In the November 10th, 2014 edition of “Catholic Exchange,” Sean Fitzpatrick wrote the following article on St. Leo the Great.
He was called the Scourge of God—Attila the Hun.
He raged with his barbarian horde through Italy like fire, leaving devastation and death behind him. Cruel in torture, ravenous in plunder, and insatiable in effrontery, he razed and ravaged and rushed upon Rome in the year 452.
Out from the ancient gates of Rome passed a white-haired ancient in resplendent raiment. A harmless old man come to meet the savage; prepared to parley, and, God willing, to save his flock. The aged Pope of Rome himself hobbled forth to hold conference with the wild Hun while all the world watched; and this, according to legend, is what the Pope said:
“The people of Rome, once conquerors of the world, now kneel conquered. We pray for mercy and deliverance. O Attila, you could have no greater glory than to see suppliant at your feet this people before whom once all peoples and kings lay suppliant. You have subdued, O Attila, the whole circle of the lands granted to the Romans. Now we pray that you, who have conquered others, should conquer yourself. The people have felt your scourge. Now they would feel your mercy.”
So spoke the venerable bishop under the gaze of the vicious tyrant. Then suddenly, Attila’s disbelieving eyes beheld two towering giants flanking the pontiff, one on his right and the other on his left. The apostles Peter and Paul appeared, wielding swords of flame over the gray head of the pope, who knelt in an attitude of humble submission. Back flew the invader in terror, when he then caught sight of a gleaming, glorious army—ten thousand times greater than his own—ranked in rows of flashing fire against the night sky. The pope’s plea echoed in his ears like a command, and he raved as one gone mad. Attila the Hun raised the pope to his feet, swore to an enduring truce, and fled away with his legions across the Danube.
The title “Great” was not first given to Pope Leo for small reason.
Pope Leo the Great held the Chair of St. Peter from 440 to 461, and from it proclaimed and projected the elect holiness of Rome, calling it a royal city and, by virtue of the See of St. Peter, the head of the world, ruling by moral faith and religion rather than military force and dominion. The voice of Leo was the voice of the eternal city, and it was the roar of a lion and a king: “Though enlarged by many victories, you have spread the authority of your rule over land and sea. What your warlike labors have attained for you is less than what the Christian peace has brought you.” Rome was, and yet is, the heart of the Kingdom of God on earth, and Leo thundered its praises despite the riches and renown of the fallen Constantinople, defending it as the Supreme Pontiff of Christ’s Church—as a lion with its peaceful poise, confirmed in supremacy, in papal and Petrine primacy.
Though his might was manifested in meekness at his famous embassy with Attila the Hun, Pope Leo’s assertive strength as the Vicar of Christ was a theological force during his remarkable pontificate. In 451, he gathered the largest group of bishops in history for the Council of Chalcedon: a council to muster strength and strategy against an epidemic of heresies arising from the East. Leo took up the destiny of the Church with a will that evoked a rare and robust trust in God and with such broadness of vision—as a lion overlooking his golden realm—that he is remembered not only as a guardian of the Faith but also as a savior of Western civilization. At the Council of Chalcedon, the existence of Jesus Christ’s dual nature in one Divine Person was defined, and finally dogmatized in Pope Leo’s magnificent epistle, called the Tome, which was read aloud at the Council. Upon this inspired articulation of the hypostatic union, the bishops reported, “Behold, this is the Faith of the Fathers. This is the Faith of the Apostles. This we believe. Peter has spoken through Leo.”
The Council, though a solidifying of truth within the Church, poured fuel on the growling fires of the East, where many bishops were yet chafing under the rise of Rome over Constantinople and resisting orthodox teaching with persistent and even rebellious heresy and schism. Pope Leo rejected the attempts of the Eastern Church to affirm its errors upon the Universal Church. The subsequent rivalry between Constantinople and Rome led to violent uprisings and the persecution and martyrdom of holy bishops in Alexandria and Egypt. But mobs or militia could not drown out the roar of Leo. He ever proved an inflexible adversary of heresy. Pope Leo gave instruction and assistance to the reeling government in Constantinople to suppress religious rebels. In the end, the imperial battalions were fortified and the heretics were overthrown.
