26th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B) – September 30, 2018
Saint Margaret Mary – Wichita, KS
Numbers 11:25-29; Psalm 19:8, 10, 12-14; James 5:1-6; Mark 9:38-43, 45, 47-48
As I’ve mentioned before, I am the fifth of ten kids in my family—five boys and five girls. And while it is awesome being part of such a big family, it came with its struggles. When you have nine siblings, it is very clear that life isn’t about you. I mean, you don’t get to do everything you want when there are nine other people all with their own idea of what the family should do.
One of the things that happened all the time was that we were constantly comparing ourselves to each other. For instance, my oldest brother is a freak genius; and so as I was growing up, I was kind of upset because I knew that I wasn’t and that I couldn’t be as smart as him. Or, another example: my older sister is way better at playing her instrument than me, and so I was constantly frustrated with myself for not being as good as her. Or another example: my kid brother, my kid brother, the one I used to be able to control with one hand—he is now way stronger and lifts far heavier weights than I will ever be able to. And there are so many other examples I could share.
The point is that I expected myself to have all the same strengths, temperaments, talents and habits that my other siblings had; I expected that if I was going to live-up to my family name and be someone, be who I was supposed to be—I had to study as much and be as smart as by oldest brother; practice as much and be as talented as my sister; go to the gym and exercise as much as my brother. In other words, in constantly comparing myself to others, in constantly expecting myself to have all the same strengths as others—I fell into the trap of thinking that life has to look like something very specific if I wanted it to be “successful.” And when I didn’t live-up to these ridiculous standards I had set-up for myself, well of course I felt like a failure, like no one.
And to make things worse, sometimes I made the mistake of projecting these expectations I had for myself onto my siblings, especially my younger siblings. I thought that since I had compared myself so much to my siblings and spent so much time and energy trying to live-up to the nearly impossible standards I had set for myself—I thought that they needed to compare themselves to all of us too and try to live-up to the standards we set.
With this in mind, let’s ask ourselves: why are the disciples so upset in our gospel today? Why are they upset and telling Jesus about someone casting out demons? They are not mad because this person is casting out demons in Jesus’ name; no, casting out demons is a good thing, no complaints there. They are upset because “he does not follow us” (Mark 9:38). They do not say, “Jesus, we are upset because this man doesn’t follow you.” No, they say, “Jesus, this man doesn’t follow us. This man doesn’t follow all of the standards that we have set-up.” The disciples are upset because they have been following Jesus in a very specific way; and now that they see others following him in a different manner than themselves, they can’t understand it. They expect being a follower, a disciple of Jesus, to operate according to this law of comparison. But it doesn’t.
This is something we all struggle with to some degree or another. We see some people who appear to be so holy, they always seem to be in deep prayer, always in the Church, always saying a rosary, their family seems to be perfect, they always seem to be happy. And then, when we look at our own lives and our own relationship with Jesus Christ, we can tend to think, “Wow, there is no way I can be that holy or be as happy as they are; there is no way I can live up to the standard they have set.” And so there is the temptation to just give-up. We can find ourselves unspeakably lonely because everyone else seems to “get it,” or everyone else seems to be growing in holiness, but we’re stuck.
But the Lord doesn’t call some people to follow him and others not to, and more importantly, the Lord doesn’t expect everyone’s path of discipleship to look the same. The Lord doesn’t expect us all to be like Saint Jose Sanchez del Rio, walking to our martyrdom over rocks after our feet have been cut. He doesn’t expect us to be like Mother Theresa, sleeping only four hours a night and serving the poor the entire day. No, because this is just another case of comparing ourselves and our lives to others’, and thinking that we have to be just like them if we want to follow Christ. When really, our path to holiness comes from the ordinary, daily circumstances in which we find ourselves, and from living those ordinary, daily circumstances with great love. Loving your wife, taking care of your kids; praying as a family, playing as a family, eating together as a family. It is through living those ordinary, daily circumstances with great love that true holiness and happiness is found.
The perfect example of this is the saint we will celebrate on Monday, Saint Therese of Lisieux. Saint Therese is one of my favorite saints because I can really relate with her. She struggled very much from exactly this: comparing herself to others. As a Carmelite nun, Saint Therese became very discouraged when she saw all of the praying and sacrifices and fasting that the other sisters were doing…and how joyful they all seemed in doing it. But she struggled to do the simplest fasting or penance. But this all changed when the Lord revealed to her what she called, “The Little Way.” This Little Way is a path to holiness which is open to everyone, because it requires nothing other than living the ordinary, day-to-day experience of which every life is made (1). For example, simply smiling at others when smiling was the last thing she wanted to do. Therese took the simple, ordinary events of everyday life and lived them with great love.
My dear brothers and sisters, it is very easy to fall into the habit of comparing our lives to others and deciding that we can only be happy, or holy, or satisfied if a thousand conditions are met, or if we can live our lives as others do. When really, the only concern is that we follow Christ in the daily circumstances of our lives, and that we do this with great love. Let us pray for one another in this. And please pray for me.
1. Ahern, Patrick, Maurice & Therese: The Story of a Love (Image: 1998), 114.