Archive for the ‘Service’ Category

Jesus Washed Their Feet

March 10, 2016

Jesus Washing Peter's Feet by Ford Maddox Brown, 1852-6.[Jesus] loved his own in the world and he loved them to the end. … So, [during the Last Supper,] he rose from supper and took off his outer garments. He took a towel and tied it around his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and dry them with the towel around his waist. … So when he had washed their feet and put his garments back on and reclined at table again, he said to them, “Do you realize what I have done for you? You call me ‘teacher’ and ‘master,’ and rightly so, for indeed I am. If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him. If you understand this, blessed are you if you do it.

—The Gospel of John, chapter 13

In 1955, Pope Pius XII inserted an optional washing of the feet rite into the Mass of Holy Thursday, the liturgy which commemorates the events of the night before Jesus died. This foot-washing rite is called the Mandatum (from the Latin for “the Mandate”) for Jesus said, “as I have done for you, you should also do.

Though the rubrics (that is, the rules for the liturgy) required no specific number of persons to have their feet washed in this optional rite, they indicated that the participants were to be men. This year, this rite which recalls Christ’s humble gesture of service and charity has been revised by a decree promulgated by Pope Francis. Where this rite is celebrated, pastors are to “select a small group of the faithful to represent the variety and the unity of each part of the people of God. Such small groups can be made up of men and women, and it is appropriate that they consist of people young and old, healthy and sick, clerics, consecrated men and women and laity.”

In past years, it has often been difficult to find people to humbly “bear their soles” on Holy Thursday but perhaps it may be a little easier this year. If you would volunteer to take a seat in this year’s washing of the feet, please contact Father so that he may create a representative group of our faithful.

Simon’s Missed Opportunity — Thursday, 24th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

September 19, 2013

Simon the Pharisee missed his opportunity. He invited Jesus to his house, but neglected to provide him water for his feet, oil for his head, or a kiss of greeting. Maybe Simon was preoccupied and the oversight was accidental, or maybe the discourtesy was intended, but in any case Simon failed to minister to Jesus from head to toe, he missed this chance to show him love.

We, however, are offered Simon’s opportunity every day, for the members of Christ’s body are in our midst. When we serve and greet them, his high and his lowly, we are serving  and loving him. Whatever you do for one of the least brothers of his, you do for him. (Matthew 25:40)

We’re in a Hurry — 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

July 18, 2010

The other day I was thinking about this homily when I heard the words of some modern poets on my radio. They said:

I’m in a hurry to get things done,
Oh, I rush and rush until life’s no fun.
All I really gotta do is live and die,
But, I’m in a hurry and don’t know why.

This goes to show that we still have a Martha problem today. The group Alabama said that they didn’t know why we get in a hurry, even though we’re not having fun, but I think I know the answer. The reason is that our loves and good desires are mixed with fears. If we would take that fear away, we would find peace.

Martha loved the Lord and wanted to serve Him well, but she had fears mixed in. She was the one who invited Him to the house and He probably had His apostles and other disciples with Him. She was busy serving them all, perhaps making the biggest meal she had ever made, and she was full of worries. “What if I’m a poor host and Jesus is disappointed with me? What if there’s not enough food for everyone to eat?”

We are often the same way. We fear that our lives are on the edge of disaster if our own plans and efforts should fail. We worry about bad things happening to ourselves and the people we love. We are anxiety about how Jesus feels about us.

Martha had a great desire to do good, but Martha’s fear tempted her to do harm. Her sister, Mary, was sitting at Jesus’ feet, listening to His words. (The Greek word for disciple actually means “one who sits at the feet of.”) Martha tries to take Jesus’ disciple away from Him.

Similiar thing can happen in our live on account of fear mixed with love. A husband and father can obsess about his work, out of a love for his family and a desire to provide, but his family can be left feeling like they come second in his life. A wife and mother can be so concerned that her loved ones will be safe and happy that she tries to control everything, making her family less happy because of it. Martha’s problem and ours is not that we work–work is a part of life–but in how we go about it.

Jesus says to Martha, and to us, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing.” What is this one thing we need? We need the peace of Christ. What is the peace of Christ? It is several things.

It is the awareness that God is near and guiding us. In the first reading, three heavenly visitors approach outside of Abraham’s tent. Now, the Holy Spirit dwells within our tents, Jesus is at our side, and we have a Father above. We are never left on our own.

