Jesus’ Path To Become First and the Greatest, Seventh Tuesday (II), May 17, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Church of the Holy Family, Manhattan
Tuesday of the Seventh Week in Ordinary Time, Year II
Votive Mass of the Holy Spirit
May 17, 2016
James 4:1-10, Ps 55, Mk 9:30-37


To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 


To listen to an audio recording of of a longer version of today’s homily, given at the Visitation Convent of the Sisters of Life, please click below: 


The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • As we continue an official Octave of Pentecost with Votive Masses to the Holy Spirit, today in the Opening Prayer we asked God the Father to send the Holy Spirit to “cleanse the thoughts of our hearts.” In today’s readings, we see on graphic display some of the ways we need the thoughts of our hearts purified.
  • In the Gospel, we encounter one of the saddest scenes in Sacred Scripture.  Jesus describes to the apostles that he will be betrayed, tortured and murdered and the apostles, rather than consoling him, started arguing about which one of them would be the greatest. It always seemed to be this way when Jesus spoke about his upcoming crucifixion. When he said it for the first time, St. Peter took him aside and rebuked him. When he said it the third time (today was the second), James’ and John’s mother approached asking for him to appoint her two sons to the chief positions in his Messianic reign. If there were ever any greater illustration of the evil of “selfish ambition” that St. James spoke about yesterday, this is it. We’ve heard these passages so often that the ugliness of the apostles’ selfish jockeying for position can be lost on us, but imagine if your father came to you and told you that the doctor had just given him two weeks to live and, instead of consoling him, instead of even caring about him, you immediately shifted your attention and asked him to help you get a promotion at work. That’s what was happening in these scenes.
  • Jesus, however, didn’t want to suppress their ambition. He had, after all, chosen men with the capacity for ambition, who were seeking to be great. What he wanted to do, however, was to cleanse their desires, to change their “selfish ambition” into a holy one and chart out for them the path to true greatness. That’s why rather than rebuking them, he said, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” The path to greatness in his kingdom is heroic humility and ambitious, self-less charity. To illustrate his point, he embraced a child and said that whoever receives such a child in his name, receives him and in receiving Him receives God the Father. The reason he chose an infant is because a child can’t and basically will never pay us back. A child will seldom if ever thank us. To receive a child, to change a child’s dirty diapers, to feed a child, to care for a sick child all night, to work hard to support a child — all of this is a training in humility and charity. The family, for that reason, is meant to be a school of love, and the more children received in God’s name, the more challenging that school. That school of humble love can be even greater when the children received are not one’s own biological children but adopted or foster children. But Jesus points out that this path of spiritual and material fatherhood and motherhood is a real path to greatness, to becoming the least and servant of all. Do we have the type of holy ambition to which Jesus calls us all as his disciples? Do we seek to model our lives after him who came not to be served but to serve and give his life in an unrequited ransom for the many?
  • Most often, our honest answer to that question is “no.” We may have an ambition to be a saint but we struggle to will the means Jesus gives us. In fact, even if we have those holy ambitions, many times they’re overwhelmed by our worldly ambitions. That’s why it’s important for us to ponder what St. James tells us in the first reading today, because he not only bluntly speaks to us about our impure desires but shows us the path of reform.
  • St. James says that our selfish ambitions and bitter envies, the wars and conflicts that exist, all come from our heart, from our “passions” from what we desire. It begins by coveting the goods of others. Because we don’t have what our heart desires, we begin to envy and even to kill, first with our tongue and then often with our hands. In most cases, we still don’t ever obtain what we’re looking for, but even if we do obtain it, it can never deliver on the joy we’re looking for. Just ask multimillionaires, many of whom are never satisfied and seek only to become richer. Just ask SuperBowl Champions: one is not enough, but there’s a hunger for the next one. St. James says that our passions can even corrupt our prayer: we don’t possess what we desire because we don’t “ask” for it.God cares for us more than the lilies and the sparrows and will provide all we really need, but we don’t ask, because often we know that we couldn’t ask him for those things in Jesus’ name because Jesus himself would not ask for many of the things we desire. Even when we do pray, he says, we don’t receive, “because [we] ask wrongly, to spend it on our passions.” We ask for things not so that God’s name will be hallowed, his kingdom come, and his will be done, but to advance our name, our kingdom, our will and our ego.
  • We always seek things under some aspect of the good, but what happens is that aspect of the good can become absolute, it can become a god that leads us to cheat on the one true God and even to treat him as if he’s dead. That’s why St. James calls the early Christians to whom he was writing who engage in these types of selfish passions, “Adulterers.” They should be faithfully loving God with all their mind, heart, soul and strength, but instead they’re giving their hearts and their adoration to created idols, whether other people or things. We can’t serve two masters, however. As Jesus says, we’ll hate one and adore the other. That’s why St. James immediately reminds us, “Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God? Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world makes himself an enemy of God.” There are two ways of loving the world. St. Josemaria used to speak about “passionately loving the world,” by which he meant not despising what God created and pronounced “good,” but gratefully loving the Creator through all of those blessings. That’s a Christian virtue. The vice is when we love the world in a way in which we make it or the things of the world an idol. An example of the difference is that there are some Christians who when there’s a beautiful sunny day will immediately thank God for the gift of the great weather. There are others who will see a sunny day and, instead of going to Church, will go out and work on their tan. When we love the world in a disordered way, it will lead us to having enmity toward God and to making ourselves enemies of God, because our passions will lead us to say “my will be done!,” “my desires be fulfilled!” rather than “God’s will be done.”
  • What’s he remedy? St. James mentions it at the end of the reading, when he gives us nine verbs, nine actions that we should do to overcome these disordered passions, to have holy ambition rather than selfish, to have true love for God rather than enmity and become his friend and beloved child rather than enemy. You could have a whole retreat on this set of verbs, but we’ll cover them very briefly:
    • Submit yourselves to God — The first step is that we need to cease being dominated by our passions but submit ourselves to God’s holy law, throwing our cares on the Lord as we pray in the Responsorial Psalm. All sinful desire contains within in the demonic echo, “I will not serve.” The initial step to holiness is allowing God to be in charge.
    • Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you — Next, we need to recognize that the devil is seeking to draw us away from God through the aspects of the good not ordered to the Lord. We need actively to resist all of these temptations. We need to pray, “Deliver us from evil,” and the Prayer of St. Michael. We need to recognize the devil’s empty promises and evil works and seek to stomp on him with both feed. 
    • Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you — Third, we need to draw closer to God in prayer, in the Sacraments, in charity toward others (like little children). The more we seek to draw closer to God the more we will sense his own proximity and help.
    • Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds — Fourth and fifth, we need to purify our external actions and what leads to them, both the fruit and the tree. It’s not enough just to wash our hands — the Pharisees did that, but many were whitewashed sepulchers, Jesus said —  but we have to wash our hearts, our passions. That’s what should start happening somewhat naturally once we do the first three steps
    • Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep. Let your laughter be turned into mourning and your joy into dejection — Sixth through eighth, once we wash our hands and hearts, we will recognize more easily how many times through our hands and our hearts we have committed adultery against God and that should lead us to perfect contrition out of love for God. St. James uses three different related verbs here to symbolize just how profound this contrition should be. That’s part of the cleansing process! 
    • Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you — Lastly, we need to humble ourselves before God, to recognize how much we need him, to be grateful at the loving care of the King of Kings who adopts as us his children. The way we humble ourselves before him is not just prostrating ourselves before him in prayer but learning precisely what Jesus teaches us today in the Gospel, to make ourselves the least and the servant of all. That’s the path to eternal exaltation!
  • The Holy Spirit is sent to us to cleanse us in all of these ways so that Jesus’ work in us, bringing us to greatness, will come about.
  • We finish by humbly approaching the Lord Jesus here. He turned the greatest evil out of our own selfish ambition that led to his betrayal, being tortured, crucified and killed into the greatest good ever. It’s here at Mass that we experience the triumph of his resurrection, in which all of us say, “O happy fault that brought us such a great redeemer.” Let’s ask him to strengthen us today so that we may share his holy ambitions for the salvation of the world as he strengthens us from the inside to go and become great by announcing the Gospel and putting into practice by serving all those whom he loved so much that he died for them!

