By Kathy Coffey
If anyone wishes to be first, he shall be the last of all and
the servant of all (Mark 9:35).
Who in his right mind really wants to be a servant? Uneasily, we picture
a butler in a British movie holding a tuxedo jacket for a wealthy, pampered boss. Is
this what Jesus asks?
Perhaps our aversion to the idea of servanthood springs from the spunky
independence of North Americans. Descendants of bold pioneers who broke away from an
entrenched system of servitude, we stoop to no one. We serve no master!
Maybe we need to wrestle with what these words of Jesus mean today.
Just as in dialogue with a friend, we pose objections and he expands his original idea.
We might protest that we dread feeling vulnerable. When our livelihood,
the scheduling of our time and the work we do depend on the whim of another, we feel
diminished. Were used to being independent adultsstaying in charge, controlling
our lives, setting our own agendas. Then Jesus, with his startling one-liners and his
heartbreaking humility, challenges us to rethink those easy assumptions.
He might gently point out that, bluster aside, we do serve in the ordinary
context of our days. Even the millionaire dad has been known to chauffeur his kids
to soccer games; the mom with advanced degrees stillat least now and thencooks
breakfast for the family. Every time we fold laundry, weed the garden, check the homework
or brew coffee, we are serving someone.
Quiet, Simple Sanctity
Jesus might remind us how our tradition has always honored quiet, ordinary
service. The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of a lay brother named Alphonsus Rodriguez,
contrasting the glorious deeds of warriors or martyrs with the simple dailiness of
the mans job: Today wed call it being the receptionist at a Jesuit institution.
Years of world upheavals passed while, uneventfully, Alfonso watched the door.
Yet his name is preceded by an abbreviation that speaks to us: St. The
fact that Alfonso achieved sainthood with so little drama is good news for us. Perhaps
we dont need to found religious orders, travel to remote missions or perform
great exploits, either. Perhaps sanctity is as close as the kitchen door, the math
homework, the soup shared in kindness, the clean laundry, the compliment, the offer
As our imagined dialogue continues, Jesus gives not only his words but
also his life to help us understand. He directly experienced what he describes: total
vulnerability. He who could have come into our world as political ruler, military general,
respected scholar or esteemed artist comes as defenseless child. We all begin as infants,
so perhaps thats not saying much. Then the surprise: He grows not into adult
power but into servanthood. He who made the universe washes feet, serves meals and
does womens work.
Servants and Friends
His example of the great one becoming a servant begins radical reform
of a social order built on superiority/inferiority, domination/subordination. He replaces
that rickety social ladder with a paradigm where all serve each other. In Jesus community,
the distinctions are irrelevant because all belong to one mystical body. Christs
members energize and help each other, contributing to the health of the whole.
If we take this saying of Jesus in the context of all his words, he
further refines the servant model by saying, I do not call you servants
I have called you friends (John 15:15). Ahour objections
silenced by a model of human relationships we can naturally, warmly admire!
God, then, is not distant dictator, but intimate friend. Furthermore,
God not only befriends, but also serves. Any stigma attaching to serving is removed
because it is done in love.
Through his words, actions and vision, Jesus shows us that human life
can sometimes seem as defenseless as a servant at the whim of an arbitrary master.
But heres the difference: Our childlike vulnerability places us squarely in the
hands of a compassionate God who never abandons, who keeps us wholly secure. Every
breath we take depends on a creator who desires only our good and loves us for all
eternity. And that is indeed a mercy.
Next: Unless You Become Like Children
Who in your Church community models the loving servant?
In what way(s)?
When have you found it difficult to serve another? When
has it been easier?
Answering the Call
By Judith Dunlap
John makes it quite clear in his Gospel that serving others is essential
to being a Christian. During the Last Supper he describes in detail the scene in which
Jesus washes the feet of the disciples. When they protest, Jesus tells them they are
to follow his example: They are to serve each other. Jesus message, of course,
is for all of us: We are all called to be servants.
This is no big deal for those of us who are married. I experience the call almost
dailywhen I put on the coffee, retrieve the newspaper, fix a dinner or make a
bed. For those of us who have children, the list multiplies a hundredfold. We do our
chores willingly, sometimes lovingly. Usually, I can accept the role of servant without
even thinking about it.
But there are other times when my response to the call has been anything
but loving. In my many years as wife and mother, my spouse and children have often
heard me say loud and clear, Im not your servant. Should I feel guilty?
Maybe once in a while, but for the most part my guilt is eased when I remember there
is mutuality to Jesus call. As wife and mom Im doing husband and children
a disservice if I dont give them an opportunity to serve also.
Perhaps shouting is not the gentlest way of promoting our common call.
Much better to have family meetings and decide together who does whatand stick
to it. (This could occasionally mean having a table not quite set and food served lukewarm.)
We find the great plus in serving each other a little further in Johns Gospel
when Jesus tells his disciples he will no longer call them servants but friends. Perhaps
when everyone in the family answers the call of Jesus to be servant, we will truly
be able to say the same.
Draw names and choose secret servants this week. See
how many times family members can serve each other without being observed.
