Fr. Glenn: To Serve And Not To Be Served

By Rev. Glenn Jones
Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church
Los Alamos
Of course, the news was filled the whole latter part of last week with the various reports of the high school shooting in Parkland, Florida, touching off yet again the guns vs no-guns debate. But … the root cause(s) of the problem? That is the question. Is it guns themselves? They simply seem to be tools manifesting a larger problem. Societal division? Video games and violence-promoting music? Drugs? “Toxic” masculinity? One or more of the host of other theories that have been forwarded?

The list goes on endlessly in the public forum and social media, with the predictable and tiresome food fight of accusations and counter-accusations—which itself exacerbates the situation. I would argue that a main problem at its root is the loss of reverence toward the human person, and the demonizing, vilifying and attributing evil intent to the other person only contributes to a perception of the other as less worthy (or even unworthy) of respect … he forfeiting respect by daring to depart from MY, and my like-mindeds’, “infallible” opinions.

Yet Christians believe (or, are at least taught to believe) that each person is made in the image of God, referring to “God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness…’” (Genesis 1:26)…no matter how obscured the divine image may seem in an individual. By that belief alone—absent any other merit—each person merits respect for not only being made in the image of God, but a child of God and one for whom Christ came and gave His life upon a cross. 

Dare I, then, despise one whom Jesus Himself loved so ardently that He died for him? And though Christians are called to advise and try to correct their fellows in charity when they witness departure from the will of God, we cannot judge the status of the soul, remembering St. Paul: “Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls.” (Romans 14:4)

One principle largely gone by the wayside in the last several decades is the idea of service. Who of us who are of sufficient age can forget John F. Kennedy’s inspiring: “My fellow Americans, ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Jesus Himself proclaimed the second great commandment as the love of one’s neighbor as oneself—a large part of that love necessarily being service, in emulation of His declaration that He Himself came “not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mark 10:45) This is His constant exhortation, and a defining mark of the observant Christian.

The virtue of honorable service has long been recognized in many, if not all, cultures. The knighthood ideal was to serve. The code of Japanese Bushido and the meaning of “samurai” is “to serve”. The word “Islam” means “submission”, meaning to serve. And, of course, Christ himself told us: “He who is greatest among you shall be your servant…” (Matthew 23:11) because “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” (Acts 20:35) 

We need only look at our modern heroes to see how this ideal of self-giving remains exalted: Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King, Jr., charity workers, first responders and armed forces personnel who risk/give their lives to save others, and the “everyday Joe” like Aaron Feis—a football coach who died shielding students at Parkland, and even the young JROTC cadet at Parkland who attempted to make a shield of Kevlar flak jackets to try to help protect others.

But to devote oneself to service necessarily requires sacrifice–of time, talent and treasure. And service to others also requires humility, the sine qua non of a true virtuous life.  Looking to St. Paul again: “Do nothing from selfishness or conceit, but in humility count others better than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus…” (Philippians 2:3-5)

There’s a saying that “Humility isn’t thinking less of yourself; it’s thinking of yourself less.” Humility has thus become very much anathema to our media-driven and selfie-saturated culture; one need only look at the silly “challenges” that people video themselves doing in order to get a few moments of attention and notoriety. (Eating Tide pods?  Really?) And because humility suffers, the attitude of service can become non-existent.

So let us hear St. Peter: “Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for ‘God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.’” (1 Peter 5:5) What a wonderful thing to give selfless and humble service a little CPR in our own lives, and perhaps begin to experience the edifying joy of becoming a bit of the salt of the earth and light to the world that Jesus calls us to be.