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Monthly Reflection by
Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC
"

Not to be served but to serve

“ (

Mk 10:45

)

- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Prayer of the Month

"

Not to be served but to serve

“ (

Mk 10:45

)
- Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Rev. Fr. Augustine Vallooran VC

Discipleship blossoms into the beauty of apostleship spreading its fragrance all around. Jesus chose the twelve disciples that they may be with Him always. They listened to His preaching and experienced His special love. To them He said, "I call you friends because I have revealed to you all that the Father has told me" (Jn 15:15). His purpose was to appoint them as apostles after the Pentecost experience. Therefore before ascending to heaven, He charged them, "You shall be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8). During the public ministry, Jesus gave them guidelines to form them into apostles.

In the gospel of Mark chapter 10, we read of the ambition of James and John, the sons of Zebedee. They approached the Master with a request that they both be given prominent places on His right and left when He would establish the Kingdom (Mk 10:36). They wanted to be acknowledged and established over the other ten disciples. It is significant that they came with this peculiar request right after Jesus prophesied to the group of disciples of His impending passion, suffering and death. He predicted that He would be handed over to the chief priests and would be condemned to death. He concluded that He would rise on the third day (Mk 10:33,34). The two disciples were not able to comprehend the mystery of salvation. Their only concern was for the glory of this earthly life. Jesus seized the occasion to offer them the mystery of apostleship. He explained to them that such matters of the Kingdom are decided solely by the Heavenly Father. "To sit at my right or at my left is not mine to give, but is for those for whom it has been prepared” (Mk 10:40). While this discussion was going on between them, the other apostles getting a hint of the motives of the brothers, were very offended.

“You are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world” (Jn 15:19)

Jesus sensed this wave of individualism and greed among His followers, and warned them that this worldly attitude was totally against the kingdom of God. "Jesus summoned them and said to them, “You know that those who are recognised as rulers over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their authority over them felt. But it shall not be so among you'" (Mat 10:42,43). Two phrases the Lord uses are defining - "lord it over them" and "make their authority felt." Indeed these were the two marks of power in the high places of the time. These two attitudes, namely, ‘lording it over’ and ‘making your authority felt’ had a definite meaning in those days. ‘Lording it over’ others meant exercising power in an arrogant manner with no regard for the self-respect of others. For Jesus, the freedom and value of the individual was invaluable and indispensable. This has been conveyed by the Lord on several occasions and very significantly when He affirmed that 'Sabbath is for man and not man for sabbath' (Mk 2:27). The value of the human person was so great that it was not to be compromised in the name of any prescription of religious observance. Religious observances were meant to enhance human existence and even these could not be used to burden or deprive a person of his or her freedom and dignity. Jesus explains that every person is so precious that God would go to the extent of sacrificing His own Son that no one should perish (Jn 3:16). Jesus would not tolerate any exercise of power that would violate the dignity of the human individual.

The other mark of the exercise of power in those days was making one’s authority felt by those around. This meant using power for one's own selfish ends by ensuring others to cooperate with one's selfish manipulations. To get name and fame, to amass wealth, to channelize benefits and privileges to one’s own family, those in authority abused their power. Jesus clarifies that power was not to be exercised to serve one’s personal agenda but it was for surrendering oneself to the service of the others'.

“Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you” (1 Pet 5:6)

The divine understanding of power presented by Jesus to the apostles is revolutionary and radically opposed to what the world understands by the concept of power. ‘Self-forgetfulness’ and ‘self-giving’ are characteristic marks of power in the vision of Jesus. He expresses these standards by two phrases: 'servant' and 'slave'. The Lord declares to the apostles, "Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all" (Mk 10:43,44). The word used for slave is 'doulos' specifically refers to a person who is totally committed in service to the master without any right for himself. A slave is offered totally to the disposal of the Master. He has no claims whatsoever before the master, though the slave was considered as part of the household.

Jesus demands of everyone who surrenders himself such an attitude of total self-forgetting. This complete selfless approach to service renders one worthy of apostleship. He does not do anything out of self-interest. His only concern is to do the will of the master and to please him. Jesus highlights this attitude to the apostles with an illustration of the slave who after labouring in the fields is expected to serve at the table. A service which is offered with no expectation or claim of reward or thankfulness: "When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty’” (Lk 17:10).

