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Vol. I, Jul. 1995

 

The Fundamental Attitude of Christ: to Serve

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

GOD called us to join in the priesthood of His Son which in its very nature, our Holy Father tells us in his Holy Thursday Letter to priests (cf. Nr. 8) is a ministry, a service. This is the teaching of Vatican II: "priests reach sanctity in their proper way through the sincere and untiring exercise of their ministries in the Spirit of CHRIST" (PO 13; cf. Pdv 33)

1. With this the Church and the Holy Father do not not call us to activism. Rather, they refer to a very fundamental attitude of CHRIST, "Who came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mk 10, 45; cf. Mt 20, 26-28) . To serve means to live and to act in dependence upon someone else. If we look at CHRIST, we find Him on earth as the servant of YAHWEH (cf. Acts 3,13-26) foretold in the prophecies of the Old Testament. (cf. e.g. the four songs of the suffering servant of YAHWEH in Is. 42-53): He serves His FATHER in Heaven (cf. Mt. 26,42), so that Justice may be done (cf. Mt 26, 53-56) . HE serves man with pastoral love: looking after him counseling, curing, strengthening, teaching, praying for Him. He is concerned about our needs : "what do you want Me to do for you?" (Mk 10,51). He serves all mankind to this day, sending them priests that make Him present for all those who desire Him as their BREAD OF LIFE. - The will to serve so marks the life of JESUS on earth that it is impossible to think of Him in Heaven without understanding or seeing Him in this same attitude. And truly, is it not this attitude which characterizes Him in relation to the Father?

2. We do not want to introduce any subordination into the most perfect union of the Three Divine Persons in the One Divine Being, total and equal in dignity. But if we understand the Revelation, which JESUS brought from the Bosom of the Trinity, and understand Him as the SON of the FATHER, we have to see in the relation of both not just the total dedication or donation of the FATHER to the SON, and not only the total freedom of a son but also the total submission of the SON to the FATHER; even if it is natural for the LOVE between both, we have to see in this love the model for our obedience, for our dependence, for that attitude which marked Him in His earthly life: the desire to serve!

The mystery of the Triune GOD tells us even the right mode of this virtue, its core and correct motive: As the SON lives in total dependence on the FATHER and only wants to serve HIM with all He "has" because of the LOVE of the HOLY SPIRIT Who is the uniting bond in this Divine Mystery, so we may perceive that what He wants us, His elected ones, to be is: to be servants out of love, to dispose ourselves to the Will of the FATHER with the freedom of a son!

That is the priestly holiness: to be one with CHRIST in the HOLY SPIRIT Who was granted to us in a special way, and with this goal in the sacrament of Holy Order: to be able to serve, like CHRIST, the FATHER and His adopted children, the baptized and those who are called to baptism. We see that the call to serve, far away from activism, is a call into the most intimate union with CHRIST, and in Him with the FATHER in the HOLY SPIRIT. It tells us also, that we should not make a false opposition between being and action: There can be, of course, no action without a prior, existent being. But it is also true, that there can be no being which is not somehow "alive", that is, active in some fashion. This is true of GOD Himself Who is ACT and LIFE, and it is true even for the least creatures in the material world. When we consider them in their relation to GOD; as St. Paul teaches us in Rom. 8, 19-22 or as we read in Judith 16,14: "Let all Thy creatures serve Thee!"

3. That service marks the nature of our priesthood we see confirmed again when we review the "Communion of Saints". All Saints inasmuch and to the degree that they approach GOD become similar to JESUS as servant! The Holy Father implies this when he says: "When the priesthood is service by nature, then it must be lived in union with the Mother, who is the handmaid of the Lord" (Ib.,8). We recall, of course, that this is the name Our Lady gave herself twice: "I am the handmaid of the Lord" (Lk 1,39; cf. V.48); she is known to us as a servant to Elizabeth (Lk 1,39-56) as well as to JESUS throughout His entire life on earth (cf. Jn 2,1-5; Lk 8, 19; Jn 19, 25 f.)

