Crosses and Crowns
There is a vast contrast between the way of the world and the way of Our Lord. In today’s Gospel Our Lord speaks of crosses and crowns (Mark 10:35-45) and the Apostles are thinking only of crowns. James and John, the sons of Zebedee said to JESUS, “Allow us to sit one at Your right hand and the other at Your left in Your glory.” They wanted honours for themselves, to sit at the top table, to have a high place in the Kingdom. So they still conceived everything only in worldly terms. But Our Lord knew the price of the crown. There is no crown without there first being the cross.
And so Our Lord replies, “You do not know what you are asking. Can you drink the cup that I must drink, or be baptised with the baptism with which I must be baptised?” And they reply, “We can.” They had no idea what they were asking, and in reality, neither do we. We often want blessings and high positions but we give little thought to the crosses we will have to endure to get there and to stay there. I once heard one of our bishops say, “Anyone who wants to be a bishop deserves to be!” To be a bishop in our times must be a real burden and a heavy cross to carry. So pray for our bishops who have a lot to contend with.
But Our Lord makes it plain that the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven is the servant of all and the slave of all. It is significant that one of the titles of the Pope is ‘Servant of the servants of God’. So it’s not those who sit at the high table who are the greatest but those who serve. It can take us a lifetime to really understand this.
When the Titanic began to sink after hitting an iceberg on April 15th 1912, an English priest from Essex, Fr Thomas Byles who was travelling to New York to preside at his brother’s wedding, had two opportunities to board a lifeboat, but both times he gave up his place to hear confessions and offer consolation and prayers to those who were trapped aboard. “Be calm, my good people,” he was heard to say as he went about giving absolution and blessings and leading the passengers in prayer including the Rosary. Non-Catholics joined in too. A sailor warned the priest of the danger and twice begged him to board a boat, but he refused to leave. He could have been saved, but he wouldn’t leave until all the passengers were safe. Fr Byles perished in the freezing waters and his body was never recovered. What a priesthood he exercised in those final three hours of his life being the servant of all.
Opportunities for such a dramatic self-giving are rare, but we have plenty of chances to put others first every day. At our judgment Our Lord will not be concerned with how big our house was or whether we had a nice car or the latest mobile phone. What will capture His attention are the times we served others, when we gave drink to the thirsty or food to the hungry, when we instructed the ignorant, when we prayed for the dying, when we cared for the needs of the poor. He will also watch for our proclamation of His Kingdom. As Our Lord offers Himself for us again in today’s Mass, let us ask Him to help us follow His example in this coming week.
Fr Paul Gillham, IC