Dear Friends in Jesus Christ…,
“I am the greatest” … the famous saying of Muhamad Ali is very familiar to all of us. Today’s readings invite us to become great in the sight of God by doing God’s will. Greatness, in Jesus’ view, is found in our willingness to accept and welcome and serve those who are considered unacceptable by reason of class, color, religion, wealth or culture. If we are to be truly great, we must be ready to accept four challenges: (1) to put ourselves last, (2) to be the servant of all, (3) to receive the most insignificant human beings with love, and (4) to expect nothing in return. Is it possible to do that? It is possible we have the virtue of humility? Once St. Augustine was asked, “What is the essential thing in the religion and discipline of Jesus Christ?” St. Augustine responded, “I shall reply: first humility, second humility and third humility.” We must become great through humble, self-giving service. We should not seek recognition and recompense for the service we do for Christ and the Church as parents, teachers, pastors, etc. Jesus says that people who serve humbly are the greatest. He uses a play on an Aramaic word that can mean either servant or child. Presenting a child before them, Jesus explains that one who wishes to be the first among them must be a servant to all. True greatness consists in serving one’s fellow men and is never self-centered. It lies in the ability to see and respond to the needs of others, and it presupposes compassion and sympathy. The two conditions of true greatness are humility and service.
There is a story about Yakov Smirnoff a comedian from Russia. When he first came to the United States from Russia he was not prepared for the incredible variety of instant products available in American grocery stores. He says, “On my first shopping trip with my friend, I saw milk powder; you just add hot water, and you get milk. Then I saw orange powder; you just add cold water, and you get orange juice. And then I saw baby powder, and I thought to myself, ‘What a country, you add water to a tin of powder and get a baby!” Unfortunately, there is no such Christian powder that can create Christians out of it. Disciples of Jesus Christ are not instantly born. They are slowly raised through many trials, suffering, and temptations. We will become true disciples of Jesus Christ when we can humble ourselves in service to others. We will become true Christians through our faithful and lifelong cooperation with the grace of God given for doing good and avoiding evil. Jesus explains what his disciples should do: “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow me. If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
The apostles in the Gospel today had not yet learned what true greatness is and were arguing about it among themselves. They did in time learn what true greatness is and they followed Jesus in their deaths, being martyred. St. Peter was crucified upside down on an X-shaped cross in Rome, just to the left of where St. Peter’s now stands and is buried in the nearest cemetery. St. Peter’s Basilica was built on top of it. Andrew was crucified on an X-shaped cross in Greece and is said to have preached to his executioners for two hours until he died. Bartholomew, also known as Nathanael, was killed by continuous whipping in Asia. Thomas was stabbed with a spear in India. James was put to death by the sword in Jerusalem. By their martyrdom they won many souls for Christ and became the true disciple of Jesus Christ.
During the holy Mass let us pray for the true spirit of service and for an attitude of love for those around us. May the Holy Spirit help us to become truly great through humble and selfless service.
God Bless You,