The word “leo” means “lion” in Latin and “king” in Greek. St. Leo was both, and that is why he is called Great. Leo’s indomitable spirit and profound mind has ever continued to influence and inform the Roman Catholic Church throughout the centuries after his death on November 10, 461, when he was buried, according to his wishes, as close to the bones of Peter as possible. His sermons and Christological writings have been read for well over a thousand and a half years on the most beautiful and signal feasts of the Faith: Christmas, Epiphany, Pentecost, and the Ascension. Leo was a regal saint, a doctor of the Roman Church, a kingly pope serving the King of kings, and a Lion of God who roared out the glory of God—and his roar still echoes through the grandeur of Rome to this day.
My friends, think about the last line of this article. St. Leo the Great was called “Great” because he was a Papal King who served the “King of Kings”, and a “Lion of God” who roared out the glory of God.
Less than a week ago, We, the American People voted to elect leaders to represent us as Citizens. To represent our needs, our rights, our beliefs and our morals. For thousands of years world leaders have been called “great.” But for what reasons? Americans speak of great men such as George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and Abraham Lincoln. In Europe they speak of great monarchs going back to Charlemagne or as recent as Queen Elizabeth II. Why are these men, and women, considered “great?” Mostly it is because of their accomplishments. How many battles they have won. How many peoples were subject to their rule. How many cathedrals, libraries, palaces or colleges they built. Or for their contribution to government and the freedoms that government ensures. These are indeed reasons to call one great, yet they are not the reasons in the case of St. Leo.
St. Leo is a model for us today as to how we should live our lives. How we too can be “great!” Leo was great NOT because he was a fierce ruler, but because he was a King who SERVED the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. He was great not because of his ferocity on the battlefield, but for his mighty roar of evangelism. St. Leo was proud to be a Christian. He was proud to serve the Lord. He was proud to defend Christian beliefs and Orthodoxy. He was a servant who became a leader. These are the types of leaders we should elect in our time. Godly men and women who stand up for what is right, stand up for Orthodoxy, and are not afraid to share the Good News of Jesus Christ with a mighty roar!
Let us always look to the example made by St. Leo the Great, and strive to live our lives in that greatness.
O Champion of Orthodoxy, and teacher of holiness,
The enlightenment of the universe and the inspired glory of true believers.
O most wise Father Leo, your teachings are as music of the Holy Spirit for us!
Pray that Christ our God may save our souls!
Dear Brothers and Sisters:
This is a test, this is only a test. I believe that this warning should have been worn on the chest plates of the priests and scribes that seemingly always had questions, questions with a sinister intent, for Jesus. Of course, Jesus knew their intent in asking such questions, their intent was clearly inscribed on their hearts; if only we all could have such insight as to read what is on the hearts of those of power and fame. Yet, there is a litmus test by which we can test the words, actions and underlying intent of those who stand and orate on their bully pulpits: does this speech, does this action, does this person’s heart reflect the two great love commandments?
The directions for applying this litmus test are basic, just ask: 1) does this reflect unconditional love for HaShem and 2) does this reflect altruistic love for other human beings? While this seems simple, for most of us the stumbling block comes with understanding unconditional and altruistic “love” as preached by Jesus. It is rather strange that in a language which has over 200,000 words, we translate the 3 different Greek words used in the new testament (agapao, phileo, storge, note eros is not used) into the single word: love which has as its origin a word in Sanskrit (lubhyati) meaning “desires”. When Jesus talks about the two great love commandments, the word used in the Greek is agape: the love HaShem has for humanity, like the love a parent has for their children. Hence, we should love HaSham in the same way we are love, and love each other as HaShem loves all of humanity. Simple, right?
Ok, so it is simple in concept, but in practice what is HaShem’s love really like? A parent loves their children without condition, fully and altruisticly, always extending goodwill and hope for their future success, a proverbial “be all you can be” and “I am here for you, no matter what, even after death” type of love. How then, are we to show this same love back to HaShem? Should we pay lip service by singing praises and glory, taking out billboards declaring HaShem #1, and building magnificent monuments, all the while lying to and cheating others, being lazy, speaking ill of and hurting the weak, craving power an inciting violence towards those who are different? NO!
