Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
In the Gospel this weekend, the Apostles are found arguing amongst themselves about who is the greatest. Meanwhile, Jesus has been teaching them, trying to prepare them for His Passion and Cross. The journey during which this all takes place is private. Our Lord knows He needs time with the Apostles away from the great crowds that follow Him. This time away should be understood in its proper place—Jesus is not avoiding the people who need Him, but rather is dedicating His time to the necessary preparations that will make His future ministry and the future ministry of the Apostles possible. So it is that Mark tells us the journey is in secret and during the journey our Lord teaches the Twelve that He will suffer death and rise again.
The Apostles find themselves confused. They don’t understand what this all means, but they are afraid to ask questions. So instead they turn to a subject they better understand: themselves. They compete and argue. When I was in high school, we would play a debate game that usually began with “Who would win in a fight?” followed by a matchup of classmates, teachers, professional athletes, celebrities, etc. The goal was to make a strong case for one person or another, and the more outlandish the reason they would win in a fight, the better. I imagine the Apostles having a similar discussion about who is the greatest among them. The conversation was probably a bit silly. More importantly, the conversation was a convenient distraction from the unwelcome teaching of Jesus.
Do we sometimes distract ourselves with things we know best, rather than face the challenges life puts in front of us? In our spiritual lives, do we sometimes opt for the comfortable, known routine of prayer because it helps us avoid the challenge to spiritual greatness that God places before us? A personal confession: for the last few months, I have been struggling to accept the challenge in ministry that lies before me, often pining for those aspects of priestly ministry that I most enjoy and love. As a priest, I love celebrating the sacraments, visiting the sick, working with young people, helping people grow in their relationship with the Lord. I don’t love administration, and I especially do not love fundraising. Yet, for the last few months, the We Stand With Christ capital campaign has been put on my desk. I would rather be a priest than a fundraiser. And so I’ve struggled and, like the Apostles, tried to distract myself with things I know better. But the Lord is asking something of me in this moment. Will I avoid it, or embrace it?
Jesus ends the journey by placing a child in the midst of the Apostles and telling them that they must be the last of all, the servant of all, and must welcome the child as they would welcome Christ Himself. Children have the ability to recognize reality bluntly. They are also able to accept reality without getting into the adult mental gymnastics of “what if” and “if only.” Do I welcome the challenge with the child-like acceptance of reality? Or, like the Apostles, do I try to find something else to occupy my time? While in my own spiritual life I have not resolved the challenge before me, I can testify that when I accept the challenge as it is, bringing it to prayer each day and persevering in the work as an offering to God, I find great peace. When I fail to embrace the Cross, the struggle multiplies. In your life, you may face challenges, sufferings, difficulty. I do not pretend to answer every aspect of those challenges here, but if we want to persevere through them, we must follow our Lord’s instruction: become the servant of all, accept and welcome the challenge as we would a child and with that child-like attitude that allows us to see the reality in front of us, for it is in that reality that God walks with us and invites us to follow Him in faith.