With the peace of Christ we recognize that whatever may happen to us or those we love, it is for our good. As St. Paul observes in the second reading, even his sufferings are a cause for rejoicing for they advance the salvation of the whole Church with Christ.

With the peace of Christ we recognize that misery is not just around the corner, nor is happiness out of reach. Happiness is at head, in the knowledge that Jesus loves us, likes us, cares about us, and cares for us. Living in the peace of Christ means there is no reason for us to be unhappy.

Let us continue to do works of love for God, ourselves, and others, but let us do them always in the peace of Christ.

Preparing for Tests — Friday, 8th Week of Easter

May 31, 2010

Today were heard from the first encyclical of the first pope. Today’s first reading came from the First Letter of St. Peter. And what he said applies to you: “The end of all things is at hand.” Originally, St. Peter meant that Christians should always be ready for the end of their lives or the end of the world (whichever comes first.) But this morning I think we can hear the Holy Spirit speaking to us about the coming end of this school year.

At Columbus, the end of all things is at hand: that means finals week, with all of its due dates, studying, and exams. Don’t be surprised that this trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. Finals week happens every year. I know that finals time is a challenge and that it takes some hard work, but why should this trial overwhelm us or make us behave ugly towards each other? If we have Jesus Christ in our lives we should face difficulties differently than the world does. The beauty of a soul at peace in Christ, is seen through the person’s  graceful actions.

So how should we face our finals? First of all, have faith in God, and remain at peace, confident that no matter what, everything is going to be ok.  Second, be serious and sober-minded. You’ve worked for the whole semester. Now keep going just one more week to maintain or even improve those grades you’ve worked for all semester. And third, above all and through it all, let your love for one another be intense, be hospitable to one another without complaining, and as each of you has received gifts. Use them to help one another.

At this Mass, prepare yourself. Ask Jesus for constant peace, for steady focus, and for generous love throughout finals week so that you may perform at your best in every respect. It’s nice to get good grades in school, but that’s not the most important thing. The most important thing is to be prepared for the final exam which awaits us all.

Gift of Self — 5th Sunday in Easter—Year C

May 2, 2010

I would like to begin today by telling the beautiful story of a gorgeous young woman named Leah Darrow. Leah grew up in a strong Catholic family in Oklahoma, but when she was in high school she says that her Catholicism started to get “fuzzy.”  By the time she was in college Leah says she had become a “Catholic But.” She would say, “I’m Catholic, but I don’t agree with the Church’s teaching on cohabitation,” or, “I’m Catholic but I don’t see the problem with a couple who love each sleeping together before their marriage… I think the Church is behind the times.”

One evening at college she saw a reality TV show called “Americas’s Next Top Model,” with Tyra Banks and thought to herself, “I’m pretty cute, maybe I could be on that show.” She tried out and got on, but lost the competition, yet she was resolved not to let her TV elimination mean the end of her modeling career. And she was rather successful.  She still recalls her excitement at receiving her first paycheck with a comma (a comma!) in it.

Leah eventually found herself at a photo-shoot high above 5th Avenue in New York that would change her life forever. She came to pose for an international magazine which wanted to help her develop a more risque image. They brought out a number of itsy-bitzy outfits for her to wear.  She picked one out and shooting began. Now Leah says that every model knows not to look at the flash when the photos are being taken (and she insists that she didn’t look at the flash) yet while she was posing, a vision flashed in her mind, three images in the span of perhaps a second or two. This is what she saw:

She saw herself standing in a large white space in the immodest outfit she was wearing. In this scene she wasn’t in pain, but she had the sense that she had died. In the second image Leah was looking up, holding out her open hands at her waist, with the knowledge that she was in the presence of God. In the third and final image, another white flash hit her eyes and Leah saw herself holding her hands all the way up, offering to God all that she had, but in that moment she realized that she was offering Him nothing. For her entire life up to that point, with all of the blessings, talents, and gifts that God had given her, she had wasted them all on herself. If she had died at that moment, Leah knew that she would have nothing to offer Christ.

She came back to reality when the photographer said, “Leah, Leah, are you OK?” She shook her head and said, “No, I can’t.” He said, “Ok, we can go over here.” And she said, “No, I can’t .”  She ran back to the makeup counter, changed back into her own clothes, and ran down 5th Avenue, balling her eyes out, afraid that she might be losing her mind.

