Homily: Housekeepers and Secretaries Mass, 2018

Mass for Housekeepers and Secretaries
St Mary’s Church, Echua
22nd May, 2018

James 4:1-10 Mk 9:30-37

Thank you all for coming together here in Echuca, to celebrate this Holy Mass and to renew your dedication to your work in the important role of housekeepers and secretaries. I thank you all for your generous work in this field of service, which is an essential part of the mission of the Church, in every diocese; and I am sure, at times, not such an easy task !

Strong words today from St James in our first reading! He speaks about the origins of the conflicts and disputes that can tear communities apart. Rampant crime and violence are among the most evident fruits of our materially affluent societies. Our passions or desires tempt us to believe we need to possess, obtain, or control in order to have peace. However, these lead instead to destruction and discontent. People are driven by never-satisfied desires to have more and more and to have it NOW.

James is saying very clearly that the problem is not that God does not listen to our prayers but that we are approaching him in a completely wrong frame of mind. In rather blunt language, he accuses his hearers of being “unfaithful” or “adulterous”. Whatever we ask of God, it should not be simply for passing satisfactions. It should be something that is directed to the purpose and meaning of our own lives and those of others.

Instead of exalting ourselves, manoeuvring and positioning ourselves to look better before others, James encourages us finally to humble ourselves before God. And the most amazing and awesome result will come of this - "and he will exalt you." In addition, is it not more glorious, more wondrous to be exalted by God Himself than to have to spend my time and effort trying to exalt myself? or trying to somehow get others to do it to me? How much more secure, satisfying, peaceful, and life giving, to receive from God all He desires to give us, ultimately to receive His very self, than to try and give myself out of my meagre resources life and peace and security!

Finally, in this context, James concludes with 10 short commandments of his own, each of which is so stated in Greek that it calls for immediate action in digging out the sinful attitude of pride, which has been the subject of his warnings.

In simple terms in this first reading, St James gives us a call to sincerity, humility and fidelity, reminding us to avoid selfishness.

Then in our Gospel reading, it seems the disciples were squabbling about that which James warned- they were trying to exalt themselves- arguing amongst themselves as to who might be greater. Jesus asks his disciples what seems an innocuous question: “What were you arguing about on the road?” Jesus’ question is met with an embarrassed silence because they had been arguing among themselves as to which of them was the greatest. The minute the question was asked they knew they were in the wrong. Why were they arguing about this?

Jesus, of course, knew exactly what was going on in their minds so he gave them some guidelines if they wanted to be truly his followers. “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” This is quite a hard saying and most of us find it difficult to put fully into practice. It is, of course, totally in opposition to what goes on in the secular world where “success” means being on top, being in charge, being in control, calling the shots.

Yet, who are really the greatest people in our society? Is it not those, especially those who are gifted with talented intellectual or in other ways, who use their talents totally for the well-being of others to the point of even sacrificing their lives?

Apart from the obvious example of Jesus himself, we have many of the great saints. In our own times we have marvellous people like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Oscar Romero, Jean Vanier, Mother Teresa and Mary Mackillop – just to mention a few. It is a long list but they all have one thing in common: they put themselves totally at the service of their brothers and sisters. Success, promotion, status, material wealth, executive power meant nothing to these people. They served and in serving was their power, a power which inspires in a way that no mere politician or business tycoon or dictator could ever do.

To serve is not to be submissive or weak; it is not putting oneself on a lower level than those being served. It is simply to be totally committed to the good of others and to find one’s own well-being in being so committed. Moreover, I am fairly certain that you know all that, so this is just a reminder!

I thank God today for your dedicated service. I know how, day in day out, you give such support to your good priests. Today, as always, priests need to feel the support and friendship of those who work closely with them. I hope we will find ways among ourselves today to express our gratitude to God for the gifts he has given us and to renew our commitment in the service of the people and tasks entrusted to our care.