On the Mother of the Sons of Zebedee.
PRAYER BEFORE MEDITATION.
My God, I firmly believe that Thou art here present. I acknowledge that on account of my many sins I am utterly unworthy to appear before Thy sacred countenance. Yet, confiding in Thy infinite goodness and mercy, I venture to address Thee, to call upon Thy holy name, and meditate upon Thy commandments, in order that I may acquire a better knowledge of Thy holy will, and accomplish it with more fidelity. Wherefore enlighten my understanding that I may perceive what I ought to do or leave undone for the promotion of Thy glory and my own salvation; at the same time excite my will, that I may repent with my whole heart of my past sins, and resolve for the future to do all that Thou requirest of me. Grant me above all to know Jesus, my divine Teacher and Guide, more clearly, that I may love Him more dearly, and consequently labor, struggle and suffer with greater generosity and self-sacrifice in imitation of His example. Holy Mary, Mother of God and my Mother, show Jesus to me now, and let me study thy divine Son to the salvation of my soul. Holy Guardian Angel, keep far from me all distracting thoughts; my patron saint, come to my assistance. Amen.
On the Mother of the Sons of Zebedee.
Imagine yourself a spectator of the remarkable scene which was enacted when our Lord was going up to Jerusalem. Salome, the devout mother of the apostles John and James, stops our Lord on the way and falls on her knees before Him, as St. Matthew tells us, “adoring and asking something of Him.” (St. Matt. xx. 20.) He said to her: “What wilt thou?” Now listen to and consider the singular request this woman proposed.
1st. “She saith to Him: Say that these my two sons may sit, the one on Thy right hand and the other on Thy left, in Thy kingdom.” (v. 21.) Our Lord had already spoken of this journey to Jerusalem as the last that He should take. (v. 18.) Now as it was at Jerusalem that He was to establish His kingdom, which was universally supposed to be a visible, temporal kingdom, and since shortly before in the promises He made to Peter, the Lord had mentioned twelve thrones upon which His apostles were to sit, it can scarcely be thought extraordinary that in her maternal affection this good mother should be desirous of securing for her sons a good position, the foremost places in the new Messianic kingdom. To this petition our Lord simply replied: “You know not what you ask.” God has not reserved for those whom He loves honors and dignities in His kingdom; power and distinction is not their portion, but the very reverse. Had that mother’s request been fulfilled it would not have been the best but the worst thing for her sons. She knew not what she asked. Reflect upon this truth, my soul. Similar desires, similar longing for honors and positions of high rank are not unfrequently kindled in your heart. All at once your humble position becomes distasteful to you, you would like to be promoted to some higher office. The two talents which you have received from God appear a sorry boon, you wish that you might have five allotted to you. You know not what you ask! If you were endowed with more brilliant talents that would attract the admiration and applause of men, you would perhaps have less of God’s approval, for “those who are learned are desirous of appearing and of being called wise,” as Thomas a Kempis says. Were you to exchange your humble position for one of more importance, very probably it would have been with you as it was with Saul, who when he followed the calling of a lowly husbandman was so pleasing to God, that He chose him to be king of Israel, and when he wore the crown he became a reprobate. Therefore banish all such vain wishes; be content with the place which God’s good providence has assigned you, and remember the words of Holy Scripture: “Who among men is he that can know the counsel of God, or who can think what the will of God is?” (Wisd. ix. 13.)
2d. Consider the question with which our Lord answered the prayer of the sons of Zebedee: “Can you drink the chalice that I shall drink?” The word chalice is employed in Holy Scripture, St. Jerome tells us, in the sense of suffering; for instance in Psalm cxv. it is said: “I will take the chalice of salvation” and immediately after the meaning of that chalice is given, for the Psalmist adds: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints.” (Ps. cxv. 15.) St. Chrysostom asserts that all are thereby to understand that no one can reign with Christ unless he follows Him in His Passion. And thus our Lord proclaims the great truth, that in His kingdom no one will receive a crown of gold who has not previously worn the crown of thorns; that no man will be permitted to sit with Him upon His throne in Heaven who has not previously been nailed with Him to the cross of shame; that a triumphal entry into the heavenly Jerusalem awaits no one who has not trodden the way of the cross in the earthly Sion. The two sons of Zebedee apprehended our Lord’s meaning instantly. They joyfully responded: “We can,” and they were as good as their word; this they proved later on by their deeds, when John was cast into the cauldron of boiling oil, and James was the first of the apostles to shed his blood as a martyr. Thus they fulfilled their promise; why then do you hesitate, and shrink from showing yourself faithful in keeping your vows? It behooves you also as a Christian, as a Priest, as a Religious, to drink the chalice our Lord drank. “Thou camest hither to serve,” we are told in the Imitation of Christ, “not to rule; know that thou art called to suffer and to labor.” (B. i. ch. 17.) You too once answered with joy: “We can.” Up then, redeem your promise, and rejoice to drink the chalice of the Lord if you desire to be His friend and a partaker with Him.
3d. Consider the description Christ gives of His kingdom. When the other ten apostles, who were no less ambitious than the sons of Zebedee, were moved with indignation against the two brethren, He called them to Him, and said: “You know that the princes of the Gentiles lord it over them, and they that are the greater exercise power upon them. It shall not be so among you; but whosoever will be the greater among you, let him be your minister, and he that will be first among you shall be your servant. Even as the Son of man is not come to be ministered unto but to minister, and to give His life a redemption for many.” (v. 25-28.) Ponder upon these words of our Lord, my soul, endeavor to apprehend their full signification; they are wondrous words, such as never were uttered by human lips since the world was made. They are diametrically opposed to all the views and aspirations of the natural man. Man’s instinct is to rule, and without government, without a head and ruler the kingdom of Christ cannot subsist. But whilst the chiefs of the heathen, and rulers who are like-minded with the heathen, delight in authority for its own sake, in Christ’s kingdom every office, every dignity entails the service of others, the surrender of self, the sacrifice of one’s powers, one’s life for the good of one’s subordinates and for the glory of God. The supreme ruler in Christ’s kingdom, the Sovereign Pontiff, is the “Servant of the servants of God”; and the General of an Order, the Superior of all, styles himself the general minister, i.e., the one who is at the service of all. Let every one who is in authority regard himself or herself as the servant, the handmaid of the Brethren or Sisters, and follow the rule laid down by the author of the Imitation: “He ought to be so far contented as to be willing to be the least as another would wish to be the greatest; and to enjoy as much peace and content in the lowest place as in the highest, and to be as willing to be despicable and mean and of no name and repute, as to be preferred in honor and greater in the world than others.” (B. iii. ch. 22.) This ought to be the rule in every Religious House, but every rule has exceptions, and perhaps you are an exception in this instance. Alas for you if so it is!
PRAYER AFTER MEDITATION.
My God, I give Thee heartfelt thanks for all the graces and all the light Thou hast conferred on me during this meditation. Pardon me all the negligence and the distractions of which I have been guilty, and give me strength to carry out the resolutions that I have made. Fortify me, that from henceforth I may diligently practise this virtue . . . avoid this fault . . . perform this action . . . to Thy honor. Help me to do this, sweet Virgin Mary; and if I ever forget my good resolutions, I entreat my Angel Guardian to recall them to my memory. Amen.
– Meditations on the Life, Teaching, and Passion of Jesus Christ
(Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur: New York, December 31, 1900)
Copyright © 2013. Holy Cross Publications. All rights reserved.