'Whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all.' Sunday Reflections, 29th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year B


Call of the Sons of Zebedee, Marco Basaiti [Web Gallery of Art]


Readings (New American Bible: Philippines, USA)

Readings (Jerusalem Bible: Australia, England & Wales, India [optional], Ireland, New Zealand, Pakistan, Scotland, South Africa)

Gospel Mark 10:35-45 (New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came forward to Jesus and said to him, ‘Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.’ And he said to them, ‘What is it you want me to do for you?’ And they said to him, ‘Grant us to sit, one at your right hand and one at your left, in your glory.’ But Jesus said to them, ‘You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I drink, or be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?’ They replied, ‘We are able.’ Then Jesus said to them, ‘The cup that I drink you will drink; and with the baptism with which I am baptized, you will be baptized; but to sit at my right hand or at my left is not mine to grant, but it is for those for whom it has been prepared.’
When the ten heard this, they began to be angry with James and John. So Jesus called them and said to them, ‘You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognize as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.’
Christ in the Carpenter's Shop, Georges de la Tour [Web Gallery of Art]
In May 2008 I unexpectedly received an email from Michael in Australia whom I hadn't met or heard from since the summer of 1967 when we were working together on a building (construction) site in Dublin. I had just been ordained subdeacon and was to be ordained priest in December of that year. The general foreman on the site was my father.

In a later email Michael said, Your father was a great role model for me to try and emulate. I remember the first job that I met your father on, as he was the general foreman. It was the first job for me as a journeyman carpenter and it was a pleasant experience coming to work with such a pleasant gentleman giving the instructions.


My father a week before his sudden death on 11 August 1987
I wasn't at all surprised at Michael's words as I had heard others who had worked with my father, John, say similar things. And when I worked under him myself that summer I could see what I had known before: he led by example. He never swore, never shouted at anyone and was most helpful to young workers and to young architects. He sometimes would laugh at home at the lack of experience of the latter in practical matter. But he also knew that you can only learn through experience - and with the help of mentors. And he was a real mentor to the same young architects. 
Many times before I took an important examination or was about to do something for the first time Dad would say, The experience will be good for you. There was never the hint of a demanding expectation. And I have found his words to have been true.
But I often heard him speak with gratitude, respect and affection of general foremen under whom he had worked as an apprentice and as a young carpenter. One was Mr Grace, whom I never met. Two of his sons became Capuchin priests and two of his daughters religious sisters. Another was Mr Boyle, whom I did know. He and his wife in their old age were a handsome couple.
Dad was the same at home as he was on the construction site. He never raised his voice to his two sons or to our mother. He was courteous with everyone he met and was just himself in every situation.
His authority came from within. He was responsible and loving in everything he did. Every morning, after returning from a very early Mass, he prepared my mother's breakfast before heading for work. He started work on time and ended on time. But he wasn't a slave to the clock.
With my parents John and Mary and my brother Paddy after my ordination in St Mary's Pro-Cathedral Dublin, 20 December 1967
This Sunday is observed by the Church as Mission Sunday: Christian Families are Missionary Families. I don't think that my parents, or any of their contemporaries in Ireland, saw themselves as missionaries. But they passed on the faith without being aware of it. When I was a child it was my father who took me to Sunday Mass. My mother went to a later Mass as she had to take care of my brother when he was still very young. My Dad used to take me to Solemn High Masses on days such as Easter Monday and Whit (Pentecost) Monday in the churches of the Dominicans and the Capuchins in Dublin. I didn't appreciate this at the time.
My mother used to take my brother and me to visit seven churches on the afternoon of Holy Thursday before the changes in Holy Week ceremonies in 1955 when they were moved from the morning to the afternoon/evening. There was solemn adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in each church or chapel we visited. Again, I didn't appreciate this at the time.
When I went to the Philippines in 1971 I was astonished to discover that this same practice, known there as Visita Iglesia, was very much alive in the larger cities, on the night of Holy Thursday, with many young people walking from one church to the next. Again, I thanked God for what my mother had invited me to do every Holy Thursday up to 1954 when I very reluctantly joined her.
Among the gifts I received from God through my parents was the living out of the words in today's gospel, whoever wishes to become great among you must be your servant. They served each other and they served us their two sons. They did this day in and day out, whatever their feelings might have been at any particular moment.
I can see clearly now that they were missionaries in a very real sense, living out the promises they made when my brother and I were baptised. (Our Dad wasn't present at my brother's baptism because he was attending his mother's funeral that same day. In those days baptisms took place within a few days of birth, a commendable practice.)
In the current rite of the baptism of a child the priest asks the parents: You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God's commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?
In responding with Yes, we do, parents undertake to be missionaries to their own children. I thank God for the Yes of my parents.
Bishop Edward Galvin, Columban Co-founder, baptising an infant in China
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