25th Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 23, 2018.
Wisdom 2:12, 17-20; James 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37
Following Christ’s path to true greatness
While lamenting her ardent desire to be a great saint and her obvious littleness and weakness, St. Therese or Lisieux exclaimed, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires.” She grasped deeply that God instilled in her this desire for greatness and that He alone could fulfill it in her if she but used the means that God would provide. We can deduce the following from this her statement:
First, we all have this desire for greatness in all aspects of our lives because we have been created by a great God who calls us to share deeply in His own excellence. This desire for greatness persists despite all our failures and shortfalls simply because it is from God.
Secondly, there is nothing that we can do, have, experience, or achieve on our own to give us this true and lasting greatness. St. James asserts that we cannot get this greatness by grasping and wicked competition with others. Such grasping and fighting only lead to conflicts within us, in our families and societies, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice…Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from? You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.” Such attitudes also renders our prayers and spiritual life dead, “You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passion.”
Thirdly, God alone makes us great. He invites us and leads us along the path of true greatness by revealing His will to us and by bringing us to attend to the needs of others. To the extent that we cooperate with His grace in fulfilling His holy will for us and attend to the myriad needs of others to the best of our ability, especially the needs of those who have no ability to repay us, we open ourselves to experience the divine presence and action that alone make us truly great.
Fidelity to the Father’s will and responding to our needs was Jesus’ own path to true greatness. He did not seek to make Himself great by dominating or subduing others by the power of His divinity. He did not “regard equality to God something to be grasped.” He chose to sacrifice Himself in response to our desperate need for a Savior to deliver us from sin, the devil, and death, “For us men for our salvation, He came down from Heaven.”(Creed) He was ready to die for us all though we had no way of paying Him back for His life of service and death on the cross. This fidelity to the Father’s will and self-sacrifice for our sake allowed the Father’s love to take hold of Him and raise Him from the grave and make Him the greatest, “Therefore God raised Him up and gave Him the name above all other names that at the name of Jesus, every knee should bend and every tongue confess to the glory of the Father that Jesus Christ is Lord.”(Phil 2:5-12)
The disciples in today’s Gospel fell into the age-old trap of grasping for greatness, “They had been discussing among themselves on the way who was the greatest.” Jesus calls them to follow the way of true greatness by serving all people as God wills. In receiving the children, i.e. those who are constantly in need and who have no way of paying them back, they will open themselves to experience the exalting power of divine love. Hence Jesus’ assurance, “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.”
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we all have this desire for greatness that lingers in us despite our past failures, present miseries, or fears about the future. We feel frustrated as we try to attain it by grasping and dominating others. Our false humility can make us think that this desire to be great is sinful. We may even choose to become discouraged, mediocre, and lukewarm, thinking that this spiritual or moral excellence is for others and not for us.
The Little Flower’s words, “God cannot inspire unrealizable desires,” assures us that God is making it possible for us to be great by making His grace abundant to us, making His will known to us, and bringing us face to face with the needs of others. There are so much need in our world today – physical, spiritual, moral, psychological – and many who cannot or will not repay us for serving their needs. These occasions of need are all divine opportunities for us to be truly great because they are avenues to open us to the divine love and presence that alone makes us great.
I read last week that the Food and Drug Administration of the United States had given a contract to Advanced Bioscience Resources (ABR) to procure aborted baby parts and tissue for the sake of research that would make mice with human immune systems. The research grant is specifically for the procurement of fresh human fetal issues and not from miscarriages.
So it is not horrible enough that the babies are slaughtered but we now use their body parts and tissues to create mice with human immune systems. How can any society or culture that condones, encourages, or keeps silent about such crimes against the unborn ever hope to taste true greatness? This is a horrific example of the “disorder and foul practice” that St. James warned us would arise from our unbridled passion and desire for greatness completely disconnected from the will of God and the needs of others.
Where is that collective outrage that this and similar situations should evoke from us? Maybe we are so scared of what people will say if we stood up for the helpless infants and spoke the truth about the inviolable sanctity of every innocent human life. By our silence and inaction, we miss out on a golden opportunity to grow in true greatness.
Our good example and witness to the truth will surely win us the persecution and reviling of others like the just figure in the First Reading, “Let us beset the just one, because he is obnoxious to us… with revilement and torture let us put the just one to the test… let us condemn him to a shameful death.” They may never repay us appropriately for the good that we do and witness to but we are assured that the divine goodness that makes us truly great will flood our souls as we receive them and serve their needs for truth out of love for Christ.
Let us turn to Mary whom the Angel Gabriel told, “This child to be born of you will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High.” Mary was not promised greatness and she did not grasp for it too. It is her Son, Jesus Christ, who alone is great. Mary chose to serve God and cooperate with divine grace to meet our needs for a Savior, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord, let it be done to me according to your word.” Her fiat opened her to receive the Eternal Word in her womb and become the dwelling place of the Triune God here on earth. Can we think of a greater exaltation of a creature by her Creator? Can we even say that we have even tried to repay her back for the good that she has done for us and for all humanity in every age? Mary becomes an example and help for us to open our hearts to true greatness.
True greatness will surely allude us as we grasp, fight, and compete with others for it. The Good News is that the God who created us, invites us to greatness, and who alone makes us great comes to us in this Eucharist simply because He just cannot inspire unrealizable desires. We will never lack divine grace to do His will and the opportunities to meet the needs of others. Let us grasp these moments to meet their needs to the best of our ability, whether they repay us or not, and so allow divine love and grace to grasp us and make us truly great.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!