25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 20th 2015.
Wis 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16 – 4:3; Mk 9:30-37
Where is Jesus Christ in all these?
I received a phone call during Holy Week two years ago from a lay Catholic group in Manila inviting me to give them a talk on the Seven Last Words of Jesus Christ on Good Friday of that Lenten season. I told the host that it was an honor to give this talk and I would gladly do it. His next words left me speechless, “Father, we have this talk every Good Friday and we usually invite a particular bishop to give the talk, we pay all his travel and lodging expenses, and give him a stipend for the talk. We cannot afford all that this year so we are inviting you instead.” Zing! I never knew I had the reputation of being the cheap priest in town. I had great peace as I gave this talk to this group. But I cannot help but chuckle whenever I recall this conversation. God can even use humor to remind us of very important lessons in life.
This conversation reminded me that I would not find peace by the number of people that I serve or what I get paid for serving or the status attained or the recognition or appreciation received from serving. My peace will come when I honestly ask myself, “Where is Christ in all these? Is this service done according to His will and inspiration? Is this act of service sustained with His grace and is it done for His greater glory? Is it done out of love for Him?” Only what is done for the sake of Christ will open my heart to His own peace.
How did Jesus Christ win peace for us, that inner peace that comes from being reconciled with God? He served all people out of love for the Father and not because of what He would get from the ones whom He served even to the point of death on the Cross. He served those who did not only resent Him and His teaching but who despised Him to the point of putting Him to death. He reminds His disciples of this fact in today’s Gospel passage: “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.” If this is the path that Jesus took to win peace for us, it is also the path that we too must take to enter into His peace. This message was lost to the disciples who were discussing which of them would excel in personal glory once Jesus was declared as Messiah.
Jesus had to bring this message to them in another way. The first stage to His peace is to serve all people, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” But they must not only serve all but do it all for His sake, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me.” The insignificant task of receiving a dependent and needy child, a person without status or legal rights, one from whom we cannot hope to receive much, opens our hearts to receive Christ Himself. It is Christ’s presence that fills us with this abiding peace that comes from a renewed sense of our dignity as God’s beloved children, “Whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” Our hearts become a heaven for the Triune God only because we have chosen to serve all people and to do so for no other reason but for the sake of Christ. Peace of heart is not possible without honestly pondering that question, “Where is Christ in all these that I am doing?”
We serve in our homes, Churches, work places, etc., but we lack the peace of heart that comes from serving because we are always seeking some form of payment or recompense for our service. We hardly ask the question, “Where is Christ in all these? Is it all about me and what I can get? Is it for His sake; is it done with His grace and out of love for Him; is it for His greater glory or for my own pleasure?” Today’s readings show us how the right answer to this question opens our hearts and our communities to peace.
The author of the Book of Wisdom in the First Reading writes to encourage the Jews in Alexandria not to abandon their faith as others Jews had done because of the attraction of human learning, games and the pagan lifestyle of their host nation. Their example of faithfulness will surely not be appreciated by the renegade Jews. On the contrary, the good example of the faithful Israelites will make them hated and despised by the other Jews to the point that they plan torture and death for the faithful ones, “With revilement and torture, let us put the just one to the test…let us condemn him to a shameful death.” The just one cannot find his peace in the response of his fellow countrymen to his good example. Likewise, our peace cannot come from our appreciation and recognition from the ones whom we love and serve by our words and examples.
St. James states that even our prayers do not foster peace in us and in our communities. We ask for what we want but we do not ask for the right reason. Our prayers are driven more by our ambition and desire for what is pleasurable than for what is for the greater glory of God, “You covet but do not possess… You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” In other words, we do not ask, “Where is Jesus in my prayer intentions? Do I pray according to His will or according to what is pleasurable to me? Is what I am asking for the greater glory of God?” A retreat director once told me never to make a petition in prayer without reflecting on the reason behind that petition. Maybe even voicing out the true reason behind the petition will help us answer the question, “Where is Christ in all this?”
We can begin to answer the “Where is Christ in these?” question by practicing the daily prayer of Examen from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. It is different from the examination of conscience where the focus is on our sins and failings. But the Examen involves prayerfully looking back over the last hours of the day, recalling all the blessings received during that period, noticing how God has been inviting and inspiring us to love and serve Him in others, how we have responded and the reasons behind our response, begging Him for the grace to seek His pleasure more in the future and resolving to do so in a concrete way in the future. Fidelity to this prayer of Examen helps us to be attuned with the deeper motives in what we do. We thus are in a better position to do things more for His sake in the future.
As we fulfill our baptismal duty to serve all people with our words, good examples and prayers, our refusal or failure to ask the “Where is Christ in this?” question and to answer it honestly to the best of our ability hinders us from entering into the peace that Christ Jesus has won for us on the Cross. In all that we do, it is selfish ambition, that ignoring of the “Where is Christ in these?” question, that destroys our inner peace. In the words of St. James, “The fruit of righteousness is sown in peace for those who cultivate peace.” Consequently, our communities and society become places that lack peace because our selfish attitude has poisoned the good that we do. Our peace is in being “unprofitable servants”(Lk 17:10) who do our duty and serve all for His sake alone.
Jesus promises us that “He is among us as one who serves.”(Lk 22:27) He fulfills this promise in every Eucharistic celebration where He perpetuates His presence in our midst so that we too love and serve others like He did. Because of the love that He pours into our hearts by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can indeed serve all people for His sake and know His deep abiding peace that this world cannot give or take away from us. By His blood offered in this Mass and poured over our souls, we are reconciled with God and His peace is ours. We only need to serve all people and be ready to ask always, “Where is Christ in all these?” because it is only what we do for His sake that opens our hearts to His peace.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!