September 20, 2015

September 20, 2015

 

Greatness.
Each of us was made for greatness. 
It’s true. 
Each and every one of us was made for greatness. 
Greatness.

 

Sometimes when we think of greatness maybe we think of people who achieve at a high level—celebrities, sports stars, business moguls—or those who have a lot of status, power, or money.  Other times we can think of people who don’t actually have any of that, but are out making an influential difference in the world.  People have varying responses to how greatness applies to them.  Some would be like, “Yeah, I know.”  Others would say, “Who me? Never.”  Still others might be ambivalent about it.

 

I think in a lot of ways it starts by what we think of as greatness.  In the Gospel, Jesus tells His disciples (again) that He is going to be handed over, killed, and rise after three days.  As I mentioned last week, this definitely did not fit their expectations of a messiah.  But not only that.  Jesus is opening up about how He’s going to suffer and die…and what is the big topic of discussion among themselves?  Who is the greatest.  What does this even mean?  Like, which one is Jesus’ biggest bestie?  And what are the qualifications?  They don’t have a clue.  They don’t even know what they’re talking about.  So Jesus says, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”  As their heads are full of lofty ambitions, He puts a child in their midst—one who, back then, was considered to not have any status at all.

 

One of my favorite quotes comes from St. Francis de Sales.  He says, “Be who you are, and be it well.”  This is greatness.  But who are we?  We are people made in the image and likeness of God, who is self-giving/self-offering/self-sacrificing love.  We were indeed made for greatness, but this greatness comes from dying to self and living our life in God.  And this greatness is not of our own making; it’s allowing the grace of God to conform and transform our lives to that of Jesus Christ. 

 

What happens when we don’t do this?  What happens if we see greatness as some kind of competition, like the disciples did?  In our 1st Reading from Wisdom, we see the wicked envious and resentful of “the just one,” and they plot ill against him.  In our 2nd Reading, St. James lays it out plainly: “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”  If we let our selfish “passions” control us, he says, “You covet but do not possess. You kill and envy but you cannot obtain; you fight and wage war.”  All of this gets us nowhere; and it actually endangers us.

 

A big part of the idea of competition and rivalry is that through it we view the ‘other’ (another) as a threat to us, even perhaps to our very existence.  In the end, though, we look to imitate the One who freely gave Himself up to death on the Cross.  Looking at the ‘crosses’ in our own lives, we are sometimes tempted to think, “Surely this can’t be a part of God’s plan, can it?” (especially if we’re made for greatness.)  What if it even threatens our very existence as we know it?  Yet we must remember that if we belong to the Lord, if we are members of the Body of Christ, then death only leads to resurrection—dying to self actually makes us more fully alive.  As with His disciples on the way, Jesus doesn’t condemn our tendency to competition and desire for greatness but transforms it, teaching that self-giving service and humility and simplicity are what lead to greatness and a share in the Kingdom.

 

Again from St. James, we hear that “wisdom from above is first of all pure, then peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without inconstancy and insincerity.”  These are certainly not usually associated with greatness as the world sees it.

 

Greatness. 
Each of us was made for greatness. 
It’s true. 
Each and every one of us was made for greatness. 
Greatness—as human beings who live as people made in the image and likeness of God, who is perfect love.  And as St. Catherine of Siena famously declared, “Be the person who God made you to be and you will set the world on fire.”