Do you remember what you wanted to be when you were growing up? To be honest, I can’t remember for myself. For a while, I wanted to be a paleontologist or archaeologist, mostly because as a kid, I loved dinosaurs. But after that, I wanted to be a baseball player, and then a teacher, and then, of course, a priest. I offered to pitch for the Cardinals this year, but they didn’t need me, so… Maybe you had those dreams of success when you were younger too – to be an astronaut or a firefighter or maybe even a lawyer. It’s one thing to think about success in the future, but it’s another to figure out how to get there, right? You might set goals of greatness for yourself, but it’s a challenge to figure out how to achieve greatness. The world would tell us to try to push for success by trampling over others, exerting our authority and abilities over them. So in a sense, finding success can be a scary and possibly selfish thing.
In the Gospels, the apostles are on their way to Capernaum, and they’re chatting as they travel. And when they arrive, Jesus asks them what they were talking about, and they’re embarrassed. They suspect that their interest in who will be the greatest and the most successful will be too self-centered for Jesus, and that they’ll get chewed out like Peter did in last week’s gospel. But it’s kind of interesting what Jesus says. He doesn’t tell them that they shouldn’t desire to be successful or to do great things. He doesn’t condemn them for this normal impulse. It’s completely human to want to succeed, right?
He doesn’t scold them, but he teaches them what true success, true greatness really is. True success isn’t about trampling over others to achieve fame and fortune and power. Rather, true success is gained by being a servant. It’s done by serving others’ needs, making others happy, reaching out to the weak and needy. Jesus doesn’t tell them not to strive for great things, but teaches them how to strive for great things.
He gives this great example to us about success as receiving a child. He’s teaching us that we should take care of others as we might a child. Now let’s think about this. There are some parents that are a little…competitive. We’ve probably all had experiences of dads yelling at the referees or umpires at a family sporting event. But what Jesus is trying to point out is that parents generally don’t compete with their children. You don’t see a dad sack his 7 year old son playing football and then get up and gloat and celebrate like an NFL linebacker. You don’t see a mom charge the mound when her daughter pitches a little inside playing softball. A parent’s role isn’t to get ahead of their children, but to give of themselves for the success of their children. That’s why I think it’s great to see families come to Mass. The parents are red-eyed, falling asleep, or struggling to control the kids while at the same time, trying to get something out of the homily. But they are doing it anyway, sacrificing and giving of themselves for the sake of their children. That’s how we’re called as Christians to achieve success – not by competition, but by giving of ourselves.
That’s the real meaning of stewardship. Some people think that stewardship committees in a parish or business are all about the money. But really, that’s only a part. Real stewardship isn’t about the money, per se, but it’s about recognizing the gifts that God gives us, and giving of ourselves for others, just as we would give of ourselves to receive a child. It’s important that we discern what it is that we give of ourselves. For some, God is asking for the sharing of more time and dedication in service to the parish or community. For others, God is asking them to share a gift, whether it’s graphics designing or cooking turkey sandwiches as the Craft Bazaar. For others, God is calling them to share what they have earned through tithing, so as to support our mission for those in need. Stewardship is different for all. The most important thing we can do with regard to stewardship is to pray and discnern what it is that God is asking of us, and then to challenge ourselves to give generously and sacrificially from our heart, just as Christ did for us on the Cross.
Success definitely isn’t a bad thing. But what’s important for us is how we get there, and what we do with what’s given to us. Ultimately, we know that we have God to thank for what we have, and we try to measure our success by the gift of ourselves to others. As we approach this altar, where God gives of himself to give us the greatest gift of all, let us strive to do likewise, and to give generously from our hearts out of love for God and others.