To Lead is to Serve
During the past few weeks, I have spent quite a bit of time going to funerals both in the parish and in my Sisters of Divine Providence community. Today we are burying the sixth Sister in the last month. Two more are on hospice care! In the parish, just this week we have had two large funerals.
As our parish community and my Sister community bury the dead, that very meaningful corporal work of mercy, we remember and we celebrate the ways in which our friends, our companions have led and served. We celebrate their discipleship. We name the ways that they have witnessed to living the faith, to modeling the capacity to “drink of the cup” that Jesus describes. In many ways, they urge us and lure us to greater service, to greater leadership.
One of the things I am most grateful for at St. Francis is the examples of servant leadership I see all around me, every day. I’ll share some examples: the coach who encourages the CYO player who only wants to quit, the liturgical ministers who make sure everything is ready for our Masses each weekend, the St. Vincent de Paul volunteers who give attention, love and assistance to our brothers and sisters in need, the Mobile Loaves & Fishes teams who joyfully prepare and serve meals, the ministers who regularly bring Communion and messages of love and care to our homebound parishioners, the festival volunteers who brought joy to all, the Habitat volunteers who weather the weather and will persist until the house is built, the catechists and Bible Study leaders who form parishioners of every age in the faith, the choir members and musicians, our priests and deacons, our marriage sponsor couples, our teen and adult retreat teams, the women and a few men who wash and iron altar linens and dust the statues, the parishioner who sees someone coming out of the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and stops to talk and be present to someone needing comfort, the man who hands the young altar server a small gift in recognition of their service. I am sure you have countless examples as well.
And so we pray this weekend: Loving and merciful God, help us to follow your example of sacrificial love, by being servants who lead and leaders who serve! Help us to grow in our capacity to serve! Give us generous hearts.
Will We Too Go Away Sad?
“Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said to him, ‘You are lacking in one thing.’” The rich, young man was looking to Jesus to tell him what he needed to do to enter the kingdom of God. He was proud of himself for keeping the commandments and probably expected Jesus to acknowledge his goodness and to praise him for good work.
Jesus, however, challenges him with these words: “Go, sell what you have, and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” The response of the otherwise confident young man is described in this way. “…his face fell, and he went away sad, for he had many possessions.”
Wealth offered the young man access to so many things in life—health, reputation, respect, and fullness of life. What the young man was seeking was God, a relationship with God, a quest to ultimately be with God.
Imagine Jesus looking at you, loving you and saying to you, “You are lacking in one thing.” What is the one more thing lacking in your life? What is the “wealth” you need to sell or give away? What is Jesus asking of you when he says “Come, follow me?”
Happy Feast of St. Francis!
We need St. Francis today, in our world, in our community, and in our hearts. Francis was so deeply embedded in the gospel that he was out of step with everything. If we follow the example of our parish’s patron saint, we too would be risking much for the gospel. The invitation is ours! Will we follow?
Many quotes are attributed to Francis. One of my favorites is this:
“Remember that when you leave this earth, you can take with you nothing that you have received…but only what you have given: a full heart, enriched by honest service, love, sacrifice, and courage.”
Prophets, the Holy Spirit, and Change
Do we truly believe that anyone can be a prophet? Our readings for this weekend shed some light on how we sometimes limit God’s work among us when we act as if only some people, or certain people have been “ordained” to be prophets. Moses corrects those who believe that the Spirit is given to a limited number of people.
The same is true in the gospel when John tells Jesus that there is someone that is driving out demons and “does not follow us.” Jesus promptly corrects John and the others: “Do not prevent him” because “whoever is not against us is for us.”
In so many matters today, we are asked and sometimes even forced to choose sides, to join tribes, to be “in” with others in a particular way of thinking, in judging who is right or wrong. We tend to listen to and gather around those who think the way we do, pray the way we do, interpret laws the same way we do, or expect others to act in the way we do.
We also tend to guard our turf. Those of us who were here first might resent new volunteers who come in with fresh ideas, new energy, and offers to help. We like it just the way it is—limited to those who are already here. Pride and tribalism get in the way. And the consequence is that we miss the gifts of the Holy Spirit, found in all.
Our call then is to let go, loosen the reins, make room for others, and accept the gifts of all as they offer and as they contribute to the common good. Painful as it may be, now may be the time to accept new ideas and a fresh vision.
Moses, the prophet, and Jesus by his words and actions, both assure us that the Holy Spirit is given to all. And we are all called to be prophets by virtue of our Baptism.
What would it be like to be on the side of Jesus? Is there room for all of us?
Who is the greatest? The apostles became stuck on that point, suffering from selfish ambition. It can happen to us too. We can become concerned only for our self, willing to do anything to get ahead. We can be filled with pride and a sense of entitlement. We can see others as competition, be jealous and envious. We can use others to our advantage. We can seek great wealth, status, power, prestige, popularity. These are some of the many ways that we can be absorbed by selfish ambition.