She called her dad and said, “Dad, if you don’t come get me I am going to lose my soul.” Dad drove across the country to New York, and when he arrived she wanted to leave town, but he said he couldn’t wait to see the sights; Central Park, the Empire State Building, the Carnegie Deli, “But first we go to confession.” She made a good, tearful confession spanning the ten commandments like she was ordering off the dollar menu: ‘Two number ones, four number twos…’ She came out like a new woman, healed.  Today she goes around telling her story and supporting an organization that promotes modesty in young lades’ dress.

Leah says she was living a very selfish life before her conversion. Perhaps she was confused, as many in our culture, about the nature of true love. In English we use the word love in a broad and ambiguous way.  We say, “I love that TV show. I love the Packers. I love my children. I love my wife. I love God. I love my dog.” But all of these loves are different in kind and degree. When we say, “I love pizza,” or, “I love wine,” it is not really pizza and wine that we love so much as  ourselves.  I love myself, and that’s why I consume pizza or wine. Yet, not all love is easy, warm, and fuzzy. True love is a sacrifice, and often feels that way.

As St. Paul tells us in the first reading, “It is necessary for us to undergo many hardships to enter the kingdom of God.” And Jesus says in the gospel, “I give you a new commandment: love one another.” Love how? “As I have loved you, so you also should love one another.” How did Jesus love us? Through a total gift of self.

Now we know from the Gospels that Jesus’ self-giving wasn’t always a ordeal. It was often joyful. Jesus enjoyed going to weddings, dinner parties, and spending time with His friends. But Jesus’ acts of love were the most powerful and manifest when they were hard, as when He was on the cross.

Self-gifting love powerfully good. Someone can live a life of great fame and wealth, but without self-gift their life will account for nothing.  This is the world of difference we see between George Bailey and Mr. Potter in It’s a Wonderful Life.

Difficult self-gifting love is also the most powerful witness. Some theologians have speculated that Jesus could have redeemed in other ways besides the cross. (Perhaps a single cry from the infant God-Man would have been enough if that had been the divine plan.) But Jesus dying for us on the cross communicates a powerful message about His love for us. Jesus said, “This is how all will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” The way we love should be a witness, it should make us stand out.

Earth is a training ground. Our life here on Earth is training for Heaven. In Heaven, self-gifting is the rule and the norm. If that’s not the sort of thing we are interested in, there will be no place for us to be at home in heaven–and there is only one other place for us to go forever. In today’s second reading, Heaven is seen “coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.” It is a revealing description, for spousal relationship prepares us for the life of Heaven.

We are all called to marriage and parenthood, either natural or spiritual. Some are called to live single lives, to enter religious life, or be ordained, in a fruitful spousal relationship with Christ and/or His Church. Others are called to natural marriage and to fruitfulness seen in their spousal love and its natural or spirital children.

Self-gift is the life of marriage. What if there is a priest who does not pray, who does not serve, but who seeks only his own comfort? Such a priest will eventually leave his priesthood. So it is with a natural marriage. If one spouse seeks just their own pleasure, their marriage will seem empty. But if both spouses seek to make a self-gift to the other, they will both be satisfied. Jesus said, “Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all thing will be added on to you.” If we go for self-gratification, even that escapes us, but if we focus on self-gift, satisfaction comes as well. This is the reason for the Catholic tradition of a crucifix hanging over a husband and wife’s bed.

Jesus has given us a new commandment: love one another. As He has loved us we should love one another. Such love is powerful. It should make us stand out as disciples of Christ. And it prepares us for the life of Heaven, where self-gift is rule.

Leah Darrow Interview on the Drew Mariani Catholic radio show (4/30/10)

Leah Darrow Talk to a Boston Catholic Women’s Conference (2/27/10)

For One’s Friends — Tuesday, 3rd Week of Easter

April 20, 2010

Jesus said, “No one has greater love than this, [than] to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” Have you ever wondered if that’s true? Is that really the greatest love? Wouldn’t it be greater for someone to lay down their life for their enemies? No, for I tell to you that no one can do this. It is impossible to lay down your life for an enemy. You can only lay down your life for people you love.

