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Becoming Credible Servants

“Renewed servant-leaders for the New Evangelization” – this is this year’s theme dedicated to the Clergy and Consecrated Persons. The Church aims towards a renewal of priests and religious who are to become servant leaders.

As noted by the Bishops of the Philippines, “we are on the sixth year of our nine-year Spiritual Journey towards 2021 … dedicated to the Clergy and Consecrated Persons.” “Renewed servant-leaders for the New Evangelization – this is the goal of our prayers and activities this year [2018].  We aim towards the integral renewal of the values, mind-sets, behavior and lifestyles of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons. 

Following the example of the Good Shepherd, they are to become servant-leaders who care most especially for the least, the lost and the last.” We easily recognize the parallel thoughts of Pope Francis and the Philippine Bishops!  

In their pastoral exhortation for 2018, the Bishops honestly recall the “lights and shadows” found in our local Philippine Church. They note: “Our priests faithfully celebrate the sacraments daily in the busy urban areas and in the distant and lonely barangays. Our men and women religious administer Church institutions, teach catechism, and serve in the parishes. They bring joy to orphanages, hospitals and prisons. Some have started working for rehabilitation of drug dependents….  They make us hopeful for tomorrow.”  

“On the other hand, the bright lights undeniably go at times with some dismal shadows….  There were occasions of frailty and scandals that sadden us. Such misconducts call for sincere reflection and reparation….  Renewal of the Church requires renewal of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons [and all the followers of Christ].  For this, we take inspiration and example from the tender scene of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet.” Recall Pope Francis’ words: Jesus “did not hesitate to bow down and wash the feet of the disciples.” Yes, we can readily conclude that the rediscovery and practice of “servanthood” is a pivotal key to Church renewal!

Union With Christ
The life of any authentic Christian servant will always be anchored in a deep friendship relationship with Christ. As Pope Francis noted in Evangelii Gaudium (3): “I invite all Christians, everywhere, at this very moment, to a renewed, personal encounter with Jesus Christ….  I ask all of you to do this unfailingly each day.  No one should think that this invitation is not meant for him or her, since ‘no one is excluded from the joy brought by the Lord.’”

The Lord does not disappoint those who take this risk; whenever we take a step toward Jesus, we come to realize that He is already there, waiting for us with open arms….  Time and time again He bears us on his shoulders….  With a tenderness which never disappoints, but is always capable of restoring our joy, He makes it possible for us to lift up our heads and start anew.” 

The CBCP Pastoral Exhortation for the Year of the Clergy and Consecrated Persons also highlights this “Christ-Servant-Disciple” relationship. The Bishops note that “Jesus never lost that unity with his heavenly Father while he lived on earth.” 

It was His unity and communion with the Father that “moved Him to reach out to sinners and the needy.” Thus, anyone who would be a true servant is invited “to share in this ‘communion’ and ‘intimate relationship’ between Jesus and the Father.” It is only through this mutual friendship that one becomes a true servant – having the perspective and attitudes of Christ himself. One must put on the “mind of Christ.” (Phil 2:5)

What, then, are some characteristics of a servant of Jesus?  First, one realizes that discipleship is an invitation that comes from the Lord himself; “You did not choose me.  No, I chose you” (Jn 15:16). This gift demands wholehearted, joyful surrender to the person of Jesus (not only to an idea or particular apostolate); “Follow me” (Lk 9:59); “Put out into the deep” (Lk 5:4); “Come and see” (Jn 1:39). Thirdly, one will voluntarily accept the hardships that preaching the Gospel entails (2Tim 1:8, 2:3). Thus, Jesus’ servant-disciple will “take up his cross every day” (Lk 9:23).  One seeks to follow Christ, even when he foretells his passion (Mk 10:32-34) or when Jesus seems to be asleep and not to care (Mt 8:24). In everything, the disciple realizes that the servant is not above his master (Jn 15:20).  

Multiple Forms Of Service
In Evangelii Gaudium, Pope Francis proposes a profound missionary renewal of the entire Church. Certainly the clergy, religious and consecrated persons are central to this renewal; they are to, in the words of the CBCP, “encourage others to mission by serving with humility.”  

Francis, for his part, asserts: “I dream of a ‘missionary option,’ that is, a missionary impulse capable of transforming everything, so that the Church’s customs, ways of doing things, times and schedules, language and structures can be suitably channeled for the evangelization of today’s world….  All renewal in the Church must have mission as its goal if it is not to fall prey to a kind of ecclesial introversion” (27).

A pivotal insight of Pope Francis is that “we are all missionary disciples” (119); through baptism, “all the members of the People of God have become missionary disciples” (120).  All Christians are “agents of evangelization….  Every Christian is a missionary to the extent that he or she has encountered the love of God in Christ Jesus: we no longer say that we are ‘disciples’ and ‘missionaries,’ but rather that we are always ‘missionary disciples’” (120).

The spectrum of ministries of “missionary disciples” is both diverse and comprehensive. It can include faith formation, family life, social action, youth ministry, liturgy, finance and administration, evangelization, vocation promotion, ecumenism, interfaith dialogue; truly, the list seems endless. All these many services can coalesce to bring renewal within the Philippine Church as she journeys toward the fifth centenary in 2021 of the arrival of Christianity on our shores!     

Criterion Of Authentic Service
Two simple words can help us judge the quality of our Christian lives: AS I.  At the Last Supper Jesus says: “I give you a new commandment: love one another; just AS I have loved you, you must also love one another” (Jn 13:34, cf. 15:12).  “If I, therefore, the master and teacher, have washed your feet, you ought to wash one another’s feet. I have given you a model to follow, so that AS I have done for you, you should also do” (Jn 13:14-15).

Both passages form a unity. Jesus gives His disciples the commandment of love; then He Himself puts it into practice by washing His disciples’ feet. He challenges them to do the same.  Notice the parallel words: AS I.  Indeed, Jesus asserts that the model, criterion, and measure of fraternal love is none other than His own person.

How do we Christians know if our love is authentic?  We measure our deeds against the model exemplified in Jesus’ own life. Is our service genuine?  We compare ourselves to our Master, who said: “The Son of Man Himself did not come to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45).  Friends, those very simple words “AS I” (only three letters of the alphabet) must guide our daily decisions and actions. How eminently clear!  How difficult and challenging! 

* James H. Kroeger, a Maryknoll Missionary, has served mission in Asia (Philippines and Bangladesh) since 1970, working in parishes and serving mostly in the education-formation apostolate of seminarians, religious, catechists, and lay leaders.  His most recent book is: "Exploring the Priesthood with Pope Francis" (Makati: St. Paul's). He may be contacted at:

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