The most difficult times can produce the greatest spiritual blessings. God truly knows just what we need at every moment!

Monday, September 21, 2009

XXV Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wis 2:12, 17-20; Jas 3:16-4:3; Mk 9:30-37


Our culture's understanding of greatness comes down to amassing enough wealth and power to do whatever you want. Jesus, on the other hand, reveals that human greatness has to do with living the truth of our relationship with God and with each other regardless of how much wealth or power we may possess.

The secret of understanding the greatness of Jesus and thereby the meaning of human greatness is to understand the relationship of Jesus with God. He reveals what it means to live and to die as God's beloved Son (Mk 1:11). In other words, Jesus shows us the implications of being created in the image and likeness of God as beloved son or beloved daughter. Believing in his human soul that his relationship with God was his ultimate truth, Jesus trusted that God's will for him amidst the trials he endured could only be love.

Now is the time to take the antidote for envy: to become like a little child, recognizing our radical dependence on God and others.

Today's Scripture readings warn about one of the most hateful sins - envy. The Old Testament reading tells how people bring down a "just man" because he makes them feel bad by comparison. St. James identifies envy ("jealousy and selfish ambition") as the source conflicts and wars. And in the Gospel we see Jesus' disciples manoeuvring for top spot.

As the Catechism explains, envy is a desire for superiority that leads to "sadness" at the other person's good fortune and satisfaction at their downfall. "When it (envy) wishes grave harm to a neighbour," says the Catechism, "it is a mortal sin." (#2539) It can plunge a person into hell - to spend eternity with the one whose root sin was envy. Lucifer could not stand the idea of anyone being superior to him - not even God. Envy fuels his implacable hatred of God and God's children.

All of us experience envy - sometimes in ridiculous ways. I remember being envious of another priest's full head of hair and rich speaking voice. It tormented me, although I did eventually repent. A person can repent of envy - but that repentance involves the willingness to be cured.

In the Divine Comedy, Dante describes a cure for envy. He tells about a woman named Sapia who was so filled with envy that she rejoiced at the downfall of her hometown - because its defeat brought bad fortune to those she envied. Well, Sapia repented and wound up in Purgatory. But before she could enter Paradise, she had to undergo a cure. It involved having her eyes sealed and putting her arm on the person ahead of her to find her way. The cure for envy is understanding - not just intellectually but deep in one's soul - our dependence on each other.

An ancient Spartan gives us a good example. The city had to choose 300 men for its governing body - and Paedaretos was on the initial list of candidates. When the final list was read, however, Paedaretos was not chosen. A friend said to him, "I am sorry. The people ought to have known what a wise officer you would have been." But Paedaretos replied, "I am glad that Sparta has 300 men better than I!" Here was a man who knew that the greatness of others did not subtract from - but added to - him. He had the antidote for envy.

If a pagan could have such wisdom, what about us who have the example - and grace - of Jesus? Now is the time to take the antidote for envy: to become like a little child, recognizing our radical dependence on God and others.

Who would be the greatest among the disciples? Who would make it to the top? Would it be James, John, Peter, or Andrew? They did not know what greatness was. They would learn though. Jesus would show them greatness from a cross.

Jesus calls us to be his disciples, His true followers. He calls us to set aside our own desires for the sake of others. He calls us to seek the greatness of humble generosity, to “rank first” among our families, friends and communities by taking on the spirit and role of being their servant. “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be last of all and the servant of all.” The jealousy and selfish ambition that attacks the just man in the Book of Wisdom in our first reading this Sunday, and that James berates in the second reading are the sad marks of identification of the godless, people who have rejected God and His Son. The sign of the Christian is seen in setting another’s needs over his or her wants.

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