Edit: Added a recording from the 11:30 AM Mass
When you look at the popular media, such as the TV or newspapers, who do they hold up as the most important in the United States today? Is it President Obama or members of Congress? How about the elected officials in the states' governments? Perhaps it's actors, musicians, and other celebrities? In our country today, those who have worldly wealth, power, fame or any combination of the three are held up as the most important and influential people.
Now, let's look at the Gospel passage for today. Who does Jesus say are the most important people? He tells us, “If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.” Our Lord takes worldly wisdom, so common in His time as it is today, and turns it on its head. Instead of tying importance to fame, power, or wealth, He challenges us to be servants of all.
Unfortunately, this desire to link power with importance also exists within the Church. If you asked random people who they thought were the most important people in the Church, they would probably go down the hierarchy: the Pope, the bishops, the priests. They might not mention Mother Teresa and the religious order she founded, the Missionaries of Charity. The sisters who belong to this order spend their lives serving and caring for the poorest of the poor. Mother Teresa herself spent much of her life in service to the poorest in India. The great majority of her days were spent feeding, clothing, and bathing the poor who were dying.
As Christians, Our Lord calls and challenges us to not seek power and prestige, but to be “the servant of all”. We see this in the hierarchy of the Church, which is built on service of the Church. One of the Pope's titles is “Servant of the Servants of God”. Bishops, when celebrating Mass, will refer to themselves as “me, your unworthy servant”. Priests are called to serve the bishop throughout the diocese, and to serve the people to whom he has been assigned. Lay people who participate in the administrative and ministerial structures of the Church are called to engage their positions in an attitude of service, and not for personal gain. The power that we do have within the Church comes not because we are important, but because we serve.
This is misunderstood throughout the Church, especially within developed countries like the United States. There are those who seek to gain higher positions within the Church for the sake of gaining more power and importance, not to better serve Jesus' people. They become ambitious for personal gain and jealous of those who have the power they seek. St. James warns us against this ruthless desire for power, saying, “Where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.”
We can see this disorder at play in the Church. There are great divisions within the Church today, and many of these divisions come about due to self-centered power grabs. Sometimes we see this in local parishes as a group of people try to make themselves the most important in the parish, often with the consent and support of the pastor. On a larger level, there are groups who want to remake the Church in their own image, with members who have worked their way through the Church organizational structure to positions that they feel hold power and importance. Even the Papacy is not immune to this desire for power, as the history of the Church is riddled with attempts by bishops and cardinals seeking to become the Pope for power, and not for the call to service that comes with the office.
As Christians, we are called by Our Lord to seek out ways that we can become a “servant of all”. We're called to serve Catholics and non-Catholics, Christians and non-Christians. We're called to serve those we like and those we can't stand. As difficult as it can be, we are called to step out of where we're comfortable and reach out to those who make us uncomfortable. We're even called to serve those who might reject us or take advantage of our service. Our Lord tells us, “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.” May we be willing to serve Our Lord by serving those the world sees as unimportant.