I often teach you that the idea that good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell is false teaching. Today we see that teaching what is the real message of who goes to Heaven. In today’s Gospel, Jesus teaches about humility. The mother of all virtues.
First notice Jesus is seated. This scripture scholars tell us that is a position he uses when he is giving a special teaching. So, it is in the Gospel for emphasis.
Notice where the teaching falls: It is after Jesus catches the apostles arguing about who was the greatest. They are lost in the worldly thoughts of honors and accolades. Remember, at this time, they thought that Jesus was going to make Judah a sovereign nation.
So the discussion will be something like:
“Well, I will be Secretary of State because I am the smartest and Peter can be secretary of Agriculture because he is not as diplomatic as I am” etc.
For us Americans there is a special focus here. Notice that the use of the superlative is a part of our culture. When I speak to visitors in our country I remind them that in the United States everything is the biggest, the smallest, the fastest, brightest, etc. Notice the way people talk and present things in our culture, that is central to who we are as Americans. That is not a bad thing or a good thing, it is just as much an aspect of our culture as the use of the diminutive is part of the Latino culture.
However, Jesus’ words run opposite to our culture as much as do his words in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the meek”.
So really what Jesus is saying is do not honor the greatest, but rather, honor the most humble, for it is he or she who will lead you to the Father.
How does He mean this? As he says elsewhere, become like the most humble and then He references a child.
Now we need to understand what this means.
What is a little child like?
A child recognizes that he is a child and needs the assistance of his parents to survive. Even in his most bold moments he will still run back to his mother or father when things go wrong. He recognizes he is a child.
Jesus is calling you to treat God in the same way. Not literally to become childish, but to recognize who you are and who you are not.
Remember what the first temptation is: to become like God. To reject what it means to be human and seek to be something you are not.
So Jesus instructs his apostles, and through them he speaks to us, to recognize who we are and to choose to be the fullness of that which is human. We need seek nothing greater, for we cannot be what we are not. God who bestows upon us divinity in the Kingdom of Heaven, we cannot seek to grasp it now. We must wait to have it bestowed upon us.
This means that like a child, we encounter the Father through humbly recognizing who we are.
St. Teresa of Avila taught that with humility you can draw the Lord into your heart by a thread.
It is this humility Jesus is teaching to his apostles. Remember he encountered them trying to be what they are not.
Remember that the first shall be last and the last shall be first. Those who try to be what they are not will suffer the pain of being involuntarily humbled. Those who try to be everything that they are will find themselves in the presence of God.
But what does this all mean?
If you read the writings of the saints, you will notice that they have an intimate relationship with Christ. They describe him in simple ways which reveals that they look at him as like a benevolent authority with whom they have a strong personal relationship.
This is how the Lord wants us to be with Him. He wants us to have this communion with Him that is not distant but intimate and close as a child would have to His father.
How do we do that? We daily pray and bring our lives to the Lord inviting Him into every aspect of our existence. We speak to Him as we would a good friend. We even invite him into our lives at all times. For example, we ask him to be with us when we go on vacation. This is the teaching of St. Alphonsus of Liguori, a doctor of the Church.
The key here is obedience to the Father.
Jesus Himself was obedient to the Father—totally obedient. Notice, in the garden, He even says that he does not want to obey out of fear of what He will suffer. He is honest but then submits His will to the Father. However, he speaks to the Father openly and honestly. We have a calling to be the same. That includes when things go intensely wrong and we get angry with the Lord. Are we allowed to do that? Do you ever get angry with one you love? Then why would you not get angry with the Lord?
So it is central to whom we are as Catholics to have this humble but close relationship with Christ.
This includes in your home. Maybe you have a child that is difficult, but the Lord has given that child to you. You bring all your struggles with that child or children to the Lord speaking to Him in prayer openly. If you are a parent and do not pray, that is a huge mistake. Prayer of this type is essential.
When we have that humble child to parent relationship with God we become closer to whom the Father created us to be.
Meanwhile, you notice what is going on in our country, this division and anger. The source of this is that community organizers did exactly the opposite of what you see in this Gospel. They reject God’s authority because they are atheists or agnostics and embrace the teachings of Saul Alinsky who calls them to emulate Lucifer. So they reject God as Father and then they submit themselves to the authority of the demonic—thinking it is meaningless and the fruit is this great separation, division and hatred that is growing like a virus through a population.
We need to draw close to Christ through understanding that we are to God what a child is to his loving Father. When we understand that, we grow to be strong mature Christians in service to Christ.
That is what the sacraments are all about, God strengthening his relationship to us. Our prayer is we are strengthening our relationship to Him.