Good parents have rules, rules meant to guide our growth and maturation into complete, successful adults which they can be proud of. Keeping our rooms clean, contributing to the well being of the household, studying, earning good grades, being giving and thoughtful to others, always being honest and being faithful to your beliefs are just a few rules meant to hone us into upright adults. When we stumble or fail, our parents are disappointed and may institute penance which, to the young mind may seem mean or hateful, but are meant to be learning experiences to improve our later success and are done out of unconditional love. We, as children, seek to show our heartfelt love for our parents by cleaning our rooms, contributing to the well being of the household, studying, earning good grades, being giving, thoughtful and respectful to others, always telling the truth and being faithful to the family beliefs. And so it is with HaShem’s love and, in return, our love for HaShem; we have commandments, guidelines to make us successful, kind, loving humans and when we are successful, we keep these commands, we pay praise, honor and glory to the delight of HaShem!
And how are we to show this agape love for other humans? Since human are made in the image of the celestial hosts and HaShem is our heavenly Parent, then we must treat each other just as HaShem treats us! Our actions must be altruistic and always in the best interest of others– regardless of differences in lineage, nationality, politics, belief systems, age, physiological or psychological gender, income and any other worldly trait. We must build each other up, not selfishly tear others down. Our concerns should focus on their needs and benefit and not solely personal gain. Our words must intentionally speak to “being all you can be” and “I am here for you, no matter what” and our actions need to reflect the agape love written on our hearts and souls by our Lord and Creator. Just as the HaShem so loved humanity as to give us the Son for redemption, and the Son so loved us as to give Himself up for our sins, so too we should give of ourselves for the benefit of others!
All of the sacred laws given to us by the prophets, the secular laws given us by our forefathers and the rules imposed by loving parents all reflect the core values required to become an righteous and loving member of human society. When we love each other as the hosts of heaven love us, we reveal the true face of our heavenly parent in whose image we have been fashioned out of the dust of the stars and when we all act in accordance to HaShem’s plan we create a heavenly kingdom here on this earthly plane. This way of life is not easy, we are flawed humans and we stumble, misspeak, act selfishly and are prone to succumb to worldly desires. We are capable of so much altruistic love and yet display so much derision and hate. HaShem is disappointed at our transgressions but like any loving parent, we called to admit our offenses, make recompense and so are forgiven in hopes of our subsequent growth and future success. The only way we can achieve such success is to apply the litmus test of the two great agape commandments to all we say and all we do each and every moment of every day. So to we must use the same litmus test when listening to others and watching their actions, not to issue judgement upon them, but to hold their actions up to them, provide helpful feed back, offer assistance to help them grow and, sadly, to turn our backs on the unrepentant, remove their bully pulpits and allow them to reap the rewards they have sown in their own sins. We must always ask: “does this show agape love and bring glorious praise for heavenly parent? Is what I am doing or saying, or what they are doing and saying a reflection of HaShem’s unconditional love for humanity and so for me? Would this make a loving parent proud of their child or does this bring disappointment and shame?” If the answer is anything other than a whole hearted: “on my life and soul YES” you must stop, seek forgiveness, wisdom, guidance and then change your actions. The kingdom of heaven, with its land flowing with milk an honey, is at hand, an inheritance promised to the loving and faithful children of HaShem. Life is a test, love is a test; can your love pass the litmus test?
Today we celebrate the Feast of All Souls. Yesterday we celebrated the Feast of All Saints. What’s the difference?” you might ask. Well, I’m here to tell you!
The Feast of All Saints celebrates all of those holy men and women who we are assured have reached Heaven. The Feast of All Souls celebrates those Christian men and women who haven’t quite made it to Heaven yet, but who are certainly working their way there.
Let me explain. We as Catholic Christians believe in the Communion of the Saints. This “communion” is made up of three distinct groups: The Church Militant, The Church Penitent, and The Church Triumphant. The Church Militant consists of all of us Christians who are living in the world today, who are trying to bring the world to Christ. The Church Triumphant consists of those Christians who have died and reached the ultimate goal of Heaven. The Church Penitent consists of those souls who are in Purgatory.
“Ah ha!,” you say, “I don’t believe in Purgatory!” Well, OK, you are certainly allowed your beliefs, but let me tell you a few things about why we, as Catholic Christians, believe in Purgatory. It’s Biblical:
The term purgatory arose after the time of the apostles, as did the terms Trinity, Christianity, Second Coming, and Bible. But the idea of purgatory was already present before Jesus was born. We find a Jewish hero named Judas Maccabeus, about a century and a half before Jesus, praying for the dead and specifically asking they be forgiven their sins after they have died (2 Macc. 12:43–45). This practice, known as the kaddish, was well established among Jews in Jesus’ own time. (Jews have historically believed, and many still believe, that the souls of the faithful departed undergo a period of purification which may be aided by the prayers and charity of the living. The Kaddish Foundation is a modern example of this ancient belief in action.)
