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Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year A)
At that time, Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon. And behold, a Canaanite woman of that district came and called out, “Have pity on me, Lord, Son of David! My daughter is tormented by a demon.” Matthew 15:21–22
After Jesus was harshly challenged by the Pharisees, He and His disciples took a 35-mile journey to the northwest to a region that was in pagan territory and outside of the jurisdiction of Herod and the Jewish leaders. It might have been a time of repose for Him and His disciples and an opportunity for Jesus to form the disciples more directly. It was during this retreat that a pagan woman came to ask Jesus for help.
As the story unfolds, we see that her prayer is a model for us all. First, she acknowledges Who Jesus is—the Son of David. This is a manifestation of her faith and a clear contrast to the lack of faith Jesus had experienced with many of the people in Galilee. Second, her request is expressed in straightforward and simple language, “Have pity on me!” And, “Lord, help me.” Third, her prayer is persistent. Jesus allows her to manifest her persistence by first being silent to her request and then telling her “It is not right to take the food of the children and throw it to the dogs.” Jesus obviously does not say this to be rude, but to invite her to manifest her faith in a persistent way. And that she does. Finally, her prayer is one of deep humility. She responds, “Please, Lord, for even the dogs eat the scraps that fall from the table of their masters.” She was begging for the “scraps” of Jesus’ mercy, and she received His mercy in abundance.
Do you desire the scraps of Jesus’ mercy in the way a dog desires the scraps from the table of its owner? Hopefully you do. This is the disposition that we must all have in prayer. Sometimes, out of pride, we can think that we have a right to God’s mercy. We can think that God owes us. And though we might realize that mercy is not deserved, we must allow that truth to sink in deeply. That is why this story is so important. It presents us with the ideal way to pray and the humble interior disposition we must have when approaching God.
Prayerfully sit with the image of a dog begging for scraps from the table. When a dog is given what is left over, it is thrilled. To us, eating the scraps from another’s plate is undesirable. But if the “plate” belongs to the Savior of the World and the “food” is His grace and mercy, then that changes everything. In the end, the Master also invites us to the table and feeds us with the finest of spiritual food. But that doesn’t change the fact that we must always have the humble disposition exemplified by this humble woman.
Reflect, today, upon this holy woman. In the end, Jesus cried out, “O woman, great is your faith!” But that did not come until she wholeheartedly expressed her faith with humility and persistence. With her as a shining example, reflect upon how you pray to God. Do you pray with self-righteousness, as if you deserve God’s mercy? Do you tend to see God as one Who owes you something? Do you get angry with God when He doesn’t immediately answer your demands? Try to humble yourself like this woman. Beg for whatever God wants to give to you. Do so with perseverance and the utmost trust. If you do, our Lord will not only pour forth the scraps of His mercy, He will also pick you up and invite you to the glorious meal of His abundant grace.
Most merciful Jesus, I beg of You that I be given only the scraps from the table of Your mercy. I beg this of You with all my heart. Though I do not deserve You, I seek You anyway. You know what I need, dear Lord; please bestow upon me Your mercy for those needs. Jesus, I trust in You.
Changed by the Eucharist
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B)
Jesus said to the crowds: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven; whoever eats this bread will live forever; and the bread that I will give is my flesh for the life of the world.” John 6:51
It must have been somewhat shocking to the people who heard Jesus say this for the first time. Immediately after Jesus said this, we read that “The Jews quarreled among themselves, saying, ‘How can this man give us his flesh to eat?’” Jesus addressed their confusion even more directly by saying, “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you.” Those who were confused must have become even more confused, and those who believed must have deepened their faith as they heard Jesus teach so clearly and profoundly.
