Service: Our Path to Joy
By Bishop Robert F. Morneau

Jesus taught by word and deed. In the Sermon on the Mount we are given words that point to the path of happiness. Blessed are the poor in spirit...blessed are the peacemakers...blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice...blessed are the merciful.

The Beatitudes sketch out in exquisite detail the Christian map for happiness.

In the Gospel of John we are given a deed—a humble, simple, hospitable deed of washing feet. After the deed is done, Jesus—knowing that the disciples lacked full understanding—urges them into action: —blest will you be if you put them [washing of feet and Jesus— other teaching] into practice— (13:17b).

We have here a path to happiness that is highly pragmatic. In doing the loving thing, in reaching out to others in genuine service, we participate in the inner life of Jesus. By doing what Jesus did we enter into a blessed way of life.

Conventional wisdom finds this absurd. The cultural message we are given through slogans and advertising would have us believe that happiness lies in —doing it my way.— We are often told, —You only go around once, so grab as much as you can get— and —He/she who dies with the most toys wins.— Biblical wisdom proclaims that blessedness lies in self-surrender to God—s will, in self-forgetfulness as we serve others, in washing another—s feet.

How do we do this? How do we venture onto this path, this way we call discipleship? How are we to put on the mind and heart of Jesus and thus experience God—s sanctification?

We wash one another—s feet by volunteering to teach the 10th-grade CCD class, stopping to help a stranded motorist, holding the hand of a dying person. We wash one another—s feet when we attempt to change unjust systems, when we strive to end world hunger, when social justice and the gospel become our priority. The happiness and blessedness that Jesus proposes is not living well, feeling good, finding and staying in our comfort zone. It is risky business, this gospel living. It will demand our lives.

Missing the Point

It is somewhat consoling to see that the disciples often struggled to understand what Jesus was about. Peter saw suffering as inappropriate to Jesus— life; James and John would have God send down fire upon an inhospitable Samaritan town; Thomas didn—t —get it— in hearing reports that Jesus had risen. We should not be surprised if we, too, find it difficult to equate blessedness with a life of service, a life of total self-giving. Every day we should pray for two things: the grace of knowledge to understand Jesus— teaching and the grace of courage to put it into action.

If we are to become mature disciples, it is not sufficient simply to give a portion of our time, talent and treasure to God. The cost of discipleship involves the giving of self. Since we are made in the image and likeness of God—a God who is self-giving love—our vocation is to strive in grace to image the God who made us.

One expression—one simple, concrete expression of this self-giving love that leads to blessedness—is the washing of feet. It is a symbol of a larger reality, God—s Kingdom: being totally for others, whatever their needs might be. In serving one another, we serve the Lord. In serving one another, we become like Jesus.

Bountiful By-products

—Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God,— according to Ladislaus Boros, the contemporary Christian theologian. Those who serve as Jesus did experience an indescribable joy because through that service—be it the washing of feet, the giving of a cup of cold water, a word of affection—we are bonded to Christ and the community. In that bonding, in that —communion— lies happiness, and from it flow two by-products: joy and peace.

Concluding Prayer: Lord, sometimes we just don—t get it. Help us to understand that through loving care for others we further your Kingdom. Do not let us pursue a false blessedness through a life of self-seeking. Rather, draw us into your life and ministry. Therein we will do your will and come to know your peace.

Robert F. Morneau is an auxiliary bishop of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin. He is the author of numerous books, including Paths to Prayer (St. Anthony Messenger Press) and two children—s books, The Gift and A Tale from Paleface Creek (Paulist Press).

Next: Believing Without Seeing

Questions for Reflection:

•How do you wash the feet of others? How do you exercise discipleship?

• Why are joy and peace the by-products of a life of service? How have you experienced these gifts?

Discuss this month's Questions for Reflection
from "God in Our Midst."

The Blessings in Serving
By Judith Dunlap

One of the last times I visited my Dad he had a bad infection in his big toe. Since he was a diabetic it required taking special precautions, including no showers until the toe healed. Much to Dad—s chagrin, he had to ask for help with his daily sponge bath. It was an incredible lesson in foot washing and a blessing I have never forgotten.

As I washed Dad—s back, my mind flashed to when I was a little girl. I could picture him lifting me to his shoulders and carrying me. As I washed his feet, I shared the memory and we reminisced about Sunday dinners at Grandma—s house and the long, tired walks home. Over a basin of water and a bar of soap my Dad and I reconnected, and I got a chance to say —thank you.—

Perhaps that is why the washing of feet in John—s Gospel is a part of his first Eucharist story. Eucharist is about saying —thank you,— and so are acts of loving service. (The word Eucharist comes from the Greek meaning —thanksgiving.—) We are blessed when our giving helps us reflect, in gratitude, on who we are and how we are connected to those we serve.

This Thanksgiving, talk about your family—s gifts but remind each other about being part of God—s family. Talk about sharing with brothers and sisters who are in need. Then share your gifts in person. Rather than just donating a can of vegetables, have your family distribute baskets, work at a food pantry or serve (and eat with) folks at a soup kitchen. Such acts of service not only offer a chance to say —thank you— for what we have, but also remind us of who we are, offering an opportunity to be in communion with others. There is the blessing.

For Family Response:

Make a Thanksgiving
poster for your refrigerator by listing your family's gifts along with ways you can share them with others.

Discuss this month's FAMILY CORNER.

Media Watch
My Big Fat Greek Wedding
By Frank Frost

The popular success of My Big Fat Greek Wedding is phenomenal. Here is a low-budget, independent film that word of mouth has brought from small art theaters to box office success in the major theater chains. Everybody who—s seen it has a favorite scene. It—s a movie for the whole family.

