To command is to serve
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ Jesus,
The month of September is dedicated to devotion to the Seven Sorrows of the Virgin Mary. Let us console the heart of our Blessed Mother through this devotion! This Sunday I share with you a meditation on our call to love and serve Jesus. I encourage you to reflect over this message a few times this week:
“The Most Important of All - To command is to serve: The First Reading for today’s Holy Mass concerns the sufferings of the children of God who are unjustly persecuted because of their upright behavior. Let us lie in wait for the righteous man, because he is inconvenient to us and opposes our actions; he reproaches us for sins against the law, and accuses us of sins against our training. He professes to have knowledge of God, and calls himself a child of the Lord. He became to us a reproof of our thoughts; the very sight of him is a burden to us… Let us test him with insult and torture, that we may find out how gentle he is, and make trial of his forbearance. Let us condemn him to a shameful death, for, according to what he says, he will be protected. (Wis. 2:12-20) The liturgy applies this description of the righteous man to Jesus Christ. He was condemned to a most brutal chastisement and an ignominious death.
St. Mark tells us in today’s Gospel of how Jesus strove to prepare His disciples for His impending death and Resurrection. As they were passing through Galilee, He spoke to them in very clear terms: The Son of Man will be delivered into the hands of men, and they will kill Him; and when He is killed, after three days He will rise. (Mark 9:29- 36) The Lords’ disciples were dismayed by this news, for they were dreaming of an earthly kingdom. But they did not understand the saying, and they were afraid to ask Him.
Despite the Master’s warning, the disciples continued to debate the make-up of their future regime and who was the greatest. Upon their arrival at Capharnaum, Jesus asked them, What were you discussing on the way? Perhaps more than a little ashamed, they fell silent. And He sat down and called the Twelve; and He said to them, ‘If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all’. To better illustrate this teaching, He took a child, and put him in the midst of them; and taking him in His arms, He said to them, ‘Whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not me but Him Who sent Me’.
The Lord wants everyone who exercises authority to realize that theirs is a work of service. To demonstrate to His Apostles the obligation and humility needed in their ministry, He takes a child in His arms, and explains the meaning of this gesture: if we receive for Christ’s sake those who have little importance in the world’s eyes, it is as if we are embracing Christ Himself and the Father Who sent Him. This little child whom Jesus embraces represents every child in the world, and everyone who is needy, helpless, poor or sick - people who are not naturally attractive. (The Navarre Bible, note to Mark 9:36-37)
Love for Christ is the basis for all authority and obedience in the Church: In this Gospel passage, the Lord wants to teach the Twelve how they are to govern the Church. He shows them that to exercise authority is an act of service. The word authority proceeds from the Latin word auctor, that is to say, the author, promoter, or source of something. (cf. J. Corominas, Spanish and Castillian Critical Etymological Dictionary, Madrid 1987) It suggests the function of one who watches over the interests or development of a social grouping. As a consequence, authority and obedience are not to be understood as contradictory concepts. In the Church they both have their origin in the same love for Christ. One commands for the love of Christ, while the other obeys for the love of Christ.
Authority is necessary for every society, and in the case of the Church it has been willed expressly by the Lord. When authority is absent in society, or when authority is abused, damage is done to the members. If the purpose of the group is essential to the welfare of its members, then such harm can prove quite serious. There is a great love of comfort, and at times a great irresponsibility, hidden behind the attitude of those in authority who flee from the sorrow of correcting, making the excuse that they want to avoid the suffering of others. They may perhaps save themselves some discomfort in this life. But they are gambling with eternal happiness - the eternal happiness of others as well as their own - by these omissions of theirs. These omissions are real sins. (J. Escriva, The Forge, 577)
In the Church, authority has to be exercised as Christ exercised it, as One Who did not come to be served, but to serve: non veni ministrarised ministrare. (Matt. 20:28) His service to humanity is directed toward salvation, since He came for all to give His life as a ransom for many. (ibid.) The Lord said these words in response to a situation much like the one described in today’s Gospel. Jesus told His Apostles on that occasion: You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you; but whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave. (Matt. 20:24-27) The Apostles were just beginning to understand the Master’s teaching. They would come to understand it fully after the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Years later, St. Peter would write to the bishops that they were obliged to care for the flock entrusted to them by God. They were not to dominate people, but, instead, to serve by example. (cf. Pet. 5:1-3) St. Paul too would affirm that, since he was not under anyone’s particular authority, he would be the servant of all so as to win all. (cf. 1 Cor. 9:19 ff.; 2 Cor. 4:5) The higher one is in the Church hierarchy, the greater is one’s obligation to serve others. This truth is reflected in the title which has long been reserved for the Roman Pontiff: Servus servorum Dei, the servant of the servants of God. (C. Burke, Authority and Freedom in the Church, p. 114)
Let us pray that the Church will always be blessed with good shepherds who know to serve all, especially those in greatest need. The shepherds of the Church must know how to combine all the qualities of a father of a family with the loving intuition of a mother who treats each of the children in a different way, according to their needs. (A. del Portillo, On Priesthood, p. 18)
We should pray every day for the Roman Pontiff, for the bishops, for priests, for whoever has been set in authority over us, for those who depend on our good example. This prayer will greatly please Our Lord.
Authority in the Church is a great blessing. To obey as Christ did: When a person exercises authority in imitation of Christ, then that per-son truly serves. Jesus taught us that service means obedience. He became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. (Phil. 2:8) This is the context for how we should understand authority. Authority is a good. Authority in the Church is more than a good; it is a blessing. Without authority, the Church could not possibly exist according to the desire of her Founder.
A community of people realize that they cannot achieve their common goals except under the guidance and coordination of some authority. Authority itself is regarded as a task of service. People look to authority. If it is lacking they set it up. The tendency to accept authority within the community is not the product of a servile or a collectivized mentality. It is precisely the natural tendency of each individual reflective conscience. Each one, because he wants to belong to that particular community with its concrete goals, freely and personally looks to the common authority. His tendency is to accept it. He would only resist authority if he felt it was no longer serving the the common good. To resist it simply because it seems to be contrary to his personal interests would show a loss of sense of community; an individualistic and selfish approach that would estrange him from the community, putting what he regards as his own personal good above the common good… Ordinary life provides countless examples of this tendency of community to seek authority: from social or sports clubs to trade-unions, to professional associations; down to the spontaneous on the spot organization that emerges once a group of boys comes together for a football game. (C. Burke, op. cit., p. 117)
We should look upon authority in the Church with eyes of Faith. Christ Himself comes to meet us in the instructions we are given by ecclesiastical authorities.
The great enemy of authority and community is self-love. This is something which we all suffer from. It is our shared inheritance of Original Sin. We have to be humble. A proud person will seek any excuse to avoid obedience. Let us resolve to obey God’s commands wholeheartedly and cheerfully. Nowadays the world we live in is full of disobedience and gossip, of intrigue and conspiracy. So, more than ever we have to love obedience, sincerity, loyalty and simplicity: and our love of all these will have a supernatural significance, which will make us more human. (J. Escriva, op. cit., 530)
Let us conclude this mediation by going to the protection of our holy Mother Mary. She was the one who wanted to be the handmaiden of the Lord, ‘ancilla Domini’. (Luke 1:38) She will teach us the full meaning of that glorious Christian motto: to serve is to reign. (cf. Second Vatican Council, Lumen Gentium, 36)” (From: In Conversation with God by Francis Fernandez) Through the intercession of Mary, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God grant us the grace to demonstrate reverence toward Him in our actions!
In Christ through Mary,