Last Sunday's Gospel shows us the apostles James and John, who placed before Jesus their ambition to occupy his highest places of honor: to be the chief courtiers who would dispense the patronage. They were uncomfortably close to the mindset of today's corporate structure, in which climbers have no regard for others, selfishly proclaim themselves and want to disregard merit to push themselves to the top. Their timing was also poor as it came directly after Jesus' third and most detailed forecast of his death. They declared themselves ready to risk death with Jesus provided he guaranteed them the highest positions in a kingdom which they envisioned as being powerful even after his death. Jesus told them they did not know what they were asking. He asked them if they could drink the same cup of heartache from which he would drink, and suffer the great pain he would suffer. They only understood the grand palace and great court that they associated with the Messiah idea, which was in their head and they brashly said they could endure all the suffering. Later on in life they carried out their promise by their painful martyrdom, but they were wiser disciples. The other ten disciples overhearing the conversation were indignant with James and John, not out of disappointment, but because they also had ambitions. The disciples were shrewd street-wise people. They include weather-beaten fishermen, a canny tax collector, and another always in search of a silver coin or two. More than just having their sins forgiven, they were disciples of Jesus.
So Jesus now proceeded to give them a lesson on ambition. People who believe in a 'worldly god' have their own criteria for success: How many people do you control? How big a budget do you have? How many people can you order about? For Jesus the criteria are different. For him whoever wishes to be great among us will be the servant. Success is gauged not by how much you get out of life but how much you put into it. To aspire to greatness is to aspire to lowliness. Since the church, the Christian community is a visible society we must have people who exercise authority, but even they must not imitate the pagans. Jesus' mandate of service is good advice for happiness, and the use of common sense for contented people.
Unfortunately we also have to contend with human weakness and sin. Unfortunately the culture which permeates our society also influences many in the Church. While many people have a genuine desire to serve, some people wish to be important in a parish or diocese in the same way that others are important in a corporation. This applies to all levels of society both clerical and lay. You have people who can be on an ego trip of control rather than having a yearning to be of service. This can apply to a bishop or priest or chairperson/president of say, a parish society, or committee. You all know the dangers of cliques developing. The source of Jesus' greatness was that he suffered; only then was he raised up. He had said three times that he must suffer and die; now he would soon give his life to save the many. This same message is repeated in today's first reading from Isaiah. It speaks of God's will that the Suffering Servant give his life as an offering for sin. The Church proclaims the Suffering Servant, which prefigures Jesus, in each year's Good Friday liturgy.
The Second Reading from the Letter to the Hebrews also gives a detailed account of the Suffering Servant: Jesus in the reality of his manhood and the majesty of his Godhood. Jesus was like us in all things but sin. Hence he knows our weaknesses. This should make it easier for us to approach him in a spirit of humble service, conscious of our weak human nature.
I would like to tell you a little about Pope Benedict XV's declaration of a "Year of Faith" beginning on 11 October 2012 and concluding on 24 November 2013, the Solemnity of our Lord Jesus Christ, Universal King. The beginning of the year of Faith coincides with the fiftieth anniversary of the Second Vatican Council, called by Blessed Pope John XXIII (11 October 1962). The opening words of the Dogmatic Constitution "Lumen Gentium' remain of primary importance: "Christ is the Light of nations. Because this Sacred Synod gathered together in the Holy Spirit eagerly desires, by proclaiming the Gospel to every creature, (Mark 16:15) to bring the light of Christ to all men, a light brightly visible on the countenance of the Church". Bishops from around the world will gather at the Vatican from October 7-28, 2012 to reflect on the theme for the Synod of Bishops: "The New Evangelization for the Transmission of the Christian Faith". We are all called to continue our education and a deeper understanding of what it means to be baptized, confirmed and active members of the Body of Christ in bringing the Good News to all peoples.
Why is there such a focus on "Faith"? What could be more important than our faith? It is the foundation of who we are as Christians and is a gift from God. However we live in a very secular world, which leads to movements which draw us away from God. So we need to strengthen our faith and renew our personal relationship with god and recommit ourselves to the Church. We profess our faith when we recite the Creed. I myself recommend that each of us learn the Apostles Creed by heart. That is why, when I celebrate mass I usually lead the congregation in the Apostles Creed. In the old days everyone knew it by rote, but since Vatican 11 we have usually learnt the Nicene Creed, which is a little longer and more difficult to remember. In the New roman Missal we can use either version of the Creed at Holy Mass.
So how can Christians celebrate the Year of Faith in a fitting way? Here are some recommendations:-
1, Memorize the Creed.
2. Take time for daily prayer. Opening our hearts to God in prayer paves the way for deeper faith and conversion and a more compassionate heart.
3. Worship and take part wholeheartedly at mass, and participate in the prayers and hymns. Use the missalettes provided.
4. Study the teachings of the Church. Our faith magnifies as we respond to the Word of god. We can study the gospels as well as the Vatican 11 documents and the Catechism of the Catholic Church. I am sure that various seminars will be held at parish and diocesan level. Please try to attend some of these.
5. Serve the poor and marginalized of society, by caring for our neighbors in need. Perhaps there are ways that you can serve people in need.