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Archbishop Follo: A New Perspective: Service as a Career

With the invitation to serve our sisters and brothers with sincere, generous and humble love.

XXIX Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year B – October 21, 2018

Roman Rite
Is 53:10 to 11; Ps 33; Heb 4, 14-16; Mk 10:35 to 45

Ambrosian Rite
Is 26, 1-2.4.7-8; 54, 12-14a; [Ap. 21, 9a.c-27]; Ps 67; 1 Cor 3.9 to 17; Jn 10.22 to 30
Dedication of Milan Cathedral

1) A God who serves.

This Sunday’s Gospel passage (Mark 10.35 to 45) seems to repeat some words that Christ has previously pronounced: “Whoever wants to be great should become servant of all” (see Mk 9:35). However, the disciples still don’t understand them and moreover, they don’t understand Christ who is announcing his passion. The reaction of the Apostles at the third prediction of the Passion is worse than the previous ones.

After the first prediction, there was a discussion between Jesus and Peter. The disciple was still thinking like a human being, not according to God. Therefore, he wanted to convince Christ not to give his life.

After the second prediction, there was the misunderstanding of all the apostles whose focus was on who was the greatest.

After the third prediction, it is as if Jesus had not said anything. Indeed, James and John, the favored disciple, instead of doing his will, want Him to do theirs. They ask Jesus “We want to sit one at your right hand and one at your left” (see Mk 10: 37). The other disciples get upset by this request.

Their reaction is certainly not in line with the humble love preached by the Master. Jesus patiently gathers around him all the apostles and, speaking to the two who sought power and honor and to the other ten, who were irritated by the request perhaps because it had been made before they could do the same, says that the most important Apostle is the one who serves.

To make his thinking better understandable for the disciples, Jesus uses two comparisons, one negative and one positive. He invites them not to exercise their authority as the princes of the world do (this is the negative comparison), then he continues asking them to behave like Him, who is “the Son of Man (here is the positive comparison) who did not come to be served, but to serve and give his life as a ransom for the multitudes “.

Therefore, in the Kingdom of God great is the one who serves and the best service is to give one’s own life. To serve is already a bit “to die”, it is the daily cross. If we accept this cross, we unite ourselves to the service that Christ offers to all humanity, manifesting the gratuitous and merciful love of God.

If giving life is the highest way of serving, in daily life serving means at least being useful for free, without calculation, disinterestedly. Serving means organizing one’s whole existence in such a way as to take charge of the other up to the complete gift of self. Serving with authority means putting oneself at the disposal of the beloved so that he or she can grow (authority comes from the Latin ‘augere’ which means to grow). It is a service of love that operates “in redemption” of the multitude, as the missionaries do in a wonderful way.

The expression “in redemption” should not be understood as if it meant “to pay off the debt”, but as “solidarity with” or “instead of”. The prevailing idea is not that of debt which must absolutely be paid at any cost, but the idea of the solidarity that exists between the Son of man and the multitudes (Jesus, in other words, is the Big good Brother. Nothing prevents us from thinking, with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, that in addition to the two sons there is a third one -mentioned in the parable of the Merciful Father – who feels involved and takes on his shoulders the situation of his younger prodigal brother). The Son of God and of man came to live this solidarity, thus becoming the visible, tangible transparency of God’s love and his covenant. As a missionary once told me: “The greatest solidarity, the greatest charity that we can do to others is to proclaim to them that Christ is risen” and changes life because the love of the risen Christ is not “something individualistic, uniquely spiritual, but it concerns the flesh, it concerns the world and must transform it “(Benedict XVI, June 28, 2007). We are therefore called to “serve the Gospel in solidarity and in communion … It is a vocation that we must fulfill by wearing the service apron, as Jesus did at the Last Supper with his Apostles (Pope Francis, November 16, 2017).

Jesus patiently teaches that, in order to be great with him and like him, we must exercise authority in the same way he does: serving. “For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). This sentence is the highlight of the whole teaching of Christ. It is a sentence that goes far beyond the mere exercise of authority made with patience, kindness, and humility. The author of The Imitation of Christ writes “If you want to reign with Jesus, carry the cross with him. Only the servants of the cross find the way of bliss and true light “(see Ch. 56)

To participate to his greatness, Jesus not only asks us to act like him but to be like Him: servants. “Everybody can be great because everybody can serve. It is not necessary to have a college degree to serve.  In order to serve, subject and verb do not have to agree. It is only necessary to have a heart full of grace “(Martin Luther King) regenerated from the love of Christ on the Cross.

