Sunday, September 20, 2009

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Reflection

There are times when I very much would like to skip one of these questions. This is one of those times.

Now, I have obviously missed some weeks, but generally that's not because I'm avoiding the question. That's more from the tired old excuse of "I've been busy."

But not today! This question really has me thinking, digging deep, and hoping that I can answer it honestly. This is after all, the point of these reflections.

The readings from today's Mass were all very thought-provoking for me. The book of Wisdom is always an interesting read, and this excerpt is no exception! It definitely foreshadows Christ's death, no doubt about that. The Psalm is a nice match for what we heard proclaimed in Wisdom and then we hear from the letter of James. James always seems to me the kind of guy that loves life and is full of optimism. This reading kind of goes against that. It's a good reminder of our selfishness as humans. Then of course we hear the proclamation of the Gospel from Mark. Just like in Wisdom, Jesus tells His disciples that he will be put to death; but that is not all. The disciples also argue about who is the first amongst them. Jesus chides them for this and tells them they must be servants to all. Then he brings forth a child and says, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”

I love how the Gospel passage first works well with the Old Testament reading from Wisdom and the Psalm and then also touches on the selfishness we heard about in James' letter. The Church is so smart in how it puts all these together!!

But I digress ... For the full texts of the readings check them out here: USCCB website. And our question for this week:

When is it most difficult to put aside my selfishness?

This Gospel passage illustrates the problems engendered by selfish pride, as the disciples argue about who is greatest among them. The Catechism teaches that pride can give rise to envy of another, which St. Augustine saw as "the diabolical sin" (quoted in Catechism of the Catholic Church paragraph 2539). "Envy represents a form of sadness and therefore a refusal of charity; the baptized person should struggle against it by exercising good will" (CCC 2540). To correct the disciples, Jesus counsels that they should instead practice humility and self-giving: whoever wants to be first, should be the servant of all. As St. Ambrose wrote, "Pride transformed angels into demons; humility makes human beings into saints."

As I said at the beginning, this is a hard question. It takes a bit of honesty to admit that we feel selfish at times, even when we, as Christians, should be trying to be servants in all we do. It seems that this kind of interior reflection is popping up a lot for me lately.

First, I am in the process of reading C.S. Lewis' Mere Christianity. Just the other day I read the chapter on Pride. Then, I am also taking a weekly class on campus called the Experienced Leader Academy. The recent reading I did for that class talked about how as leaders we should be focusing on developing our people and helping them to be the best employee they can be rather than the usual leadership mantra of how to get people to do the work you need them to do. This leadership philosophy takes more of the angle that we see described in the Gospel and in the quotes from the Catechism and the saints above. Be a servant to all; be humble.

So, yes, I do wonder where my pride gets in the way of who I am truly called to be. I know I can be prideful and I know I am not always humble. I like the quote above from St. Ambrose. We need to become saints in order to get to heaven. To be a saint we must be humble. And I can't be humble if I have pride or envy or am rooted in any way in selfishness.

Let's cut to the chase. How am I selfish? I know I can be selfish with my time. There are times when I really should be helping others with things and for whatever reason I fail to follow through. I always regret those times, but I know they will happen again. I used to happily volunteer for things, a lot. My calendar was often quite full. You may say, "oh, but then you need a break, it's okay, you can help out the next time." I don't think that's what we're called to. Taking a break is good, but we can't let the thought of taking breaks prevent us from ever getting involved. I'm pretty sure Christ didn't take breaks from his mission, nor did the apostles, or St. John, or any of the countless people who have dedicated themselves to serving Christ and the Church throughout history.

There's also my time at home. I should be serving my husband more than I do. Yes, I do lots around our household. I do laundry and help with dinner (he's mainly the cook), and I do other things too. But I know my laziness prevents me from truly keeping house as I would like. My husband hates clutter, but we have lots of clutter due mostly to me. I try to keep it from getting out of control, but I know it bugs him. So I need to be better at cleaning our house more often. Don't get me wrong, we don't live in a dump, it's actually fairly well kept up, but there is always plenty still to do. And it's those more time-consuming, icky jobs that are the hardest to do.

