Service and Sainthood

“Those who serve well… gain a worthy place for themselves and much assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus (1 Tim. 3:13)

 “The occupation of being a servant” is one of the meanings of “service” and “someone devoted to a cause” is one of the meanings of “servant”. Service is not servitude or subservience or any such connotation, although service can be offered in such conditions and also in freedom and in liberty. It is, therefore, an occupation of devoting in a cause, especially when offered in freedom and in liberty. The cause can well be the whole essence of one’s existence on earth.

“I shall not serve!” declared Lucifer; he and his angels therefore, became separated from the heavenly host. And so there are two main groups of beings: those who do not serve at all and who would meet the same fate as Satan and his angels, and those who serve and have a chance of getting a place in the kingdom of God. There may be those who serve but do not serve satisfactorily.  Let us posit our case here right away: those who do not serve at all go to hell, those who serve satisfactorily go to heaven, but those who serve and do not serve very well…? We are here to serve God’s purpose.

God’s Purpose: It is there in our Catechism of Christian Doctrine that “God made us to know him, love him and serve him in this world and to be happy with him forever in the next.” How can we serve God? We can serve God directly (cf. Luke 4:8) and we can serve God through serving human beings in the appropriate way (cf. Matthew 25:31-40; 1 Jn 4: 20-21). It is clear from these passages referred to here that the nature of this service (to God or to man) boils down to meeting people’s needs materially, spiritually, or both.

“Service” is not mere “activity” Activity can be sinful, activity can be useless, and activity can be useful to the body and/or to the soul. How can it, therefore, be assured that service is useful and acceptable to God? Service is useful and acceptable to God if motivated by a spirit of sacrifice.

Spirit of Sacrifice: “Sacrifice” is understood in various dimensions. The principles in the motivations, directions and results of sacrifice are however always the same. The explanation of the word by the African Bible, in its Glossary/Thematic Index section, is an exhaustive summary: “the practice of giving something of value to God, in order to show one’s devotion or commitment. In Israelite religion, sacrifice, usually of an animal or bird (though grain was also offered), was carried out by the ritual destruction of part or all of it by fire on an altar This altar symbolized the bonding of oneself’ with God or the reunion with God after a sinful or unclean person received forgiveness and purification. Christianity took over this idea of sacrifice and applied it to the death of Jesus Christ, teaching that Christ’s sacrifice was in atonement for human sin. In modern day Christianity, sacrifice usually entails doing without  something of value (money, .material possessions, or time) by giving them away to the church to promote its work of worship and service, to any organization engaged in the service of others,  or directly to those in need”.

The true spirit of sacrifice is the one rooted in love. Any activity not rooted in love is useless (of. 1Cor.13 1-3) and can at best tantamount to showmanship. Consider the enormity of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ and its underlying love by coming down from being God in heaven to being ordinary man – his own creature. This mystery is unfathomable because it is not easy for the human brain to capture the nature of God. The Jews tried a bit in their “Tree of Life” mystical thought where ascending through the two pillars of the temple (Jachin and Boaz) one encounters the visible creation, Malkuth (The Kingdom) where man lives, at the lowest rung of a hierarchy of levels of creation, goes through other levels before getting to the level at the summit Keta (the Divine Crown) – going through nine levels –  after which one can encounter  the abode of God through “the three veils of negative existence”: limitless light (Ain Sof Aur) limitlessness or The Unknowable Infinite (Ain Sof) and Void (Ain) each leading to the other. Ponder for a moment how possible it is to get from the first veil to the second or to the third when all the veils have the characteristic of having no limit i.e. endless. Yet you have to get to the end of this endless veil before getting to another endless one. How can one get to the end of something that does not end? This is too much for the human mind to fathom.

The greatness of God is impossible for man to begin to appreciate; that is where Jesus came from to become mere man, a poor one at that. Not enough – he had to suffer so much and get killed eventually. Yet not enough, he went from being man to being food, our bread of life. We eat Him daily as the Holy Eucharistic meal, the Holy Communion. We can now begin to imagine the enormity of God’s love shown us through the sacrifice of God the Son, Jesus Christ. It can easily be seen that no amount of sacrifice for the love of God and our neighbour can be too much if, as Christians, we believe that Jesus is our model.

Jesus is Our Model: Consider how Jesus Christ went through His activities as man (cf. Matt. 9:35- 38) full of love engendering great sacrifices. We are called to have the same attitude as we give our .service (cf, Phil. 2:1-8). This attitude is more clearly understood from the analysis of the Igbo word for “love” which is “Ifunanya”. Literarily this translates into English as “seeing in the eyes”. Someone once analyzed this as meaning that for one to be able to show love properly to another he should see that person through that person’s eyes. In other words, your attitude to that person should be the attitude you would have for whatever you see in his eyes when you look directly into them because what you see is your own image. He will also see his own image in your own eyes as you look into each other’s eyes. This means you should treat him as you would treat yourself or as you would want to be treated if you were in his place. Always place yourself in the other persons place and the service you give people, which you give to them or on their behalf, will reflect a true spirit of sacrifice rooted in love, the love that spurs one to useful service. It is all about laying down life (sacrifice) in service as commanded by Christ in Jn 15:12-13 which is done in various ramifications and levels as appropriate. It is well demonstrated in the following medley of songs by the Maranatha! Singers:

We are pilgrims on a journey

We  are brothers on the road

We are here to help each other

Work the vine and live the love.

 

Brother let me be your servant

Let me be as Christ to you

Pray that I might by God’s grace

To let you be my servant.