In this week’s gospel reading, Jesus defines greatness differently. In God’s eyes, Jesus says that to be the greatest, we must serve all—no selectiveness, no choosing. Our love must embrace all, including all that we see as inconvenient, difficult or problematic. In Jesus’ words, one can be the greatest if the heart has room for everyone.
For Jesus, it never mattered who was in or who was out, who was wrong or who was right. What upset Jesus most was injustice, exclusion and seeing people being neglected and hurt. Instead, Jesus asks us to replace jealousy, envy and selfish ambition with love, justice, and peace.
Mother Teresa is an excellent example of embracing and serving all. She embraced the giftedness of all people, including the abandoned. In welcoming them, she recognized God’s mercy and compassion for all. With new gratitude, she became more peaceful and gentle and merciful. May it be so for us too.
Answering the Call to Follow
Have you experienced the reality of Jesus’ words, “Take up your cross and follow me”? And are you able to recognize times in your life where you experienced suffering that led to redemption and resurrection?
If you wondered where I was last weekend, I spent four days with three other friends who joined the Sisters of Divine Providence 53 years ago on September 5. We have made this an annual event the past four years, knowing that there is a richness in sharing our experiences of life in very meaningful ways. We prayed together, laughed together, cried together and, of course, we ate together. We talked and talked—sharing joys and sorrows, hopes and dreams, disappointments and newness. One evening, one of my friends asked each of us to share our responses to several questions.
- When have you experienced profound awe at something?
- When have you experienced suffering that led to growth? Who helped you to recognize how the suffering formed you to be more compassionate or merciful?
- What brings you the most joy in your life?
This discussion required much vulnerability, profound trust and a willingness to hold the experiences without judgment or comparison. In the sharing we came to love each other even more, to be grateful for our shared lives, and to recognize how God, known to us as Providence, has always been calling us to follow, to take up our crosses, and to grow in understanding how each of us is redeemed and experiences new life.
And then last night at the ACTS Core meeting, Howard Snarr, our facilitator, shared poetry that captured the essence not only of our weekend, but also provides a wonderful reflection on the Scripture for this weekend, especially the invitation to “take up your cross and follow.” Here is the poem:
Every time we witness a baptism we hear these words: “May the Lord soon touch your ears to receive his word, and your mouth to proclaim his faith, to the praise and glory of God the Father.” (Rite of Baptism for Children, #65)
Jesus used touch and the word “Ephphatha!—Be opened.” He was referring to the opening of ears and the freeing of mouths to speak. Can you think of the last time that your ears were opened to hearing something in a new way? Understanding it differently because it was spoken by someone you love or who cares about your well-being? Or perhaps it was a speaker who opened your ears to hear a difficult message, a much-needed message, that changed your way of thinking about an issue—immigration, the sexual abuse in the Church, the death penalty, treatment of the elderly.
Often when we listen to a person with whom we have a special connection, we come to both hear and understand in different ways. The relationship matters. Fear dissipates and we want to reach out and touch. When ears are opened, we often are also given the strength to speak differently about the person(s) we have come to know. Our relationship frees our tongues to speak with compassion and love and to advocate for freedom, justice, and healing.
Jesus wanted everyone to have the fullness of life. He gifted many with the capacity to hear and to speak. Jesus continues to do that today in the words we hear in Scripture. Can we listen to those we disagree with in new ways? Can we keep the dialogue going for longer periods of time? Can we use our mouths, our voices to proclaim what Jesus teaches and what Jesus does for others?
This weekend we pray for “open” ears to hear the voices of all our brothers and sisters—the ones we have a relationship with and those we have yet to meet in person. We pray also that our mouths are freed to speak words that heal rather than divide, words that free us from fear and hatred of persons who are different from us. Perhaps the Prayer of St. Francis will motivate us.
What will I personally pray to “be open” to in my life? How will I choose to use words that come from my mouth? And how will I respond in openness to what Jesus is calling me to when I hear “Be opened?”
Not Lip Service, But Active Service
I often think when I go to Mass on Sunday, or any day of the week, “Why am I here?” Has this become tradition, or a habit? Am I fearful that if I fail to show up, I will be committing the sin of not keeping holy the Lord’s day? Am I only a law abider?
Mark in this gospel presents lots of examples of external practices that were common in Jesus’ time. Many of them were about purification—ritual washing or cleansing, eating certain food and not others, keeping the traditions of the elders. But Jesus wants us to examine the habits of our hearts! What touches our hearts? What keeps us on the path of following Jesus—doing what Jesus would do? What does LOVE demand of us? How do we move from being “hearers” of the Word and become “doers” of the Word?
Jesus makes it quite clear: religion that is pure is defined as taking care of orphans and widows in their affliction. Who are the orphans and widows among us? Who are the least among us?
I struggle every day with images of refugees all over the world. The nightly news lets us see the Rohingya Muslim people who have fled to overcrowded, poverty-ridden Bangladesh to escape genocide, those seeking asylum in many countries who are fleeing violence, crime and certain death in Central American countries, those displaced by war in so many places in the world, human beings who are trafficked and live lives as sex slaves.
