19th September, 2021

Fr Gregory holding his niece Laura on her baptism day

Fr Gregory holding his niece Laura on the day of her baptism, 12th September 2021

Homily for the 25th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B

‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me…’ (Mk 9, 30-37)

I am pretty sure that all of us, including myself, just like the Apostles in today’s Gospel would like to achieve greatness, and perhaps we experience this human desire more or less often at different stages of our lives. Each of us would like to be appreciated, each of us would like to experience recognition and admiration from other people and it is a very natural and a very human feeling and aspiration. Sometimes at home, sometimes in a family, in political life, sometimes at school, among our friends and colleagues, we would like to be better, faster, richer, more intelligent, more independent and influential. Of course, there is nothing wrong with being ambitious and persistent in our endeavours, but only if our ambitions and aspirations correspond to our abilities and skills. After all, we remember that even the Bible warns us against pride, saying: Pride goes before the fall…

In today’s Gospel, we have heard a typical example of pride. We have heard of the Apostles arguing with each other, and moreover, they argued at such an important moment when Jesus was telling them about the essence of his entire mission. The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, they will put him to death, and three days after he has been put to death he will rise again. We can easily imagine what Jesus must have felt and how sorry he was at that particular moment, that the only reaction of his Disciples to this teaching, a very important teaching by the way, was quarrel and division. I am convinced that it wasn’t the purpose of Jesus’ teaching and he was very sad about this behaviour. As we have heard the evangelist Mark beautifully described this scene when Jesus found perhaps the best way to change the mentality of his Apostles and this desire to be the greatest, whatever that meant to them.

There is one very interesting story from the life of Pope John XXIII, who was known and called by many people as the Pope of smile and kindness, but he also had a great sense of humour. Once the Pope said a very interesting sentence that I will remember for the rest of my life. You need to know – he said to one of his priests or bishops – that you can become a saint with a beautiful golden crosier in your hand … but it is much easier to achieve greatness and holiness with a broom and dustpan in your hands. The same Pope once received a letter from a little boy, who wrote to him the following words asking for his advice: Dearest Pope, I have a little problem and was wondering if you could help me find the best solution. Actually, I don’t know how to discern my calling. I have a big dilemma because, on the one hand, I would like to become a Pope like you, but on the other hand I feel that I would like to be a policeman. What is your advice? Could you help me make the right decision please? The Pope’s reply came very quickly, and it was just as amusing as the boy’s letter. My little Bruno. If you want to know my advice, please learn and do your best to become a good policeman. This is a very important and responsible profession. Being a pope, this is something completely different. Anyone can become a Pope. Look at me!

I think that today’s Gospel wants to encourage us to reflect and ask ourselves about our own personal ambitions, and perhaps about our personal pride as well. Are we not like those Apostles who didn’t listen to Jesus attentively, and that is why they didn’t understand what is most important in our following Him? Are we not like them at times in our attitudes and in our relationships with others? Perhaps we too, like them, sometimes argue or even fight for appreciation, recognition and admiration, trying to achieve greatness in a similar way. But there is another interesting thread of this gospel. Jesus doesn’t want to blame us for our human weaknesses and failures, for our pride and our ambitions, which can be exaggerated or even ridiculous at times. But as we heard, there is also a very optimistic message for all of us. One of the significant heroes of this Gospel is a little child. We don’t know his or her name, we don’t know where he or she actually came from. But it is not important to know. What is it that is most important in this particular passage? The fact that Jesus took this little child, set him before his Apostles as an example and said to them: Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me. I am convinced that this small child must have been very surprised at that moment, what’s more, we can imagine that he must have felt like someone very special, someone very important, very excited and very happy at the same time. Who wouldn’t be? I think that each of us can have the same feeling especially today because what this Gospel wants to tell us is: we are not an anonymous people for God, but each of us is chosen, each of us is very special and dear to him like this little child.

Let us thank God for this beautiful and very simple example, for this profound lesson in humility, for showing us what true greatness is, and how we can achieve this greatness in our daily lives. Let us thank God that despite so many of our weaknesses, sins, failures and pride, He always loves us as someone very special, as his beloved children.

Fr Gregory