Last week we emphasised the need to be AT Lent, where the Lord God WANTS us to be ... and to be there freely and willingly. So, the closing words...
The first few verses of our NEW TESTAMENT EXTRACT [1 CORINTHIANS 10:31 – 11:1] introduce us to an aspect of our discipleship and Church membership which in too many instances has faded into oblivion.
” … whatever you do at all, do for the glory of God. Never do anything offensive to anyone … or to the Church of God … not anxious for (our) own advantage but for the advantage of everybody else.”
Every disciple and Church member needs to ensure (and evaluate on a regular basis) that their involvement in whatever ministry and activity is voided of any form of self-aggrandizement. It should be noted that this word denotes the element of making onself powerful or important, and includes an anxiety for our own advantage. This applies to ALL Church members – from the Pope down to the new Altar Server in Outer Mongolia. Rather, we need to be ANXIOUS “for the advantage of everybody else.”
The very opposite is evident in too many ‘officials’ – from members of the Roman Curia down to the leader of the parish needlework guild.
In situations right across the board from parish priests (and higher echelons!) to ‘chief’ sacristan I have heard the telltale, self-pitying, remark “… and after all I have done FOR (who or whatever)?!
However, the vital question (which on occasions I have been brave enough to ask!) must always be: “Yes, but what have you done TO(who or whatever)?
The secret really lies in a change of approach and attitude. In general, and in particular, we have to change from a Church that sees itself ‘doing things’ FOR people, to a Church that hears Itself called to do things TO people. The danger of always seeing ourselves as doing things ‘for’ is that we actually begin to ‘do damage’ to those we are supposed to be ‘for’! If I am not empowering, encouraging, and facilitating then I am doing nothing, or – as Saint Paul writes – I am being offensive to others and to the Church of God.
Never forget or gloss over the fact that in both discipleship and membership of the Church we are accountable. Yes, We are accountable to God, but we are also accountable to others for what we do (positive and negative) TO others. For example (and this applies at all levels of ministry and discipleship) a parish priest is accountable not only to his bishop but also to his parishioners, and parishioners are accountable to their parish priest. It is always a two-way street.
There has to be an overall concern for, and accountability to, the COMMUNITY! This much is made clear in the OLD TESTAMENT EXTRACT [LEVITICUS 13: 1 – 2. 44 – 46]. In Old Testament times leprosy introduced fear into the community – the disease was (and continued to be for centuries) misunderstood and often wrongly diagnosed. Nevertheless, the community hadto be protected, and sufferers had to “live apart … outside the camp.” It would be profitable for us (without beating ourselves into a frenzy of guilt!) to consider situations when, through our lack of self-evaluation regarding our approach and attitude to our participation in the life of the Church, we fail to face the fact that we might well be introducing damage and harm into the community.
It is worth noting that the leper in THIS WEEK’S GOSPEL EXTRACT [MARK 1: 40 – 45] acknowledged his personal condition, approached Jesus, and wanted something done TO him … to be cured! Then, the Lord did something TO him, and that something made the man DIFFERENT. Jesus wanted something very special and particular to happen TO people.
We should not stand in awe, amazement or wonder at ‘the miracles’. What should arrest our attention is what happened TO the recipients of the Lord’s power, presence and actions.
The Churches is not a social welfare organisation, and even, for example, church societies which care for the poor should focus, primarily, on what they do TO people – and this is to help men and women come to a knowledge of Jesus Christ, and be able to proclaim (as the Gospel acclamation proclaims):“A great prophet has appeared among us. God has visited his people.”