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Finneran: The “Greatest” Catholic

Friday, September 28, 2018


Last week’s gospel at Sunday Mass was Mark’s gospel. It involved the story of Jesus’ apostles arguing among themselves as to which one of them was the “greatest."

Upon hearing their tiresome argument, Jesus admonished them that in the kingdom of heaven, the “greatest” would be the “least among you”. In making his point Jesus embraced a child, emphasizing child-like innocence as far surpassing adult ambition and vanity.

That gospel got me thinking, in partial contravention of Jesus’ instruction, of who might actually be considered the “greatest”.

I once would have considered Pope John Paul II as the greatest Catholic leader in my lifetime. He seems to have earned a commanding lead over Pope Benedict and Pope Francis. His physical and political courage was great and his humanity was palpable. He was a truly beloved Pontiff, an ideal Pope for the faithful.

Yet the scandals of the Church---so broad, so deep, and so revolting---have been thoroughly documented. The dismay of the faithful is that no one in authority, including John Paul II himself, brought the appropriate rebuke upon the perpetrators. Do we not remember the stern and righteous anger of Jesus himself at the money-changers defiling the temple? Something akin to Jesus’ rage was and is called for as a first step forward for the Church.

The faithful have not wavered in their faith. They have however wavered in their trust of the Church’s morally collapsed leadership. The faith itself continues hold and inspire them and to be worthy of their worship. The leadership, however, is seen as completely compromised, even explicitly complicit in the multiple scandals. And those scandals are not mere embarrassments to the faithful. Rather, they are more properly viewed as evil and horrifying acts of omission and commission.

Per Jesus’ instruction then, we should not expect to discern the “greatest” from among the privileged titular leadership. Perhaps we should consider the steady loyal faithful and humble parish priest. Such priests abound and they are among the most horrified by the actions of the leadership. Their horror even extends to a hesitancy about wearing their Roman collar out in public. Such is the plight of the many good and great priests. We might pray for them and for their mission of service to others. That service renders them akin to the innocent child in Jesus’ lesson, simple shepherds of kindness and love.

Consider Jesus’ words:

“If anyone wants to be first, he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”

It’s a call to constant humility, to putting all others ahead, and to constant service to those others. Thus the use of the word “servant”.

In pondering those words my mind goes back to Mother Theresa of Calcutta. She was the embodiment of humility. She was the servant of all members of the human family, particularly the poor, the sick, the diseased, and the disfigured, all the unfortunates of the streets. Is she not the embodiment of Jesus’ instruction to his disciples to humble themselves in service to others?

The “greatest” of “servants”? To my mind that’s an easy question—she who made herself “the least among you”---Mother Theresa of Calcutta.

Tom Finneran is the former Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, served as the head the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, and was a longstanding radio voice in Boston radio


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