The readings this week invite us to reflect on the question of service. In the first reading, from the book of Genesis, Abraham is described as sparing no effort to serve his mysterious divine guests. And in the Gospel, notwithstanding her complaints about her sister, Martha is seen to be serving Our Lord.
Most parish churches are places of incredible service. We can think of flower arrangers, readers, sacristans, ushers, catechists, members of the choirs, home group leaders, members of societies such as the St Vincent de Paul, Parish Finance Council, Catholic Women’s League, Care Ministry and possibly more. Thanks be to God for all the generous people who serve in these and other ways.
It is always important when speaking about service to remember the primacy of the interior life which includes prayer. Our Lord reminds us of this primacy when he declared Mary to have chosen the better part. St Philip Neri, whose birthday we celebrate next Thursday, 21 July, would remind his disciples that every Oratory is to be a house of prayer. Of course, he was quoting Our Lord who declared the Israel to be a house of prayer when he cast out the money changers from the Temple. Today we would do well to remember the primacy of the interior life, not as an alternative to works of service, but as the foundation for them.
With the above in mind, let us now ask ourselves why it is important to serve? In the Letter to the Hebrews, we read: “The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in shrines made by man, nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all men life and breath and everything.” And St Paul teaches: “He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things?” (Rom 8:32).
This is enough to show us that we serve, not on account of any need God has – he has none. Neither do we serve to earn our salvation – this is a gift freely given. Instead, we serve on account of our communion with Our Lord who “came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many”. In other words, our service is a participation in the life of Christ.
This is the mystery which St Paul reflects upon in his letter to the Christians at Colossia.
“It makes me happy to suffer for you,” he wrote, “as I am suffering now, and in my own body to do what I can to make up all that has still to be undergone by Christ for the sake of his body the Church” (Coll 1:24). St Paul’s service was a participation in the life of Jesus which includes a participation in his suffering and resurrection. The same must be true for us where our service is a manifestation of the communion we share with Our Lord.
Pope St Paul VI teaches that on account of the incarnation our communion “has an authentic secular dimension”. Pope St John Paul II added, “all the members of the Church are sharers in this secular dimension but in different ways. In particular the sharing of the lay faithful has its own manner of realization and function, which, according to the Second Vatican Council, is “properly and particularly” theirs. Such a manner is designated with the expression “secular character.” This “secular character” includes participation in civil affairs where the lay faithful are to manifest the Kingdom of God. The same is true for the home and work environment. It is the responsibility of the lay vocation, with the support of the priest, to transform these places and manifest the Kingdom of God.
One way to do this is through prayer, here at the altar and at home. By starting with prayer for our family, work colleges, and civil leaders, we manifest the priority given to the inner life. Pray for your family by name, and also for your work colleges by name if possible, that they may accept the gift of salvation by way of their participation in the life of grace and the reception of Holy Communion.