It’s been a little over a week since we remembered the anniversary of the tragedy of September 11, 2001. There have been a number of articles and shows remembering that day 17 years ago. And so it’s been on my mind. Like all of us, I don’t think I’ll ever forget where I was that morning it happened. I was at the clinic treating cats and dogs and one squealy pig. And one of our technicians called to tell us that a plane had hit the world trade center. Now this woman was prone to exaggeration so we didn’t really give it much thought. But soon after a client came in with the same report and so we turned the small TV on in the office and that’s where we stood for the next few hours. A lot of clients never even showed up for their appointments that day.
In the course of that morning one of the national network anchors, was summing up all the details for those who were just tuning in. He mentioned that one of the planes was supposed to be headed for Los Angeles. He then added looking to the camera saying, “That flight is routinely taken by many stars and celebrities, I bet some very important people were on that flight.”
“I bet some very important people were on that flight.” In saying that, he meant important people like himself TV news-anchors, or actors, or directors, or politicians, or industry executives, or athletes. People with rank, with power, with money, with fame, with beauty, with athleticism. The things that make someone to be great. The other people on the plane, the regular people, they’ll be missed by their loved ones, of course, but not by the world. Because, after all, they weren’t “important.”
In the Gospel today, Jesus is speaking to us about greatness. He’s speaking about the greatness, or significance, or importance of each person. And it’s maybe a bit funny that as Jesus tells the Apostles He’s going to suffer and die, they’re arguing about who is the most important. (By the way this kind of story is great evidence for the reliability of the Gospels. If this was all made up, you can bet the Apostles would have made themselves look like brilliant and courageous men. Instead in today’s Gospel they look like fools.)
Jesus uses the occasion to teach the apostles and us about true greatness and true importance. And He does so by use of a child. He calls the child to Himself and put His arms around him to show that he values the child. In order to grasp the lesson here, we need to know that children weren’t symbols of cuteness and innocence in the ancient world. Children were symbols of non-persons. Children at the time of Jesus had no rights, no social status, no value, and no significance. They were totally dependent on others. To be kind to a child, to welcome a child, was an act that could bring no reward.
The Gospel message is this, there are no unimportant persons. There is no “greatest.” No one, here or anywhere else, is more important or less important than another. No income or title or celebrity status makes me either inferior or superior to another. We are all equal in dignity. We’re not the same, we have different vocations, but we’re all equal. We all have the same origin and the same destiny. We all have the same Heavenly Father. We come from the Father and its our goal to go back to the Father.
Concepcion Cabrera a Mexican mystic once wrote, “Souls are an extension of the Trinity, its Heaven on Earth, and just like the Trinity, they should be respected and loved, since they share in the Divine and the immortal,” an awesome statement. Read it again, “Souls are an extension of the Trinity, its Heaven on Earth, and just like the Trinity, they should be respected and loved, since they share in the Divine and the immortal.” The human person is both body and soul and C.S. Lewis, author of the Narnia Chronicles would add, “Outside of the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbor is the holiest object ever presented to your senses.” Every neighbor, including the family member who no longer goes to Church, the kid in class who doesn’t fit in, the man begging for money at the freeway exit, the woman in jail, or the man in rehab, our neighbor.
Now none of this should be a major revelation but we can make it practical. I have homework, let’s try to call to mind today one person in our life we struggle with, the one who just annoys us to no end, or grates on our nerves, or seems beyond hope. Then, let’s sincerely ask God this week for the grace to recognize that person’s worth and dignity and importance, for all are important in His eyes. And then let’s act accordingly.
And who knows, we ourselves may be the recipients of extra prayers and graces this week. Because we ourselves may be the ones that annoy, and grate on the nerves of others.
“Souls are an extension of the Trinity, its Heaven on Earth, and just like the Trinity, they should be respected and loved, since they share in the Divine and the immortal.” “Outside of the Blessed Sacrament, your neighbor is the holiest object ever presented to your senses.”
May we be great Saints,
Fr. Christopher J. Ankley