“(W)hatver you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Matthew 25:40
I need to apologize for going so long between blog posts. Recently, I started a new job and the process of finding my footing there, as well as coming to terms with the feelings that came up from leaving a job in which I was working for almost 21 years have taken a bit of a toll on me–that and the season of Christmas, and a well timed case of the flu have made for a perfect storm.
When I read through this week’s reading in “Franciscan Virtues Through The Year“, something that came up were the spiritual and corporeal works of mercy. These are 7 different acts in two distinct groups that count as works of goodness people are encouraged to undertake. Looking back on the last month though, I come to think of only two that make sense to me: namely, service to others as opposed to service to self. These to branches have been called the right hand path and left hand path, have been compared to selfishness over selflessness.
In terms of service, in the past I have readily encountered service to self that has been either masked or explained as service to others. In looking back through my own life, I know that I have for most of that life made choices that put my life in a more comfortable place, a place where I had to confront less, where I had to make difficult choices less, where I was able to be comfortable, but at the cost of giving up many of my freedoms. I allowed myself to be enslaved in a way by my need for security. The downside to doing this is that one lives a very sheltered life, one is exposed only to minimal people, in many cases, people who readily take advantage of the need to be sheltered and protected. It creates a kind of symbiosis in which, in an unspoken contract, people agree to use one another for each other’s benefit. My experience has been that often times, that benefit is usually greatly unproportionable. No blame can be lain at anyone’s feet because it is a mutual agreement.
However, when one enters the world in a new light, a kind of selfishness that extinguishes what is selfish in order to better see the light in people, all people, an incredible thing begins to happen. One’s eyes open, one sees that indeed, risk is necessary for growth beyond the limitations we use to exploit ourselves and others. The service one undertakes is not one that avoids self preservation, but rather the preservation of self is only a small part of one’s actions. Preservation of self becomes the ground, the base, in which one can venture out, like the early Franciscans, into the world to engage people that for many are repulsive, are frightening, are ‘things’ to be avoided because of the revulsion we may feel towards them. These are the people that seek asylum, the indigenous people who wake the guilt in our hearts that produces racism to protect ourselves from recognizing the imbalance in our society, the imbalance that rests in our favour. It is the angst, the disgust we feel at people who have learned to take advantage of a system in which their pain is used as a commodity of trade, something that can be traded for material gain, for a relief of loneliness. It is the easy way in which we shrug off those who identify differently, especially those who identify differently within the gender and sexually diverse community, and sadly, the Christian community world wide. Independent Catholics as well as other minority Christian denominations are marginalized by the greater Christian community because they may awaken some distant fear, some question that has been buried for ages that is only awakened when one opens ones eyes and looks at the light in full, the light that reveals our own defects reflected in those we repulse, we fear.
Service begins truthfully when we dismount the horse of our privilege, when we step away from the comfort of our ideas and our values, the ideas and values that deeply and purposely keep people separated, on different levels. When we allow ourselves to step down from where we safely stand, we are able to engage the entire world in the way Christ taught us. As long as we are attached to the values that protect us from the dirty, the unkept, the addicted, the sex worker, the person who identifies without gender, or identifies in a way that makes our concept of gender bend and twist, we are unable to see Christ in others, to serve others as we would serve Christ.
It’s supposed to be a challenge. Nothing of greatness comes without effort that stems not from service to self, but service to others grounded in the value of self as a means to serve.
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