 

2) Authority belongs to the one who loves and practices it with service[1].

Authority in Christianity is understood and lived as an exercise of love because for Christ the one who loves Him is the one who can and must lead his friends, becoming their servant.

This is the teaching that comes from the text of St. Mark that we are commenting today. To the disciples who are asking Jesus to share His greatness, He responds by teaching that greatness is in service and that the service is a way of the cross, namely the gift of self so that the friend can live. It is not pleasant to suffer, but “to serve “is right, good and joyful even though it has as a price the renunciation of self. “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35). This is a teaching that is also a non-Christian, as the Indian poet Tagore writes “I dreamed that life was joy. I woke up. Life was service. I served and in the service I found joy. “And the Blessed Mother Teresa of Calcutta has completed it saying “Where God is, there is love. And where there is love, there is always service. The fruit of love is service; the fruit of service is peace. ”

True greatness, which is the greatness of God, is to be a servant of love, because to serve is, in the New Testament, the concrete expression of love. To love is to serve the others. Selfishness means the use of the other.

In the prevailing mentality, authority is conceived and practiced as power. It is almost synonymous of domination and, in this sense, it is the opposite of service[2]. But it must be kept in mind that even though Jesus has enjoyed deep authorities and acted with authority, he was also the one that the New Testament presented above all using the hymn of the suffering servant (Is 52.13 to 53.12), one who gave his life for the others, expressing to the highest degree the truth that there is no better friend than he who gives his life for the others. “Here is my servant whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom my soul delights” (Is 42.1). It is God the one who speaks and presents “his” servant; it is He who has “chosen” him, it is He who supports him.

Every election, in the Scripture, is in view of a mission and, to address it, grace is needed. God says that his servant is “good” and that He has placed his Spirit in him. “Hear me, islands, listen carefully, distant nations; the Lord called me from the womb, up from the womb of my mother he named my name”. (Is 49.2) “He made my mouth like a sharp sword, he hid me in the shadow of his hand, made me a sharp arrow, He put me in its quiver.” (Ibid.)

To sum up, the servant is a man chosen among men. He is not better than the others or more capable. It is God who goes out to meet him; it is He who purifies and enables him to say yes. The call to be holy is realized in the mission toward the others as sent by God. This mission is mainly in announcing the Word, in providing the voice of God and being his witness. According to the Gospel, authority is, therefore, a qualification that God gives for a service. If we wanted to explain it with a passage from the Gospel of St. John, we could refer to the washing of the feet, in the evening of the Last Supper in the Upper Room.

The episode of the washing of the feet sends us to the Gospel of Mark, in which Jesus is not concerned to assimilate himself to the great of the earth. He does not want to be served but to serve. By giving his life, he wants to prove that he knows how to take to the extreme the truth in which he believes and the mission that the Father has entrusted to him. He not only wanted us to understand that Christian life is life in joy because to serve God, the neighbor, and the Church gives joy ” if one contributes, in generosity; if one does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” (Rom 12: 7-8).

 

3) The authoritative service of the consecrated virgins[3].

Reflecting on how the consecrated virgins are great and how they exercise the authority of obliging love, I thought that today is important to highlight the following.

The consecrated virgins in the world dedicate their lives and all their love to God and to his Kingdom. They testify that every vocation is acceptance of the love of God and answer to Him in the service of others. They remind to us, mainly through virginity, the theological source of love that speaks of the virginity of the heart and of the affections born from the intimate and fruitful communion with the Lord.

These women follow the example of Our Lady. The Virgin Mary responded yes to the proposal of “being for the other”.  She has not only realized the scale and the grandeur of God’s call but in her words “Behold the handmaid of the Lord” understood in an exemplary manner the true attitude about the service requested by God. A service hardworking and quiet that under the cross has cooperated with the will of the Father. Perhaps never before as at that time the words “Behold, I am the servant of my Lord” echoed in her heart.

Those who love serve all and go looking, like Christ, particularly for the excluded, the dispossessed, the sinners, and with a chaste life proclaim that God looks at them, loves them and saves them.

Their importance is not measured by what they produce in terms of efficiency, but by the spirit and the style that motivates them, and by the living ecclesial communion.

Theirs is a vocation of service that shows, through the consecration and the life that follows, that it is possible to go from a possessive “I” to an oblative “I”.

These women show how you can love your neighbor as yourself. It is enough to love Jesus, because those who really love, love also those loved by the Beloved.

This is also taught by the Rite of Consecration of Virgins. With this rite, the Church celebrates the decision of a woman to give her virginity to Christ the Bridegroom and, invoking upon her the gift of the Spirit, dedicates her to always serve and worship the Lord and to a service of love for the ecclesial community and for the world.