Of course, Jesus was speaking about the Eucharist. The Eucharist is truly His Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. We know that. We believe it. But from time to time, it is a helpful spiritual practice to revisit our Lord’s very direct and definitive teaching. On the deepest level, the Eucharist will always remain a profound mystery of faith. How can we eat His flesh and drink His blood? To someone without faith and without a basic understanding of the Eucharist, this teaching seems shocking and unbelievable. In fact, it’s easy to understand how some of the first hearers of this teaching quarreled among themselves in confusion. For that reason, we must listen to Jesus’ words with the spiritual gift of understanding so that we are not among those who are confused. Understanding is a gift of the Holy Spirit that opens our minds to the deep spiritual truths Jesus is revealing. If we attempt to listen to this teaching using our human reason alone, we will never understand.
When you consider Jesus’ teaching on the Holy Eucharist, what do you understand and believe? Especially consider what goes through your mind when you attend the Holy Mass and go forward to receive Communion. What normally takes place within you at that moment? Some come forward distracted or even disinterested, paying more attention to the others around them than to the Eucharist. Others simply go forward out of habit because that’s what they have always done. Some see the Eucharist more as a symbol of our sharing in God’s banquet. But some come forward with a deep spiritual hunger and thirst for God, receive Him in faith, love Him deeply as they consume Him, and are filled with hopeful anticipation that their reception of this holy gift will transform them interiorly and set them more firmly on the path to holiness. Which person are you most like?
Believing in the Holy Eucharist and receiving it with the utmost faith and devotion will only happen when we believe. But believing doesn’t come automatically. It first requires understanding. And understanding will only come when we allow our minds to engage the mystery and teaching of Jesus, ponder it, contemplate it, penetrate it and open ourselves to God’s gentle and revealing voice. Words do not suffice to explain this mystery. Prayer that opens oneself to the voice of God alone suffices.
Reflect, today, upon how you approach Holy Communion each week. Start by thinking about the last few times you went forward to receive our Lord in this way. From there, think about how deeply you understand that moment. Is it transforming for you? Are you among those who hunger and thirst for Jesus? Do you notice the spiritual effects that take place within you as a result of your reception of the Eucharist? If so, then deepen your faith by committing yourself to a more prayerful participation in the Mass the next time you attend. If not, then try to step back and examine that which you actually believe, are confused about or do not believe. There is no greater gift we will ever receive in life than the Eucharist. Believe it with all your heart, and the Eucharist will change your life.
My Eucharistic Lord, I do believe; help my unbelief. I thank You for the very gift of Yourself, given to me in the reception of Holy Communion. Please continue to teach me about this Gift, dear Lord. Open my mind to understand so that I will always come forward to receive with the utmost faith, love and hope. Jesus, I trust in You.
Twentieth Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C)
“Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth? No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.” Luke 12:51–53
Jesus introduces this passage by saying, “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing!” The “fire” of which He speaks is His purifying fire of mercy that He poured forth from the Cross as He offered His life for the salvation of the world. His mercy is given to free us from our sins and to cleanse our souls so that God Himself can come to dwell within us. This is why we exist. God wants to dwell within us, and He wants us to be in perfect union with Him.
One of the glorious effects of uniting yourself to God is that this union also brings about a spiritual bond with others who are united to God. We are made for communion with God, but also for communion with each other. God especially invites family members to share in this unity. Though there are many levels of friendship and unity we can have with each other, the deepest bonds come from two souls each being united to God. For example, two people may both like the same sports team or have the same interests, resulting in a bond or form of friendship. This is good. But when each of those friends also is deeply united to God, the unity comes from God and not from something more superficial.
The challenging Gospel passage above reveals to us what happens when one or more members of a household fail to open themselves to the cleansing fire of God’s love and, therefore, fail to live in union with God. The result is disunity, at least on the deepest and truest level. God is not the cause of disunity; sin is. When one person is united to God and another is immersed in a life of sin, true spiritual unity is not possible. Of course the two might still share some common interests and might even superficially get along each day, but there will never be an experience of authentic spiritual friendship and communion if God is absent from one or both hearts.
