Reading (James 4:1-10) Gospel (St. Mark 9:30-37)
In the Gospel reading today, we hear Our Lord telling His apostles what is going to happen to Him. He is going to suffer, He is going to be put to death, and then He is going to rise again. Now here is the One they have been traveling with, living with, and learning from for how long by this point, and you would think their hearts would be grieved when the Lord tells them that He is going to suffer and die. Instead, they start to argue about which one of them is the greatest. Their focus is entirely on themselves. We cannot blame them for not understanding what it means that He will rise from the dead, but we certainly have to blame them for not being able to figure out what suffering and dying means. Yet they pay no attention to it because they are too caught up in themselves.
The same thing happens for most of us. Saint James tells us today, and makes it absolutely clear, that anyone who wants to love the world is an enemy of God. That is right in the pages of Sacred Scripture. That is not me being the extremist which people think I am saying that; it is the Sacred Scriptures saying that. It is right there in the Word of God. If we want to be in love with the world, we are enemies of God. Yet what do most of us do? We say, “But I need to fit in; I want to be liked. I want to be like everyone else. A little of this isn’t going to be too bad.” We give in and we give in and we give in, and we pull away from God. Then when Our Lord says something, what do we do? We ignore what He tells us and we stay focused on ourselves because we have made ourselves internally enemies of God. Not that we want to be enemies with God (that is not the point), but the fact of the matter is, as Saint James addresses rather directly today, that if we are of two minds, one saying, “I want to love God,” and the other saying, “I want to love the world,” then we are split. We are divided and we cannot love God the way that we want to.
That does not mean we do not love Him at all, but it means we are not loving Him the way we should because we are willfully putting something in the way. So what happens is that the focus remains on the self. We do what God wants us to do when we want to do it or when it is convenient. It is like the people who refuse to follow anything that the Vatican has to say, but as soon as something comes out of the Vatican that sounds remotely like something they uphold, they will ram it down your throat and say, “Look, even the Pope said this! It came out of the Vatican!” Point out anything else the Pope has said, and they say, “Well, we don’t need that.” It is just prooftexting, picking and choosing what you want to be able to support your argument and completely ignoring everything else. So when God speaks, we ignore it because we are caught up in ourselves rather than being caught up in Him.
We need to be able to look at that very seriously within our own selves and ask ourselves, “What am I putting in the way?” It does not need to be a great, big mortal sin; it can be anything, anything that is selfish. That is the point we need to look at. Put yourself into the perspective of what just happened in the Gospel. There is Our Lord telling His apostles what is going to happen to Him, and they completely ignore Him because they are worried about which one of them is more important. What would we do? What do we do? It is usually pretty much the same thing. It may not be a question of which one of us is more important, but it is all about “me.” Whether it is about “Who is more important?” or “What am I going to do?” or “How am I going to get this?” or whatever it might be, it is still all about the self, and that is the part that needs to go. We cannot be in love with God and in love with the world. It cannot go both ways.
We might want to look back over what we heard in the first reading today and hear what Saint James has to say to us about these things. He says, Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you of two minds. That is us. That is the vast majority – the vast majority – of people who call themselves Catholic today. That is the reality we are living in, not anything unlike what they were living in two thousand years ago, obviously. But as we prepare now to celebrate Lent and to begin that holy season, Our Lord looks at each one of us and says, I am going to suffer and die. Now the question is: What is our response? Is it going to be selfish and just worrying about “me”? Or are we going to focus on Him? Long before Lent starts, which is not too long, we really need to think about what we are planning to do. Do not decide on Ash Wednesday or the next week or two weeks after what you are thinking about for Lent, get started now. Think about what you are going to do and listen to the words of Our Lord: I am going to suffer and die. What is our response?
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.