Thursday July 25, 2002 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Sixteenth Week in Ordinary Time
Reading (2 Corinthians 4:7-15) Gospel (St. Matthew 20:20-28)
Our Lord tells us in the Gospel reading today that we have to become the servants and the slaves of all, not because we want to be considered great in any kind of worldly way - obviously, if one is a slave or a servant there is no sense of worldly greatness; you are placing yourself below everybody else when you are making yourself the servant and the slave - but it is a matter of being great in the kingdom of God. That is precisely what the mother of James and John was asking for, that they would be seated at His right and His left. All that He told them is that they would have to drink from His chalice, which is a chalice of suffering, the chalice that is on the Cross. And they did indeed drink of that.
Saint Paul, then, recognizing this same mystery himself says, "Death is at work in us, but life in you." He tells us that he carries around in his body the death of Jesus so that the resurrection and the life of Jesus may be manifest in their bodies as well, and he tells us what that is going to be like. He says, "We are afflicted in every way possible but not constrained, perplexed but not driven to despair, persecuted but not abandoned, struck down but not destroyed."
These are the sorts of things that are going to happen to one who is trying to live the life of Christ, who is willing to drink of the chalice of the Lord, the one who is willing to be the servant of all. If we are going to be the slave, we are going to be put down. But if you place yourself on the lowest rung, it is kind of hard to be put down by somebody else. The only time we are going to feel that we have been done wrong is if we try to place ourselves higher than someone else and then they do not treat us in that manner; then we feel like we have been wronged. But if we place ourselves willfully beneath the others and they treat us that way, we are not going to mind that so much. It is not that they have a right to treat us that way - they do not have any right to violate our dignity - but the fact is that even if they do violate our dignity, since we have placed ourselves beneath them anyway, what difference does it make?
And so, for us to be able to embrace the dignity that God has given to us is not to have to say, "Because I have this dignity, being made in the image and likeness of God, being redeemed by Christ, being raised up with Christ, you need to treat me like a king or like a queen, like one who is seated at the right or the left of the Lord," because that is already where we are: as Saint Paul tells us, we are already seated at God's right hand in Christ. But for us it is to be able to say, "I understand and accept my dignity, therefore, I am going to place myself as the servant, not as the king or the queen. Rather, I am going to seek to be great in the kingdom of God. I am going to accept that I am already seated at God's right hand, therefore, I have to place myself beneath the rest as the servant of all and as the slave of all."
That is what it means to be great in the kingdom of God. It means to share the cup of suffering with Christ, and it means to share everything of His life. He tells us that He came not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for the many. So too, each one of us, then, is called to serve, to place ourselves at the service of others, to be the servant and the slave of all. But it is a voluntary slavery not one of constraint, not one that is an undignified sort of thing like slavery in America in the early years of this country, which was a totally undignified thing. But rather, it is a voluntary slavery; it is a slavery of love: out of charity for others, we place ourselves beneath them. We do then exactly what Saint Paul says, thinking humbly and placing others above us, thinking that everyone else is greater than we and, therefore, seeking to serve the others. It is not something which comes naturally or easily to us, but it is precisely in this way that we are going to be elevated to be with Jesus forever. That, ultimately, is all that matters.
So if we want to be glorified with Him in the next life, then we need to place ourselves as servants with Him in this life. And it was His service, particularly on the Cross, that was His glory in this world so that He could be truly glorified with His heavenly Father in the next. If we want to be glorified with Our Lord in the next life then we must be glorified with Him in this life, that is, to put ourselves on His Cross, to make ourselves the servants of all and the slaves of all.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.