25 Sep Twenty Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Father Shawn Hughes
September 23, 2018
Homilies are never the creative act of one person. Thus, in posting these homilies on St. Mary’s Cathedral’s website I would like to state first and foremost that there will be little original in the following. My homilies are a result of my prayer, reading and study as it pertains to the particular gospel of the week. Thus, I beg, borrow and steal from the wisdom of those who have gone before me and together with the Holy Spirit acting in my own prayer considering the needs of our particular parish community here at St. Mary’s, a homily appears by the weekend. If there is something that edifies you I can take no credit for it: ‘tis the result of the work of the Holy Spirit and those from whom I have gleaned wisdom over time. If there is something that you might wish to discuss I am always available and would welcome any opportunity to speak about the Scriptures and/or the Spiritual Life.
God bless you.
This gospel flies in the face of what our contemporary world holds dear. A Christian leads in the same way Christ did – by serving, by taking care of those who are weak and helpless, those who are in need, like the need present in little children.
Greatness in Christ’s Kingdom is equated with humility, an attitude that puts the good of others ahead of one’s own preferences. The contemporary mind balks with the innate human desire to excel and achieve greatness. But by defining Christian greatness as putting the needs of others before our own does not stifle our innate desire to excel and achieve…It merely directs it correctly. Jesus does not tell his apostles “You shouldn’t strive to be great, to achieve great things,” but he does point out where true, lasting, fulfilling greatness lies – in loving one’s neighbour as Christ has loved them. Jesus is a Servant-Lord…He leads by serving. His disciples follow in his demanding footsteps.
Followers of Jesus, our servant-Lord, see the need around them and strive to use their gifts: their time, talent and treasure to meet the need in the best way they possibly can.
Even Jesus’ disciples did not get this. They still were hoping for Jesus to be King as King David was a thousand years earlier. From a worldly viewpoint they were hoping that he would bring the power of political freedom and the wealth of economic prosperity back to the Jewish people. So they were arguing from the worldly perspective of power, who of them would be the greatest, who would be the most prominent, the most important, the most prestigious, in their hoped for worldly Kingdom of power and wealth.
In today’s gospel Jesus strives to prepare his disciples for his impending death: The Kingdom of Christ involves the cross. “The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, they will put him to death and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again.” The gospel tells us the disciples just didn’t get it because the always focused solely on the cross and not the hope that Resurrection would bring.
Thus, Jesus presents them with a concrete example. ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’”
Children are basically energetic balls of needs. They can’t survive on their own; they need someone to take care of them, to watch over them, to teach them – all the time. And they really can’t reciprocate. By telling them that when they accept a child they are welcoming Jesus Himself, Christ is teaching who will be great in the Kingdom of God. In Jesus’ society children had absolutely no social status. They were very vulnerable. By using the child Jesus is explaining that the Christian heart reaches out…selflessly, self sacrificially,…to the vulnerable to those who are in need, to those who can’t speak or act on their own behalf. The Christian heart strives not primarily for its own advancement, but looks for ways to meet the physical or spiritual needs of others…expecting nothing in return. In doing so the Christian heart not only welcomes Christ, but the Father who sent him. Jesus is clearly saying that when we put aside our selfish, ego driven concerns we welcome him. The little child in the gospel represents every child, and everyone who is needy, helpless, poor or sick. We must lose our very selves to gain the life Jesus describes. We often think that our relationship with Christ and the Father can solely be developed in prayer. Our prayer must be concretized in action. As we heard so powerfully three Sundays ago from the Letter of James: “Be doers of the word. Not merely hearers who deceive themselves.”
Jesus insists on the Cross. It is not an easy message to hear, especially for our modern, individualistic, relativistic minds. Our contemporary societal arrogance says: “I can define my own truth. What I believe is right is right. You believe what you want. I’ll do what I think is right for me. Power is better. Wealth is the best.” Disciples of Jesus Christ don’t think like this. We look to Christ to define our truth. We look to Christ for His wisdom. His wisdom is our wisdom. And the wisdom presented in the gospel today is the mysterious wisdom of the cross. The fullness of life and meaning is in self-forgetful love. This is what we believe because it is what the Lord Jesus did and what he teaches. “If any wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” (9:35). In Matthew’s gospel Jesus states it very plainly: ‘the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve.’(Matt. 20:26)
On October 27, 1985 at the 40th anniversary observances of the founding of the United Nations, Mother Teresa (now St. Teresa of Calcutta) was invited to come from her work in the slums of Calcutta to speak in the General Assembly. After a week of princes, presidents and prime ministers’ addressing the General Assembly on this momentous anniversary, Javier Perez de Cuellar, Secretary General of the United Nations, introduced Mother Teresa as “the most powerful woman in the world” explicitly recognizing that humility, and self-sacrificial love are the true power, the true wealth, the reality of who we are…created in the image and likeness of God. Her life demonstrated that a life lived in service to the poorest of the poor frees us from the envy and selfish ambition depicted in today’s first and second readings.
“The most powerful woman in the world” quite a title. On the world’s stage why would he say such a thing? She embodied what today’s reading from the letter of James calls “wisdom from above.” Because of the depth of her self-sacrificial love she embodied “peacefulness, gentleness, mercy and good fruits, without a trace of partiality or hypocrisy.” She said: “Be faithful in small things because it is in them that your strength lies” and “intense love does not measure. It just gives.”
Mother Teresa lived at this level because of her absolute child-like trust in God. The day before yesterday, I heard one of the best stories of what our child-like trust in God should be like. You will recall the terrible wind storm that day. Many of you would have heard that deafening clap of thunder early Friday morning. One of the priests in the city said one of the young fathers in his parish was telling him that their four year old daughter heard the clap of thunder, let out a little yelp and within seconds was out of her room and snuggled securely in between he and his wife in their bed…And then promptly fell right back to sleep…While the two of them lay there wide awake. It is a stunning image of us as children of God… something bad or frightening happens…We need to immediately run to Him for protection and then rest, confident in His Fatherly care. It’s a great image. It is that level of trust that allowed Mother Teresa to bear the fruit of self-sacrificial love throughout her life. We need to pray for that level of trust.
She had a business card which she gave to everyone she met… Kings, Presidents, Prime Ministers. You have probably heard me quote it before. It spells out from where such trust and self-sacrificial love springs and to where it develops…
The card said:
The Fruit of silence is prayer.
The Fruit of prayer is faith.
The Fruit of faith is love.
The Fruit of love is service.
The Fruit of service is peace.
It begins in silence. Standing in the truth before God…warts and all. Out of the silence comes prayer and prayer produces faith. Out of faith comes love. And the result of love is service to others…And that gives us peace…because that is who God has created us to be…
“Intense love does not measure. It just gives.”