The Holy Angels were separated according to their readiness to serve or not. Of the fallen ones it is said: "Long ago you broke your yoke and burst your bonds; and you said, 'I will not serve'" (Jer 2,20). The Holy Ones, on the contrary, call themselves precisely with that name: "The angel said to me, "These are true words of GOD." Then I fell down at his feet to worship him, but he said to me, 'You must not do that! I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of JESUS'" (Rev. 19,9 f.). Almost all the testimonies of the Angels in their active relation to man prove the humble attitude of these pure spirits even with regard to sinful man
(cf. e.g. Tob 6 and 9; Mt 4, 11; Heb 1, 14; Ps 103,21).

The Angels give also the Apostle the title, "servant": " A fellow- servant with you", he says. And so does even JESUS on many occasions: Jn 12,26; 13,16; 15,20; Lk 17,10, etc. Our Lady exhorted them to serve (cf. Jn 2,5). Together, this is the reason why the Apostles identify themselves as "Servant" (cf. Rom 1,1; Apoc 1,1; James 1,1; 2 Pet 1,1; Jude 1,1).

It is in this sense, that ever since Pope Gregory the Great, the pope calls himself "the servant of the servants ("servus servorum"); and in Vatican II the Hierarchy of the Church declares: "The Magisterium is not above the word of God (in either its written or oral form of tradition) but serves it (Dei Verbum, 10).

(4) For all these holy persons "to serve" was the road which lead them into the union with the humble and Sacred Heart of Jesus. it is the particular and unique road for the members of the ministerial priesthood! For what does it mean "to serve"? To serve is just another word for loving! The servant is one who is disposed to love in deed: he forgets himself and his own needs in favor of the other. He is detached, poor and selfless; he is open and available at any time. "With fear and trembling" he tries to discover the Holy Will of God! With the care of a father and the patience of a mother he endeavors to listen, to sense the needs of souls. Just as in the lives of the saints, the desire to serve God and man better is the motive for all that he does, of his work and rest, of the time and material of his reading, of the time of his rest and the intention of his prayers.

Comparing ourselves to this light in the lives of the saints, we may discover, where and when we are looking at ourselves for our own sake. When we seek the Holy Face of Jesus the Servant in us, we easily realize that we cannot do our own will and must needs try to serve in all things, so that in this way we may be truly worthy of being called a servant of God.

We may even become sensitively aware of the deeper meaning of the promise of obedience we made in the hands of the bishop at ordination: we promised not only fidelity to the teaching of the Church and to the commands of the bishop, it was also intended to be a personal promise to Christ the High Priest to serve God and His children always and everywhere, unconditionally and with all that we are and have. It was the promise of our Holocaust; after all Christ as priest, is the suffering servant and the victim. Do we have the courage to break our word of love or to withdraw it even in part?

Dear Brothers in the priesthood of Christ. It is not surprising that each one of us stands before this crucial question: Do I want to serve (cf. Lk 16,13)? In the world or natural order, the lower serves the higher, but in the Kingdom of God the higher serves the lower, because it is a Kingdom of Love, where the last will be the first and the humble will be exalted. Let us reflect during this month about this serving "nature of our Priesthood" according to the Holy Father. We should never become a manager or merely an administrator. We need a daily schedule, it is true, but we should not become a slave to it. Rather let us remain open for the call of each moment. Although we cannot actually serve 24 hours a day, we can, nevertheless, desire and want to be ready to serve at any of these 24 hours!

  • Am I too indolent or too active?
  • Do I serve just the people and not our Lord Himself directly in a solid program of daily prayers?
  • What is my deepest desire? Does it correspond to the essence of the priesthood?
"Jesus, you love and serve Me! Make me a loving servant to You!"

 

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC


Prayer:

"Angeli, Archangeli, Throni, Dominationes, Principatus, Potestates, Virtutes caelorum, Cherubim et Seraphim, omnes Sancti et Sanctae Dei, praesertim Patroni mei, intercedere dignemini pro me, ut hoc Sacrificium (et vitam totam meam) omnipotenti digne valeam offere, ad laudem et gloriam nominis Sui et ad utilitatem meam totiusque Ecclesiae Suae sanctae. Amen."

English Translation:

"O you, Holy Angels, Archangels, Thrones, Dominations, Principalities, Virtues and Powers of Heaven, You Cherubim and Seraphim, and all you saints of God, especially you my patrons, deign to intercede for me that I might worthily offer this sacrifice (and my entire life) for the praise and glory of His Name and for my own good and that of His entire Holy Church. Amen.
(Preces Selectae, Cologne. 1990, p. 29f.
Private prayer for the Priest before Mass
)