You might now know that my major in college was Speech Comm. I just couldn’t believe they gave degrees for talking! I thought, I’ve been in trouble growing up because I wouldn’t shut up, and they give people degrees for this? I don’t think Portuguese people should even have to go to college, just give ‘em a speech degree! One of my classes was in adolescent communication, so I had to watch children playing. I thought it was going to be a waste of time, but it turned out to be such a blessing that I’ve never forgotten and refer to often. Have you ever just sat and observed small children playing? It’s magical.
There must have been a hundred three to four year-olds. They were like ants all over the play yard! Walking along logs, going down the slide, playing on swings and play structures. Nothing but joy, smiles, and turn-taking. For almost an hour I watched them play. There was so much levity and joy–they hadn’t a care in the world. They were just living their best life, playing with their friends, and having fun. That was not the life I was living.
I was stressed out with school, going a hundred miles an hour, drinking too much, spending too much, working too much, and had made the whole world all about me, my achievement, my growth, my greatness, my needs. We live in a world that is quite contrary to Christian values. I call it Me-ism. Where the whole world revolves around me. My likes, my wants, my needs, me, me, me. This is what frustrated Jesus in the Gospel today. He’s making his way to the cross, and confessing to his inner circle–his closest friends–that he will be handed over to suffer and die, and what are they doing; arguing about which of them is the greatest. Can you imagine standing in the presence of God and arguing about your greatness?
How does this happen? James tells us in the second reading. He says, “where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every foul practice.” Jealousy – envious of what others have, and selfish ambition – a desire to achieve for one’s own sake. It’s me-ism. It’s thinking only about your self, your needs, your wants, your time, your treasure. There was a wonderful book I once read called, “Fr. Joe.” Fr. Joe said that at the root of all sin is selfishness. Doing what I want without regard for others.
St. James says that’s where wars and conflicts come from! It’s why we are divided inside ourselves and cause violence toward others. We covet and kill and are envious, and fight. We will not possess, we will not ask, we will not receive, because we ask wrongly. In our selfishness and self-centeredness we ask only for ourselves and we forget what those small children had figured out so well–life is way more fun when you take turns, laugh, play, and share what you have with others. That’s God’s way.
It’s no wonder Jesus points toward children as the example of the Christian life, and we must recognize that there is much about our culture’s attitude and values that are inconsistent with Christian living. All I ever hear nowadays is about what I deserve, what I need–the vacation, the car, the job, the night life that I need, that promises my happiness, but what about others? What about family? What about community? What about everyone else on the planet that isn’t me?! Thank God for grandparents who continue to sacrifice for others–especially their grandchildren while parents are getting “what they deserve.”
Again, James gives us the antidote to the sickness of selfishness and greed. He tells us that “wisdom from above is pure, peaceable, gentle, compliant, full of mercy, and good fruits.” He says we should be “without inconstancy or insincerity.” Which is to say we should be stable, strong, and sincere. This is the Christian life and Christian attitude. Not climbers but givers. Not polluted and angry, but pure and peaceable. Not harsh and obstinate, but gentle, compliant, and merciful. Not selfish, but selfless.