pure soul. Mary's greatness lay in her littleness. She remained unaffected by honour, untouched by sin and uncontaminated by any cancer. On the contrary, she glorified and magnified the Lord who had done great things for her. She was nothing and God looked on her in her nothingness; God was everything!

Listening to and living in an ambience and atmosphere that has this cancer is both a risk and a challenge. It is so essential for me everyday to spend long hours with the Lord, contemplating His life and listening to His word that constantly challenges me to be like Him, emptying myself to be filled with His Spirit, in order to clear and correct my own perspectives and change and convert my own convictions. From the ruinous ravages of clerical cancer deliver me 0 Lord!

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