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Agrippina was the mother of Nero. She was obsessed with seeing her son become the emperor of Rome. She consulted a fortuneteller and asked her if Nero would be emperor. The fortuneteller told Agrippina, “Your son will become the emperor and he will kill you, too.” “I don’t care,” Agrippina replied. “It doesn’t matter to me what my son does, provided he becomes emperor.” And true enough, Nero became emperor of Rome.

After a few months, Nero made an attempt at his mother’s life. He poisoned her three times but Agrippina survived by taking an antidote. When the poison did not succeed, Nero built a room for his mother, making sure that the roof on top of her bed could be made to collapse. And so one night while his mother was asleep, he caused the ceiling to collapse and fall on his mother. But his mother was able to escape the crash. Undaunted, Nero thought of another murderous scheme. This time, he sent her off on vacation by the lake and arranged it so that the boat she would ride on would sink. But Agrippina was able to swim to safety. In exasperation, Nero declared, “This cannot be. My mother has to go, she’s in my way to becoming an emperor.” And with that he took a sword and took his mother’s life himself.

This reminds me of the Philip Morris ad that says, “See what people put up with to enjoy it,” referring to its extra-long cigarette. In Nero’s case, it was the extent one person would go to just to gain power. People are willing to be killed; they are willing to undergo trials just so they will be famous.

In the Gospel, the mother of James and John, Zebedee’s sons, also wants her two sons to be famous. And again we can almost hear the Philip Morris punch-line: “See what people put up with…” See what people put up with to have power. See what the mother is willing to do; see what her sons are willing to do, just so they will be powerful in God’s kingdom.

If you want to be powerful, so be it. Indeed, there are powerful people in God’s kingdom. Do not forget, however, that power in God’s kingdom is for service. Only those who are willing to make sacrifices are given power in God’s kingdom. Suffering is optional; sacrifice is compulsory. You do not have to suffer, but when you suffer and you put love in your suffering, then it becomes liberating, soothing and consoling. Suffering with love becomes sacrifice and sacrifice leads to happiness.

Archbishop Oscar Romero was the archbishop of San Salvador in El Salvador when the country’s oppressive regime was murdering the activist-priests in his diocese. During the funeral for one of his priests, he said, “I am very proud that our priests are being killed, because in a country where people are getting murdered, it would be a shame if priests are not included among the victims. A servant cannot be above the master.” Bishop Benjamin de Jesus, OMI, of Jolo, did this for us, too, and so many other servants of God had done it for us. We must follow them.

Let us pray for complete happiness. Let us pray for joy that nobody, nothing can take away from us. But first, let us promise God that we will be ready to sacrifice, without measure.

Mt 20:17-28
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