Pauca Verba is Latin for A Few Words.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Who Is The Greatest?



THE DISCIPLES ASKED JESUS: "Who is the greatest...." Jesus usually answers a question by raising another question - perhaps to draw out the intentions of the questioner. Is this friend or foe?  But here Jesus answers plainly. In asking the computer Who is the greatest, hundreds upon hundreds of pictures came up: super athletes of every sport, dozens of five-o'clock shadow actors and augmented actresses, television personalities, warriors real and fictional, people who have made huge sums of money inventing or promoting things, a couple of politicians. There were a couple of pictures of Jesus, but they were advertisements for the film, "The Greatest Story Ever Told." So those don't count.

But this is how Jesus answers the question, 'Who is the greatest?" In this marvelous picture I count ten (maybe eleven) moms and twelve (maybe thirteen) babies. The mothers are. serious. They look like they need some help. But only indignation is coming from the men - Peter and the other apostles. They're all twisted up in anger because they're products of the ancient world's diminished view of children. The women know better - as does Jesus.

Years ago I remember seeing a bright painting, perhaps by Fra Angelico, titled something like The Reunion of Heaven. The lawn of heaven was spring-green and studded with jewel like flowers. Angels greeted the happy souls who'd made it, while other figures embraced each other as at a home-coming after many years apart. Two things struck me as silly. The first was that only men greeted men and women greeted women. And secondly, and perhaps more importantly - all the haloed ones were either popes, bishops, priests, deacons, monks, nuns or virgin-martyrs. Maybe there was a holy king or queen among them.

As a young priest, driving back to my rectory on a Christmas night, I passed the university hospital where I was chaplain. Looking up at the futuristic, glass-cylinder buildings I noticed one room with colored flashing Christmas lights and knew at once who was in that room. So I pulled off, parked the car and made my way up to the closed door on the 15th floor. Knocking lightly I walked into room which was lit only by the window lights. The husband didn't look up but kept his forehead pressed to his left arm resting on the metal bed railing, his right hand reaching across, holding  the lifeless hand of his dear comatose wife. Who's the greatest?

In that same hospital one night I was called to the Emergency Room where a motorcycle accident victim was being treated. The room was filled to the door with doctors, nurses, technicians, assistants, emergency personnel,  interns - a kind of liturgical circle with the high priests in the innermost place with the underlings fanning out in dense circles. I was pressed to the door, quietly reading the prayers for someone dying.

After some minutes the patient was pronounced dead and the room emptied. After speaking with the man's family in a waiting room, I left the hospital, passing again the room where all the action had taken place. The body had been removed, but the room was a disaster: blood on the floor, plastic tubing scattered around, gauze pads used to staunch bleeding, metal tools and equipment, paper. And I thought, "Who is the hidden person who is going to clean up this room?" 

The gospel question comes to mind, "Who is the greatest?"


6 comments:

  1. I look forward to reading your posts. They always give me a reason to take pause and wonder how I can use your message to be a better person. So I thank you for your thought provoking words of wisdom. I consider them to be a blessing in my life.

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  2. Beautiful picture along with a beautiful message. Often it is the least likely person or the one who has what could be classified as the lowliest job who does the greatest work. They do it quietly, humbly and lovingly not looking for any accolades- these are the greatest people.

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  3. But do those who think they are the greatest even remember the least? Do they think about those around them who take care of the seemingly menial, yet necessary jobs, like the hospital custodial staff that you refer to. This calls us to remember those who give of their time. The ones who volunteer to help a friend in need, who care for their sick and elderly relatives for nothing more than knowing it is the right thing to do. How easy it is for the "greatest" among us to give money and not of themselves. Those who truly give from their heart are truly the greatest.

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    1. Often I heard from patients in the hospital that the most valuable staff were the housekeepers. They'd be mopping a room or cleaning the sink or the toilet and they would stop and listen to the patient's complaints or problems - while the other staff were always in a hurry.

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  4. Beautifully written as always. My family waits for your posts. Thank You.. We wish we could hear your words at church...it would be awesome to hear you preach! Thank you for this beautiful site!

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    1. I'm pleased you follow the posts! I'm told a bishop in Vietnam follows the blog as well. And there is at least one priest in Ireland who uses the Thursday intercessions at Sunday Mass. How blessed we are to be able to communicate with one another about the things that matter most! God be with you!

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