What Makes for Greatness? Who is the Greatest?

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These are questions people ask all the time because there is in each of us the desire to matter. We want to know that what we do and who we are is important and meaningful. Our deepest sorrows come from a sense of meaninglessness. We feel alone and despondent when we feel that we do not matter to anyone.

The truth is that we are made for communion, we are made for love, we are made for greatness. But because we forget that we come from God, we are returning to God, and God is rescuing us every step of the way, we often seek purpose and meaningfulness in the wrong places. Rather than seeking our true identity and purpose in God’s Kingdom, we seek to make ourselves great in the eyes of this world, among our acquaintances, on social media; sometimes, we make ourselves seem greater by making sure others seem smaller. And then we find ourselves feeling unfulfilled and un-great.

So who is truly great? In today’s Gospel, Jesus tells us who will be called the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven: “whoever obeys and teaches (the) commandments.” Wait. What?

In a world that sorely undervalues obedience because it overvalues independence and personal expression, these words of Jesus are easily passed over. Obedience seems to be in opposition to the freedom and individualism we value so highly. Obedience seems to be a virtue only in children. We want children to do what they are told. We can decide for ourselves.

We need to differentiate between blind, uninformed obedience (in which a person is expected to respond in robotic fashion to every order without thinking) and mature, intentional obedience (in which we consent with our free will to follow the authority of another). The first is the obedience that puppies learn in “obedience school.” The second is the full flowering of virtue in the soul that has learned TRUST.

Like a child who trusts completely in her parents, the person who has learned to submit all in loving trust to the Father, accepting His commands as the guardrails His loving will has placed in our lives, obeys the commandments and encourages others to live within their horizons. This is not a superficial conforming of our outward actions to “fit the mold.” On the contrary, this kind of obedience goes right to the heart, to the subtle movements of our desires and motivations, as Jesus will go on to tell his disciples in the next verses of Matthew’s Gospel.

This can be a point of examination for our conscience: Do I trust the Father enough to accept His commandments fully and obey them completely? Where am I “holding back” on submitting to Him wholly? When I pause to pray, is there any part of me that I am not yet holding up to His light?

Our greatness comes from glorifying God with our lives, by living according to the Truth: that we are God’s children, and we love Him in our obedience to His Will.

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Kathryn Mulderink, MA, is married to Robert, Station Manager for Holy Family Radio. Together they have seven children (including Deacon Rob and seminarian Luke ;-), and two grandchildren. She is a Secular Discalced Carmelite and has published five books and many articles. Over the last 25 years, she has worked as a teacher, headmistress, catechist, Pastoral Associate, and DRE. Currently, she serves the Church as a writer and voice talent for Catholic Radio, by publishing and speaking, and by collaborating with the diocesan Office of Catechesis, various parishes, and other ministries to lead others to encounter Christ and engage their faith. Her website is https://www.kathryntherese.com/.