The Truly Great Ones of the World - Those who Love and Serve

Homily for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday of Year B

by Fr. Tommy Lane

There is a contrast between the way of the world and the way of Jesus. The world seeks greatness and praises the great but Jesus praises the little ones. This contrast is in today’s Gospel (Mark 10:42-45). James and John approach Jesus and ask, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mark 10:37) Jesus told them they did not know what they were asking. They were thinking in terms of this world, they wanted what this world considers great but what Jesus considers great is something entirely different, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) The thinking of James and John had been contaminated, we might say, by the thinking of the time. God’s view of the world and what is truly great is something they would learn from Jesus. The world says “love yourself” but Jesus says “love others.”

As in the case of James and John in today’s Gospel, our thinking too could be contaminated by the false thinking of the world. We could erroneously hold up as great only what is great in the eyes of the world. Just look at the ones held up as great by TV. Jesus says the one who is truly great in the eyes of God is the one who is servant, and the one who is first is slave to all. The greatest example of what is truly great in the eyes of God is Jesus giving himself in sacrifice for our sins. In Jesus’ act of complete self-giving for us in his death on Calvary he perfectly fulfilled his own words in the Gospel today, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

Jesus’ mother Mary also shows us that what truly matters is what is great in the eyes of God. Her words, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) are her sacrifice of her life to God. She did not say “Let it be done to me according to what I think” which is the way of so many in the world now, and unfortunately of some in the Church also. Instead her words, “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38) show her putting God first and not her way.

There is another example of greatness put before us by the Church this weekend (2015) in the canonization of Louis and Zélie (Marie-Azélie) Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower. They are the only spouses in history to be canonized in the same ceremony, and their feast day will be July 13th, the day of their wedding anniversary. We know of Thérèse’s great love for Jesus, her desire to do all the little things we do every day intentionally out of love of God. Her parents Zélie and Louis did everything motivated by Christ’s love and kept Christ at the center of their family life as they experienced many challenges, struggles, and failures, and this is what makes them so great. Louis and Zélie show their greatness in their loving, in loving each other, and in loving their children.

The first gift they gave to their children was their love for each other. Thérèse and her sisters experienced that love every day. They felt their parents’ union in faith and prayer, their longing for to be with each other. On a business trip, Louis expressed longing in a letter to Zélie,

My dear Friend, I won’t be able to arrive in Alençon until Monday. It seems like a long time to me, and I’m longing to be with you . . . . I kiss you with all my heart, while waiting for the happiness of being with you again. . . . . Your husband and true friend, who loves you for life.” (Archives du Carmel de Lisieux, October 8, 1863)

When Zélie took the little girls to Lisieux to see their relatives, she wrote to Louis,

I’m with you in spirit all day, and I say to myself, “Now he must be doing such and such a thing.” I’m longing to be near you, my dear Louis. I love you with all my heart, and I feel my affection so much more when you’re not here with me. It would be impossible for me to live apart from you.” (A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus (1864-1885) p135, August 31 1873)

They also loved their children deeply and lived for them. In fact, the girls felt that the greatest gift their parents gave to them was each other. A few weeks before Thérèse’s birth, Zélie wrote to her sister-in-law telling her that Louis and she lived for their children. Zélie wrote to her daughter Pauline,

When we had our children, our ideas changed somewhat. We lived only for them. They were all our happiness; and we never found any joy except in them. In short, nothing was too difficult, and the world was no longer a burden to us. For me, our children were a great compensation, so I wanted to have a lot of them in order to raise them for Heaven. (A Call to a Deeper Love: The Family Correspondence of the Parents of Saint Therese of the Child Jesus (1864-1885) p289, March 4, 1877)

Louis and Zélie understood that their primary duty as spouses and parents was to hand on the Catholic faith to their children. They explained to the girls the meaning of the Apostles Creed. They spoke of the seven sacraments and the graces proper to each of the sacraments. They explained what is commanded and forbidden by each of the Ten Commandments. They not only taught the girls the Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary but prayed each day with them. They likewise helped the older girls to act as catechists for the younger children. Louis and Zélie show us who are the truly great ones, parents who love each other and their children. All family members who love their family in a sacrificial way like the Martins are the great ones of our world.

There is a contrast between the way of the world and the way of Jesus. The world seeks greatness and praises the great. James and John approached Jesus asking, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.” (Mark 10:37) Their thinking had been contaminated by the thinking of the time. But what Jesus considers great is something entirely different, “whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44) The greatest example of what is truly great in the eyes of God is Jesus complete self-giving for us in his death on Calvary in which he perfectly fulfilled his own words in the Gospel today. Jesus’ mother Mary also shows us that what truly matters is what is great in the eyes of God. She did not say “Let it be done to me according to what I think” which is the way of so many in the world now, but “Let it be done to me according to your word” (Luke 1:38). This weekend the Church puts before us another example of what is truly great in the canonization of Louis and Zélie Martin, the parents of St. Thérèse of Lisieux, the Little Flower, the only spouses in history to be canonized in the same ceremony, and their feast day will be July 13th, the day of their wedding anniversary. “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.” (Mark 10:43-44)

© Fr. Tommy Lane 2015

This homily was delivered in Pennsylvania.

The section about the Martin Family is excerpted from a homily for the canonization of the Martins by Fr. Frederick L. Miller given in Newark Cathedral, NJ

More Homilies for the Twenty-Ninth Sunday Year B

Jesus gave his life as an offering for our sin and bore our guilt 2012

Related Homilies: see homilies above for twenty-fifth Sunday

Death of the apostles (excerpt)

Second Reading: humanity of Jesus

First Reading: Jesus’ suffering as revealed by the Shroud of Turin