th29 Sunday of OT 19 Oct 03
Fr. Matthew Habiger, O.S.B.
Is 53: 10-11 Ps 32 Heb 4: 14-16 Mk 10: 35-45
We smile at James and John‟s request to Jesus for instant recognition
and greatness. We note that the other apostles were indignant with them once they learned of their plans. But who among us does not aspire to be someone who is great? That is admirable and commendable. That is why we have heroes and the saints. But what is true greatness?
Our Lord is the best example of true greatness. He is God, the Creator of the entire universe, the center of all history and of the human race. He is the Redeemer of all mankind. But what shape, or appearance, did His greatness take when He came among us as one of us? He instructs us “Don‟t imitate the leaders of nations or the powerful. On the contrary, he who wishes to be great among you, let him be your servant, and he who wishes to be first, let him be the slave of everyone; just as the Son of man, who did not
come to be served, but to serve and to give his life for the redemption of all.”
True greatness, then, means serving others. What kind of service?
Like our Lord, a service which attends to what is truly good for others, for their best interests, even when they do not know what is good for them. Part of true greatness is to understand what is truly good for us, what is our human nature, what is God‟s plan for human life, human love, marriage and
family. God does have a plan for us. His plan is that we live our lives on this planet by exercising our freedom well in the pursuit of all the human goods which fulfill us as persons, made in the image and likeness of God. His plan is that each of us makes his or her contribution to building up the Kingdom of God. And to help us discover that plan, God sent us his own Son to give us an example.
We note that Jesus was regarded by his contemporaries as a teacher,
indeed a prophet! He knew the mind of the Father, and part of His mission was to teach us the truth about ourselves, about the world, and about our final destiny with God. Jesus was the greatest of the prophets. He is the great teacher. But Jesus always appealed to our freedom, to our free response to
God‟s love for us, to our understanding of the truth of God‟s plan for us. He would not force us to accept the truth, or to do the good. He could only guide us in the direction of the true, to the path which leads to eternal life.
Jesus also demonstrates his greatness by the service he performed as a
“suffering servant” for us. “He came not to be served, but to serve and to
lay down his live for the redemption of everyone.” The first reading today is taken from Isaiah 53, one of the great suffering servant hymns. “Yet it was
the will of the Lord to bruise him; he has put him to grief, when he makes himself an offering for sin.” Jesus is God, and the manner by which he taught us true greatness was to accept the full burden of our sins, by absorbing our hatred, hostility and rejection, by being crucified. Jesus poured Himself out completely for us, so that we might have an example of serving the best interests of our brothers and sisters.
In this world there will always be conflicts. There will always be a
contest between the forces of goodness and the forces of evil, between light and darkness, between a culture of life and a culture of death. Following in the steps of our Lord today, in the path of authentic greatness, means to do the work of the Lord for our times.
One of the characteristics of our times is moral relativism. Sometimes
this is called religious indifferentism. This means that there are no stable, reliable, moral guidelines. It implies that we cannot know the mind of God for His moral order. There are no human choices and deeds that are universally wrong, everywhere, always and for everyone. Joseph Fletcher was an advocate for situation ethics, which claims that there are no moral absolutes; just unique situations which call for their unique appraisals. This is moral relativism. For Fletcher, the best response to any situation was “to
do the loving thing.” But what does this mean? For Fletcher it meant
accepting, when necessary, abortion, euthanasia, cohabitation, and homosexual marriages. It meant doing whatever you thought was the loving thing to do in this situation.
Our Lord proposes to us a very different standard. “If you love me, then you will keep my commandments.” He would say to us “Do the right
thing, and do it out of love for God and neighbor.” If we follow God‟s plan
for human life, and human love, marriage and family, then we will demonstrate our love for others by pursuing what is truly good for them.
This is what parents do for their children, what teachers do for their students, what pastors do for their people.