Consider this reading from The Book of Wisdom:
The souls of the just are in the hand of God,
and no torment shall touch them.
They seemed, in the view of the foolish, to be dead;
and their passing away was thought an affliction
and their going forth from us, utter destruction.
But they are in peace.
For if before men, indeed, they be punished,
yet is their hope full of immortality;
chastised a little, they shall be greatly blessed,
because God tried them
and found them worthy of himself.
As gold in the furnace, he proved them,
and as sacrificial offerings he took them to himself.
In the time of their visitation they shall shine,
and shall dart about as sparks through stubble;
they shall judge nations and rule over peoples,
and the LORD shall be their King forever.
Those who trust in him shall understand truth,
and the faithful shall abide with him in love:
because grace and mercy are with his holy ones,
and his care is with his elect. (Wisdom 3:1-9)
Likewise, we find the New Testament frequently assuming the existence of purgatory. Jesus, during his time in the grave, is said by Peter to have “preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly did not obey” (1 Pet. 3: 18–20). Similarly, Jesus teaches that certain sins—notably unforgiveness—will be liable to judgment and imprisonment in the next. But he also implies this punishment is not necessarily eternal: “Truly I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny” (Matt. 5:21–26). Such imagery fits neither heaven—where there are no prisons—nor hell, where there is neither repentance nor “getting out” and therefore no point in preaching. It does, however, fit purgatory.
Jesus also implies the existence of purgatory or “forgiveness in the age to come” when he tells his disciples, “Whoever says a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matt. 12:32). The Church after Jesus did not, therefore, “invent” purgatory. On the contrary, it simply repeated and clarified what Jesus and the apostles had taught them concerning the promise of hope for the afterlife.
So there’s that.
This is also why we pray for the dead. We believe that the purification of the souls in Purgatory can be hastened by the actions of the faithful on earth. This teaching is based also on the practice of prayer for the dead mentioned as far back as 2 Maccabees 12:42–46. In the West there is ample evidence of the custom of praying for the dead in the inscriptions of the catacombs, with their constant prayers for the peace of the souls of the departed and in the early liturgies, which commonly contain commemorations of the dead. Tertullian, Cyprian and other early Western Fathers witness to the regular practice of praying for the dead among the early Christians. The theological basis for the feast is the doctrine that the souls which, on departing from the body, are not perfectly cleansed from venial sins, or have not fully atoned for past transgressions, are debarred from the Beatific Vision, and that the faithful on earth can help them by prayers, alms deeds and especially by the sacrifice of the Mass. Because Purgatory is outside of time and space, it is not necessarily accurate to speak of a location or duration in Purgatory.
So what does Purgatory mean for us today? It means what it has always meant: hope. Purgatory is the assurance that there will, in the end, be absolutely nothing to dim the mirror of our lives from reflecting the glory of God. We who have been captive to sin for so long will be released. Moreover, as sharers in the life of Christ, we have an extraordinary promise from him. For he tells us, “Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I go to the Father” (John 14:12).
In other words, we not only receive grace from him, we do his works of grace with him, for we are “fellow workers” with Christ (1 Cor. 3:9). This means among other things that, as he prays for us, so we can pray for one another with his power and authority. And such prayers can be made not only for the living but for the dead as well. We can, therefore, help those in purgatory who are still being purified, just as we can help those on earth—by our prayers and offerings of love, especially in the Mass.
As Paul tells us, “We, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:5). That unity with God and with each other is not severed by death. We can continue to pray for those who have died with the hope of Christ that our prayers will be of real help to them as we “bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2).
So, having said as much, I wish each of you a most blessed and holy All Soul’s Day and ask that you continue to pray for me and for mine, The Church Triumphant, The Church Militant, and The Church Penitent. Amen.
Today we celebrate the Solemnity of All Saints (also called All Saints Day).
All Saints’ Day, All Hallows Day, or Hallowmas is solemnly celebrated on 1 November by many Western Liturgical Churches to honor, literally, all the saints, known and unknown; those individuals who have attained Heaven; all the holy men and women who have lived their lives for God and for his church, who now have attained Beatific vision and their reward of Heaven.