When Jesus says that He has come to establish division within a household, He is simply pointing out that there will indeed be a division within a household when all are not united to God. Additionally, Jesus is warning us that if someone within our household tries to draw us into a life of sin with them, that person’s invitation must be rejected. And when that happens, that rejection is often experienced as a rejection of the person and results in even greater disunity. The bottom line is that it is not possible to be authentically united in sin or any form of lie.
Reflect, today, upon the deepest spiritual desire you have. If you are honest with yourself, you will discover that this deepest desire in your heart is the desire for love. We are made to give and receive love. First, this desire is fulfilled by opening ourselves to the love of God. When that happens, we will be able to share God’s love with others and receive God’s love from them. Nothing in life could be more fulfilling than this.
Most merciful Lord, You came to unite all people in Your love, but when Your love is rejected we live in disunity. Please come to me and dwell more fully within me so that Your presence in my life will not only bring about a spiritual communion with You, but also with those who share this same love. Jesus, I trust in You.
Monday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this statement, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. Matthew 19:21–22
This is the conclusion to the conversation that Jesus had with a rich young man who came to Him and asked, “Teacher, what good must I do to gain eternal life?” Jesus went on to tell him to keep the commandments. The young man said he has done so from his youth and wanted to know what else he could do. So Jesus answered his question. But the answer was more than the young man could accept.
“If you wish to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Do you want to be perfect? If so, then Jesus has set a high bar for such a goal. It seems that many followers of Christ are okay with simply being okay. In other words, it seems that it is rare to find a person who is wholeheartedly committed to perfection. Many may have good intentions, but it seems that there are few who fully commit themselves to all it takes to truly obtain the perfection to which we are all called.
It’s interesting to note that Jesus’ initial response to this rich young man explained the requirements for entering eternal life, that is, the minimal requirement for obtaining Heaven. Simply put, Jesus said that if you refrain from serious sin by keeping the commandments, then you will inherit eternal life. Of course, that also presumes that you have the gift of faith and are thus open to the gift of salvation. So is that what you are content with? Are you satisfied with doing the minimum it takes to get to Heaven?
The idea of perfection can appear to be beyond us. Too often we can think, “I’m only human.” But as a human who is called by God, we are invited to work toward the obtainable goal of greater holiness. Though we will always fall short, we must strive to become as holy as we can, holding nothing back.
Though the invitation given to this young man to “go, sell what you have and give to the poor” is not a requirement that our Lord places on everyone, He does call some to do this literally. But for everyone else, the invitation still remains—but in a spiritual sense rather than a literal sense. This is the spiritual call to interior poverty of spirit. Everyone of us is called to be interiorly detached from the things of this world in a complete way, even though we retain our possessions. We must have as our single possession the love of God and the service of His will. This depth of spiritual detachment means that God and His holy will is all we desire in life. And if He ever were to call us to literally give everything up, we would do it without hesitation. And though that may seem extreme, it is, in fact, exactly what will benefit us the most. It is the only way to become fully human and fully the person we were meant to be. And the end reward is not only the attainment of Heaven but an incomprehensible amount of glory in Heaven. The holier we become here on earth, the greater will our eternal reward be in Heaven. Do not hesitate to do all you can to build up that treasure that will be with you forever.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling to perfection given to you by God. Ask yourself in a very sincere way whether or not you are simply okay with being okay or if you want so much more. Do you want the greatest riches in Heaven? Do you want your eternity to be one in which the spiritual treasures you build up now are with you forever? Do not hesitate to accept this high calling from Jesus. Allow His invitation to this rich young man to echo within your heart as His personal invitation to you, also. Say “Yes” to Him and know that you will be eternally grateful you did.
