Homily: Deacon Terry Ellerman
Blessed Sacrament Parish
October 21, 2012 - 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
10 AM Service
How many of us wish to be successful? How many of us consider ourselves to be ambitious? How many of us want to go to heaven? How many of us want to be saints? In our first reading today from the book of the Prophet Isaiah, Isaiah tells us there is going to be a suffering servant coming into the world. This is going to be a person who will come into the world who will suffer and die for us.
Then, in the second reading from the book of Hebrews, we find out who that person is. It is Jesus who came into the world to suffer, to die, and then in three days to rise. In our Gospel reading from Mark, we see Jesus on his way to Jerusalem. A couple of verses right before the reading today, Jesus is walking with them and again telling them, “I am going to suffer, I am going to die, and in three days I am going to rise.” He is talking about the Paschal mystery.
But as you know, the apostles really do not understand this. You recall a few weeks ago when Peter said, “It doesn't need to happen.” And Jesus said, “Get behind me Satan.” Well, today he says it again, but the apostles don't respond. Here's Jesus on his way to die and, emotionally, can you imagine how he must have been - knowing that he is going to die. He tells it to his best friends. But the answer doesn't come, “How can we help you?” Rather, James and John say, “We want you to do us a favor. We want to be on your right and on your left.”
And Jesus says, “You don't know what you're asking me. Are you willing to drink the cup I drink? Are you willing to be baptized the way I was baptized?” In other words, are you willing to suffer, and are you willing to die?
They said, “Yes, we are.”
Then he says to them, “But whether you are going to be on my right or left is not for me to say.”
You can imagine the other ten apostles when they heard what James and John did - they were angry. So these twelve individuals were not happy campers and they were arguing with each other over who is going to be first, and who is going to be on the left and who's going to be on the right. So Jesus gets them all together and says, “Your image of the Kingdom is not my image. While it may be true in the Kingdom here, the King of tomorrow rules over everyone.”
“In my Kingdom there is harmony and there is love. If you are going to be great in my Kingdom, you must serve one another. The first must be the slave to each one.”
Jesus then tells them something about himself. He says, “That's why I came into the world. I came into the world not to be served - but to serve and to ransom my life for all of you.”
The Gospel is very powerful. It tells us we need to look at our life, and tells us how to live it.
I asked you the question, “How many want to be successful?” Hopefully, all of you had your hand up. God wants us all to be successful. He wants us to live a good life. But what does success mean? Success means, in my terms anyway, that we look at the gifts God has given us, we identify them, and then we use them to serve each other. That's success. Success is knowing who God created, the gifts he's given us, and then using them for one another.
How about ambition? When I asked that question - not as many hands went up. Does God want us to be ambitious? The answer is yes, but what does it mean to be ambitious? When James and John asked to be at the right and left hand of the Father, that was not a good ambition. Their ambition was power. Their goal was not to be the underdog - but to rule. And that is not what true ambition should be. True ambition is when we use the gifts that we have been given to the best of our ability and, yes, to climb as high as we can, but not for the purpose of power and wealth and might - but to be in a position where we are better able to serve one another.
I asked how many of you wanted to be in heaven. Now I didn't ask if you wanted to be in heaven today. I asked if you wanted to be in heaven sometime. And everyone's hand went up and that's right. We all want to be in heaven and, as a matter of fact, that is what our journey here on earth is about.
We are going to be in heaven a lot longer than we are on this earth. The question is about preparing our journey to heaven. Are we being of service to each other? Are we using the gifts that God has given us to make the world a better place?
Then I asked you the question: How many of you want to be saints?
Again, I didn't get as many hands up. The thing that we forget is that everyone in heaven is a saint. I repeat, everyone in heaven is a saint. Now the church purposely has a process called canonization which it goes through to determine if that person is in heaven or not. That's why they have the process of miracles and all those different things.
And why do they do that? Because it's important for us to have examples of people who are just like us, who live lives just like us, who we know are in Heaven. They give us an example of how to serve and how to live.
There are hundreds of saints. First of all, there are millions of saints because everybody in heaven is a saint. But of all the saints in heaven, the Church has determined there are ten from the United States. It happens that today in Rome, Bishop Benedict will say that there are seven more in heaven we will now be able to call saints. Of those seven - two of them are from the United States, and are from the New York area.
One is Kateri Tekakwitha. She is called the “Lilly of the Mohawks.” She was an individual who at a very young age contacted tuberculosis along with her parents. Her parents died but she survived and had scars all over her face. She was then raised by a relative who was against Catholicism. But eventually she escaped and became a Catholic and lived her life among the Native American Indians providing food and support. She died at the age of twenty-four. Today when she is declared a saint it will be 356 years from the time of her birth.
The other is Marianne Cope who died at the age of eighty. She was a sister of the Order of St. Francis. She was sent to Hawaii and spent thirty-five years working in the leper colonies. She will be declared a Saint today 174 years after her birth.
We are all hopefully on the journey to sainthood. Whether we are declared a saint or not doesn't really make a whole lot of difference. As a matter of fact, on All Saints Day we celebrate all the saints in heaven - those who have been named, and those who have not been named.
But the thing I think we need to ask this weekend - we need to look at our selves and our journey toward sainthood - are we using the gifts that God has given us as best we can? Are we being of service to each other as best we can? As always, there is more that we can do. But again, on this journey it is important for us to remember that the key commandment is to love God and to love our neighbor.
And we love God by service to our neighbor.
Terry Ellerman is a retired educator and serves as a deacon at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church in Quincy, Illinois.