Our Scripture readings this weekend remind us that our hearts must be formed by God’s wisdom. We pray AND we act! Jesus asks for nothing less—not lip service only, but active service.
May I also recommend two other resources for your praying and acting this week? The first is a follow-up to Fr. Mike Schmitz’s reflection last week on the sex abuse crisis.
The second resource is one that I personally enjoy listening to every week.
Don’t Leave; LEAD!
My experience of the past weeks is that many of us are struggling with our responses to the sexual abuse by priests revealed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Some of us are overwhelmed by feelings of disgust at the harm done to children. Others are experiencing strong feelings of anger at Church structures and those most responsible for both abuse and cover-up. Probably all of us wonder what we can do to bring about healing that is rich in compassion and love for the victims and all others affected by the abuse of clerical authority.
The Gospel for this weekend poses some questions that might be helpful to us in choosing both prayers and actions that indicate our desire to correct wrongs. We acknowledge the immense hurt of so many. We individually and communally choose actions of prayer, fasting, and using our voices to name the actions of the abusers as evil, sinful, and criminal. We choose to live lives of holiness in the midst of the darkness many are experiencing.
In the Gospel from John that we will hear this weekend, Jesus notices that many of his followers are no longer accompanying him, following him. He says to the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Simon Peter answers him, “Master, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and are convinced that you are the Holy One of God.”
This is the choice that each of us is faced with. Do I stay or go? Believe or not? Do we trust Jesus’ promise that the Holy Spirit will always be with us?
Fr. Mike Schmitz addresses the multiple abuses of authority and our response in a very honest and powerful video released just a few days ago. At the end of his presentation, he exhorts us as Jesus would to not leave the Church over the crisis because this is too difficult. He asks us to LEAD by lives of holiness. Here is the video:
There are so many other good resources available in various places. Articles have been written, homilies from other churches have been shared, and people everywhere have been searching for how best to strengthen our resolve to respond in faith, hope, and charity. I have had numerous conversations with parishioners and friends these last few days who are struggling with how to respond. In each case, I am asking the Holy Spirit to continue to guide us and give us wisdom, to be voices of hope and healing for all.
One of the resources that I recommend comes from J.S. Paluch Publishing. These are the prayers the St. Francis staff prayed this week at our Thursday morning staff meeting and prayer time:
As we struggle with the immensity of the scandal of sexual abuse, let us pray that the light of Christ present in our hearts pierce the darkness of the sin that has been exposed in our midst.
For the Spirit of Truth to empower us to voice our outrage, express our alarm, and turn our energies toward a better future, let us pray to the Lord.
For the grace and honesty to convey our anger to Church leaders, and to recognize and demand that God’s quest for justice also be carried out within the Church, let us pray to the Lord.
For all of us who, whether by inaction or indifference, bear some responsibility for the suffering of those who were abused, let us pray to the Lord.
For the reform of systems and structures that perpetuate the corrupt use of power or authority so that the Church can more faithfully reveal God-among-us, let us pray to the Lord
For those who have suffered abuse: May they be uplifted by our support, concern, and advocacy on their behalf, let us pray to the Lord.
For us, as we continue our abiding love for the Eucharist: May we see in Jesus someone who knows our anger and intense sorrow during this time of trial, let us pray to the Lord.
For all who provide help for those who have been abused: for counselors, therapist, and advocates, let us pray to the Lord.
O God of compassion, we pray that your divine Wisdom guide us to your eternal truths, helping us to see and address the many kinds of abuse perpetuated in our midst.
We make this and all these prayers in the name of Jesus, our Lord and Savior. Amen.
Please do watch Fr. Mike’s video. Don’t leave; LEAD!
To Be Flesh and Blood
Remember all the bread imagery in the readings of the past few weeks? This Sunday we hear the word “eat” six times in the Gospel. Our first thoughts of when this happens probably turn to the action of eating and drinking at the time of Communion at Mass. Has that action—the standing up, walking in procession and the eating and drinking—become routine? Is it something that we just fall in line to do?
When I reflect on the image above, I am reminded of what it means to be in relationship, to be in communion, not just with Jesus but with all of humanity. To remain in communion with Jesus, we are invited to participate in the life of Jesus, to live as Jesus lived.
Who of us would not want to be in this picture? Who wouldn’t want to be at the table with Jesus? What incredible intimacy! What generous companionship! What immense love and acceptance!
To remain in the closeness of this relationship with Jesus, we too are invited to be body broken and blood poured out for others. To remain in Jesus and Jesus in us, we are called to live as Jesus lived. Are we able to love all without exception, to heal the brokenness of others, to be compassionate, to include others at our table, to forgive, to denounce wrong-doing?
The readings, the lyrics of the hymns we sing, the intercessory prayers and the words of our Eucharistic prayers provide clues to how it is that each of us is called to be “flesh and blood” not only to those who celebrate Eucharist with us, but also all our sisters and brothers.