My loving Lord, You invited the rich young man to strive for perfection. You also invite me and all Your children to this holy and high calling. Give me the grace I need to detach from all that hinders this goal so that I can make You and Your holy will the central and only goal of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
The Eye of a Needle
Tuesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and said, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” Matthew 19:24–26
According to one tradition, the “eye of the needle” referred to a gate in the wall of Jerusalem. During the day, there was a large gate that was open through which a camel could easily pass. But at night, the larger gate was closed and there was a smaller opening in the center of the gate that allowed people to pass through. A camel, however, could not pass through that smaller opening unless it got down on its knees, had its load removed from its back, and then crawled through. In referencing this story, Saint Anselm states that “the rich should not be able to pass along the narrow way that leads to life, till he had put off the burden of sin, and of riches, that is, by ceasing to love them” (Catena Aurea). So is it possible for a camel to enter through the “eye of the needle” and, therefore, a rich man to enter into Heaven? Yes. But only under the condition of being on their knees, humbling themselves, and ridding themselves of the “baggage” of their riches.
For those who are truly rich in the things of this world, this Gospel passage may be difficult to read and reflect upon. It was spoken in reference to the rich young man who asked Jesus how he can enter into eternal life. Jesus’ answer was “go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.” At that, the rich young man went away sad because he was clearly attached to his wealth.
Jesus’ explanation above, however, should give hope to anyone who struggles with this high expectation. The disciples were truly troubled by what Jesus said, and that is why Jesus followed up by saying, “For men this is impossible, but for God all things are possible.” For God all things are possible! This statement of fact should be carefully pondered and believed by anyone who struggles with being overly attached to material riches. It should also be noted that one can be attached to riches even if they do not have riches. The desire for more is the attachment that needs to be cleansed, not the actual possession of riches. In fact, it is possible to have many possessions and not be attached to them at all. This is the beauty of poverty of spirit. But be careful not to presume that you have perfected this beatitude too quickly. Jesus’ statement above was said out of love for those who are overly attached to the things of this world. So if this is you, be merciful to yourself and pay close attention to Jesus’ words and your own interior struggle with this.
Reflect, today, upon this clear and unambiguous statement of Jesus. “It is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for one who is rich to enter the Kingdom of God.” Do you believe this? Can you accept this? Is Jesus speaking to you through this passage? Again, even if you are materially poor, is your desire for riches strong? If so, this passage equally applies to you. Allow this passage to sit within your heart in a prayerful way and try to be as honest as you can with yourself as you read it. Do not hesitate to choose the true riches of Heaven over the passing things of this world. In the end, the value of spiritual wealth infinitely outweighs anything you possess for your short time here on earth.
Lord of true riches, You desire that each of us be filled with spiritual wealth that is infinitely greater than anything we could obtain in this world. Please free me from my attachment to material wealth so that I can live free from that burden. Help me to see the value of the treasures of Your grace and mercy and to make this true wealth the single focus of my life. Jesus, I trust in You.
Wednesday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
Going out about five o’clock, he found others standing around, and said to them, “Why do you stand here idle all day?” They answered, “Because no one has hired us.” He said to them, “You too go into my vineyard.” Matthew 20:6–7
These are very generous words spoken by the landowner. As the parable explains, this landowner hired workers for his vineyard early in the morning, and then again at nine o’clock, noon, three o’clock and finally at five o’clock. But at the end of the day, he paid them all the same daily wage as if they had all been working since early morning. The ones hired first were upset thinking it was unfair that those who worked just an hour were paid the same wage as they were. But the landowner concludes, “What if I wish to give this last one the same as you? Or am I not free to do as I wish with my own money? Are you envious because I am generous?” God, in His mercy, is generous beyond comprehension. But we, as fallen humans, are constantly examining whether we are getting our fair share and comparing ourselves to others. We tend to want more and more and easily become envious when we see others succeed or receive blessings that we do not have. For example, if someone is more popular than us on social media, or drives a nicer car, or has a bigger home, or goes on an expensive vacation, we often tend to notice with a sort of sorrow that we do not have what they do. And that is envy.
