Sunday, September 20, 2015

Really Great

   Twenty-Fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time   B 

Two names seemed to dominate the news this week:
Donald Trump and Pope Francis.
Tempting though it is,
I’m not going to tell a joke about either one of them;
truth be told…I couldn’t find any appropriate for repeating in church.
But as Fr. Scott has been saying in recent days:
just imagine being a fly on the wall
if those two ever sit down together to chat!

Donald Trump and Pope Francis
are two men both striving for greatness…
…but they’re working from very different definitions
of what it means to be great,
and therefore taking very different paths to get there.

I suspect we’ve all heard plenty
of the things Mr. Trump has had to say lately.
But did you hear what the Holy Father said near the end of last week?
“If you were to find a person
who has never, ever spoken ill of another,
[that person] could be canonized immediately.”
That’s quite a statement!
The Pope was speaking about the temptation we all face
to point a condemning finger at others…
…and I’m afraid there won’t be too many of us—myself included—
ready for immediate canonization.
The Pope is reminding us—much like St. James—
that the source of disorder and conflict in the world
is our jealousy and ambition, our possessiveness and insincerity.
If we could just eliminate speaking ill of one another,
we’d be well on our way to a world marked instead
by peace and mercy and the good fruits of righteousness.

Much, much easier said than done!
As Pope Francis continues,
“All of us could say, ‘This is beautiful, eh! 
But Father…how does one do it?  How does it start? 
What is the first step in order to take this path?’”
The Pope’s answer is straightforward:
the first step is finding “the courage to blame oneself.”
When I find myself dwelling on another’s faults,
I need to stop and consider my own errors and weakness.
When I feel the need to comment on some else’s flaws,
I need to stop and instead think about my own.

Most of the time,
when we speak harshly or critically of others—
whether it’s someone near and dear to us,
a religious or political leader,
or someone famous we only know from the Internet or TV—
it says much more about us than it says about them.
How clearly that plays out this Sunday
in our reading from the Book of Wisdom!
Speaking ill of my neighbor
actually speaks more to my own insecurities:
a poor attempt to build myself up by tearing someone else down—
a strategy, although often tried, that’s never been known to work.

And so Pope Francis’ advice to blame yourself
means asking,
“Why does this person make me feel and think this way?
What is it that’s inside of me that causes this strong reaction?”

When the Son of God came in our human flesh,
he turned the world’s notion of greatness upside down.
Society—both ancient and modern—
says that greatness is about having power;
it’s about having possessions;
it’s about having people to do your bidding;
it’s about taking the first place
and getting everybody to listen to whatever you have to say.
Jesus, on the other hand, teaches us—
by his example even more than his words—
that real greatness has nothing at all to do
with popularity or power.
Real greatness isn’t about selfish ambition,
but about freely taking the last place.
It’s not about being served,
but about serving others—
and being unafraid to do so even to the point of suffering and death.
To be great is to be “the servant of all”:
serving not only the influential,
but those of no importance, those most vulnerable;
serving those who—like a little child—
will have no way to ever repay us;
even serving those of whom we’re tempted
to speak with harsh words.

“In order to recognize a person as a saint,” said Pope Francis,
“there is a whole process, there must be a miracle,
and then the Church proclaims him a saint. 
But if you were to find a person
who has never, ever, spoken ill of another,
he could be canonized immediately. 
It’s beautiful, isn’t it?”
Yes, Holy Father: beautiful, indeed!

When Jesus catches the Twelve
arguing amongst themselves on the way,
they’re actually partly right:
we are all called to greatness—
we’re all called to holiness, all called to be saints.

May the Lord give us the courage to strive for the highest goals
and flee every temptation to be merely mediocre.
May God free us from the fear of failure
and enable us to aspire to true greatness,
following Jesus Christ on the pathway of humility:
humble enough to blame ourselves,
humble enough to be the servant of all.

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