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The Least is the Greatest PDF Print E-mail
Written by Michael Fones   
Monday, 01 October 2007 04:31

Today is the feast of St. Therese of Liseux, the "Little Flower," and by happy coincidence the day's Gospel (Lk 9:46-50) fits her beautifully. In response to the rivalry and envy Jesus recognizes between his disciples, he has a child stand next to himself and tells them, "“Whoever receives this child in my name receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me. For the one who is least among all of you is the one who is the greatest.” (Lk 9:48).

Children didn't matter much in Jesus' culture, and certainly would have been considered among "the least." To "receive" one such as a child requires something of a death within us. How often have we had the experience of meeting someone who is important, and watched their gaze focus somewhere over our shoulder, searching for someone "greater?" I can tell you I've done the same thing to others; after Mass when one of Christ's anawim (e.g., an adult whom I find to be a bit odd, or the woman who always has a complaint, or the bore) approaches me and craves my attention.

I can't help but imagine that when you encountered Jesus, you knew you mattered. I can imagine his gaze was penetrating, and depending upon the state of your soul, immensely challenging or tremendously comforting - and perhaps both, simultaneously. But you knew you mattered. It can be the same way in prayer, at least when we are able to stop focusing upon ourselves.

To "receive" someone is to engage in a kind of kenosis, or self-emptying. I have to set aside my own desire to be accepted, to impress. I have to stop evaluating how I am coming across to the other. I have to be humble, like Jesus, who, "though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross." (Phil 2:6-8)

Therese sought this kind of self-emptying. She chose to do simple acts of kindness and service with the greatest love possible. I remember reading that the nun in her convent who was most annoying to Therese thought herself to be Therese's greatest friend! This great saint and Doctor of the Church believed, “One word or a pleasing smile is often enough to raise up a saddened and wounded soul.” That simple observation reveals the heart of one who has forgotten herself and is able to receive the other as Christ.

Who needs your attentive and caring gaze today? What wounded soul will the Lord place in your life, and how might He work through you for that person's good? My prayer this morning is to less prideful, less preoccupied with my self, so as to make room for Jesus. For the objective of our own kenosis is not to be filled with that wounded person who stands before me, but to be filled with Christ, who alone brings healing to the world.

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