By Frank Frost
For at least 50 years weve enjoyed a rich tradition of movies in which one teacher
makes a difference. This year its The Chorus, a French-language film with
subtitles that won an Oscar nomination for Best Foreign Picture.
On one level, The Chorus is about the healing power of music. But its
also about the redemptive power of simple respect and dignity.
The story is told through the eyes of two boys who, as elderly men, look back at
the man and events that shaped their lives at a boarding school for troubled youngsters.
Their teacher, Clemént Mathieu (Gérard Jugnot), is an earnest, pudgy,
nondescript teacher who comes new to the school looking a little lost. He is immediately
educated in the unbending philosophy of the principal, Rachin (Francois Berléand)action-reaction, roughly
translated as every misdeed has immediate and severe consequences. The
result is a prison atmosphere, with a constant battle raging between resident students
and their teachers.
At first the mild-mannered Mathieu appears to be overmatched by the unruly lads he
not only teaches, but also lives with. Two students deserve special attention. Mathieus
departing predecessor warns him about Pierre Morhant (Jean-Baptiste Maunier), who has
the face of an angel and the personality of a gang leader. He also has an amazing soprano
voice. Pépinot (Maxence Perrin), the youngest and most vulnerable child in the
group, waits fruitlessly at the school gate each Saturday for his father to come pick
When he first arrives, Mathieu locks a precious leather packet in his personal cabinet.
Naturally the boys steal it, but they are baffled when the treasure is only musical
notepaper. Outed as a composer by the theft of his handwritten music, Mathieu is inspired
to get the boys to sing.
Everyone responds. They all know at least one song they can sing for their audition,
and the class is quickly divided into vocal sections. (Since boys will be boys, their
language is not a model for little children.) One lad cannot sing at all. He is given
the responsibility of serving as the music stand. Pépinot, clearly too small
and too shy to participate, is designated assistant music director.
Given the movie genre, it is no surprise that the lives of the boys
will be transformed by the musical harmony they subsequently create. They are not the
only ones, however. Mathieu himself is redeemed. A failed composer who has had no hope
of ever hearing his music performed, he gains recognition and self-esteem in the process.
The other teachers also come to recognize that respect has greater efficacy than punishment
in improving their students behavior.
Director Christophe Barratier has crafted a well-acted, gentle and humanistic film
worth seeing, and the music is pleasing to the ear.
What values do you find in this film?
By Judy Ball
St. Augustine of Canterbury (d. 605?)
Fear and uncertainty may not be the easiest or most common path to sanctity,
but St. Augustine of Canterbury is proof they dont rule it out.
An Italian by birth, he is known and celebrated today as the apostle
of England for his untiring work in spreading the faith there. Though his efforts
did not always meet with dramatic success, he is a human saint whose self-doubt and
cautious nature were balanced by perseverance and love of the Church.
In the year 596, Pope Gregory the Great sent his friend Augustine to
lead a party of fellow monks to evangelize the Anglo-Saxons in England. Even before
arriving, Augustine was struck by uncertainty. He and his men headed back to Rome after
hearing stories about the ferocious Anglo-Saxons and the menacing waters
of the English Channel. Pope Gregory assured them that their fears were groundless.
They set out for England once again.
Welsh missionaries before them had failed to make inroads among the Anglo-Saxons.
But over time, Augustine and his men achieved some success in their evangelization
efforts. In part, this was due to the counsel of Pope Gregory that they do their best
to retain local non-Christian customs as much as possible. Though he often turned to
Rome for decisions on matters he could have decided on his own, Augustine proved a
wise and patient missionary. He was content to move forward in slow, steady steps.
He served as the first archbishop of Canterbury and also established
dioceses at London and Rochester. In 1091, almost 500 years after Augustines
death, his remains were transferred to a place of honor in Canterbury cathedral. His
feast day is May 27.
As the city of Saigon was falling to the Communists in the spring of
1975, young Thuy Nguyen, then 16, undertook a journey that brought her to a new land,
new struggles and new possibilities beyond imagining.
It was a journey that began in fear: escape on an open barge she and
her family shared with hundreds of other boat people as well as days on
the open sea without food or protection from the elements. Then came a chance rescue
by a U.S. merchant boat, stays at several refugee camps and months of waiting for resettlement.
I was frightened. I didnt know what was going to happen
to our future, Thuy told Every Day Catholic. But God was watching over
the devout Catholic Nguyen family, which was eventually resettled in Kansas City, Missouri.
Thuy and her five siblings were welcomed at no cost at St. Pius X High School.
The next part of her journey began in the religion class of Sister Mary
Aquinas, who helped a kid who couldnt speak English blossom into
a confident young woman. The Sister of Charity gently guided Thuy through her high
school studies and into college, where she majored in biology. From there she went
on to Columbia University Medical School. Today she is a successful plastic surgeon
in New York, where she lives with her husband and young daughter.
Sister Mary Aquinas [who died one year after Thuy graduated] was
sent to guide me, says Dr. Nguyen. She was a miracle in my life. She opened
doors for me. Ive been so blessed by God.
So blessed that she is giving back to her former high school in the
form of a $25,000 gift. Im not heroic. I just want to pay back.