Have we not all one Father? The greatest among you must be your servant

Homily for the Thirty-First Sunday of Year A

by Fr. Tommy Lane

The Litany of Humility is a prayer worth pondering. As it is a long litany the following are only excerpts:

From the desire of being esteemed,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being loved,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being honored,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being praised,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the desire of being preferred to others,
Deliver me, O Jesus.

The litany continues

From the fear of being humiliated,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being despised,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of suffering rebukes,
Deliver me, O Jesus.
From the fear of being suspected,
Deliver me, O Jesus.

The second part of the prayer is:

That others may be loved more than I,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be chosen and I set aside,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.
That others may be praised and I go unnoticed,
Jesus, grant me the grace to desire it.

(The Litany of Humility was prayed by Merry Cardinal del Val (1865-1930), Secretary of State to Pope Saint Pius X. The full version of the litany is available at http://www.ewtn.com/Devotionals/prayers/humility.htm)

I am sure you will agree that it is a challenging prayer if we really mean it. I was reminded of this prayer by Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees in our Gospel today (Matt 23:1-2). Jesus criticized the Pharisees for many reasons, and one of those reasons was wanting to be better than everybody else in public. The Litany of Humility is a prayer the Pharisees in our Gospel could do with praying and practicing. There is a little bit of the Pharisees in each of us, perhaps more in some than others. So the Gospel is relevant for each of us. The end of our first reading today is most beautiful,

“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?” (Mal 2:10)

There are no favorites in the eyes of God. The Pharisees had forgotten that. The world may consider people great because of their power or success or money or fame but those things do not count for greatness in the Gospel. In the Gospel what counts for greatness is if you serve. In our Gospel today Jesus said,

“The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matt 23:11)

How far our world has wandered from the spirit of the Gospel!

Jesus and Mary are two great examples of humility and service. Mary said to the angel Gabriel, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38) When Mary consented to become the mother of Jesus she ran the risk of being stoned to death because that was the penalty for an unmarried mother. (Deut 22:20-21). But Mary in her humility and desire to serve God agreed not only to be the mother of Jesus but also to suffer the rejection of people as a result. So Mary is a model of humility and service for us. She is a model of giving and not counting the cost.

Jesus is our other great model of humility and service. In Gethsemane through prayer he got the strength to let go of his will and submit to the will of his Father, “not my will but yours be done.” (Luke 22:42) Crucifixion was the form of death penalty used for common criminals at that time in the Roman Empire. Jesus was executed as a common criminal. But through his death he won life for all of us. The Son of Man came to serve not to be served.

As we think about Jesus’ criticism of the Pharisees, the Litany of Humility, and the humility and service of Jesus and Mary, we are left with a question. What about us? Do we need to grow in humility and service? Perhaps it would be fair to say that each of us does, to a lesser or greater extent. Again the end of our first reading is most beautiful,

“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?”  (Mal 2:10)

and in our Gospel said Jesus said:

“The greatest among you must be your servant.” (Matt 23:11)

In the eyes of the Gospel there is no such a thing as a “blow-in.” In the eyes of the Gospel there is no exclusive club that makes you feel like an outsider. In the eyes of the Gospel there is no reason to look down on anybody else. The world may consider you great for many different reasons, success, fame, money, achievements etc. The Gospel considers you great for a different reason, you are great if you serve. At the end we are all the same because we all face the same end, death.

“Have we not all one Father? Did not one God create us?”
“The greatest among you must be your servant.”

Copyright © Fr. Tommy Lane 2013

This homily was delivered when I was engaged in parish ministry in Ireland before joining the faculty of Mount St. Mary’s Seminary, Emmitsburg, Maryland.

More related material on the Thirty-First Sunday Year A

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We are all equal in dignity before God

Be gentle in carrying out your business

on service: Serving others and Mental Health

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