29th Sunday Ordinary Time
Fr. Mark Gatto
Preached: October 17, 2021
What is a good motivation for us to be Christians? Our motivation matters.
A few years ago there was a survey of young people that asked them, “why do you want to get married?” The number one answer was, “Because I want to be loved.” The focus in that answer is myself, what I will receive. Focus on me being served. But, a good marriage requires two persons who are other-centred. The motivation has to be rooted in the desire to serve the other, in this case, the beloved.
Many years ago, I remember a very young unwed mother, who had been raised in a very unhealthy broken family. She probably never really felt loved. When she had her baby, I went to visit as she requested baptism and I wanted to support them. As I was there, she looked down at her baby and said, “it is so great, a baby just loves you totally.” I realized that she was looking to be loved by her baby.
But, a parent does not have a baby in order to be loved. As though the baby exists for the parent’s sake. A parent is called to love and serve their baby. The only good motivation for being a parent is to love and serve the child, not expecting anything in return.
The same goes with the motivation for being a priest. Why want to be a priest? Only good motivation is the desire to serve in the name of Jesus. To serve, not to control, not for privilege. Years ago a Professor I had while studying in Rome told us why he did not like to wear a priest collar in Rome. One day he was at the local market and got in line. When the server saw he was a priest he went to bring him ahead of everyone, including some poor people. This really bothered him.
The only good reason to become a priest is to serve people in the name of Jesus. In particular, a parish priest is not about being in charge, or having a privileged position, it is to serve the people of God in this parish.
Why be a Christian? What is our motivation? Prosperity? The Prosperity Gospel has existed the last few decades, especially in United States. It says that if we follow Jesus faithfully then you will be successful and prosper in life. Is that really what Jesus taught?
We know our motivation for being Christian is perhaps distorted when we ask, “Why do bad people have good things?” People will say, “ I have gone to Mass regularly, pray, try to live a good life, why would I get sick, or why would my love one die too young?”
Our Christian faith becomes some sort of contract negotiation with God. I will do this and you will give me that. The only good motivation for the Christian life is to serve in the name of Jesus. To be an instrument of God in the world.
What motivates you? In our Gospel today, Jesus faces the wrong motivations of his Apostles, who are fighting over their position, their privilege, what they will get for following Jesus. Jesus is very clear, “… the great among you must be your servant,… For the Son of Man came not to be served, but to serve.”
Pope Francis called for a universal Synod of the church. Beginning last Sunday with a special Mass in Rome. It will continue until 2023 when there will be a special Synod of bishops. But, leading up to that, each Diocese and parish in our world is meant to engage in this Synod process.
Synod is an ancient practice in the Church. It simply means “walking together”, the church journeying together. It is the realization that in the church we require all of us to walk together, to work together on the mission.
A big part of this Synod will be the Church being a Listening Church. How can we listen to all people, especially those on the margins who are often forgotten? This listening is crucial if the Church is going to be a servant Church. A Church that like Jesus comes to serve not to be served.
This is our challenge as a Church, this is our challenge as a parish. How do we as a parish become a Church that serves? One key in this Synod is realizing that we need to be a Church that listens so that we can serve.
An 85 year old woman on her birthday was being interviewed. What advice would she have for people her age? “Well, at our age it is very important to keep using all our potential or it dries up. It is important to be with people and, if it is at all possible, to earn one’s living through service. That’s what keeps us alive and well.”
Reporter responded: “May I ask what exactly you do for a living at your age?”
“I look after an old lady in my neighbourhood,”
There are some elderly people who are very limited, shut in and unable to go out to serve. They can continue to serve by praying for the Church, praying for their family, praying for others.
Love and service heals everyone – both those who receive it and those who give it.
Reflect on your motivation for being a Christian. Become a person of service. It will make all the difference for you and others.
As a Church, as a parish, our challenge today is to be a humble servant Church, a humble servant parish. This requires us to be a listening Church as we journey together in this life.
As Jesus came not to be served, but to serve, we need to be a Church that comes not to be served, but to serve.