In early Christian history it was usual to solemnize the anniversary of a Martyr’s death for the Lord at the place of their martyrdom. Frequently there were multiple martyrs who would’ve suffered and died on the same day which led to multiple commemorations on the same day. Eventually, the numbers of martyrs became so great that it was impossible for a separate day to be assigned to each individually, but the church feeling that every martyr should be venerated, appointed a feast day to commemorate them all on the same day.
The origin of the festival of All Saints celebrated in the West dates to the month of May in the year 609 or 610, when Pope Boniface IV consecrated the Pantheon at Rome to the Blessed Virgin and all the martyrs. In the 730’s Pope Gregory III moved the Feast of All Saints to 1 November when he founded an oratory in St. Peter’s for the relics of the holy apostles and of all saints, martyrs and confessors, of all the just made perfect who are at rest throughout the world.”
From our Readings today, we hear of the vision of St. John from the Book of Revelation:
After this, I had a vision of a great multitude, which no one could count, from every nation, race, people, and tongue. They stood before the throne and before the Lamb, wearing white robes and holding palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice:
“Salvation comes from our God, who is seated on the throne, and from the Lamb.”
All the angels stood around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They prostrated themselves before the throne, worshiped God, and exclaimed:
“Amen. Blessing and glory, wisdom and thanksgiving, honor, power, and might be to our God forever and ever. Amen.”
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, “Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?” I said to him, “My lord, you are the one who knows.” He said to me, “These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the Blood of the Lamb.”
Who are these nameless saints? Their anonymity teaches us that sainthood is not reached through great achievements or rare acts of bravery. Sainthood comes from simply loving God and doing our best to live our lives in a way consistent with Jesus’ commandment. I would dare say that none of the saints actually set out to be saints. They simply loved God and lived their lives to follow Him.
Revelation goes on to remind us that giving our lives over to God will not protect us or insulate us from hardship. Living in, for, with, and through God, however, will make sure that we can and will endure whatever “great distress” comes our way. In this passage of Revelation, John is speaking specifically of those who have given their lives for their faith. Christians throughout the Middle East are being martyred by forces opposed to Christianity, but in reality, it is very unlikely that any of us will be called upon to sacrifice our lives for our faith.
Our challenge, then, is to live for Christ, rather than to die for Christ. Jesus does ask to lay down our lives for Him. Peter said to the Lord, “I will lay down my life for Your sake,” and he meant it (John 13:37). Has the Lord ever asked you, “Will you lay down your life for My sake?” (John 13:38). It is much easier to die than to lay down your life day in and day out with the sense of the high calling of God. We are not made for the bright-shining moments of life, but we have to walk in the light of them in our everyday ways. For thirty-three years Jesus laid down His life to do the will of His Father. “By this we know love, because He laid down His life for us. And we also ought to lay down our lives for the brethren” (1 John 3:16).
If we are true followers of Jesus, we must deliberately and carefully lay down our lives for Him. It is a difficult thing to do, and thank God that it is, for great is our reward. Salvation is easy for us, however, because it cost God so much. But the exhibiting of salvation in our lives is difficult. God saves a person, fills him with the Holy Spirit, and then says, in effect, “Now you work it out in your life, and be faithful to Me, even though the nature of everything around you is to cause you to be unfaithful.” And Jesus says to us, “…I have called you friends….” Remain faithful to your Friend, and remember that His honor is at stake in your bodily life. We are called to remain faithful, despite the reasons the world gives us to not, despite the “great distresses” in our lives.
Who are these dressed in white robes? It is my prayer to be counted among them. What about you?
May our thoughts, words, and deeds always glorify the Lord and be pleasing in His sight.
Anyone who has browsed the pages of the Bible, spent time in Church, or even a little time in Sunday school as a child will know that the Gospels are filled with examples of Christ as a miracle worker. Today’s reading is no exception to this.
The passage begins with Jesus traveling through Jericho with a crowd surrounding him. I can imagine that having a crowd following you would make moving through any space difficult. I can imagine the noise that the crowd would be making as they talk amongst themselves, call out to the Lord, or maybe even throw abuse or slurs at this upstart “prophet”. After struggling through Jericho Jesus finally makes it to the edge and as he leaves a lone voice starts crying out to him, “Jesus, Son of David, have pity on me.”