My Big Fat Greek Wedding is above all about family and about the acceptance that comes from loving other people. In this case it—s a Greek family, but substitute Italian, Polish, Mexican—whatever you want. The particulars would change but not the story about rich ethnic traditions struggling with modern cultural realities. Watching this movie is like sitting around at a family reunion remembering the faults, idiosyncrasies and irritating habits of relatives that have over time morphed from conflict to affection.

Toula (Nia Vardalos), plain and 30, still works in the family restaurant dreaming of something better, while her family clucks about her lack of marriage prospects. Things change when she takes a job in her aunt—s travel agency, spiffs herself up and starts computer courses at the community college. And falls in love. And it—s with a non-Greek.

Ian (John Corbett), the man she starts dating, is tall, handsome and very WASP. But Greek girls have just three duties in life, Toula says: marry Greek boys, have Greek babies and feed everyone till the day they die. So, by dating Ian, she—s not measuring up.

Toula—s father (Michael Constantine) is adamantly opposed to this relationship with a non-Greek that is headed for marriage. Her mother (Lainie Kazan) tells Toula that she—ll see that he comes around, and so he does. Ian is baptized in the Greek Orthodox Church, and the marriage is set. This brings together Ian—s strait-laced parents with the rowdy extended family Ian is marrying into.

The story is predictable. It—s the telling of it that is entertaining. Once the wedding is on, Toula—s family takes over. When Ian—s parents are first invited to —meet the family,— they are horrified to find a party going full tilt in the front yard of a house decorated with blue and white statuary and classical pillars, complete with lamb being barbequed.

Toula is embarrassed by her family—s excess of traditions at the same time she loves them. And the movie is able to poke fun at such —strange— behaviors at the same time that it is never mean-spirited. By the end, the WASP and Greek cultures have learned to accept each other as they are, and to even enjoy one another. And Toula—s father learns that people are okay even when they—re not Greek. Toula—s wedding brings together one big, happy family fueled by love and acceptance of differences. There—s no better message.

For Media Watch:

What values did you find in the film My Big Fat Greek Wedding ?

Discuss Frank Frost's film review
in this month's MEDIA WATCH.

By Judy Ball

St. Martin de Porres (1579-1639)

From all we know of him, Martin de Porres would surely be embarrassed to be revered as one of the Church's greatest saints. His whole life was about serving God and God's people without fanfare, without notice. But his holiness, his kindness and his generosity were so remarkable that he could not escape notice during his life and canonization afterwards.

Life could have turned out quite differently for the young boy. The illegitimate son of a freed slave from Panama and a Spanish nobleman, Martin was born in Lima, Peru. He was raised primarily by his mother and knew poverty and deprivation from an early age. As a mulatto, he also knew the sting of racism.

But Martin was blessed with an extraordinary number of skills and a heart so large that he could not limit his love to the poor, the hungry, the sick, the slaves newly arrived from Africa, the orphaned children he encountered. He even befriended the rodents who, he reasoned, were hungry and entitled to his concern as well!

After serving as an apprentice to a barber-surgeon, Martin wished to enter the Dominicans in Lima as a donado, a lay helper who would do menial work. Some years later the members of his community, moved by his overflowing goodness, invited him—pleaded with him—to make his full religious profession as a lay brother. He was a beautiful blend of action and contemplation.

At his funeral, all of Lima mourned his passing—not only its beggars but also the elite and the wealthy. When he was canonized in 1962 Martin de Porres was also named the patron of race relations and social justice. His feast day is November 3.

Sister Martin de Porres, S.N.D. de N.

Sister Martin de Porres had her name picked out even before she became a Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in 1952. The other young women who entered the California province with her that year chose the names of more traditional saints such as Michael and Thomas. But she had her mind set on taking the name of the mulatto from Lima known for his tireless devotion to the poor.

Since then Sister Martin has proudly carried his name and sought to live and work in his spirit—as a teacher at a multicultural high school, as pastoral associate at several urban parishes, as administrator of a housing unit for low-income seniors. She now serves as coordinator of health care for retired members of her community who reside at a care center in Oakland. She lives in nearby El Cerrito.

"St. Martin loved everyone, regardless of color or station in life. Whoever was poor and in need" got his attention, she told Every Day Catholic. If he were alive today he would be "standing with those who are underserved and ignored by society." Sister Martin is also convinced that her namesake would call for the Church "to be more inclusive" and appreciative of the gifts and perspectives of racial minorities.

As the first black Sister of Notre Dame de Namur in the United States and still the only black in its California province, Sister Martin de Porres has seen changes and improvements over the past 50 years. But she would like to see more progress for and openness to people of color. In the meantime, she lives out her vocation by making a daily recommitment "to love God above everyone and everything else, and to love my neighbor as myself."

The following material is available at www.AmericanCatholic.org:

"Community of the Beatitudes," St. Anthony Messenger, March 2002
"The Forgotten Art of Blessing," St. Anthony Messenger, October 2000

The following products can be ordered from St. Anthony Messenger Press/Franciscan Communications (1-800-488-0488):

"Archbishop Oscar Romero: A Shepherd's Diary" (book)
"Lessons From the School of Suffering: A Young Priest With Cancer Teaches Us How to Live" (book)
"Jesus' Plan for a New World: The Sermon on the Mount" (book) "Breaking Open the Gospel of Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount" (book)
"Sermon on the Mount" (audiocassette)

"The Beatitudes: Finding Where Your Treasure Is" (Catholic Update)


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