By Most Rev. Richard W. Smith, Archbishop of Edmonton

Monday, October 28, 2013

Humble Service

This past week here in Alberta we went through an election of various civic officials. It coincided with the commissioning for service in many of our parishes of trustees, pastoral council members, catechists and so on. Reflecting on the dynamics of the civic election in the light of the Scripture readings proclaimed yesterday at Mass can offer some insight into essential characteristic of ecclesial ministry.

In the lead-up to voting day there is a period set aside for campaigning. It gives voters an opportunity to listen to candidates and read their material so as to discern who will receive our vote. We base our decision on two fundamental criteria: the candidate's platform and his or her skill set. Considered from the viewpoint of our democratic system of governance, the logic of this political process makes sense and generally serves us well. However, when the immediate context is the service of God's people within the Church, a far broader and often very different logic must guide our deliberations and shape our actions.

One chosen for ministry in the Church serves in accordance not with a personal platform but with God's platform. God has a plan for his Church and for all the people he has created. This plan, or platform, has been made known to us in Jesus Christ. It is a platform rooted in the inalienable dignity of each and every human being; a platform, therefore, of justice. It is a plan formulated on the basis of God's infinite compassion for weak and sinful human beings; a platform, therefore, of mercy. It is a vision springing from the divine desire to reunite all of God's children scattered by sin; a platform, therefore, of unity. Its fulfilment is not confined to a four-year mandate but unfolds through history to culminate in eternal life; a platform, therefore, of hope. The accomplishment of this plan has already happened in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; a platform, therefore, that remains forever centred upon the person of the Word of God made flesh and upon no other.

Those who serve this platform are obviously at the service of something far greater than themselves. This "something" is nothing less that the divine plan of salvation, revealed in Christ and made known in every generation by the Church.

Which brings us to the question of skill set. What is required of someone who serves this plan in the Church? One indispensable quality of anyone who serves in the Church is highlighted by the Scripture readings today: humility.

In the passage from St. Luke (18:9-14), Jesus holds up for our example not the Pharisee, who is proud, self-righteous, confident in his abilities, thinking himself better than others, but the tax collector, who is aware of his sinfulness, his weakness, his mistakes, his vulnerability, his limits; who is aware, in other words, of his need for God and has learned to rely on God's mercy. This is a lesson St. Paul teaches us through his ministry. In his second letter to Timothy (4:17) he tells us that his strength was not his own but that provided by the Lord, who stood by him at all times.

Humility is the recognition of our weakness and consequently of our utter reliance upon the gifts and the mercy of God. It is the indispensable condition for service, the foundation for putting into practice the skill set with which God endows us. The prophet Sirach assures us that "the prayer of the humble pierces the clouds." (Sirach 35:21) So let us pray, in humility, for the gift of humility. May we all be deeply aware of our total dependence upon God, be ready to put aside our own platforms or agendas to serve only the divine plan, and live with joyful reliance upon his gifts of love and mercy.