The voice was that of a blind beggar, one who I feel the people would be used to seeing out on their streets calling out for alms and assistance. I wonder of the people of Jericho were disposed to helping the poor and the weak with their needs? I would like to think that the godly Israelites would, but sadly there were those who were following in the crowd who were not so disposed. Instead of drawing the blind man to the attention of the Saviour they told him to be quiet. I wonder why this was? The scriptures give us no indication of the reason but it left me thinking as I pondered this reading.
If we were confronted by the same situation what would our reaction be? Would we be in such a hurry to sweep our destitute under the rug, hiding them from the famous and influential as they pass through our town or would we point out their plight and their needs? Just lately I was having a conversation with someone and a topic like this came up. It’s startling and surprising to me sometimes the attitudes of those who claim to follow Christ towards those who are different. Have you ever been in a Church and see someone enter the building who doesn’t seem to fit? Maybe someone who is obviously down on their luck, the homeless, the sick, the immigrant? How do people react? I’ve seen first-hand the negative reactions, the lack of care, and the almost physical isolation that can happen and I am always perplexed at working out why this behaviour exists.
I can’t profess to being able to see into the hearts of people and understand their motivation, however one possible reason always stands out to me. It’s easy (as imperfect humans) after the first flush of zeal when we become Christians, to fall into that comfortable place where we feel that we are what it means to be a Christian. I have seen it happen and seen good people begin to think of themselves as the best (sometimes only) example of what it is to be Godly. I’ve heard people say thing like “I would never go to X as the people there are too worldly”, “I wouldn’t hang around with people who do X, that’s a sin”; it may be all well and good to not want to be of the world but let me tell you this, those people are not acting like Christ.
In the time of Jesus there were many who were considered to be outside the bounds of acceptable religious society and so were shunned; the tax collector, the publican, the prostitute, the sick, the beggars and many more. To spend your time around these people was to well and truly place yourself outside of “polite religious society”…who did Jesus spend his time with? Jesus spent his time with those that society shunned, to those who were in need of healing and love. Would we call Jesus worldly or less of a Christian for doing so? Absolutely not!!
When he heard the blind man calling out he ignored those rebuking the blind man and chose to speak to him, and more than that he chose to declare him healed through his faith. This the attitude each and every one of us needs to take in our daily walk. Regardless of how uncomfortable it may make us feel we need to look upon all as our brothers and sisters and as being worthy of love and care. If we choose to stay away from those who don’t conform to our version of “normal” or “acceptable” we may be missing out on some of the greatest opportunities of our lives. We may miss out on the opportunity to touch the soul of someone who is yearning for love and care; we may miss changing the lives of others through the love of Christ; above all, we may miss out on transforming ourselves and obtaining the blessing of salvation by conforming to the example of Christ.
I want to challenge us all, in this next week, to go outside of our comfort zone, to seek out those who we may normally avoid and to show them the love that only comes through a life conformed to Christ. Speak to the veteran on the street and be a listening ear, take an extra sandwich to work and share it with someone who’s hungry, welcome a stranger at Church or a social gathering and make them feel welcome. Through all of these actions we are being Christ present in the world; after all, the scriptures say, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these …you did it to me.’
Let us pray:
Almighty Father, we thank you for the many miracles that have been performed through your wondrous power. We ask that throughout this week we may be placed under the influence of that great power through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit so we may work with a dedicated heart to become conformed to the image of Christ. May we and all those with the means to help the rejected and ignored be touched by you and together work to make this world a better place. We ask and pray this in and through the name of our beloved saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Children, in their hopeful innocence, often ask their parents for things which, in their young mind’s eyes, would be the most spectacular blessing a child could ever receive, such as a new pet, a real diamond princess tiara, or a red rider BB gun. To parents, such requests are annoying since, as any adult knows, such gifts are unrealistic, requiring more care than a child might be willing or able to give, or be to costly and impractical or to dangerous and they might shoot their eye out! Adults, out of passion or deep desire are also prone to such impetuous requests from those they deeply admire and respect, such as a mentor, a boss or even a clergy member; denial of these requests can be just as heartbreaking as denying children. The brothers John the apostle and James the greater, were Galilean fishermen who initially followed St. John the baptist and were subsequently called by Jesus to be two of His first disciples. These rugged men had mild dispositions, but when ignited by passion, their outbursts raged like a tempest such that Jesus affectionately called them the “sons of thunder”.