The consecration is a response to the call of God the Father “pure spring from which flows the gift of chaste integrity”. Through Christ, He calls the virgins “for a plan of love […] to join them more closely to him and put them in the service of the Church and humanity” (Rite of Consecration of Virgins, Homily). For this reason, the Church calls upon them all the virtues, graces and gifts they need to live their vocation, praying “Through the gift of your Spirit, Lord, give them modesty with right judgment, kindness with true wisdom, gentleness with the strength of character, freedom with the grace of chastity. Give them the warmth of love, to love you above all others. Make their lives deserve our praise, without seeking to be praised”. (Prayer of consecration)

 

Patristic Reading

Saint Augustin of Hyppo

Sermon XLVI. [XCVI. Ben.]

 On the words of the gospel, Mc 8,34 “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself,” etc. And on the words 1 John chapter ii, verse 15, “if any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

1). Hard and grievous does that appear which the Lord hath enjoined, that “whosoever will come after Him, must deny himself.”1 But what He enjoineth is not hard or grievous, who aideth us that what He enjoineth may be done. For both is that true which is said to Him in the Psalm, “Because of the words of Thy lips I have kept hard ways.”2 And that is true which He said Himself, “My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.”3 For whatsoever is hard in what is enjoined us, charity makes easy. We know what great things love itself can do. Very often is this love even abominable and impure; but how great hardships have men suffered, what indignities and intolerable things have they endured, to attain to the object of their love? whether it be a lover of money who is called covetous; or a lover of honor, who is called ambitious; or a lover of beautiful women, who is called voluptuous. And who could enumerate all sorts of loves? Yet consider what labor all lovers undergo, and are not conscious of their labors; and then does any such one most feel labor, when he is hindered from labor. Since then the majority of men are such as their loves are, and that there ought to be no other care for the regulation of our lives, than the choice of that which we ought to love; why dost thou wonder, if he who loves Christ, and who wishes to follow Christ, for the love of Him denies himself? For if by loving himself man is lost, surely by denying himself be is found.

 

  1. The first destruction of man, was the love of himself. For if he had not loved himself, if he had preferred God to himself, he would have been willing to be ever subject unto God; and would not have been turned to the neglect of His will, and the doing his own will. For this is to love one’s self, to wish to do one’s own will. Prefer to this God’s will; learn to love thyself by not loving thyself. For that ye may know that it is a vice to love one’s self, the Apostle speaks thus, “For men shall be lovers of their own selves.”4 And can he who loves himself have any sure trust in himself? No; for he begins to love himself by forsaking God, and is driven away from himself to love those things which are beyond himself; to such a degree that when the aforesaid Apostle had said,” Men shall be lovers of their own selves,” he subjoined immediately, “lovers of money.” Already thou seest that thou art without. Thou hast begun to love thyself: stand in thyself if thou canst. Why goest thou without? Hast thou, as being rich in money, become a lover of money? Thou hast begun to love what is without thee, thou hast lost thyself. When a man’s love then goes even away froth himself to those things which are without, he begins to share the vanity of his vain desires, and prodigal as it were to spend his strength. He is dissipated, exhausted, without resource or strength, he feeds swine; and wearied with this office of feeding swine, he at last remembers what he was, and says, “How many hired servants of my Father’s are eating bread, and I here perish with hunger!”5 But when the son in the parable says this, what is said of him, who had squandered all he had on harlots, who wished to have in his own power what was being well kept for him with his father; he wished to have it at his own disposal, he squandered all, he was reduced to indigence: what is said of him? “And when he returned to himself.” If“he returned to himself,” he had gone away from himself. Because he had fallen from himself, had gone away from himself, he returns first to himself, that he may return to that state from which he had fallen away by falling from himself. For as by falling away from himself, he remained in himself; so by returning to himself, he ought not to remain in himself, lest he again go away from himself. Returning then to himself, that he might not remain in himself, what did he say? “I will arise and go to my Father.”6 See, whence he had fallen away from himself, he had fallen away from his Father; he had fallen away from himself, he had gone away from himself to those things which are without. He returns to himself, and goes to his Father, where he may keep himself in all security. If then he had gone away from himself, let him also in returning to himself, from whom he had gone away, that he may “go to his Father,” deny himself. What is “deny himself”? Let him not trust in himself, let him feel that he is a man, and have respect to the words of the prophet, “Cursed is every one that putteth his hope in than.”7 Let him withdraw himself from himself, but not towards things below. Let him withdraw himself from himself, that he may cleave unto God. Whatever of good he has, let him commit to Him by whom he was made; whatever of evil he has, he has made it for himself.The evil that is in him God made not; let him destroy what himself has done, who has been thereby undone. “Let him deny himself,” He saith, “and take up his cross, and follow Me.”

