Called to Serve
During the American Revolution, a man in civilian clothes rode upon a group of soldiers who were busy pulling out a horse carriage stuck in deep mud. Their officer was shouting instructions to them while making no attempt to help. The stranger who witnessed the scene asked the officer why he wasn’t helping. With great anger and dignity, the officer replied, “Sir, I am a Corporal!” The stranger dismounted from his horse and proceeded to help the exhausted soldiers himself. When the job was completed, he turned to the corporal and said, “Mr. Corporal, next time you have a job like this and don’t have enough men to do it, inform your commander-in-chief, and I will come and help you again.”
With it being too late, the proud Corporal recognized General Washington. Washington understood that those who aspire to greatness or rank first among others must serve the needs of all. America’s first president found himself in a situation that invited him to demonstrate servant leadership. Where did Washington learn such leadership skills? I have no doubt he learned them here, in these words of Jesus: “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant.” The young corporal had these words modeled for him by the man at the top. Jesus’ disciples, likewise, receive from their leader a picture of servanthood.
To become an authentic disciple of Jesus means to put ourselves in the humble, demanding role of servant to others, to seek intentionally the happiness and fulfillment of those we love regardless of the cost to ourselves. The best place to begin the process of “self-giving” service is in our own homes and in the workplace. We must look upon our education, training, and experience as preparation for service to others. Whatever may be our place in society — whether we think we are important or unimportant — we can serve.
We should learn to serve with a smile. This is possible whether we are in, social service, law enforcement, medical service, government, or business. We get chances to serve others every day. Nurses serve their patients, teachers serve their students, parents serve the needs of their children, and spouses serve each other and one day children will serve their parents. In our parish, we are also called to serve not to be served. We can apply the famous “ask not” of John Kennedy: “Ask not what your parish, what your Church, or your God can do for you; rather ask what you can do for your parish, for your Church, or for your God!” If we want to be leaders, we must learn to be available, accountable, and vulnerable. This trio — availability, accountability, and vulnerability — qualifies us for what is called Servant Leadership. As theologian Albert Schweitzer said, “Life becomes harder for us when we live for others, but it also becomes richer and happier.”
In last Sunday’s Gospel, Jesus connects service with suffering. Suffering and service go hand in hand. First, service always involves suffering because one can’t help another without some personal sacrifice. Second, when we suffer by serving others, God invites us to unite it with the redemptive suffering of Jesus. Third, we must learn to be sensitive to the suffering of those around us. One way to cultivate this sensitivity is to focus on the needs of others rather than on our own needs. Another way is through prayer, the Prayer of St. Francis gives us many examples.
People often tailor their religious beliefs to fit their own needs. In Christianity, this represents a false approach. The Church needs true disciples who are cross-bearers and servants. They seek and follow wherever Christ leads. A happy family is the result of true sacrifice and humble service. The husband-and-wife sacrifice convenience, comfort, and time. There can be no success without sacrifice. We are challenged to drink the cup of Jesus by laying down our lives in humble and sacrificial service for others, just as Christ did.
We are a community of equals and we share in the responsibilities of being community. To be effective, we need leaders – both ordained and lay. These servant leaders need to be raised up from among us to call us to order, to be the ground on which the rest of us can move around, refining our lives as followers of Christ. We need leaders who will help us to form personal relationships with God and with each other that will assist us to become what we must be in order to wash one another’s feet. We require leaders to call us to the ways of social justice. We need leaders who tie us to other communities and groups who share similar values. Finally, we need leaders who can break open the Word for us, who can lead us in our prayer, and who can draw us to the sacraments.
No single person possesses all that we need as a community. Our job as servant leaders is to evoke, to recognize, to nurture, to celebrate, and to help unify the gifts of the Holy Spirit at work here in our community. Jesus, our model of selflessness, surrendered entirely to the Father’s will out of love for us. We have this possibility of becoming “partners” with Jesus, to be a servant just like him because “there is no other ladder by which we may get to Heaven” (CCC #618).
St. Teresa of Calcutta sums it up best when she said – “Faith in action is love – and love in action is service.”
Deacon Peter LeTourneau
Director of Parish Ministry & Evangelization
Note: This was Deacon Peter’s homily, originally given at the 7:30 and 11:30 Masses on Sunday, October 17.Tags: #deaconpeterletourneau, #homily, #olwparish, #peterletourneau, #reflection, #service, #suffering