Homilies

The Path from Self-Centered Jerk to Other-Focused Servant Saint – Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

Just Because You Think You Are Amazing, Does Not Mean You Actually Are

This past week was one of the more humiliating weeks in New York Yankee history … and as a Blue Jay fan, I love it! They were swept out of the playoffs by the Detroit Tigers with their highest paid player, Alex Rodriguez, the 275 million dollar man, in one of the worst slumps of his career. During these playoffs his coached benched him for 3 games and brought in a pinch hitter to replace him another three times.

Last week on sports radio there was a discussion about why so many New Yorkers have such little affection for a man who should be their superstar. One caller had this to say, “The thing about A-Rod is that in his own mind, he thinks he’s pretty amazing. He probably thinks he’s the nicest person in the world, a fan favourite, and a fantastic ball player. In the mind of everyone else in New York, he’s selfish, conceited, arrogant, and we just really don’t like him.”

I’m not here today to comment on the character of A-Rod as put forth by a frustrated fan after his team was just eliminated from the playoffs, but I would like to use what happened here to illustrate an important point, that how we perceive ourselves is not always how we really are.

JAMES AND JOHNPRIDE ARE REBUKED BY JESUS: GREATNESS IS IN SERVICE!

In the Gospel today, something similar happens. The Apostles James and John come to Jesus and ask for something incredible. They envision Jesus establishing an earthly kingdom and they ask to be his right and left hand men. They think that by reserving high places in Jesus’ new Kingdom they will guarantee for themselves success, wealth, and power.

But the Lord will have none of it. He swiftly corrects James and John in front of the others, “… 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 SHOWS US WHAT IT MEANS TO BE HUMAN, HOW TO BE MOST HAPPY

The Second Vatican Council records this in the document Gaudium et Spes, “Christ … fully reveals man to man himself and makes his supreme calling clear.” The idea is that Jesus shows us what it’s like to be human. By the way that he lived, the things that he taught, and by simply who he was, we see what man at his best looks like. And so, we should listen carefully when Jesus says that it is better to serve than to be served, and that deep lasting human happiness comes from reaching out to others and giving of oneself for the sake of another.

ST. THERESE DISCOVERS THE DEEPER JOY THAT COMES FROM SERVICE

Yesterday, I went with some of the women of our parish to Mount Carmel Retreat Centre in Niagara Falls. The priest-director shared with us an interesting story about the life of St. Therese:

As a young sister in the convent there was one older nun who she did not get along with. She herself writes, “There is one sister in the community who has a knack of rubbing me the wrong way at every turn; her manner, her speech, her character just strike me as unlovable.” During silent prayers in the Chapel, this elderly nun would often play with the dentures in her mouth making the most annoying clacking and grinding sounds. This drove Therese nuts.

But at a certain point, something changed inside of the young Carmelite. Her self-absorption broke. She discovered that the world did not revolve around her and how she thought things should be. Therese began to live out Jesus’ teaching, “to serve and not be served,” and in doing this she found new peace and happiness.

Therese made it her mission to love this Sister the most. Whenever she they crossed paths she would always smile at her and find ways to give her complements. She would look for little things to make her laugh and to help her in her daily tasks. Therese was so successful, that this enemy-sister actually developed a fondness for her and thought of her as one of her best and closest friends. What Therese did was not deceptive nor was it misleading, it was love in it’s purest form, to love someone when you get nothing in return.

In some ways, our default position is to look out for number one and focus on ourselves and our own satisfaction. But this is a dangerous road which could lead to being that, “selfish, conceited, arrogant person that other people just don’t like to be around.” And the scary thing is that we could be so caught up in ourselves that we don’t even realize that it has already happened!

TIPS FOR NOT BEING SO SELF-CENTERED

To overcome this I would like to leave you with a few practical tips:

  1. Consider this question: How do I treat my enemies? Our reaction to them really says just as much about us as it does about them. Learn to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”
  2. To serve and not be served. It’s nice to be waited upon hand and foot. But what Jesus shows us is that deeper lasting happiness comes from helping others.
  3. Listen. The best way to break out of our own world is to enter into someone else’s. Try to develop good listening skills.
  4. Do some things you don’t like. When we only do what we enjoy, it can quickly become all about us. The test for unselfishness is how easy is it for me to do something I don’t like.

Jesus teaches us, “… 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.”

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2 thoughts on “The Path from Self-Centered Jerk to Other-Focused Servant Saint – Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time

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