One of the beautiful things about Holy Scripture is that you can so often find some phrase or passage that can characterize a particular situation or moment. It’s no wonder that so many personal and institutional mottoes are taken from the Bible. Our parish having both the Catholic Women’s League and the Knights of Columbus, makes me wonder if there is a passage that could characterize and inspire these men and women in a special way. I propose this passage as both a reflection of, and inspiration for these two groups. These words also motivate me in the living out of my priesthood, especially when I am tempted to become discouraged by the seemingly poor results of my efforts in the ministry.
5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!” 6 The Lord replied, “If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it would obey you. 7 “Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, ‘Come here at once and take your place at the table’? 8 Would you not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink’? 9 Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!'” (Luke 17:5-10 NRSV)
The apostles ask for greater faith. They could have asked for greater success, fame, or even wisdom. Yet our Lord gives them an odd answer – maybe even a slight rebuke. Then comes a parable that, at first glance, puzzles. What does it have to do with faith? If you want to grow in faith, in trust in your trust in God, you must serve Him. But even further, to serve with this attitude of obligation, that is, serving God is part and parcel of faith, without expecting recognition or thanks, tests and also strengthens faith. It’s as if Our Lord says: “You want your faith to grow, then serve as someone who is only doing what he ought to do. And no one expects thanks or recognition for those tasks that are his duty to perform.” This attitude is difficult to acquire. It takes a supernatural attitude to life, a real dying to self, and love of God and neighbour – and faith. Notice too that the slave in the parable does eventually get to eat and drink, but only after he has finished his period of service to his master. For the Christian, that period of service ends when our time in this world comes to an end. Then we will eat and drink at the banquet of the Lamb in the heavenly kingdom. The secret to serving as a true disciple of Our Lord is keeping in mind that great banquet. Every time we share in the celebration of the Mass we strengthen that attitude and hope.
Last week, one of our very long-time parishioners passed away: P N. He was someone who optimized this passage from Scripture. He served God right up to then end. P N was ever ready to help, served with dedication and distinction, and never made his service dependent upon getting either thanks or recognition in return. He never had a bad word to say about anyone and showed mercy and kindness to everyone, even the most difficult persons. He will especially be remembered for his care of the poor and as a dedicated member of the Saint Vincent de Paul Society and charter member of the Knights of Columbus. Requiescat in pace. (May he rest in peace.)