Saint James sure tells it like it is in today’s first reading for mass. He doesn’t mince his words what so ever. Can you picture yourself saying these same words? The gospel is not an easy thing to proclaim in today’s world. Yes, it is all about love, the entire bible is about love, but mankind has complicated and perverted this word to the point that it is unrecognizable at times. Every human being spends his efforts in life either giving, or receiving love. There is no action in our lives that is not directed toward giving love to others or seeking to be loved ourselves, if you stop and think about it.
The first reading for mass today is all about our very human need to receive love, and all of the ways we distort this normal and natural need. Most of the time we distort our need to be loved because of immaturity, but sometimes people never outgrow this immaturity and carry it with them well into their old age. So many people want to be loved and yet do not know how to find genuine love in their own lives. They are focused on their own needs and want others to show them love. Many people sit back waiting for others to come to them, and pay them some attention and shower them with love and kindness. Perhaps they were greatly loved as a child and still have this mindset. This is where the immaturity comes into play. When they do not receive this love from others, they seek it in other ways that are destructive, both to themselves, and to others.
The first reading for mass today says that, “You do not possess because you do not ask. You ask but do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.” This is where part of the problem lies and Saint James really lays it out in no uncertain terms. Do we spend time in prayer and ask for God’s help and guidance every day, or do we simply go about our lives under our own steam? We are all guilty to some degree of not praying enough and relying more on God, than we do ourselves.
The other side of this coin is that when we do pray, it is often selfish. We selfishly focus on our own needs during many of our prayers. If we are always thinking about ourselves, our prayers can become mostly self involved. God loves to hear and answer the prayers we ask Him for though, on behalf of other people. Seldom will God turn down your requests for other people. Part of prayer is learning to come out of ourselves enough to focus on God and think about others for once, instead of our own little problems and concerns. We are all born self centered. It takes a life time to truly become unselfish.
Unselfishness is really what the gospel today is all about. It’s really kind of pathetic that Jesus was telling his disciples about his impending death and resurrection, and all they could think about was to debate who was the greatest among them? Surely they were not discussing who would replace Jesus and lead them when he was no longer with them? Which one of them would be the best person to do this? They did not understand what Jesus was telling them, and their whole discussion turned into a form of self centered thinking. This is pretty normal, but Christ always tried to teach people to counter our natural feelings and do the opposite of what we feel like.
A great sign of holiness is unselfishness. An unselfish person thinks of the other person’s needs and not so much of their own. Their lives are focused outward on others, and not inward on themselves. It is very difficult to overcome selfishness, but it is actually one of the main things in life that we are to strive to overcome if we want to follow in Christ’s footsteps. Selfishness is easy, we were born that way and it is our natural tendency. Coming out of ourselves and thinking about other people’s needs instead of our own, is to become like Christ. This is the main point of the gospel today. In fact, both of the readings for mass today shows us what selfishness is like, the need to overcome these self centered tendencies within us, and to strive toward an unselfish love for other people. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to be first he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
At the end of the gospel today, Jesus takes a child and put his arms around it and said, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.” This applies to every parent. Being a parent is one of the most unselfish things we will ever do in life. Babies teach us how to become unselfish. They are born innocent and helpless and need to be loved and cared for, and they teach us to truly come out of ourselves and love another human being as much, if not more than ourselves. To love our children, is to love Jesus. If we don’t have children, then to love other people because they are made in the image and likeness of God, is also to love God Himself.
Today, maybe we could try to be more aware of our own self centeredness and be a little more aware of other people and their needs as well.
Daily Mass Readings:
Jas 4: 1-10 / Ps 55: 7-8, 9-10a, 10b-11a, 23 / Mark 9: 30-37