St Paul understood the full import of this notion that he introduces himself in all his letters as "a slave of Christ Jesus" (Rom 1:1). To the church in Corinth he writes, "Although I am free in regard to all, I have made myself a slave to all so as to win over as many as possible" (1 Cor 9:19). St Peter, St Jude and St James, all leaders of the early Church, in their epistles present themselves as slaves of the Lord. They understood well the mind of Jesus. At the Last Supper, Jesus took the role of the servant to wash the feet of the disciples. He clarified there what the nature of their mission was. “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do. Amen, amen, I say to you, no slave is greater than his master, nor any messenger greater than the one who sent him” (Jn 15:14-16). In fact for the apostles the one honour they sought, was to be slaves of God knowing, in this was their highest reward. Jesus had promised them that the servant would be entitled to eternal glory. "Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there also will my servant be. The Father will honour whoever serves me" (Jn 12:26).

“My power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Cor 12:9)

St Peter gives this instruction to the early leaders of the Church, "Tend the flock of God in your midst, overseeing not by constraint but willingly, as God would have it, not for shameful profit but eagerly. Do not lord it over those assigned to you, but be examples to the flock. And when the chief Shepherd is revealed, you will receive the unfading crown of glory" (1 Pet 5:2-4). All the glory, honour and security of a servant of God is from the One who has called him into service. If one reaches out for a profit in this world it would be shameful and unworthy of the call. Through prophet Isaiah, God has given this exhortation, "My glory I will not give to another" (Is 48:11).

In the book of Judges, God reveals the Divine way of exercising power to Gideon who is chosen to lead the Israelites in war. Gideon got together a large army to fight against the Midianites. He was aware that his enemy was powerful and he calculated that a greater number would ensure his victory. He imagined that victory depended on the strength of the army which translated directly as the number of warriors they counted. This sounds most reasonable, yet God’s ways are not our ways!  "The Lord said to Gideon: You have too many soldiers with you for me to deliver Midian into their power, lest Israel vaunt itself against me and say, ‘My own power saved me’” (Jgs 7:2). In this scriptural tradition, St Paul writes to the Philippians, "Complete my joy by being of the same mind... Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests, but also everyone for those of others" (Phil 2:2-4). In glowing terms, St. Paul describes the self-emptying love of the Lord, "Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, Who, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave" (Phi 2:5-7). This humble submission to God, setting aside one's own interests is the core of the service of God.

“I have become all things to all, to save at least some” (1 Cor 9:22)

This self-emptying attitude leads a person to a whole-hearted self-giving. Jesus explains this in the term 'servant'. The original Greek word used is 'diakonos'. It is from this root word that the English word 'deacon' is derived. Deacon refers to the one who offers service at table. The Acts of the Apostles records that there was at one point in the early Church,murmurs of dissent that the widows of the Greeks were neglected by the leadership. St Peter, to address this issue, introduced this new ministry in the Church - the service of the deacons. “It is not right for us to neglect the word of God to serve at table. Brothers, select from among you seven reputable men, filled with the Spirit and wisdom, whom we shall appoint to this task" (Ac 6:2,3). Every service in the Church bears this characteristic of the service at table.

Table service has three dimensions. Firstly, this has the obvious life-giving dimension. Food is meant to enhance life. It follows that serving food is about nourishing life. Secondly, it is a service of love. The one who serves must be personally familiar with those whom he serves, their likes and needs. When you care for the other, you would ensure to provide what is the best for them. One would not be callous as to offer for instance sweets to a diabetic or salty items to one suffering high blood pressure. It takes a loving consideration to understand the needs of each and cater accordingly. Thirdly, service at table involves self-sacrifice. In the Greco-Roman culture, there was a custom of the server bringing the platter of a food item and taking a little and eating it himself first, in order to assure the guests that the food was safe. If there was anything poisonous he would die. We see a willingness to sacrifice one’s life for the well -being of the others.