The cure for envy is wholehearted generosity. Not just generosity with our money but generosity with our affections and our ability to rejoice in the blessings that others receive. For example, if someone were to tell you that they were going on a nice vacation next month to a place you always wanted to go, how would you react? You might jokingly say, “Wow, I’m jealous!” Jealousy can quickly turn into envy, which is a form of sorrow over the blessings another has that you do not. And that sorrow over the blessings of another can subsequently turn to anger.
These workers in the vineyard who worked all day and received the same amount as those who worked only one hour could have responded by congratulating the later workers and could have even jokingly said, “Lucky you, I wish I would have shown up at five o’clock!” But instead, they grumbled and tried to interfere with the generosity of the landowner saying, “These last ones worked only one hour, and you have made them equal to us, who bore the day’s burden and the heat.” Again, this is envy, in that their sorrow over the generosity of the landowner led them to try to interfere with the blessing the others received.
Whenever you notice this form of unholy sorrow within you, take notice. It means that you lack a selfless generosity toward others. And if you see God blessing another in spiritual riches, try to generously rejoice in that. Offer praise and thanks to God for His goodness. Don’t dwell on yourself and dismiss every temptation to compare. In many ways, everyone of us is represented by those who worked only one hour and received the full daily wage. This is because we could never earn the grace of salvation. The one and only reason we are able to receive the gift of eternal salvation and every other grace given to us by God is because God is infinitely generous. Therefore, the goodness and generosity of God must be our constant focus, and we must rejoice in that generosity when it is given to us and when it is also given to others.
Reflect, today, upon any tendency you have toward envy. Think about the blessings that others have been given that you have not. Sincerely look at your interior reaction to that and pray that God will grant you the gift of being able to be generous in your rejoicing in those blessings. Every blessing given by God must be the cause of our joy, no matter if those blessings are bestowed upon us or upon others.
My most generous Lord, You bestow Your blessings upon all in superabundance. When I witness the ways that others are blessed by You, help me to foster a sincere gratitude for all that they have received. Help me truly rejoice in the many ways You bless all Your people. Free me from envy, dear Lord, so that I am not burdened down by that ugly sin. Jesus, I trust in You.
An Invitation From the Father
Thursday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“The Kingdom of heaven may be likened to a king who gave a wedding feast for his son. He dispatched his servants to summon the invited guests to the feast, but they refused to come.” Matthew 22:2–3
The king in this parable is God the Father, and the wedding is the marriage between Christ and the Church. The Father invites each one of us to be a member of the Church and to enter into divine union with His Son Jesus, thus entering into the life of the Holy Trinity. But we see right away in the parable that the invited guests “refused to come.” As the parable goes on, the king tried even harder to invite the guests, but they all responded in one of two ways. “Some ignored the invitation and went away…” and “The rest laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Clearly, this was not the response hoped for by the generous king.
We see in these two responses two levels of rejection of the Gospel that are present in our world today, just as it was at the time of Jesus. The first level of rejection is indifference. Many people are very busy today. We easily become occupied with many things that matter little in the end. Many are consumed by their smartphones, computers and tablets. Many spend countless hours watching television. Others become workaholics, spending most of their time at their occupation and leaving little time for that which is most important, such as family, prayer and service. As a result, it is very easy to become indifferent to the matters of faith and easy to fail to pray every day so as to seek out and fulfill God’s will. This indifference is quite serious.
There is also a rejection of the faith in our world through a growing hostility toward the Church and morality. There are many ways in which the secular world continues to promote a culture that is contrary to the Gospel. And when Christians speak out and oppose these new cultural tendencies, they are condemned and often characterized as being prejudiced or judgmental. Such malice was displayed by the guests in this parable who “laid hold of his servants, mistreated them, and killed them.” Hostility toward the Church, the faith and clear moral principles laid down by God appears to be growing every year. This form of rejection of the Gospel is even more damaging than the simple indifference mentioned above. In this parable for today, Jesus says that in response to those who were indifferent and hostile, the king “sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city.”
