Last Sunday we celebrated the Triumph of the Holy Cross. This Sunday's Gospel brings the cross into sharper focus. Jesus comes down from the mountain and tells his disciples, "The Son of Man is going to be delivered into the hands of men and put to death." But these words seem to have gone right over the heads of the disciples because the next thing we know they are arguing about who is the most important. Well, Jesus has a hard saying: "If you wish to be first, take the last place--and become the serving boy of everyone else."
Now, taking a lower place is against the great goal of our society. We are taught to go after upward mobility: better job, higher pay and more things. And we have succeeded getting more things. A recent study reported that the average American has twice as much as his parents did at the same age. To start with we have (on the average) twice as much floor space per person. We fill that space with twice as much furniture and appliances. We have twice as many TV's per capita - and they receive four times as many channels. We go out to restaurants and take expensive vacations. We have summer homes and mobile homes. The middle class enjoys things once only available to the rich.
You would think that with twice as many things we would be twice as happy as our parents. Not so. The same study showed that even tho we have twice as much, we are only one half as happy. Or to put it another way, we are twice as unhappy. So what do we do? Our society gives us the answer. If you feel unhappy, go down to Southcenter, walk around the mall, buy something, that will pick you up! Buying things becomes like a drug. It does make us feel happy for the moment, but then we feel let down again and need to buy something else. This is a great trap. Pope John Paul II calls it consumerism. Even tho communism has fallen, consumerism poses a greater danger to our souls.
To enjoy the good things of creation is, in itself, positive. However, the "consumer mentality" brings a terrible risk. St. James puts his finger on it in the second reading today. He talks about envy, which means desiring something we do not have. In fact envy can overtake us to such a degree that the only thing we really want is what the other person has. All of us have seen a child with a room-full of toys. He's not paying much attention to any of them. But another child enters, picks up one of them. He shouts, "That's mine." And grabs it from the other child. Maybe even hits him.
Somthing like that has happened in our society. We have so much, but then along comes someone who also wants a share, for example, the immigrant. He is eager to work at Jack in the Box. His wife is willing to care for our elderly in a nursing home. They rent an apartment and dream about having their own home - and a college education for their children. Some react like a child who realizes the other is interested in his toys. "That's mine," we say.
St. James calls this "envy," desiring something only because someone else happens to want it too. Politicians have played on this envy. Instead of examing our own lives to discover why we are dissatisfied, we can put the blame on someone else, resent him. The immigrant is a handy target; most of them are not even eligible to vote.
The incredible thing in our society is that we not only can resent the immigrant, but the child. Rather than welcoming the child, we can think, "More children, less for me." Our society effectively tells young people, "Two children, but no more." I remember talking with a woman who was pregnant with her third child. She had her two small boys at her side - and the third baby was most evident. Someone came up to her and said, "Haven't you ever heard of abortion?" That is an extreme, but we can look at children as a threat to our lifestyle.
The reality is almost the exact opposite. Let me give you small example. When Franklin Roosevelt founded Social Security, there were sixteen workers for every retired person. Today there are three. In the year 2011 when the first class of baby boomers turns sixty-five, there will be two. Do you see why our Social Security System is in trouble? Do you see why, even tho 13% of our wages go into it, it will still go broke in the next century?
Children aren't the problem. They are the solution. If we see a young couple with three, four, five children, we should say, "Thank you." We might even ask, "Is there any way I can help you raise those children?" Those children are our future, not just to save the Social Security System, but because they are the greatest resource of our society--and they are the wealth of the Church.
I'm proud to be pastor here at Holy Family, not because we are the biggest or the richest parish in the archdiocese. We are not. But we are the parish which for the past several years has had the highest number of infant baptisms. I know that some people want to just concentrate on adults, but that was not Jesus' approach. When they were arguing about who was the greatest, Jesus took a little child, sat him down in the middle, placed his arms around him, and said, "Whoever welcomes a little child like this, welcomes me."
That's a challenge for us. To welcome the little child. You know, that is the only way we will overcome dissatisfaction, this envy that is inside of us. Not by getting more things, but by sharing. Let me give a small example. Most of you know that at the end of October Dr. Bob Skripko and I will be going down to Peru. Some have already given some beautiful baby clothes to bring down. I can tell you those clothes will bring great happiness to mothers who really can't buy anything decent for their children.
When we recognize that everything we have is from God and that we are only caretakers, that we need to share, to give sacrificially, then we find real peace, real happiness. Mother Teresa certainly did that. Perhaps you read about her will. All that she possessed was a pair of sandals, three saris and a Bible. Everything she received, she immediately gave to the poor, especially to little children. In doing so she radiated true happiness.
That is part of the reason Jesus placed the child in their midst. That child depends on us, but the time and resources we devote to the child is far and away our best investment. Jesus says, "Whoever welcomes a little child like this welcomes me."
A person in our parish who has done this in such a beautiful is the woman we honor this Sunday. She has done so much to help our young parents and to teach the faith to their children. She is a Benedictine sister from Minnesota who has been brought to us and has received permission to stay. This Sunday she celebrates fifty years of religious profession and will renew her vows after the homily. She is Sister Mary Clare Hall. Today when we hear about Jesus welcoming the little child, there is perhaps no one more appropriate for us to honor.
While we honor her we want to be careful not to say, "Oh, Sister Mary Clare is taking care of the children's religious education. I don't need to get involved." No, that is the work of all of us. Sr. Mary Clare needs people to help her with teaching and other aspects of the C.C.D. program.
I invite all of us to think about what it means to receive the little child. Our lives are not about getting more annd more things. That will only lead to unhappiness. What will bring joy is opening our hearts and sharing, especially with the newcomer and the little child. "Whoever welcomes a child such as this for my sake, welcomes me."
Violence Unveiled (book on theme of envy)
Envy and the question of Women Priests
From Archives (Homilies for 25th Sunday, Year B):
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
St. Mary of the Valley Album
Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Are these homilies a help to you? Please consider making a donation to St. Mary of the Valley Parish
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru
(new, professional website)