St. Stephen, like the Savior he followed, loved those who killed him. Stephen’s murders hated him, but he did not hate them in return. He was their enemy, but they were not his. Stephen loved them enough to challenge and correct them, but this made them very angry. Before dying, Stephen said, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” He was acting with mercy, generosity, and prayer in imitation of Jesus Christ, his role-model.

In this community, I do not feel that we are plagued with the disease of hatred: hatred for others, hatred for classmates, or hatred for God. But I do fear that we are infected by indifference: indifference towards each other, indifference towards those in need, and indifference towards God. I challenge you: in the past week what have you done to be more merciful, more generous, or more prayerful?

St. Stephen had mercy, generosity, and prayers for those who hated him. St. Augustine wrote that if it had not been for this, that young man named Saul who was guarding the cloaks, consenting to the execution, would not have later converted to become St. Paul, the great apostle. If St. Stephen overcame hatred and did this, imagine what overcoming our indifference could do?

We may not necessarily have to die as bloodied martyrs, like St. Stephen did, but Jesus asks each of us to lay down our lives for our friends.

Our World’s Salvation — February 2 — Presentation of the Lord

February 2, 2010

Simeon’s eyes looked upon a baby and foresaw our salvation in Him. When we look back today, at the centuries past, we can see that Jesus Christ has indeed been a light for all the nations.

Even if one were to look at Jesus of Nazareth without the eyes of faith, any fair assessment of history must name Him and the Church that He founded as the greatest cause for good in human history. Jesus Christ came and was the light for a darkened world.

For example, in the ancient world, women’s status ranked near that of slaves, but Jesus showed a reverence towards all women, even intimately involving them in His ministry. Christianity noted His example and began to acknowledge women’s dignity and equality as persons.

While the ancient world wielded total dominance over slaves, Christianity professed slaves’ equality as persons before Christ. (In fact, several early popes were former slaves themselves.) Christianity told masters that they would be held accountable at the Judgment for the good or bad treatment of their slaves, for Jesus had said, “Whatever you do to the least of my brothers you do to me.” The abolishment of slavery came gradually, but it finally came as the result of Christians’ efforts in light of Christ.

Infanticide was common in the ancient world. Sometimes the unwanted little one was physically disabled, or female, or merely inconvenient. But Jesus treasured all children, and He said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name receives me.” So Christianity renounced infanticide and would later establish orphanages and promote child adoption.

Jesus showed concern for sick persons and healed them. Jesus also feed hungry crowds. So Christianity has established hospitals and soup kitchens. Today, as throughout the centuries, the Catholic Church is the largest charitable organization on earth.

An eye for an eye was the ancient law, and hating one’s enemies comes naturally, but Jesus did not seek revenge.  Jesus said, “Love your enemies,” and He prayed for His enemies from the cross. Many Christians have followed His example, promoting peace and reconciliation.

Jesus taught his wisdom to great crowds of men and women, the poor and rich, the young and old, so Christianity established schools and universities. Today the Catholic Church educates more children than any other scholarly or religious institution and you are a part of this number.

Our Marshfield area Catholic schools exist today because of Jesus Christ, the greatest person who has ever lived. The public schools have Jesus to thank for their schools, too, but they are not allowed to speak His name. But we can speak His name, and we can thank Him like Simeon here today, for coming into our darkened world and shining His saving light.

(Recommended viewing:  “Epic” produced by Catholics Come Home )

Carrying Water — 2nd Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year C

January 20, 2010

Today’s Gospel, the miracle at the wedding fest of Cana, is a scene rich in symbolism and has many preachable parts. For example, the water of Old Covenant law is changed into New Covenant wine. It is the seventh day in John’s Gospel, according to the narration, pointing to a new Creation and rest. And the New Adam and the New Eve are at a wedding feast together, foreshadowing the marriage of Christ and His Church. But this morning, I would like to bring your attention to an extraordinary part of this Gospel which we disregard as being ordinary. I’m referring to the six stone water jars and the servers who carried them.

“Now there were six stone water jars there for Jewish ceremonial washings, each holding twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus told them, ‘Fill the jars with water.’ So they filled them to the brim.”

You’ve carried a gallon of milk before.   Imagine carrying 25 gallons of milk. I doubt you could do it all at once. Not only would they be too bulky, they would be awfully heavy too. Maybe you could put them on a pole and carry them with a partner. Maybe that’s what the servers in the Gospel had to do, or maybe they were doing laps between the well of Cana and the stone jars at the party. In either case, they we’re hauling an awful lot of water and weight.

