SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Sir 2:1-11; Ps 37:3-4, 18-19, 27-28, 39-40; Mk 9:30-37]
“My son, if you aspire to serve the Lord, prepare yourself for an ordeal.” These words remind me of what Jesus said to the prospective disciples who wanted to follow Jesus. To one, He said, “Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” (Lk 9:58) To another, he said, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead.” (Lk 9:60) To the third, He said, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Lk 9:62) And to the disciples who were squabbling for position, glory and power, He said, “You do not know what you are asking. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink?” (Mt 20:22)
Indeed, we have many who are willing to become priests, religious, Church workers, ministry members, volunteers in Church or charitable organizations but who are not ready for the sacrifices and the sufferings ahead of them. As a result, many who enter the service with great passion, enthusiasm and joy, leave the ministry with much bitterness, disillusionment, anger and resentment. Some have even lost their faith and left the Church all together. This explains why the Church cannot move forward because we have many disgruntled servants of the Church, clerical and lay. When we have wounded priests, religious and lay workers, they often tend to act out of their hurts and thus compromise the message of unconditional love and joy. When we find Church workers, helpers and priests to be petty, harsh, hot-tempered, arrogant, reactive, judgmental, defensive, argumentative and insensitive, it means that they need much healing.
How, then, can we avoid falling into disillusionment or despair in the face of challenges and difficulties? Firstly, we must never forget that we are servants. “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all.” As servants, we should not expect any reward or gratitude. Jesus did say, “So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’” (Lk 17:10) All the talents and resources given to us are from God to be used for service. So we have no right to boast or even demand gratitude. We are here to do what we can and leave the rest to God. If we have done our part, let us leave success to God.
This was the mistake of the apostles. They had the wrong idea for following and serving Jesus. They were arguing who was the greatest. They wanted to be in positions of power and glory with Jesus. This is why Pope Francis always warns us about spiritual worldliness. Even in the spiritual world, the temptations of the world can come under the guise of religious service. Many use religion to get attention, power, honour and recognition. We know how often politics use religion to obtain power, but it is equally true that some use religion to attain political powers. So many serve, albeit with an unconscious pursuit of some form of recognition and appreciation.
Secondly, Sirach tells us, “Be sincere of heart.” Sincerity of service is necessary if we want to persevere in doing good works. This is why Jesus “took a little child, set him in front of them, put his arms round him, and said to them, ‘Anyone who welcomes one of these little children in my name, welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.’” Welcoming a little child precisely means to seek innocence of heart. Welcoming a child is to serve without the possibility of the child returning our favours. So when we serve, our intentions must be pure, like a child who chooses to serve out of love; not because of honour and recognition. We must serve those who cannot repay us.
Thirdly, we must remain “steadfast, and do not be alarmed when disaster comes”, as Sirach advises us. Many begin well but they lack perseverance. They give up easily when difficulties come along. Members resign when they face difficulties with fellow members or with those in authority. Sometimes, it is good for us to ask whether we are serving God or serving man. St Paul reminds us, “Whatever your task, put yourselves into it, as done for the Lord and not for your masters, since you know that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward; you serve the Lord Christ.” (Col 3:23f) If we truly believe that we are serving the Lord, how can we walk in and walk out as and when we like? When things are not to our liking, we resign. If the Lord calls us to take the cross and walk after Him, to resign just because we are not happy means that we are not serving God but serving ourselves in the first place. God is our master and employer; not the priest or the chairman.
What we need to do is to stay united with the Lord. Sirach tells us, “Cling to him and do not leave him, so that you may be honoured at the end of your days. Whatever happens to you, accept it, and in the uncertainties of your humble state, be patient, since gold is tested in the fire, and chosen men in the furnace of humiliation.” When we stay with the Lord and accept His will, we will be able to face all suffering and humiliation, like the apostles who gave thanks to God for allowing them to suffer for Him. “The apostles left the Sanhedrin, rejoicing because they had been counted worthy of suffering disgrace for the Name.” (Acts 5:41) Through suffering, we grow in grace and in faith. We must be submissive to the will of God. Through obedience to His will, like Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, God will show His power and see that we are victorious at the end. Instead of taking things into our own hands, we must allow the grace and power of God to work and change our enemies and bring us to victory.
Most of all, we must trust in the Lord. This is what Sirach is asking of us. He said, “Trust him and he will uphold you, follow a straight path and hope in him. You who fear the Lord, wait for his mercy; do not turn aside in case you fall. You who fear the Lord, trust him, you who will not be baulked of your reward. You who fear the Lord hope for good things, for everlasting happiness and mercy.” When we trust in the Lord, we know that He will see us through. Success in the ministry is not in our hands but totally the work of God. We should not be worried too much about success but learn to trust Him. So long as we walk in His path and follow Him, He will reward us and show us His mercy.
How can we be so sure that the Lord is trustworthy and is faithful to His promises? Sirach urges us, “Look at the generations of old and see: who ever trusted in the Lord and was put to shame? Or who ever feared him steadfastly was left forsaken? Or who ever called out to him, and was ignored? For the Lord is compassionate and merciful, he forgives sins, and saves in days of distress.” Indeed, we just have to look at our own lives and the history of the Church. In spite of the many scandals that have rocked the Church, we still stand strong after 2000 years. Nations have come and gone but the Church as an institution remains because the Lord promised to be with us until the end of time. We might be decimated at times, persecuted and discredited. But we will come back and be renewed in zeal and in holiness.
So let us commit our lives to the Lord and His work. This is what the psalmist is exhorting us. “Commit your life to the Lord, trust him and he will act. If you trust in the Lord and do good, then you will live in the land and be secure. If you find your delight in the Lord, he will grant your heart’s desire. Then turn away from evil and do good and you shall have a home for ever; for the Lord loves justice and will never forsake his friends. The salvation of the just comes from the Lord, their stronghold in time of distress.” Let us do all we can according to our abilities. We leave the rest to the Lord. Success belongs to Him. As St Teresa of Calcutta says “Let us be faithful not successful.”