 

  1. And whither must the Lord be followed? Whither He is gone, we know; but a very few days since we celebrated the solemn memorial of it. For He has risen again, and ascended into heaven; thither must He be followed. Undoubtedly we must not despair of it, because He hath Himself promised us, not because man can do anything. Heaven was far away from us, before that our Head had gone into heaven. But now why should we despair, if we are members of that Head? Thither then must He be followed. And who would be unwilling to follow Him to such an abode? Especially seeing that we are in so great travail on earth with fears and pains. Who would be unwilling to follow Christ thither, where is supreme felicity, supreme peace, perpetual security? Good is it to follow Him thither: but we must see by what way we are to follow. For the Lord Jesus did not say the words we are engaged in, when He had now risen from the dead. He had not yet suffered, He had still to come to the Cross, had to come to His dishonoring, to the outrages, the scourging, the thorns, the wounds, the mockeries, the insults, Death. Rough as it were is the way; it makes thee to be slow; thou hast no mind to follow. But follow on. Rough is the way which man has made for himself, but what Christ hath trodden in His passage is worn smooth. For who would not wish to go to exaltation? Elevation is pleasing to all; but humility is the step to it. Why dost thou put out thy foot beyond thee? Thou hast a mind to fall, not to ascend. Begin by the step, and so thou hast ascended. This step of humility those two disciples were loth to have an eye to, who said, “Lord, bid that one of us may sit at Thy right hand, and the other at the left in Thy kingdom.”8 They sought for exaltation, they did not see the step. But the Lord showed them the step. For what did He answer them? “Ye who seek the hill of exaltation, can ye drink the cup of humiliation?” And therefore He does not say simply, “Let him deny himself, and follow Me” howsoever: but He said more, “Let him take up his cross, and follow Me.”

 

  1. What is, “Let him take up his cross “? Let him bear whatever trouble he has; so let him follow Me. For when he shall begin to follow Me in conformity to My life and precepts, he will have many to contradict him, he will have many to hinder him, he will have many to dissuade him, and that from among those who are even as it were Christ’s companions. They who hindered the blind men from crying out were walking with Christ.9 Whether therefore they be threats or caresses, or whatsoever hindrances there be, if thou wish to follow, turn them into thy cross, bear it, carry it, do not give waybeneath it. There seems to be an exhortation to martyrdom in these words of the Lord. If there be persecution, ought not all things to be despised in consideration of Christ? The world is loved; but let Him be preferred by whom the world was made. Great is the world; but greater is He by whom the world was made. Fair is the world; but fairer is He by whom the world was made. Sweet is the world; but sweeter is He by whom the world was made. Evil is the world; and good is He by whom the world was made. How shall I be able to explain and unravel what I have said? May God help me? For what have I said? what have ye applauded? See, it is but a question, and yet ye have already applauded. How is the world evil, if He by whom the world was made is good? Did not God make all things, “and behold they were very good “? Does not Scripture at each several works of creation testify that God made it good, by saying, “And God saw that it was good,” and at the end summed them all up together thus how that God had made them, “And behold they were very good”?10

 

 

1 Mc 8,34

2 Ps 16,4 Sept. (XVII. English version).

3 Mt 11,30

4 2Tm 3,2

5 Lc 15,17

6 Lc 15,18

7 Jr 17,5

8 Mc 10,37

9 Vid. Serm. 38,(LXXXVIII. Ben). 13 (xiv). Mt 20,31

10 Gn 1

 

[1] Consider the episode in which, after the Resurrection on the shore of Lake Tiberias, Jesus Christ asks Peter: “Do you love me?” “I do”. “Feed my sheep.”

[2] It is Mark that tells us how Jesus taught with authority from the beginning (1.27).

[3] The Ordo Virginum is a form of consecrated life; in the Code of Canon Law it is inserted with the can. 604 in Part III “The Institutes of Consecrated Life and Societies of Apostolic Life” (Liber II: “De Populo Dei”) “To these different forms of consecrated life is added the order of virgins who, uttering the holy plan to follow Christ more closely, by the diocesan Bishop are consecrated to God according to the approved liturgical rite and, betrothed mystically to Christ Son of God, are dedicated to the service of the Church.”

About Francesco Follo

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