CREDIBLE SERVANTS OF GOD
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ 2 Cor 6:1-10; Ps 98:1-4; Mt 5:38-42 ]
The proclamation of the gospel is more than just preaching and performing signs and wonders. St. Paul was a great apostle, not only because of his preaching, or even his healing miracles, but because of the way he lived his life. Indeed, what we need today are not teachers but witnesses. Who are the witnesses? They are those who have encountered the Lord and go on to live out the gospel in their lives.
If the Church has lost her credibility, it is because of the scandals in the Church, particularly those caused by its shepherds – pedophilia, sexual impropriety, homosexuality, lavish lifestyles, and sometimes poor witnessing in their ministry, especially when they are authoritarian, abusive, callous in their words and actions, displaying anything but the mercy and love of God. Rather than conducting themselves as servant leaders, they make use of people for their ambition and personal gain. They are discriminating, attending to the rich and influential but are often rude and unavailable when called upon to render their services to the ordinary parishioner. When leaders lack honesty and integrity, then it is difficult to give them our complete trust. Without trust, a leader cannot lead his people.
This is true of Catholics as well. How often have we put off people by the way we behave in the office and in the church! In the office, we show ourselves to be lacking in compassion for our subordinates. We shout and scream at our fellow colleagues and are intolerant of their mistakes. We are irresponsible in our work, are calculating and demanding. We are competitive, political, gossip and backbite. In church, we are selfish and self-centered. We ask a lot from the church but are scrooge-like when it comes to contributing our time or money. We are selfish, reserving places for our loved ones and will not give up our place to the elderly and the sick. We put our bags and haversacks on the benches when many are without seats. We are inconsiderate in the way we park our cars – taking our time to remove them after the service is over, never mind that others are prevented from moving off because we are obstructing them; we even park our cars in front of other peoples’ gates so that they are impeded from entering and leaving their houses.
As a result, we cannot blame those who have left the Church, or are skeptical of the Church because they have not received the grace of God through us. On the contrary, we ourselves have received the grace of God in vain. This is what St Paul is urging us. “As God’s fellow workers we beg you once again not to neglect the grace of God that you have received. For he says: At the favourable time, I have listened to you; on the day of salvation I came to your help. Well, now is the favourable time; this is the day of salvation.” The grace of God which we receive must transform us and make us live a life that differentiates us from the people of the world. If others are living a more virtuous life than us, then our faith becomes a contradiction.
That was why St Paul led by example. He said, “We do nothing that people might object to, so as not to bring discredit on our function as God’s servants.” He was conscious that because he was an ambassador of Christ, he had to be a good witness of our Lord. How did he do it?
Firstly, by being an exemplar of suffering for the sake of others. “Instead, we prove we are servants of God by great fortitude in times of suffering: in times of hardship and distress; when we are flogged, or sent to prison, or mobbed; labouring, sleepless, starving.” St Paul led the way in his willingness to suffer for the gospel. How many of us can come to his level of sacrifice? Today, even priests and religious are not willing to sacrifice their creature comforts, much less to suffer for Him. What is lacking today? We no longer have real missionaries, unlike in the olden days when they willingly left their homeland and their loved ones in order to bring the gospel to the ends of the earth and lived like the people in simplicity and poverty. Today, our lifestyle as priests and religious no longer reflect Christ’s life of simplicity. Also, not many of us are willing to make real sacrifices in the service of the people of God. Are we God’s servants or do we expect to be served and respected?
Secondly, he lived a life of holiness. He said, “We prove we are God’s servants by our purity, knowledge, patience and kindness; by a spirit of holiness, by a love free from affection; by the word of truth and by the power of God.” Living a life of holiness is to manifest the gifts of the Holy Spirit. By our purity of heart and mind, we serve the Lord and His people without conditions and with sincerity and truth. As servants of God, we need to acquire the spirit of holiness, knowledge, patience and kindness. Again, what is lacking in us is sensitivity and patience with those who are serving with us, or those whom we are serving. Quite often, we lose our temper and lack compassion in dealing with those who are weak.
Thirdly, a servant of Christ must live in equanimity. “By being armed with the weapons of righteousness in the right hand and in the left, prepared for honour or disgrace, for blame or praise; taken for impostors while we are genuine; obscure yet famous; said to be dying and here are we alive; rumoured to be executed before we are sentenced; thought most miserable and yet we are always rejoicing; taken for paupers though we make others rich, for people having nothing though we have everything.” When we are no longer concerned about praise or blame, or what people say or think about us, we can then act from within, from our inner convictions and not to impress people. When we know ourselves and who we are in Christ, we will no longer be too worried about what the world thinks of us. Many of us are controlled by the world and how it feels about us, especially on social media. What we should be concerned with is what God thinks of us and what we think about ourselves.
Fourthly, a servant of Christ must always be forgiving. We must not retaliate against our enemies and people who are difficult and demanding. Jesus said to His disciples: “You have learnt how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth. But I say this to you: offer the wicked man no resistance. On the contrary, if anyone hits you on the right cheek, offer him the other as well.” We cannot count ourselves as Christ’s servant if we lack forgiveness and generosity of heart. When priests and religious and lay leaders carry lots of anger and vindictiveness in their heart, they cannot be healers of souls and reconcile sinners with God. That is why St Peter exhorts us, “For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God’s approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps.” (1 Pt 2:19-21)
Finally, a servant of Christ must always go beyond the call of duty and never be calculative in giving his time and resources for the service of the Kingdom. “If a man takes you to law and would have your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone orders you to go one mile, go two miles with him. Give to anyone who asks, and if anyone wants to borrow, do not turn away.” Indeed, we must be generous and show ourselves to be ready to give and not count the cost. It is because the Church has been generous to the poor, providing free service, food, money, education and medical help that people have to come believe in the Lord because the Church is credible by her works of love and mercy. Today, there is a danger that some churches are too calculative with those who approach them for help, so much so that they feel that the Church is no longer compassionate and merciful.
Indeed, only by living a life that is different from that of the world can we show ourselves to be true servants of God. In this way, others will come to see the salvation of our God as the psalmist says. “The Lord has made known his salvation; has shown his justice to the nations. He has remembered his truth and love for the house of Israel. All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. Shout to the Lord, all the earth, ring out your joy.” This was certainly the case of the early disciples and missionaries who gave up their lives for the gospel. They took the evangelical vows of poverty, obedience and chastity; and lived them faithfully. Today, many take but no longer observe them. If we want to recover our credibility, then we need to cooperate with God’s grace in living a prophetic gospel life.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
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