Welcome to Saint Mary’s Church, Harborne, Birmingham, UK.

Order of St. Augustine.

Archdiocese of Birmingham

“Before all else, live together in harmony, being of one mind and one heart on the way to God.”  St. Augustine.

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                                       Fr. Bernard O’Connor’s Homily

                                           for Sunday 23rd September

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Greatness through serving.


Mark:  9: 30-37

 

Jesus turns upside-down most of the values that we instinctively cherish,   He did not seek power or wealth or self-indulgence – he did not condemn them -  but he did not need them.

Yet he has exerted an influence such as no other human being even approaches, and over two thousand years and more.

 

The power he exerts is the power of his Words and of his own personality, which reflect his words.  The essence of his teachings is to encourage us to transcend, to look and act beyond our natural instinct to self-preservation, a powerful urge to put our own personal interests at the foremost of our preoccupations.

 

It is a natural instinct, and a necessary one.  We do of course need to look to our own well-being and interests.  But Jesus urges us to look beyond to the well-being of others, stating simply ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

 

The strange paradox is that the more we are able to look beyond our own self-centred interests, the more we grow as  human beings.  There is nobody more miserable than the selfish person, who thinks only of himself or herself, without thought or regard for anybody else.

 

Today’s Gospel illustrates one of the most fundamental teachings of Jesus.

First of all:  He would give himself for us, giving up his life, but by doing so he would open the way for all of us to eternal life, and to self-enhancement here and now.

 

Then he teaches that the way to be first of all is by being last of all and servant of all.  This fundamental teaching of Jesus, he emphasises several times. On another occasion when James and John ask for the top places in his kingdom, Jesus uses the occasion to show that their request is totally contrary to everything he stands for.

We achieve greatness, not by dominating others but by serving them.  He demonstrated this teaching after the Last Supper, by going on his hands and knees and washing the feet of those around the table with him, to their horror at the Master performing such a menial task.

 

But what does all this mean for us, in our modern, complex and highly competitive world?

Does it mean that we must be a doormat for everybody  to be used by others for their own purposes?

Does it mean that a good Christian cannot be ambitious, for example to advance oneself in own’s career?

 

When a teaching of Jesus raises such difficult questions, I find it helpful to look for other things that Jesus said and did.

In this case, we recall that he told the parable of the talents, where the one who gave lots of talents and was praised for using them profitably.  Likewise for another given fewer talents but nevertheless using them to the best of his ability – he likewise was praised.

But the one who had only a single talent, but did nothing with it, was condemned.

 

It is perfectly consistent then with being a good Christian to be ambitious for advancement, for example in one’s work.  The top position is empty and I feel I have what it takes to do that job well.  Jesus would say ‘Go for it!’

He would also say, ‘But seek not only to preen yourself and to dominate others, but rather to have a mission of serving the whole enterprise to the best of your ability, recognising my need of all the others, who are down the ladder, respecting them and what they are doing.’

 

We might also come to recognise the wisdom of such an attitude, even from the point of view of producing results.

 

Somehow, we discover that in this area as in everything else, the Gospel makes sense  That is why it has survived and outlasted its critics, its scoffers, its enemies through all the centuries and will continue to do so for the future.

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