My Dear Parishioners:
I’m sure that, like me, many of you were glued to the Olympics over the summer. One of the reasons I enjoyed the Games so much was that it was so refreshing to get excited about winning, about who is fastest or strongest, who is the greatest in a particular sport or race. It felt good to celebrate achievement, when it so often seems that in today’s United States achievement is something to be ashamed of: everyone’s a winner; it’s the taking part that matters; we should all get gold stars just for being. As if being the greatest is somehow offensive, or impolitic, or contrary to some nebulous notion of diversity. This way of thinking is dangerous and is creating a false sense of accomplishment.

The world is rather more comfortable with ambition, and achievement, and self-promotion: You are number one; nobody loves a loser; nice guys finish last— these echo deep values of our contemporary world. There are no gold medals and adulation for those who come last. It’s that sort of mindset that see in the disciples in this Sunday’s Gospel. Jesus is on his final journey to Jerusalem and says that there he will suffer and die. Far from expressing sorrow or sympathy, James and John skip the thought of suffering and move to the thought of resurrection and ask Jesus to let them sit at his right and left when he enters his glory. They want to be more important than anyone else. They want position, and power, and status. They want to win! Jesus answers that they may get what they ask for, but they certainly will follow his way of suffering.

But then the other ten disciples also miss the point and start shouting at James and John for they too want some share in power. Earlier in the Gospel of Mark when Jesus predicted that he would suffer their reaction was to argue about who would be the greatest, who would be first. Jesus then gives them a lesson on what power should be among those who follow him – those who followed him then, and those who choose to be his disciples today. Gentile rulers lord it over their subjects, and their great ones throw their weight around. Throughout the Gospel of Mark Jesus describes the way things work in the world – in a world that lives apart from the message he proclaims what people want for themselves: self-centeredness; saving one’s own life; acquiring the world; being great; lording it over others; being anxious about wealth. But Jesus rejects this way in a ringing statement. “But it shall not be so among you.” Jesus speaks of his way of being powerful which is paradoxically the way of the loser: whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many. Jesus points not to a way of being number one of lording it over and ominating others, but a way of service. True followers are to be available to others with help and service. If we must compete, we must compete in this way. We must outdo each other in doing good. Jesus gives himself as an example of such service; he did not come to be waited on by others but to serve and give his life for others. Throughout the Gospel Jesus serves by being with the sick and suffering of this world, by feeding the hungry and speaking up for those who are weak and oppressed and marginalized and forgotten and despised. And he will give his life as a ransom. A ransom is a price paid to free. The price paid to free us from slavery – slavery to this world, slavery to ourselves. Jesus’ offering was to be a liberating offering and we his followers are to be engaged in liberating service. We are to help free each other from all
that would bind us and imprison us.

In simple terms the Gospel calls on us, you and I, contemporary followers of Jesus, to reject a life-path that leads to power and dominance of others – be that in the Church, or in business, or in college, or in our everyday relationships and personal encounters. So often it is among ordinary Christians that we see the example of Jesus lived out. This liberating service shines forth in parents at the bed of a sick child, in a spouse caring for another with Alzheimer’s disease; in a person like St Marianne Cope who spent her life caring for the lepers of Hawaii; in a person like Sr. Dorothy Stang, a Notre Dame sister who was murdered in Brazil in 2005 for protesting the exploitation of the indigenous peoples of the Amazon. And whose last words as she was shot in the head were “Blessed are the poor in spirit”.

We do not have to look to Hawaii or Brazil to find examples of liberating service. So much good is done by our Knights of Columbus, Columbiettes and the good people of our parish for the poor and less fortunate. Such service is at the very heart of the Church’s Mission – it IS the Church’s mission. Our mission is not to be served, but to serve, and to continue the work of Jesus on earth

Of course, we are to think and to pray for the Church’s mission of spreading the Gospel, the Good News of our Redemption in Christ. That Gospel can only effectively spread and take root in the hearts and minds of those who do not yet know Jesus if those charged with preaching it – that’s you and me – live lives of service, really give of ourselves, really show our beliefs in the way we act and the way we love.

I have told the students at St. Philip School their main task is to learn and grow to the best of your abilities
– and there is certainly a lot of competition here – both good and bad. But our fundamental task as Christiansis not to be number one, but to become real losers, nice guys (and girls) who finish last – that is, last in the game of exploiting others and in pursuing selfish life goals, but who lose yourselves in serving others. After all Jesus said that the one who loses his or her life will save it, that is find true life – true, real, abundant, amazing, grace-filled life, in community with others and in union with Christ.

Fr. Monteleone

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