Let me give you a few examples of moral relativism today. In the recent issue of COLUMBIA magazine (Oct 03, pp. 3-4), Russell Shaw has an article on the Lawrence ruling last June against the anti-sodomy statues of Texas and a dozen other states. “The strangest aspect of the U.S. Supreme Court‟s decision approving sodomy,” Shaw writes, “was the claim that morality isn‟t a sufficient basis for criminalizing behavior a community disapproves of…. But law invariably has its roots in a moral tradition of some kind –Judeo-Christian, in the case of America. To imply otherwise shows an ignorance of history, to say nothing of morality and law. „If we make a survey of human history and culture,‟ the great historian Christopher
Dawson once remarked, „we see clearly that every society has possessed a moral code.‟ And this moral code has been the bedrock foundation of the society‟s system of law.”
Another example of moral relativism is the widespread rejection of the prohibition against contraception and sterilization. The prevailing attitude is “You make up your own mind as to its rightness or wrongness. You decide what is right for you. Follow your own conscience.”
After forty years of massive contraception and sterilization, we are now beginning to see the fall out effects. One of these effects is the connection between contraception and legalized abortion. There is no more powerful statement confirming this connection that the following excerpt from the Supreme Court‟s Planned Parenthood v Casey decision on 29 June 1992:
… for two decades (since Roe v Wade) of economic and social
developments, people have organized intimate relationships and
made choices that define their views of themselves and their places, in society, in reliance on the availability of abortion in the event that contraception should fail.
What a tragedy today that many Catholics follow moral relativism, instead of the clear teaching of their Church, on contraception and sterilization. Veritatis Splendor, #51-2, clearly addresses the flawed reasoning of situation ethics.
If authentic greatness means serving the needs of others, then every baptized person is called to bring the values of the Gospel to bear upon the
culture in which they live. The laity is 99.9% of the Church. In the Decree on the Apostolate of Lay People (Apostolicam actuositatem #1), the Church
wants to intensify the apostolic activity of God‟s people. The laity has a special and indispensable role in the Church‟s mission. The lay apostolate is
something that derives from the lay person‟s very vocation as a Christian. Contemporary developments have immensely enlarged the field of the lay apostolate, a field that is in great part open to the laity alone.
In the Vatican document on Missionary Activity #21, the Church
teaches that “the gospel cannot become deeply rooted in the mentality, life and work of a people without the active presence of lay people. Therefore, from the foundation of a Church very special care must be taken to form a mature Christian laity.”
In the Vatican document on the Church, Lumen Gentium #36, the
Church teaches: “Moreover, let the laity band together to remedy those
secular institutions and conditions which are an inducement to sin, so that
they may be brought into line with the rules of justice, favoring rather than hindering the practice of virtue. By so doing they will imbue culture and human works with a moral value. In this way the field of the world is better prepared for the seed of the divine word, and the doors of the church are opened more widely to allow the message of peace to enter the world.”
Jesus asked James and John: “Can you suffer the trial that I am going to suffer, and receive the baptism in which I will be baptized? They replied: We can!” Historically, we know that these brothers gave a heroic witness by their lives to Jesus and the faith. They followed the Lord, in the path he set forth for all who want authentic greatness. With Christ as our example, may we strive to become great in the eyes of God.
PRAYER OF THE FAITHFUL
; In thanksgiving for 25 years of outstanding service to the
universal Church by Pope John Paul II, we pray to the
; That we may know, and apply, his Gospel of Life, and his
Theology of the Body, …
; For the 40 million Americans who are not with us today
because they were victims of the Supreme Court ruling Roe v
Wade in 1973 …
; For the 400,000 “abandoned children” in the form of frozen
embryos, located in frozen canisters throughout our
; For those considering sterilization, or abortion, that they may
have a change of heart …
; In thanksgiving for the 24 years of service that Archbishop
Strecker gave to this archdiocese …
; In thanksgiving for the life and legacy of Mother Theresa of