In Mark’s Gospel 10:35-45, Jesus and His disciples were on the road to Jerusalem. Jesus had just told the twelve of His impending passion and they, of course, did not understand God’s plan. It is not surprising that the brothers asked to be at Jesus’ side when all is done, for the disciples interpreted what Jesus was telling them through worldly eyes; eyes clouded by human desire for victory over their oppressors and greatness in a newly established kingdom. Hence, they believed there would be a battle with the authorities in which Jesus would be victorious; John and James’ wanted to be right there next to Jesus, protecting Him and acting as faithful servants and, like so many of us, they wanted to be special. Of course, Jesus knew of His impending passion, the pain, the suffering and His eventual sacrifice. He tried to dissuade the brothers, perhaps shaking His head as He explained how difficult it would be, much like when my mother used to ask me: “you really think you are man enough to walk ten miles in my klompen (wooden shoes)?” And just like me in my impetuous youth, these tough fishermen, these sons of thunder replied with a resounding “Heck yeah we can!”
How sad Jesus must have been, looking into the faces of these men whom He loved so much, men who were already special to Him; knowing what He knew, not only of His own fate, but the martyrdom of James and so many others. Jesus tells them: “yes, you are strong enough and you will face some of the things I must face, but my fate and your fates will not be the same for HaShem has a different design for each of us.” Again I hear the words of my mother “be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it and it might not be how you thought.”
When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up? Who did you emulate? What about when you were a teenager, and again when you were in your twenties? Many of us wanted to be like our parents at first, then we changed our minds at puberty when our parents became lame. We change our minds again as young adults and finally, we reach an age where we open our mouths and, much to our suprise, out comes things our parents said; “be careful what you ask for, you just might get it.” What a shock to admit our parents may have been correct! We all need role models to help shape our lives, to make us feel special, to give us hope, life direction and goals. As children, it is our parents who make us feel special, along with the superheroes, athletes and thespians of screen and stage, all whom we try to emulate. In adulthood, like the disciples, we turn to our mentors, leaders, bosses, Jesus, the saints and even our parents as role models to admire and imitate. Yet, as we desire to emulate these personal heroes, we must always be cautious to remember HaShem has a plan for each of us. I may wish to be a great preacher like St. Dominic, yet I cannot be St. Dominic; you may desire to walk the same path as St. Francis, but his path was HaShem’s gift for him and yours will not be the same. No matter how much we desire to emulate St. Dominic, St. Francis, Padre Pio, St. Benedict or any saint or hero, the best we can hope for is a poor imitation, and that is ok! If we get lost in trying to be great like our heroes, in trying to be special to those in the world, we risk losing ourselves to the world, to greed, to hunger for power and authority, in so doing we will stumble and fail as our feet become too big for our klompen. True heroes stand out because of their humility, devotion to servitude, and realization that to HaShem all people are special. They seek to decrease themselves so that they might allow other to increase; they gladly walk barefoot because they have given their klompen away. As Jesus taught James, John and the disciples “ whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave (Mark 10:43-44) The brothers asked to stand by Jesus so that they might know that they are indeed valued coheirs to His heavenly kingdom, and so they got it, but not in the way any of them expected… “be careful of what you ask for, you might just get it and it might not be how you thought.”
Every week we send up our petitions to HaShem, we ask for salvation, for guidance, for strength and wisdom; we ask that we might become a little more favored, a little more extraordinary. We hear the Good News, we sing our Creator’s praises and take the divine into ourselves so that we might merit to carry the light of Christ out with us and spread it throughout the world. We pray that the heavenly kingdom might come as HaShem’s will is finally done through us right here on earth, and that we might be worthy to sit next to our Lord in heaven. But my brothers and sisters, this path is not easy and as mom always said: “be careful of what you ask for.” Yet, in the end, is it not worth asking for the ability to live a saints life? Is it not worth asking for a chance to carry the light of Christ out into the world so that others might no longer live in darkness? Is it not worth asking strength to lift up those around us? So we should ask for the strength and humility to walk the path HaShem has set out for us, and if the gravel hurts your bare feet, don’t worry, you may have my klompen.
James and John are looking for the best seat in the house. They want to sit next to Jesus, in his glory, one on his right and one on his left. That seat, however, is only for those for whom it has been prepared.