This parable should not be read in such a way that we look at others and condemn them as if we were the king and had the right to do so. We do not have that right. Only God does. Instead, this parable should be read from the perspective of your own life. Hopefully you are not one of those who are hostile to the Gospel. But perhaps you and many other Christians struggle with the first form of rejection: indifference. We can easily become indifferent in many various ways and on many different levels. The opposite of being indifferent is to care and to care deeply about going to the wedding feast when invited.
Reflect, today, upon the Wedding Feast to which you are invited. You are invited to enter into the glorious celebration of becoming one with the Savior of the World. You are invited to surrender your life to Him without reserve. You are invited to holiness, moral integrity, unwavering fidelity to God, service of others, charity that knows no bounds and so much more. To enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb is something that must take place every day and every moment of your day for the rest of your life. God is inviting you. Will you say “Yes” with every fiber of your being?
My inviting Lord, You desire that all people fully accept the invitation You have given to become one with You through spiritual marriage. You call us to the glorious Wedding Feast and eternal rejoicing. May I never be indifferent to Your invitation and always make my response with all my heart. I love You, dear Lord. Help me to love You all the more. Jesus, I trust in You.
Loving in Difficult Situations
Friday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:37–39
We are very familiar with this passage above. It is Jesus’ answer to the Pharisees who came to test Jesus. Prior to this, a group of Sadducees tried to trap Jesus and failed. So now it was the Pharisees who gave it their best shot to trap our Lord. Of course, Jesus’ answer was perfect. And upon the conclusion of this answer, Jesus returned the favor by asking the Pharisees some questions that they could not answer, and they dared not ask Him any further questions at that time.
Sometimes, being challenged by another in matters of faith helps us, in that it allows us to clarify what we actually believe. Though Jesus did not need clarity for His own sake, He did offer this clarity in the face of trickery so as to help both the Pharisees as well as His followers who were listening attentively.
Have you ever been challenged by another about matters of faith? If so, what was your response? Were you able to respond by the inspiration and clarity given by the Holy Spirit? Or did you walk away confused and unable to respond? Having our faith challenged by another will either result in our own confusion or in our deeper understanding.
By answering this question in the way that Jesus did, He presented the entire Law given by Moses in the Ten Commandments in a new and summarized way. The first three of the Ten Commandments have to do with love of God, and the last seven have to do with love of neighbor. The second commandment Jesus gives, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a consequence of the first commandment. How do you “love yourself?” You do so by fulfilling the first commandment Jesus gave: “love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” When God is loved above all, then loving your neighbor simply means that you love God Who dwells within your neighbor in accord with the way God loves them.
It is also helpful to note that it is possible to “love” our neighbor in such a way that is contrary to the love of God. For example, if our love of neighbor is expressed in such a way that is contrary to the Love of God, then this is not true love. Let’s say that your neighbor has chosen a gravely immoral lifestyle. How do you love them with the love of God? You don’t say to them “I support you in your immoral living.” Doing so is not love of God; it’s a selfish form of love that cares more about how the person will respond back to you than caring for their eternal soul. The right form of love for one who has gone astray in an objectively immoral way is to let them know you love them but do not support the choices they are making. And though they may respond negatively to this, caring for their eternal salvation must supersede every desire to simply get along with them.
Love of neighbor, at times, especially when the “neighbor” is a family member who has turned from God, can be challenging. But when it is, think about the way that the Sadducees and Pharisees tried to constantly trap Jesus. He always gave the perfect response of love and never allowed their misguided conversation to leave confusion. So with us, we must rely upon the wisdom and love of God when loving another is difficult. God must guide our every conversation in that case so that the other knows they are loved and so that our love does not deviate from the pure love of God.
Reflect, today, upon the high calling you have been given to love God above all and to love your neighbor with that same love that you have for God. If you find loving someone is difficult, pray for the wisdom you need to remain faithful to them in God’s love alone. And if you find your love challenged, rely upon our Lord to lead you and to give you the words you need when you need them the most.