These three characteristics mark the self-giving nature of service in Christian leadership. The only motive of those chosen and appointed, is to build up the community so that every individual grows to the image of the Lord. Thoughtless authoritarianism marked by disheartening remarks and depressing gestures have no place in the leader chosen by Christ. There is a general thinking that suppressing others is a way of achieving discipline in the community. While discipline and order have value, the absence of charity in leadership makes it totally unchristian. Life is to be enhanced and not suppressed. There is a style of authoritarian confrontation with the facts, that only leaves the others helpless and humiliated. Truth without charity is in fact not truth. It serves one's purpose of proving the authority right, with no consideration whatsoever, for the person on the other side. The wounded, the erring and the weak have a right to be specially cared for. Uncaring confrontation can destroy persons leaving them no opportunity to rise again. This does not nurture truth for truth is meant to be life-giving. Those in authority should have enough love to understand for love can never condemn. Even when there is a mistake in others one should be able to take the trouble of not humiliating them, but correcting in a spirit of love and gentleness. It is said of St Vincent de Paul that even though he was the Founder of the Congregation and Superior General, when he had to correct a priest he would go to the room, kneel down and make a Confession of his own faults and get absolution and then would on his knees, correct the mistake of the priest.

Outdo one another in showing honour” (Rom 12:10)

The teachings of Jesus invite us for an honest soul- searching of the approaches prevalent in the Church and more importantly in ourselves. All of us are called to some service in the Church and every such service is to be marked by divine attitudes. When selfishness and pride tarnish the divine dimension of leadership, the witness value of the Church is diminished. We have often come across the complaint of a parent that though he or she had sacrificed their life for the children, the children in their turn, do not care for them. Definitely the children have a responsibility of love to look after the elderly parents, but a parent who calculates returns while bringing up children, would be failing in the spirit of Jesus Christ. A teacher who expects respect and appreciation from the students is not exercising the service in Christian spirit. A priest who complains that he is not appreciated by his authorities for his hard work in the care of the flock is yet to understand the true nature of priestly service. In the secular world, a government official or a politician who fills his own coffers to make his future secure through corrupt and unjust ways is moving in the pagan way. The pagan world has invaded the heart of the leaders of the time and sadly even in the sacred service of the Lord.

The famous prayer of St Francis of Assisi is very relevant for our times. The prayer is for God to remould the heart that it may now seek more to serve than to be served, to love than to be loved. Meditating on the face of the Master Jesus Christ, he opens his heart to be flooded by the self-sacrificing love of the Lord. The world at large and the Church in particular, should sit at the feet of the Lord and learn to wash the feet of those entrusted to their care. The authoritarian mantle is to be cast away. The self-centred craze that drives the multitude applause and security is to be plucked out. The warning of the Lord against the shepherds who plundered His sheep is to resound in the heart of everyone in places of authority (Ezk 34). The more we sit at the feet of the Good Shepherd the more we will understand the great saving love that impels Him to go in search of the wounded sheep. This is the need of the hour. The world and the Church is being torn apart by a spirit of accusation and condemnation. This began with the breakdown of families. Relationships are fragile and the failure of the individual led to separations. The spirit of love Jesus proved, is what prevails. If we, each of us, can adopt this spirit in our every relationship, the light will overcome the darkness. Grace and mercy will filter through our personal decisions into our communities, our Church and our society. There it is, that we shall begin witnessing in authenticity and power. Christ has called each of us to such a mission to spread the light of salvation. Let us then boldly go forward and empty ourselves in humble service and complete trust in the Lord who has gone before us in the way of love.

Prayer

Lord Jesus, you came to serve and not to be served, to give your life as a ransom for us. In order to ensure that none of us should perish you emptied yourself of Divine glory and came down to this valley of tears. You became obedient unto death, even when it meant an unjust and shameful death on the cross. Give us your spirit of self-emptying and self-giving love that we may be trustworthy stewards of your saving love. Give us the understanding that it is in giving that we are filled with your graces. As you moulded your disciples let us be empowered to give our lives for your kingdom. Amen.

 
Divine Updates

MAGNIFICAT in Bangalore

Celebrate an evening with our Lord in Bangalore at the 'Magnificat' on November 10, 2018. Special session for children. All are welcome.

Venue: St. Joseph's Boys' School Chapel, Museum Road, Bangalore

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Divine Retreat Centre, Somersby to hold retreats throughout 2017. For bookings, email Fr Roni George, Director - drcsydney@gmail.com. Hurry, as admission is limited.

Date: January 2018 - December, 2018

Retreats in Divine Retreat Centre, UK

Divine Retreat Centre, Ramsgate UK, has announced several English and Malayalam language retreats to be led by Fr. George Panackal VC and Fr. Joseph Edattu VC. All are welcome.

Dates: Jan - Dec, 2018

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