November 3, 2023

Christ the Cornerstone

Like the saints, live humbly and serve others without cost

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson

“The greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:11-12).

This weekend in the Gospel reading for the Thirty-first Sunday in Ordinary Time (Mt 23:1-12), Jesus tells us that service and humility are essential to his way of life. This is in sharp contrast to the way the religious leaders of Jesus’ time exercised their authority. Our Lord observes that:

The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses. Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example. For they preach, but they do not practice. They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. All their works are performed to be seen. They widen their phylacteries and lengthen their tassels. They love places of honor at banquets, seats of honor in synagogues, greetings in marketplaces, and the salutation “Rabbi” (Mt 23:1-7).

Jesus tells his followers to respect their leaders’ teaching, but not to follow their example because they are hypocrites who don’t practice what they preach.

Everyone who has been given a position of responsibility in the Church (everyone who has been baptized) is challenged to take Jesus’ words to heart.

As Pope Francis reminds us frequently, none of us is perfect. We are sinners called by the Lord to proclaim the Good News of our salvation in Christ and to serve the needs of others. We do not always succeed at practicing what we preach.

Our sinful humanity is always with us—tempting us to place our own desires ahead of those we serve. That’s why we must rely on the Lord’s mercy to forgive us when we fall short of our baptismal calling and our particular vocations. It’s also why we must trust that, by the power of the Holy Spirit, God’s grace will do for us what we cannot do for ourselves.

Jesus’ whole life, his public ministry and his death on the Cross show us what humble service looks like. To serve is to get outside of ourselves and to be women and men for others.

Perhaps the most dramatic example of our Lord’s commitment to serving others is found at the Last Supper (Jn 13:1-17) when he washed the feet of the disciples gathered in the upper room for the Passover meal. Jesus insists that this is the only acceptable way authority may be exercised among his followers. Anything less is hypocrisy.

The example of Jesus can seem to be overwhelming. How can those of us who acknowledge our sinfulness, and our inadequacy as servant leaders, hope to “practice what we preach”?

The intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary and all the saints is important here. These are the men and women who have successfully gone before us. Except for Mary, who was sinless by the grace of God, all the others were weak, imperfect and sinful people who accepted the Lord’s challenge to follow his way of humble service. Although they had many different personalities—many diverse strengths and weaknesses—what they all had in common was a desire to live humbly as Jesus lived and to serve others without counting the cost to themselves.

Our observance of the Solemnity of All Saints earlier this week was a testimony to all the people—known and unknown—who have dedicated their lives to humble service in Jesus’ name. By asking them to intercede for us, we acknowledged that we cannot possibly practice what we preach without help. To humble ourselves and serve others as Jesus commands, we must rely on the grace of God and the intercession of Mary and all the saints.

Our observance of All Saints this week was followed, as always, by the Commemoration of the Faithful Departed (All Souls’ Day). This popular feast acknowledges that God’s love and mercy are still available to us after death.

All Souls’ Day also reflects our understanding that those of us who are still living have a responsibility to humbly serve those who have died by our heartfelt prayers. Just as we rely on the intercession of Mary and all the saints, the souls of our deceased brothers and sisters who have not yet attained the happiness of heaven rely on us to help them.

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Mt 23:12), Jesus tells us both by his words and by his example.

Let’s ask Blessed Mary and all the saints to help us live these challenging words, and when we fall short, to ask for God’s forgiveness and the grace to carry on. †

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