My brothers and sisters in Christ,1
Our readings today from Sacred Scripture speak to us about leadership and discipleship in the family of God.
As we just heard in our Gospel passage, Jesus has some strong words for the scribes and Pharisees.
For they preach but they do not practice.
They tie up heavy burdens hard to carry
and lay them on people’s shoulders,
but they will not lift a finger to move them.
All their works are performed to be seen.
In the first reading, also, we heard the prophet Malachi criticize the religious leaders of his time for the same things.
So first of all today, we have a strong lesson for those who hold authority — whether it is in business or politics, but especially in the Church.
For me, as a priest and an archbishop, as a leader in the Church, these readings especially challenge me in a particular way. In fact, it seems to me, that these readings make a good examination of conscience for every priest and every bishop.
But these readings are not just about leaders in the Church or people in high places. The lesson that Jesus is teaching today applies to all of us.
Jesus is challenging us today about our own witness, our own discipleship. He is challenging us today to examine the way we live our Christian faith and also the way we share our faith.
Bishops and priests, as we know, are not the only ones who have responsibility in the Church. Jesus entrusted his mission to every one of us.
This the beautiful reality of our Christian lives. We all have this duty to be missionary disciples. We are all called to tell the world about Jesus. About his love. About his promises. About the joy that we discover when we meet Jesus.
So there is a lesson here for all of us in the Church, in our mission of evangelization.
And I think the first lesson – it’s very simple and we know it, but it’s very challenging — we need to practice what we preach. We need to remember the simple truth that our lives are always the best “sermon,” the best homily that we will ever give.
It’s true. We all know that. But I will say that especially all of you who are parents, because you know that young people want more than words. They want us to “walk the walk,” not just “talk the talk.”
The great pope, Blessed Paul VI, said the people of our times want witnesses more than they want teachers. He said if we want to teach anything, we need to do it by our own witness — by our actions, by the example of our lives.2
And it is, I think again, it is obvious to all of us — witnesses are people who “walk the walk.” They are people who show us —by the way they live — that they believe what they are teaching and preaching about.
So, this is a question for us today, my dear brothers and sisters. When people look at us, do they say, “There is a Christian,” “There is a Catholic”? Or do we just blend in, do we just seem like everybody else in our society?
We know, my dear brothers and sisters, if we want to lead others to Jesus, we need to lead by the example of our lives.
Everyone should be able to see clearly the difference that our Christian faith makes in our lives. In the way we think and the way we act, even in the way we talk. In our choices and in our priorities.
It’s beautiful how Jesus, in today’s passage of the Gospel, tell us how we should follow him and take him as the model for our lives:
The greatest among you must be your servant.
Whoever exalts himself will be humbled;
but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.
Of course, Jesus here is talking about himself. He humbled himself to come among us as a servant! He came not to be served, but to serve. And because he humbled himself, God the Father exalted him.
So we really need to ask for the grace to let Jesus be our Teacher, as he says in the Gospel. We need to learn from his words and from his life. And we need to try to, obviously, imitate him in our daily life, as challenging as it is personally for each one of us.
And in the second reading today, we see how the apostles learned to imitate Jesus — in his gentleness and humility and in his service.
St. Paul says in today’s second reading, from the first letter to the Thessalonians — he gives us his own example of how he was trying to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ, he says:
We were gentle among you, as a nursing mother cares for her children.
With such affection for you, we were determined to share with you
not only the Gospel of God, but our very selves as well,
so dearly beloved had you become to us.
This is such a beautiful example of how to evangelize. How to be a faithful disciples of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we need to make ourselves, our hearts as gentle as St. Paul. We need to love everyone with the same tender love that he had. We need to share the joy of knowing Jesus. And need to give “our very selves.”
It’s not just something that we have to do, but we enjoy doing it because we see that that’s what makes us happy and what helps people to meet Jesus and to see the love of Jesus for each one of them.
This is how we evangelize in our daily lives — in our homes, in the places where we work, in society!
That’s what people need to see — that we all are committed to try to learn and to imitate our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we can see that the mission of the Church is never about us. No matter who we are. No matter what our status is, or what office we might hold in the Church.
Jesus tells us the secret today:
You are all brothers and sisters…
You have but one Father in heaven.
I shared with you briefly that yesterday I had the opportunity to give a presentation to some students of the MBA at the Catholic University here in the Archdiocese. And I reminded them that our founder — the founder of this company — is Jesus Christ.
We are all brothers and sisters in the family of God. We have different duties in the Church, different roles to play — but God called all of us to humble service. The greater our responsibilities in the Church, the more God expects us to humble ourselves and to serve others.
So this week, as we go about our daily tasks and duties in family life, in work, everywhere that we are, let us try to share our faith in Jesus by the way that we live and by the way we serve.
And let us always ask the intercession of Our Blessed Mother Mary.
May she help us by her prayers to be humble as she was humble. And may she help us to give our very selves — to serve our Father in heaven and our brothers and sisters here on earth.
1. Readings: Mal. 1:14-2:2, 8-10; Ps. 131:1-3; 1 Thess. 2:7-9, 13; Matt. 23:1-12.
2. Evangelii Nuntiandi, 41.