My loving Lord, You love all people with a perfect love, and You call us all to love You with our whole heart, soul and mind. And You call us to love others with the love You have for them. Fill my heart with love of You and all people, especially those who are most difficult to love. Give me wisdom, dear Lord, to know how to love others in You so that they will experience Your perfect love in their lives. Jesus, I trust in You!
Humility…the Path to Greatness
Saturday of the Twentieth Week in Ordinary Time
“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” Matthew 23:11–12
If you were to plan out the ideal future for yourself, what would it look like? Imagine if you were not constrained by budget or resources. Imagine if you could pick to do anything you wanted, to go anywhere you wanted, and enjoy any activity that you wanted. Imagine the greatest experience you could possibly have. What would that be? Most people would immediately think about indulging in the greatest pleasures imaginable. A life of the most luxurious accommodations, the best food, the most beautiful scenery and the most relaxing and enjoyable time possible. But would that truly be the “ideal future for yourself?”
The Gospel passage above is very clear. Greatness is found in servanthood. Exaltation is enjoyed only through humility. Is the ideal lifestyle one that is filled with indulgence, entertainment, luxury, and the like? Certainly not. The ideal life, the greatest life, the most exalted life is the life of the most humble service of others as possible. That’s essentially what Jesus tells us in this passage. Do you believe that?
Note that Jesus uses the words “greatest” and “must” in the same sentence. These two words are both quite definitive. There is no one greater than the “greatest,” and the path to that greatness requires, without exception, that the greatest be a servant of everyone else. In many ways, this truth defies most human conceptions of greatness. Most often, if someone is considered “great,” then they are served and treated with an honor and respect not given to most. For example, if you had someone of great importance over to your home for dinner, you would most likely wait on them. Of course, service in this context is much more than waiting on tables or providing a meal. Though that is a blessed way to serve others and to express love, Jesus’ concept of service goes far beyond this. How do we serve as one who is truly great? We do so especially by humbling ourselves. Humility is the greatest form of service we can render another.
Jesus was, without question, the humblest person to ever live. Only His mother shared perfectly in this holy virtue. Humility enables a person to break out of every selfish tendency and turn their love to the good of the other. Jesus did this first by becoming Incarnate in the womb of His dear mother. The Eternal Son of God did not become man because it somehow benefited Him in a self-centered way. He did it because He loved us and His Incarnation benefited us. The Son of God did not allow others to mock Him, ridicule Him and ultimately murder Him because it somehow benefitted Him. He did it so that He could enter death and destroy it so that we could rise with Him. He did it for us. And we could go through every passage of the Gospels and see that everything Jesus did was done for others and never done out of a selfish desire. This self-giving service our Lord offered every day was a fruit of the incredible humility that He lived. Jesus did everything He did out of His love for others and with humility so as to bring salvation and transformation to their eternal souls.
In our lives, we need to make a fundamental choice. Am I going to live for myself? Or am I going to live for others? It seems as though very few people live fully for others. It is difficult to take our eyes off ourselves and turn them only to the good of others. But if we realize that living for others is also the path to our own greatness and ultimate exaltation, then it becomes much easier. Serving others, especially in a spiritual way by which you do all you can to help them grow closer to God, is what will make you great. Nothing else can do so. Believe that and live it.
Reflect, today, upon a life of true greatness. Reflect, especially, upon how you can live such a life. How can you more completely serve others? How can you make their holiness your primary goal? How can you help others grow in their love of God? Humble yourself and turn your eyes from yourself to others. Doing so will make an eternal difference for others and also for yourself.
My exalted Lord, You are exalted far above all others. You are Greatness Itself. The life You lived, dear Lord, was one of the greatest humility. But it was in this humility that You accomplished the salvation of the world. Help me to imitate Your greatness by making the service of others my most central mission in life. I love you, my Lord. May I love and serve others with You. Jesus, I trust in You.
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