25th Sunday Ordinary Time
A Homily - B Cycle - 2002-2003
First Reading - Wisdom 2:12, 17-20
Psalm - 54:3-4, 5, 6-8
Second Reading - James 3:16-, 4:3
Gospel - Mark 9:30-37
Mark wrote to explain Christ
to the new Gentile converts.
Jesus and his disciples left from there and began to journey through Galilee, but he did not wish anyone to know about it. He was teaching his disciples and telling them, "The Son of Man is to be handed over to men and they will kill him, and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise." But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house, he began to ask them, "What were you arguing about on the way?" But they remained silent. They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest. Then he sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, "If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all." Taking a child, he placed it in their midst, and putting his arms around it, he said to them, "Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me."
Today's Gospel passage is the Evangelist Mark's version of a more famous depiction of children approaching our Lord and our Lord's command to his Apostles to, "Let the children come to me and do not hinder them, for to these belongs the Kingdom of Heaven." This particular passage always reminds my mother of a time when I was about 4 years old and we were parishioners at Queen of Apostles in Alexandria. My mother remembers how at one Mass, right before the Eucharistic prayer began, I decided to sneak out of the pew and make a break for the altar. I ran down the main aisle, entered the sanctuary and sat under the altar. My mother, for her part, was on all four's in front of the first pew beckoning me back to her but obviously with an angry face. Of course, I didn't want to go back over to her because I knew I'd be in trouble. So, I stayed under the altar. After all, our Lord did say, "Let the little children come to me." Maybe it was a sign that I was destined for the altar. Who knows?
This whole notion of becoming like little children in the spiritual life is one of the most difficult lessons that every Catholic and every Christian must learn. From the time that we are old enough to know the difference between right and wrong and think on our own, we are almost conditioned, due to original sin, to try to break away from authority. So, one of the most difficult lessons we must learn is how to become like children of the Father once again. We must learn how to become more docile, obedient, humble and dependent on God's grace in our lives. There are no easy lessons to learn and in fact these become the life project for many.
One of the characteristics of children, especially very young children, that we all admire, is their innocence and their total ambivalence to power and control. They are 100% dependent on their parents. This dependence is what our Lord refers to in the Beatitudes when He says, "Blessed are the poor in Spirit." The poor in Spirit know that they are totally dependent on God's grace to achieve any good thing in their lives. They know that any good that they do is but a participation in God's surpassing goodness. Even the Apostles struggled with this notion of what power should mean for any authentic disciple of Jesus. In our Gospel, we hear how they were arguing among themselves about who was the greatest. Jesus warns them that He who aspires to greatness must be the servant of all. What the Apostles could not grasp is the fact that true power is really based in authority and true authority is grounded in service, in charity. They were so far afield in their thinking about this that when Jesus tells them that He must suffer and die in Jerusalem as the greatest act of charity known to man, the Apostles are dumfounded and afraid to question our Lord. By His Passion, Death and Resurrection, our Lord provides us with the most excellent example of what it means to be truly powerful - to be the servant of all - the Suffering Servant - the one who lays down His life for His friends.
What our Lord also implies is the fact that we must put aside all jealousy, self-ambition and disorder in our lives and learn to be truly great by being servants. This is what St. James refers to in our second reading - that in order to be truly wise, we must be pure, peaceable, gentle, and full of mercy. This should be our goal in our families; in our marriages; in our parish; in our schools and in our offices. If we truly desire to be great in God's eyes, we must cast aside that pride of life and re-learn what it means to be children of God - humble, selfless, pure and innocent.
Our readings also teach us that the greatest in the Kingdom of God are those who are the most humble and the most hidden. In the wake of the Second Vatican Council, you often hear how the Council "empowered" the laity. Yet, the Gospel is not about empowerment - it's about humility and service. Power is not the message of the Gospel at all. To be sure, the laity have a unique and irreplaceable role to play in the Church and we'd be foolish to underestimate its importance, but at the end of the day, it's not really about power - it's about lay witness and the promotion of authentic charity in the world. The true role of the laity, according to the documents of the Council and not its mythical "spirit" is to sanctify or "make holy" the world. Some have been led to believe that the true role of the laity is to run the Church. That is not true. The authentic role of the laity is to convert the culture by their witness and holiness of life. Let's face it - there are millions of people out there who will never listen to anything a priest will say about the Church or the Gospel, simply because a priest is saying it. Oh, they may be very polite about it but they can dismiss what the priest says because they expect priests to say what they say. But the committed witness of a lay person is something quite convincing, in a different way, because it can't be written off that easily.
The Catholic lay person who is honest, charitable, encouraging, modest, focused and joyful in their struggle to be a disciple and who gives authentic witness to the Faith can be more valuable than any number of sermons or homilies preached. I remember how as a layman, working in consulting, I used to ask my client if we could pray before our business meals. They were usually stunned because they didn't equate prayer with lay persons. None of my clients ever declined my invitation to pray, regardless of their faith. It's those little things that get people thinking and hopefully returning to God that make the difference. These is a crisis of holiness in the Church and each of us, by our baptisms cannot afford to sit idly by as our culture continues to spiral down towards greater moral degradation and indifference to God. It's time that we take the initiative to promote the Gospel in the world.
This weekend, our parish is scheduled to dedicate our Christian Formation Center. The bishop will be here for that celebration. This new facility will provide us with an excellent venue and opportunity to truly learn to be servants in the kingdom of God. We ought never to promote seeds of dissension that only seek to jockey for power within the Church or to somehow reform the Church by imposing our values on Her. Rather, our Christian Formation Center should be a place where we allow the Holy Spirit working through and in the Church to reform each of us so that we re-learn the great freedom there is in truly becoming children of the Father. Let us allow this Formation Center to teach and re-teach us over and over again that it is the Lord who speaks when the Church speaks for the Bridegroom and the Bride, His Church, are one flesh. Let us put aside all of those things that cause a lack of harmony in our parish and in our Church, always submitting ourselves in humility to our Lord's desire that we all be one, just as He and the Father are one. May the Blessed Virgin Mary, whose intercession has surely brought us to this weekend of dedication and celebration, continue to pray for us as we seek to imitate her outstanding witness of the true charity in the world.
Praised be Jesus Christ! Now and forever, Amen.
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