Christianity is a revolutionary religion. It turns everything upside down, reversing the values and expectations of a sinful world. Throughout his life and ministry, Jesus tried to inaugurate people into this new world that he called the Kingdom of God. The nature of this Kingdom became especially apparent as Jesus gathered with his disciples in the upper room, a place of heightened awareness. There he did something extraordinary. Jesus took off his outer garments, tied a towel around his waist, poured water in a basin, and washed the feet of his disciples. He performed an act that was so humble, so lowly, that it was considered beneath the dignity even of a slave. We catch the novelty and shock of it in Peter's response: "Master, are you going to wash my feet?" This is just too much for him; it is such a violation of the world that he had come to accept, a world in which masters were masters, slaves were slaves, where the dignified and important were waited upon while the lowly did the serving. In that world there was a clear demarcation between up and down, worthy and unworthy, clean and unclean. Jesus is putting his followers through a sort of initiation rite. Unless they pass this test, unless they begin to see the world in a new way, they will not get into the Kingdom. And this is why Jesus says to Peter, "Unless I wash you, you will have no inheritance with me." In the vision of the old world, one's life comes to its high point at a moment of honor, praise, glory, or recognition, at a moment when one's distinction and superiority over others is most evident. The old world is predicated on the great divisions between master and slave, superior and subordinate, rich and poor, powerful and powerless, included and excluded. Most of our energy goes into maintaining these distinctions, or trying to get from one side to the other, or keeping certain people on the far side of the divide. But in the vision of the Kingdom of God, the climactic moment comes when one is the lowliest servant of the other: yes, even despised, reviled, spat upon, and handed over to death. It is only when we have passed through this startling initiation that we are ready for the full manifestation of the Kingdom. "You call me 'teacher' and 'master' and rightly so," Jesus says, "for indeed I am. If I therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another's feet."
Holy Week Message Prayer and Action
The fruit of prayer in the Biblical tradition is action on behalf of the world. We are, essentially, a mission religion. Even the highest moments of mystical union are meant to conduce to doing God's work in the world, to becoming a conduit of the divine grace. We have mystics, poets, contemplatives galore in our tradition--just think of Bernard, John of the Cross, Teresa of Avila, Meister Eckhart, Thomas Merton--but they all see the essential link between prayer and action. This is why Peter's line is so important at the Transfiguration: "Master, it is good that we are here; let us make three tents, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah." As Luke, the author, points out immediately, "But he did not know what he was saying." The point of prayer is not to stay on the mountain. It is not to cling to mystical experience, however wonderful. It is to become radiant with the divine light so as to share it with the world. And this is why, at the Transfiguration, the voice from the cloud identified Jesus and specified, "Listen to him." In other words, don't just admire him; don't simply worship him. Do what he tells you. Authentic prayer always leads to active discipleship.
Scripture: 1 Samuel 1 : 24 - 28,Luke 1 : 46 - 56
As we draw near to the Feast of Christmas, our sacred scripture presents to us once again a central Advent personage. Luke and the Church hold Mary in high esteem as we prepare to celebrate the Nativity. Today, we hear her wonderful "Magnificat" echo through the ages down to our own time and place. In our first reading, Hannah gives Samuel over to the Lord's service. Mary follows in that glorious tradition and gave herself over to the Lord's service in every way by consenting to be the Mother of the Son of God. When we think about it, Mary becomes for us the most impressive example of what Advent preparation is all about. Essentially, when the Angel Gabriel asked her to become the Mother of Jesus, the angel was asking her to shift away from her planned life as wife of Joseph and enter into the mystery of God's plan for her life. She had questions, concerns and confusion but said yes, I will live in the mystery of what God has in store for me. She positioned herself in faith to be the handmaid of the Lord. She went on to visit Elizabeth and was welcomed with an amazing greeting. How could Elizabeth know so much of what was happening. She seemed to know more than Mary herself. Mary's wonderful response reflects upon the greatness and goodness of God in her life. She accepted Elizabeth's greeting and lived in the mystery it evoked. Mary would go on to live the mystery. As she raised the child Jesus, she had to have asked herself over and over who he really was and why was he here. She helped him to grow in wisdom and age but was left to ponder so much in her heart. She lived the mystery. She heard Him begin to preach the good news of the Kingdom and wondered what it could mean. She lived the mystery. She saw him give sight to the blind, hearing to the deaf, strength to withered legs, wholeness to lepers, forgiveness to the sinner and life to the dead and was left to wonder about questions with no immediate answers. She lived the mystery. She watched her Son die on the Cross and received His body into her arms. She lived the mystery. She was present in the Upper Room when her Risen Lord revealed His glory and His victory over sin and death. She lived the mystery. In her final moment on earth, she was assumed body and soul into the heavenly Kingdom. She lived the mystery. Our Blessed Mother teaches us how to live the mystery of our own life, our own calling to walk with God and one another. She teaches us Advent faith, to always expect God to enter our lives with His divine guidance. She teaches us Advent trust, to place our lives in the hands of God and hope He will lead us to salvation. She teaches us Advent love, to place another ahead of ourselves, to place ourselves at the service of God's Word in our lives. She teaches us Advent perseverance, to walk with divine assistance through the questions, concerns, joys, and trials of the mystery of our lives. She teaches us Advent courage, to always move forward in the mystery of life expecting that the birth of Jesus will bring us to the fullness of the life He was born to manifest.
Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many. Matthew 20:26b-28 Servant leadership is service to others. It is not jockeying for position, nor is it politicking for power. Instead, it is posturing for the opportunity to serve. This does not bode well for the insecure soul in need of abundant attention. Servant leaders avoid the limelight and serve in ways that many times go unnoticed. It is the little things that make a servant leader. It may be taking out the trash at home, or making the coffee at work. No task is too menial for the servant leader, but there is something bigger than behavior that distinguishes a servant leader. It is attitude—an attitude of how to make others successful. He or she knows if those around them are successful then there is a good chance they will experience success. They are wise to want what’s best for others. Self-service on the other hand builds a culture of mediocrity. It is all about taking care of my little world, not giving any thought to the needs of other team members. It is every man for himself - survival of the fittest. This self-service contributes to a scarcity mentality. If I serve you then you may look better than me—you may get all the credit. This fear of not being noticed facilitates competition instead of cooperation. Servant leadership on the other hand is not caught up with getting the credit. The servant leader has put to death the need for self-recognition. The attention and credit can easily flow to others. This is the place where it belongs, as our humility cannot handle the attention. Like a lily-white body in a tanning booth, our humility burns up. Servant leadership resists this temptation to linger in the limelight. Instead, the servant leader may give away opportunities that come his or her way. Seek to serve and let status find you. Jesus served quietly on most occasions and boldly as needed. No sincere seeker was neglected. His motive was to serve for the glory of God. His ultimate service was laying down his life for the human race. Consequently, followers of Christ can become a better servant leader because Jesus seeks to serve through you. You can’t, but He can. Submit to Him and watch Him use you to serve. Die to getting attention and credit while celebrating the success of others. Quietly volunteer for the next lowly task. Set up others to succeed. Give away your life and you will find it. This is the way of Christ. This is the way to serve and lead. Submit to God, serve people—and others will follow! “If your first concern is to look after yourself, you'll never find yourself. But if you forget about yourself and look to me, you'll find both yourself and me” (Matthew 10:39, The Message). Prayer: Whom do I need to serve for Christ’s sake that does not deserve my service?
Related Readings: Exodus 18:26; Zephaniah 3:9; Ephesians 6:9; 1 Peter 4:10
When a prisoner escaped from Auschwitz in the summer of 1942, the Nazi soldiers imposed their penalty. They took all of the prisoners from the escapee's barracks and lined them up, and then at random chose a man to be put to death in retaliation. When the man broke down in tears, protesting that he was the father of young children, a quiet bespectacled man stepped forward and said, "I am a Catholic priest; I have no family. I would like to die in this man's place." Pope John Paul II later canonized that priest, Saint Maximilian Kolbe. With brutal clarity, Kolbe allows us to see the relationship between suffering willingly accepted and salvation. He was consciously participating in the act of his Master, making up, in Paul's language, what is still lacking in the suffering of Christ. We see a similar example in Saint Francis. Among the many stories told about the joyful saint, one of the most affecting is that concerning his encounter with a leprous man. Young Francis had a particular revulsion for leprosy. Whenever he saw someone suffering from that disease, he would run in the opposite direction. One day, Francis saw a leper approaching, and he sensed the familiar apprehension and disgust. But then he decided, under the inspiration of the
Gospel, to embrace the man, to kiss him, and to give him alms. Filled with joy, he made his way up the road. But when he turned around he discovered the man had disappeared. Once again, suffering was the concrete expression of love. When a mother stays up all night, depriving herself of sleep, in order to care for a sick child, she is following this same example, suffering so that some of his suffering might be alleviated. When a person willingly bears an insult, and refuses to fight back or return insult for insult, he is suffering for the sake of love. We shouldn't be surprised when we are called upon to suffer in this world. We have been given the privilege of carrying on Christ's work in just this way.
"The Lord is my shepherd; there is nothing I shall want." Psalm 23. Lord, we so often hear this psalm and understand the connection between the sheep and their shepherd. This relationship is unique and special. As we live these days of Lent and evaluate our relationship with You, help us to grow in our dependency upon You for all of our needs. Amen.
Why Do You Doubt?
Then His disciples came to Him and awoke Him, saying, "Lord, save us! We are perishing!" But He said to them, "Why are you fearful, O you of little faith?" Then He arose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm. (Matthew 8:25-26)
It is by faith that God’s mighty power is released into the life of a Christian (Heb. 11:33–35). The fact that you have doubts indicates that you do not know God as you should. If your prayer life is infiltrated with doubts, you have denied yourself the greatest, single avenue of power that God has made available to you. Without faith it is impossible to please God (Heb. 11:6). God never comforts you in your doubt. Jesus consistently rebuked those who would not believe Him. He had revealed enough of Himself for His disciples to have believed Him in their time of need. God wants to build your understanding of Him until your faith is sufficient to trust and obey Him in each situation (Mark 9:23–25). The moment you turn to Him with a genuine commitment to rid yourself of doubt, God will match your doubt with a revelation of Himself that can convince you of His faithfulness. When Thomas doubted, Jesus revealed Himself to him in such a way that every doubt vanished (John 20:27). You can only resolve your lack of faith in God’s presence. He must reveal Himself in such a way that any doubt you might have is removed. Jesus did this with His disciples. He involved them in a consistent, growing relationship with Himself. Jesus took them through teaching, to small miracles, to large miracles, and to the resurrection. Jesus knew that the redemption of the world rested on His disciples’ believing Him. What does God want to do in the lives of those around you that waits upon your trust in Him and the removal of your doubts?
"God is faithful and will not let you be tested beyond your strength." 1 Cor 10-13. Lord, your love is unfailing, may our trust in you never fail us. Your mercy is boundless, may our hope in your forgiveness always grow stronger. Your desire for our salvation knows no limit, may our willingness to repent and be converted deepen during this Lenten season. By your grace, Lord, renew us and bring about in our hearts a true springtime of the spirit. We pray through Christ our Lord. Amen.