Now a gallon of water weighs a little more than eight pounds. If each jar in the Gospel was at least 40 pounds of stone and held 20 to 30 gallons, then we are talking about six filled jars weighing 200 to 300 pounds apiece. And we know they were completely filled, for Mary had told them, “Do whatever he tells you,” and Jesus had told them, “Fill the jars with water.” “So they filled them to the brim.”

The saying “To carry water for (someone)” means to do a menial or difficult task for others.  That’s what these servers were doing and they definitely felt the burden.  Did they have any idea, as they carried those 1,500 pounds of stone and water, that they were a part of something remarkable? Did they know that they were playing an intimate role in one of Jesus’ most memorable miracles? No, they had no idea, not until later, and this reflects a encouraging truth for us to hold onto this week. We often don’t realize the extraordinary impact of our ordinary sacrifices.

You may feel burdened in your life, like your just scrapping or limping along; at work, at school, or at home; with your peers, your friends, or your family. But you do more good than you know. Sometimes we catch glimpses of this, like when someone takes your hand and says, “Thank you sooo much,” or when someone shares with you that they have always looked up to you, or when a child grows to realize and thank you for everything you did for them. After this life, one of our joys in heaven will be seeing how our ordinary sacrifices have touched and changed the lives of thousands, even millions, of people.

Like the servers with their six stone jars, we disregard our efforts as ordinary and do not realize their extraordinary impact. Maybe you don’t see it now, but your ordinary sacrifices do more good than you know. Let us be encouraged by recalling this truth in our daily lives, for if you’re carrying water for Jesus, you’re going to have a part in His miracles. So, “do whatever He tells you,” no matter how ordinary it may seem.

Tuesday, 3rd Week of Advent

December 16, 2009

Is it more important to say the right thing, or to do the right thing? As people like to say “Talk is cheap,” but “Actions speak louder than words.”

Some Christians say that if we merely confess Jesus Christ as our personal Lord and Savior then we are assuredly saved. But Jesus Himself says that ‘not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.

It is easy to feel righteous like the chief priests and the elders if we subscribe to the right and enlightened opinions, but we should be humbled by the fact that scandalous sinners have turned to Christ and today harvest more fruit in the vineyard than we do.

We have to do more than talk a good game, we have to show up on the court. For example, you say you oppose the killing of the unborn? Good! But what are you doing to end it? Do you pray for mothers and their babies? Do you march for life?

You say that hatred between peoples should end. Absolutely! But is there someone here that you cannot bring yourself to pray for, or say “hello” to in the hallway?

You say that we must care for people in need. Indeed, and Jesus says the same. But do you give of your time, talent and spending cash until it hurts a bit, like an actual sacrifice?

If I were to end this homily here and now with an exhortation that you should go out into your world and to work hard for good in that vineyard, you might decide to listen and your life might change a little bit for a little while. But I would not expect your life change a great deal, unless you also respond to another calling; the calling from our Father that you work in another vineyard first. This vineyard is within you, it is an inner-vineyard. You work it alongside Christ in prayer and what you harvest from it is intimacy with God.  Of this encounter, St. Augustine wrote:

“Late have I loved you, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new, late have I loved you!  You were within me, but I was outside, and it was there that I searched for you.  In my unloveliness I plunged into the lovely things which you created.  You were with me, but I was not with you.  Created things kept me from you; yet if they had not been in you they would not have been at all. You called, you shouted, and you broke through my deafness.  You flashed, you shone, and you dispelled my blindness.  You breathed your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for you.  I have tasted you, now I hunger and thirst for more.  You touched me, and I burned for your peace.”

In the labor of prayer (and it does take a daily effort) you encounter God. He surprises you with gifts of consolation and peace, and you overflow with His love. This overflow is what makes the saints the saints. It is what makes their holy lives possible. The saints are not self-made men and women. Their cups runneth over within them, and it is from out of this abundance that they love the vineyard of the world and work in it for the better.

You say that you believe in God, and in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. So come to the work of prayer each day, or your devotion and service to God will remain forever little more than lip-service.

34th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

November 23, 2009

Today we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King. Jesus Christ is our king, now and forever. Yet, the idea of monarchy doesn’t really resonate with us. And it’s not just because we don’t have an earthly king ruling our country. It’s that we’re not big fans of authority. We are wary of anyone having too much power. This is because power is often abused.