The readings for today’s Mass were: 

Reading 1
JAS 4:1-10

Where do the wars and where do the conflicts among you come from?
Is it not from your passions that make war within your members?
You covet but do not possess.
You kill and envy but you cannot obtain;
you fight and wage war.
You do not possess because you do not ask.
You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly,
to spend it on your passions.
Do you not know that to be a lover of the world means enmity with God?
Therefore, whoever wants to be a lover of the world
makes himself an enemy of God.
Or do you suppose that the Scripture speaks without meaning when it says,
The spirit that he has made to dwell in us tends toward jealousy?
But he bestows a greater grace; therefore, it says:
God resists the proud,
but gives grace to the humble.

So submit yourselves to God.
Resist the Devil, and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.
Cleanse your hands, you sinners,
and purify your hearts, you of two minds.
Begin to lament, to mourn, to weep.
Let your laughter be turned into mourning
and your joy into dejection.
Humble yourselves before the Lord
and he will exalt you.

Responsorial Psalm
PS 55:7-8, 9-10A, 10B-11A, 23

R. (23a) Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.
And I say, “Had I but wings like a dove,
I would fly away and be at rest.
Far away I would flee;
I would lodge in the wilderness.”
R. Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.
“I would wait for him who saves me
from the violent storm and the tempest.”
Engulf them, O Lord; divide their counsels.
R. Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.
In the city I see violence and strife,
day and night they prowl about upon its walls.
R. Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.
Cast your care upon the LORD,
and he will support you;
never will he permit the just man to be disturbed.
R. Throw your cares on the Lord, and he will support you.

MK 9:30-37

Jesus and his disciples left from there and began a journey through Galilee,
but he did not wish anyone to know about it.
He was teaching his disciples and telling them,
“The Son of Man is to be handed over to men
and they will kill him,
and three days after his death the Son of Man will rise.”
But they did not understand the saying,
and they were afraid to question him.
They came to Capernaum and, once inside the house,
he began to ask them,
“What were you arguing about on the way?”
But they remained silent.
For they had been discussing among themselves on the way
who was the greatest.
Then he sat down, called the Twelve, and said to them,
“If anyone wishes to be first,
he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
Taking a child, he placed it in their midst,
and putting his arms around it, he said to them,
“Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me;
and whoever receives me,
receives not me but the One who sent me.”