Every saint faces times of trial and persecution, from within or from outside the church. Countless saints ended their lives with a crown of martyrdom, often at the hands of cruel, vicious persecutors.
And some saints who founded religious orders were eventually rejected by their own communities, enduring envy, false accusations and isolation among the very people they gathered together and served.
Take St. Benedict, who assembled communities of monks dedicated to ceaseless prayer, solitude and manual work. Benedictine monasteries eventually became the foundation of Western civilization, preserving Christian learning and witness to selfless devotion to God.
As St. Benedict sought to lead one of the monasteries he founded, some wayward monks conspired to kill him by offering him a poisoned drink. The saint raised his hand to bless the cup that shattered in front of them all.
St. John of the Cross experienced a similar rejection and humiliation by members of his own religious community as he sought to found and direct Discalced Carmelite communities.
In one period of his life, his attempts to purify and reform the observances of the friars was met with imprisonment, regular public beatings and other harsh punishments. During this difficult time, the saintly friar wrote some of the most profound spiritual writings and poetry that now inspires generations of the faithful.
Jesus predicts his betrayal, passion and death at the beginning of today’s Gospel reading. And St. Mark tells us that the disciples did not understand Jesus’ words. In fact, they completely missed the point!
Because as they travel on to Capernaum, they begin to argue over who was the greatest among them. Instead of focusing on the meaning of Jesus’ words for their lives, they were absorbed with their own selfish interests and desires for power.
Jesus gives the Twelve Apostles his vision of servant discipleship and yet they remain occupied with arguing over power, prestige and earthly fame!
It is then that Jesus explains to his disciples, and us, the true meaning of Christian discipleship. “If anyone wishes to be first,” says Jesus, “he shall be the last of all and the servant of all.”
And then like a good teacher, Jesus illustrates the meaning of his words by placing a child in their midst, telling them, “Whoever receives one child such as this in my name, receives me; and whoever receives me, receives not me but the One who sent me.”