Those with any degree of power, be it over entire people or a single employee, can abuse that power. We can fall into thinking only of themselves and our own advantages and be blind and deaf to the legitimate concerns and genuine needs of others. Sometimes those with power hold on to it jealously and will stomp out any real or perceived threats to that power without regard to the truth. This is how the Roman Governor Pontius Pilate responds to Christ. When Pilate asks Jesus, “Are you the King of the Jews,” he is not searching for the Jewish messiah, or even the truth.  He is probing for a political threat to himself.

The true purpose of power and authority is for serving the good of others. This goes for the Church and for all government, for our workplaces and our homes. The reason that our all-powerful God shares some of His power and authority with us, His creatures, is not so that we may be self-serving. It is so that we may serve others, give them life and bless them, and in this way resemble God Himself. God has given of Himself, given us life, and blessed all creation.

As Jesus said to His apostles, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and the great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you. Rather, whoever wishes to be great among you shall be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.”

Jesus showed his perfect love for us by becoming a slave and dying for us on the cross. For this reason, we do not fear the idea of Him being the first among us, reigning as our king. The Church, His bride, welcomes its royal bridegroom. And as it is for the bride of Christ as a whole, so it is for every Christian soul in relationship with Christ.

Every bride yearns to be fought for, to be pursued and to be a priority to someone. Christ has made us His priority.  He came down from heaven in pursuit of us. He has fought for and died for us, and now in heaven He still fights for us.

Every bride also wants an adventure to share. She doesn’t want to be the adventure; she wants to be caught up in something greater than herself. When we are living for ourselves we are alone, without purpose, and empty. Each of us is meant to live a life about more than just ourselves.  A life in Christ. We each have a vocation, a calling from God, a unique part to play in an epic adventure, a significant part to play in His great story.

Every bride wants to have a beauty to unveil. And it’s not just an exterior beauty. It’s a deep desire to truly BE the beauty and to be delighted in by the bridegroom. Christ is the lover of our souls and all of us wish to have beautiful souls. Each person desires to be approved and uniquely enjoyed by Christ. For us males, this is a desire for his approval and regard.  To be one who He is unashamed to call us His brother, a member on his team; a man in His platoon

Why bring up how Christ our King is the perfect bridegroom for His bride, the Church? Gentlemen, take note. Imitate Christ for your brides with Christian chivalry, love your wives as Christ loves the Church, and you will be like our king for your queen. Fight battles on Christ’s side for your beautiful bride. Lay down your life for her each day. Be Christ the king’s shining knight for her—honor, serve, and defend your bride and lead her on an adventure. The power you have is for her and you family.

For any of us, with any power and authority comes responsibility. And the power each of us has gives us a great opportunity. For by serving Christ our King and by caring for those He has entrusted to our care, we win the only glory and happiness worth having, that of Christ our king—the glory and happiness with the power to last forever.

29th Sunday in Ordinary Time—Year B

October 18, 2009

The Three Crosses by Rembrandt. 1653

Today, the Apostles James and John make their big pitch in order to move up the ladder in Jesus’ organization. “[Jesus,] grant that in your glory we may sit, one at your right, and the other at your left.” Jesus says to them, “You do not know what you are asking.”

They jump at the chance to drink of Jesus’ cup and to be baptized in His baptism, whatever that means, because they have no idea that these are allusions to Christ’s suffering. Jesus tells them, ‘You will drink my cup and experience my baptism, but to sit at my right and my left is for those for whom it has been prepared.’ Where are the seats beside Christ in His glory?  The Gospel of Mark later tells us: “With [Jesus] they crucified two revolutionaries, one on his right and one on his left.” Indeed, James and John don’t know what they’re really asking.

They want spots beside Jesus’ throne because they think this will put their lives on Easy Street. They think that being enthroned at Christ’s side in glory means they will be served by everyone, and that they will never have to serve anyone else, ever again, besides Jesus of course. James and John want to live like as princes, like the billionaires, the bosses, and the big shots in the world. But true greatness is very different.

Whoever wishes to be great, Jesus says, must be a servant.  And whoever wishes to be the greatest of all, must be the servant to everyone. But we might ask why anyone would want this sort of greatness? Who wants to be a slave or to be crucified with Christ? And yet, Jesus offers such self-offering as the only greatness truly worth seeking? Why? Because true love equals self-gift, and in heaven love lasts forever.