James and John sound a bit arrogant and self-seeking. They are interested in privilege, honor, and status. That’s often how this text is interpreted. There is certainly no lack of that kind of behavior in our world! We’ve all seen it in others and, if we are totally honest, in ourselves as well. Maybe the usual interpretation and judgment are more a statement about our own motives than that of James and John. Maybe that’s why the other ten are so upset. Maybe, however, there is more to this story than the usual interpretation. Maybe there is another way to understand what is going on not only in the text, but with us as well.
When we were small children we may have fought with our sibling(s) over who got to sit next to mom or dad. In elementary school we wanted to sit next to our best friend. In high school we wanted to sit next to the cutest boy or the prettiest girl. When we got married we wanted to sit as close as possible to our spouse, and still do to this day.
We all have those people in our lives that attract and draw us to them. Their lives speak to us of love and friendship. They show us something about ourselves. Their presence changes who we are. They call from us the best part of who we are. In them we catch a glimpse of something holy, something meaningful, something that gives life. We want to get as close as we can. We don’t want to let it slip away. We want to be next to them not because of who we are but because of who they are.
That is what Christ offers each one of us today.
That is what James and John have experienced with Jesus.
It began that day at the Sea of Galilee. They caught a glimpse of something in and about Jesus that allowed them to leave their boat, their nets, and their dad. They, along with Peter, would become the inner circle of Jesus’ disciples. They were the ones permitted to see Jairus’ daughter restored to life. They were the ones Jesus took up on the mountain to witness his transfiguration. They have seen things the others did not. They were invited in when the others were not.
All along the way James and John have had a different experience of and relationship with Jesus. They have seen in Jesus something no one else could show them. How could they now not ask to sit next to him in his glory? They are not asking for their own glory but Jesus’ glory. They are only asking for what they have already caught a glimpse of. They do not want to lose the life they have experienced with Christ.
There are moments like that for us as well. They are the times when we absolutely get it. We know that we know. We have glimpsed the beauty, presence, and holiness of Christ in our own life. Everything about our life and world is different. Those are the moments we say, “Grant us to sit at your side, in your glory.” It is not a plea for privilege and entitlement. It is the plea of one who never wants to lose that glimpse, who never wants the moment to end.
Ultimately, that is the moment of decision. Are we willing to drink the cup that Jesus drinks? Are we willing to be baptized with the baptism with which he is baptized? With those questions Jesus is drawing James and John deeper into their own experience of him. He is both affirming and holding them accountable for what they ask. One does not share in Christ’s glory if one does not share in his life, suffering, and death. Glory is not a thing to be had, grasped, or possessed. It is lived. It is not an escape from the world but a deeper engagement of the world. To all this James and John say, “We are able.”
The other ten do not get it. They are angry and indignant at James and John but it’s not really about James and John. They are angry and indignant with themselves, with their own inability to see and experience what James and John have seen and experienced. At a deeper level the anger and indignation of the ten are their own longing and desire for what James and John have glimpsed. They want to say, “We are able,” but they are just not. At least, not now…not yet. I’ve known times like that and I’ll bet you have too.
There are times when the darkness is thick and the desperation is deep. Our world is turned upside down. We’ve lost our place. We sit all by ourselves. We not only do not know what we believe about God, sometimes we don’t know if we even believe in God. It’s easy in those times to be angry with and jealous of those who seem to get it. Why them? Why not us?
Jesus does not allow the ten to sit by themselves. He calls them. He permits no separation between the ten and James and John. Regardless of where they are on the journey, their experiences, questions, or struggles they are to walk the same path. They are all to be servants of one another and slaves of all. They now stand as one body of disciples. They walk one path. They follow one Lord. There’s something profound and hopeful about that. Taken together the twelve represent and describe our lives, our faith, and our experience.
We know James and John, and we know the ten. We can see ourselves in them. So who are we? What is your life like today? Are you James and John or are you the ten? Yes. The answer is, “Yes.” BOTH live within us. Our experience of one does not preclude an experience of the other. Don’t forget James and John, the ones who got it, were also the ones who fell asleep at Gethsemane while Jesus prayed.
We are the ten……and we are James and John. Sometimes we catch the glimpse. Other times we can only long to catch that glimpse. Both are a part of the journey. Both are expressions of faithfulness. Both are given the life of Christ. Both can become “those for whom it has been prepared.”