Anyone else want to admit their moments of selfishness? It's definitely a hard question, so I won't blame you if you don't comment. But it's definitely a good question to contemplate. Jesus has asked us to be servants to the people of this world. And by serving them we are serving Him. That's something I need to remind myself of often. And that, above anything else, should get me up and doing more where I am needed.

Your thoughts? When is it most difficult to put aside your selfishness?

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24th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Reflection

Today is actually the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, but I feel compelled to share last week's question first. Today's reflection will be quickly following.

You can check out the readings for last Sunday here on the USCCB website. These were all great readings by the way!

Question: Have I ever encountered prejudice because of my faith?

Jesus emphasizes that, just as he had to suffer rejection, so too must we disciples take up our own crosses if we want to follow him. We "must be prepared to confess Christ before men and to follow him along the way of the Cross, amidst the persecutions which the Church never lacks. Service of and witness to the faith are necessary for salvation" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1816). "The Christian is not to be ashamed then of testifying to our Lord. In situations that require witness to the faith, the Christian must profess it without equivocation" (CCC 2471).

I had to answer this question because I did once feel prejudice from being a Catholic. But I will admit, that I don't believe I have ever faced prejudice in being a Christian. We are lucky to live in a country where we can practice any faith and be accepted. I have had discussions with non-believers, but usually those are open and honest conversations with both sides asking questions and both sides listening.

But several years ago I did encounter prejudice, and I wasn't prepared for it. I was in college and was visiting my then-boyfriend's family in another state. While I was in the family room with his sister, he and his mother were in the kitchen. Unfortunately it was a small house and I could hear their conversation, though I don't think I ever let on that I had heard what they were discussing. Anyway, all I remember now is that his mother was concerned that I was a Catholic and she told him that I wasn't Christian. He (thankfully) told her that I was a Christian, which I appreciated!

Now you have to also understand that at the time I was not a practicing Catholic. I hardly ever went to Church and I know I didn't really understand my faith at the time. I was in college, afterall, so not an uncommon thing for that age group. Despite that, I always considered myself Catholic and deep down knew that I would want to marry in the Church and raise my kids Catholic. It was at least ingrained in me enough that I couldn't even contemplate joining another faith. So despite not practicing at the time, this statement shocked and hurt me. I was glad to hear that my boyfriend at the time stood up for me and understood that Catholics are Christians (the first Christians, truth be told, but that's a discussion for another time). However, it was still a shock to hear it. I had never encountered that before. I also couldn't really respond, since I wasn't actually part of the conversation. I didn't want to reveal that I was eavesdropping, which, of course, wasn't hard to do, but still!

Anyway, I've come a long way since then and would know better how to respond should something similar happen to me again. I am thankful that I live in a country where we can be Christians openly without fear for our lives. Which reminds me of something I heard earlier this week during an introductory lecture to the Book of Revelation.

The lecture focused on some of the history of Revelation (authorship, dating, what the first century church was like, etc.). During the part on the first century church the teacher talked about the persecutions the early Christians dealt with, particularly death. Many, many Christians were killed for their faith, for refusing to worship the gods of the Roman empire and the Emperor, and for insisting that Christ was God. Despite all this, the Church was a place of hope and the book of Revelation is a book of hope. It is hope in the second coming, that if we live for Him, we will join Him in heaven one day for the continual worship of God! And she said that the early Christians were told not to compromise. Despite everything happening around them, they were told by the early Church fathers, and by writings such as Revelation, not to compromise. That was pretty powerful!

This is true even today. We can not compromise our moral beliefs in any way. We can not compromise our belief in Christ for anything the secular world throws at us. Despite any difficulties that are put before us, we should be willing to lay down our lives for what we believe in. And there are plenty of people all over the world who still do so everyday.

How about you? Any reflections or thoughts on this question: Have you ever encountered prejudice because of your faith?

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