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Saturday, September 22, 2018

Dying to Self

Dying to Self – Homily 25th Sunday Year B 
A homily adapted from Christ the King Catholic Church https://ctkbelton.org/dying-to-self-

How loud our world has become…In the car…at home…your desk at the office...even sitting here in Church…just about wherever we are at any given time we’re confronted by sound. And it’s not just sound that confronts us either…it’s everything that takes hold of our thoughts and senses…anything that demands the attention of our eyes…our appetites…our desires. Billboards on the interstate…Pop ups on our computers…and maybe most destructive of all…the thoughts that push us into the confusing mazes of our minds. Hopes…dreams…anxieties all mixed up in a never-ending deluge of thoughts. Our time is marked with the inability to break free of the noise and arrive at any kind of silence. In the end this particularly modern reality proves to be one of the greatest obstacles in our relationship with God. 

 Meister Eckhart…the great German Dominican from the 1300s said… “Nothing resembles the language of God so much as does silence.” If this is correct…and I think it is…then we are living in a time where the language of God is almost inaudible. This grappling with sound and silence is what I kept thinking about as I read and re-read this passage from Mark throughout week. Just listen to the passage…What were you arguing about on the way…he asked…they were silent…then he spoke…if anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all. So here’s the message…we need to stop talking so much…to stop trying so hard to tell God and everybody else what should be going on in our lives…we need to stop discussing among each other…or more commonly in the privacy of our own thoughts… we need to stop trying to figure out who’s the greatest among us… and work on silence… silence of voice…but even more importantly…the silence of our thoughts. 

This calls to mind a story I once heard from a wise man. It’s the story of one of my favorite spiritual writers Fr. Henry Nouwen. Fr. Nouwen was definitely an intellectual. He had three doctorates from major universities…Harvard, Yale and Notre Dame. He was a sought after Spiritual Director and Retreat Master. He could’ve held any post he wanted in really any university in the world. Instead he chose to go to work as the Spiritual Director at L’arche…a home for mentally handicapped people in Toronto. He recalls one evening at dinner with his new housemates…at L’arche they all ate dinner together…staff with residents…one evening at table Fr. Nouwen tried to pass the meatloaf to the person next to him to which a very confident young man from across the table interjected…no, no, no Father…don’t pass him the meat loaf…he doesn’t eat meat…he’s a Presbyterian. It was at this point that Fr. Henry realized he had truly arrived at a place where his PhD’s didn’t matter…the fact that people from all over the world called him to lead retreats didn’t matter…the fact that he could speak multiple languages didn’t matter to any of his new housemates. He had finally arrived at a place where there was no need to assert his own agenda…to talk about his own accomplishments…to market his resume…it wouldn’t matter to them anyway. He explains that this was when he finally became free. Fr. Nouwen had experienced the need to Die to self…remember Jesus said…whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. 

 Dying to self is what we heard in last week’s Gospel and this week is the second course of the same meal. If anyone wishes to be first…he shall be the last and the servant of all. The fact remains that we have this innate…almost unquenchable…need to assert ourselves…to interject our thoughts…feelings…opinions.. onto the world so that we have some proof that we are in the game…that we are important…that we are essential to whatever is going on around us at a given time. We are afraid that somehow if we’re quiet…if we die to self…if we humble ourselves to be last rather than first we might not be happy…we’re secretly afraid that we might not get what we so desperately want in life. And so we are driven to make something of our lives. We grasp for any sort of way to leave our mark on the world so that we will be known and valued. Yet, we are missing Christ’s teaching and his way of life by doing so, especially when it comes to faith. Faith is the antidote to the dysfunction of needing to assert oneself upon the world…upon our community…and upon our closest family and friends. Faith invites us to believe that our real significance is not to have our name put up on billboards but rather to have our name written in heaven for eternity. And that’s the beginning of sainthood. 

 I think about two particular saints for whom this kind of faith was totally evident. St. Joseph and St. John the Baptist…both undeniably vital in salvation history. St. Joseph…had he not said yes…had he not taken in the Virgin Mary…had he not died to self…you and I might not be sitting here today. He said yes…he protected Mary and Jesus…he provided for them…it is because of him that Jesus was able to do his work. And yet…after the flight into Egypt and the brief mention of Joseph when Jesus was teaching in the temple we hear nothing more of him. He completely melts into the background. And John the Baptist…his whole purpose was to announce the arrival of Jesus onto the scene…he prepares the way then points him out…after the baptism of our Lord John exits stage left. He even says so… “I must decrease and He must increase.” There’s no doubt about it…John the Baptist was not some weakling without a healthy ego. It was in his strength that he was able to be last and a servant to all. 

 And finally, in closing, and possibly to sum this all up, I refer to Fr. Thomas Merton who says life is a battle between our real and false selves. Our false selves are the identities we cultivate in order to function in society with pride and self-possession; and our real selves are a deep religious mystery, known entirely only to God. The world cultivates the false self and ignores the real one and therein lies the great irony of our human condition: the more we try to make of our selves the less we actually exist. Whoever wishes to save his life will lose it and whoever is willing to lose his life will save it. And If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and servant of all.

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