Sept. 20, 2015: 25th Sunday B
Click to hear Audio Homily
What type of shoes would you expect a priest to wear? How about rubber boots? One weekday morning a priest was in his rubber boots to greet a religious who came to visit him for spiritual direction. He wanted to give the sister a tour of the farm that his seminary was operating to make ends meet. At that time, that priest in boots was the rector of the seminary having numerous responsibilities. In addition to farming vegetables, the farm kept approximately 120 pigs, 53 sheep, 180 rabbits, and numerous cows for milk. When they arrived at the stalls where the animals were kept, the priest told the sister that this was a good place to pray and to remember that God is to be found in the lowliest things. The priest enjoyed regularly getting his feet dirty working in the farm. In fact, he always insisted that the seminarians should go out at the weekends to the poor neighborhoods to offer religious instruction to the children. He said that someone who is able to make the catechism simple enough for a child to understand is a wise person. When the seminarians returned from the neighborhoods, he would look to see if they had dusty feet. If they came back with clean feet, he took it as a sign that they had done nothing. The name of this remarkable priest was Fr. Bergoglio, now Pope Francis, who will be visiting our country this coming week.
In today’s Gospel, Jesus informs his disciples for the second time that he will suffer bitter humiliation and death, and says that true greatness shows itself in service towards the weaker members of the community. However, once again the disciples do not understand what Jesus meant. Instead, motivated by selfish ambition, the disciples get involved in an argument as to which of them is the greatest. Ambition of this kind is condemned by Jesus. Why did he condemn ambition? Because for the ambitious, there was no room for unselfishness. When Jesus went about healing people, he instructed them not to tell anyone about who healed them. The disciples didn’t quite get this. Why not tell the world about the great miracles Jesus was performing? The disciples saw it as opportunities to increase earthly influence and power. All those opportunities for glory and profit would be wasted if people didn’t know about them. Yet throughout his ministry, there was no hint of self-centeredness in the teachings and actions of Jesus; he did not seek self-glory, but sought glory for his Heavenly Father.
All of us are called to exercise this same attitude whenever we find ourselves in leadership, whether that be as leader of a family, a group, a parish, a city, a nation. The ultimate leader - Jesus - modeled this for us and showed us that it would not be easy. For him, the path to glory involved the cross, because his passion was for justice. He prevailed to rise in glory, but not in the eyes of those who didn’t get it.
Pope Francis also sets a great example for us. In words and actions, he eschewed anything that seemed vain or ambitious. In one homily he mentioned attitudes that we must avoid when we follow God or in search for Him, attitudes like vanity and ambition. He said, “Vanity is not good, vanity causes us to slip on our pride and everything ends there. So I ask myself the question: and me? How do I follow Jesus? When I do good, do I do it under the public eye, or do I do it in private?”
The really great people, and those who are most fondly remembered, are not those who sought to further themselves and their own interests, but rather those who devoted themselves to furthering the interests of the community. Service implies that you are not there for yourself. In order to serve, one has to be very self-effacing. Do we have the servant’s heart? Do we serve with purity of intention, gentleness, peace, and mercy? If there are any inconstancy or insincerity, let us ask Our Lord to make us lowly servants who are not afraid to get our shoes dirty.
-Fr Paul Yi