In the world out there, there is a hierarchy according to wealth and power. For the Church on earth, Christ establishes a hierarchy according to orders. But for the Church in heaven, the hierarchy is established according to love. There is no money to be had in heaven. Greatness there is measured according to the love you can give and the love you receive from others.

Consider, who is more beloved on earth, Blessed Mother Teresa or the richest person in the world? And who is more likely to have a higher in heaven? When Mother Teresa died a million people turned out for her funeral. She, like all the saints, is rich in love.

If you desire true and lasting greatness, imitate Christ on earth, who became a slave for us. Jesus did not come to be served but to serve. And through His trials and self-sacrifice, He offered his life as a ransom for us and won our hearts for Himself.

Though it is worthwhile, it isn’t easy to follow Christ. If we serve Him, we should expect temptations, trials and sufferings, too, just like Him.  Trials are normal for the Christian life and we should expect them.

As Saint Peter writes, “Beloved, do not be surprised that a trial by fire is occurring among you, as if something strange were happening to you. But rejoice to the extent that you share in the sufferings of Christ, so that when his glory is revealed you may also rejoice exultantly. If you are insulted for the name of Christ, blessed are you, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests upon you.”

Temptations are normal for the Christian life, too.  Jesus Himself was tempted in the desert and in the garden. As the second reading says, “…We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin.” Understand and remember that human weakness and temptations are not the same thing as sin. It is not a sin to be tempted. Jesus was weak and tempted like us, but he never sinned. We only sin when we give in to temptation, when heart says “yes” to them.

Catherine of Siena by Giovanni[1]

Believe it or not, the saints know more about fierce temptation than unrepentant sinners do. The saints do battle against strong temptations, with the sacraments and prayer, with penance and self-disciple.  Many hardened sinners, on the other hand, don’t even know they are being tempted. One time, St. Catherine of Sienna, after she had made great progress in holiness, was subjected to the most violent temptations. Impure images filled her imagination and darkness attacked her heart. She called on God but He seemed to be absent. After these temptations had ceased, Jesus visited her, filling her with heavenly consolation. “Ah, my Divine Spouse,” she cried out, “where were you when I laid in such an abandoned and frightful condition?” “I was in your heart,” he replied, “fortifying you by grace.” “What, in the midst of the filthy abominations with which my soul was filled?” “Yes,” Jesus said, “for these temptations were most displeasing and painful to you. By fighting against them, you have gained immense merit, and the victory was because of my presence.”

When Jesus asked James and John if they could drink His cup and be baptized in His baptism, they eagerly responded, “We can!” Did they entirely know what this meant? No. Do we entirely know what it will mean for us to give our yes to Christ and to follow in His footsteps? No.  But with that little seed from James and John, Jesus was able to grow them into great saints.

Jesus Christ is the greatest person who has ever lived.  No one has been greater and no one has done greater things.  No one has loved better and no one is better loved. Let’s follow in his footsteps, even if that means the cross, for to be remade in His image means sharing in His greatness, His glory and His joy.

Wednesday, 20th Week in Ordinary Time—Year I

August 19, 2009

Today’s readings give us two lessons about service:

In the first reading we hear an allegory of the forest trees coming to their most prominent members, asking each one to lead them. But every tree declines, asking “why would I want to give up my comfortable glory to serve like that?” As a last resort, they ask the buckthorn tree. This last tree is something of a large bush, and not good for very much. The buckthorn agrees and rules as a tyrant over them.

What is the lesson for us here? If we Catholics are not willing to sacrifice our some of our comfortable glory for the social needs of others, we should expect bad things to come. As Pope Paul VI said, “If you want peace, work for justice.”

The second lesson is from the Gospel, where we hear the parable most likely to offend an American’s sense of justice. We hear that the last laborers work a little and receive the same pay as the first. But the landowner is right to say that he has robbed no one. The first laborers receive the full wage which they agreed was fair and just at the beginning of the day.

What is the lesson here for us in our service? Serving Christ is work, but it should not make us feel deprived.  It should make us feel enriched. If we come to the end of the day’s labors feeling bitterness at our Landlord we are in need of an open and honest conversation with Him.