 

And we, being many, are one body

In Christ, in Christ;

And everyone members

Of one another,

Loving each other,

With God as our father,

Who loves us as a mother loves her newborn child.

Experience this great joy in your heart (heavenly bliss) which comes from selfless dedicated service spurred by love through its spirit of sacrifice as you go through various levels of service.

Levels of service: Service is offered to humanity through three main levels: in the family, through the church, to the generality. Charity begins at home. Service delivery is learned and first practiced in the family at home. The parents  render service to God and humanity working hard to give good training to their children so that they would be able and willing to serve their family and others with love. It is such “good” families that can make a “good” society. It is from such families that emerge people that can come together to make a church of people of excellent service. You cannot make a good church worker without being a good man at home in your family (cf 1 Tim. 3:5). Yet we need lots of good workers in the church. This underlines the pivotal importance of starting well at the family level.

It is our vocation to render a crucial service of evangelization unto salvation to the generality of the people through the church and so we ought to be ready for service in the church for the people. The church, the body of Christ, is the pillar and bulwark of truth (1 Tim. 3:15) through which the manifold wisdom of God is made known to all (Eph. 3:10); and so this is a very important avenue through which we can render that vital service as needed by God. How dire is this need that we cannot afford to fail! How highly distinguished is this service that it can only be carried out by a worthy vessel capable of rendering high quality service.

It is true there are those who do not serve at all and they follow their like to damnation but even among those who serve, the quality of their service is very important: “for we are God’s co-workers… for no one can lay a foundation other than the one that is there, namely Jesus Christ. If  anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones; wood, hay or straw, the work of each will come to light, for the day will disclose it. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire (itself) will test the quality of each ones work. If the work stands that someone built upon the foundation, that person will receive a wage. But if someone’s work is burned up, that one will suffer loss; the person will be saved but only as through fire” (1 Cor. 3:11-15). Clearly, we are expected to be worthy vessels that render satisfactory service for God in His household and elsewhere and those who serve but do not serve satisfactorily stand the chance of going through the terrible state of purgatory (through fire) for though there are sins that do not lead to death (1 John 5:l7) nothing unclean, nothing unsatisfactory shall enter the kingdom of God (cf Rev. 21:27). How can we then judge the quality of our service vis-à-vis the attainment of sainthood? Look unto Jesus. What we need is Jesus Quality.

Jesus Quality: “Just so, the son of man did not come to be served but to serve  and give his life as a ransom to many”  (Matt. 20:28). “Rather let the greatest among you be as the youngest and the leader as the servant (Lk. 22:26b). One would justifiably argue that “Jesus is Jesus and we are mere creatures”. Nevertheless he remains our model, and we have to follow his examples and be a Jesus. Be a Jesus? How possible? “It is not by might, it is not by power, but by my spirit says the Lord,” is the Zechariah 4:6 we sing every day. We have to be aware of some wonderful truths about us being Jesus in this atmosphere of general lack of understanding of the dignity God has allowed man to have. The Pastoral Constitution on the Church in the Modern World (Vatican II, Gaudium et spes No 19) partly states as follows: “The dignity of man rests above all on the fact that he is called to communion with God. The invitation to converse with God is addressed to man as soon as he comes into being. For if man exists, it is because God has created him through love, and through love continues to hold him in existence. He cannot live fully according to truth unless he freely acknowledges that love and entrusts himself to his creator. Many however of our contemporaries either do not at all perceive, or else explicitly reject, this intimate and vital bond of man to God”.Strong faith is needed without which we shall be paying only a lip service to the very frequently preached attitude of being in Christ.

 

Being in Christ: For service to be fruitful there is no substitute to having that kind of faith that made St. Paul declare that he lived, no  longer he, but Christ lived in him (Gal. 2:20). Listen to what Jesus himself has to say in Jn. 15:1-5. “I am the true vine, and my father is the vinedresser. Every branch of mine that bears no fruit, he takes away, and every branch that does bear fruit he prunes, that it may bear more fruit. You are already made clean by the words I have spoken to you. Abide in me and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing”.

Being in Christ is not the same as doing those things Jesus did, when he was serving on earth. It means when you are able to do whatever you are doing as Christ would do while performing that same action of yours now. It means performing everyday duties as Christ would perform the same duties. It is when you serve with this attitude that unction follows action. Endearing and enduring results are seen at its conclusion.

Conclusion: Your service is in the capacity and direction God avails you. You do not have to be the Chief Prayer-warrior or the player of the most prestigious instrument in the band, or the most eloquent and highly placed personality in the Evangelical Ministry, to make an impact. You may not have the financial capacity to build costly structures, or a great physical strength to offer in service, but you and each of the others have more than enough avenues to direct your service in the Body of Christ. No service is too small or too big. What is important is to know that for fruitful service one’s external acts ought to be an overflow from one’s rich interior life, a life that reflects his constant awareness of the presence of God and engenders a child-like faith in God and confidence in himself, being in Christ. He trusts God so much because everything depends on God, and also works hard so much as if everything depends on him (the man).

It is highly profitable to have an ardent love for our Blessed mother, Mary, entrusting your service and your personal sanctification in her hands. Taking expert motherly care of these is what she does very well. Wise people hand over their ministries, their activities, to our Lady, the mother of Jesus, the very efficient housewife of Nazareth, to organize for them; and they just flow along. It is a matter of faith.

Take note of this: whenever, in service delivery, you do what you believe in and believe in what you do, anointing flows. And lives are touched. The converse is also true.

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