ICWG Humility & a Spirit of Service

Without humility we cannot serve others.

In the Gospel of today’s Mass, Our Lord speaks of harsh realities, of those Scribes and Pharisees who occupy the chair of Moses. They are concerned only about themselves, having little regard for the people entrusted to them, those simple folk harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. [1015] They are more interested in securing the places of honour at banquets, in their badges of rank, their phylacteries and their tassels, in being noticed and greeted in the market places and being called Rabbi. [1016] Meant to be salt and light for the people of Israel, they have left their people without either salt or light. They themselves are in darkness, having preferred self-glorification to the glory of God. Everything they do is done to attract attention. Personal pride and the vainglorious search for prominence has led them to lose the humility and the spirit of service which should characterize those who wish to follow the Lord.

Christ warned his disciples: You must not allow yourselves to be called Rabbi ... the greatest among you must be your servant. [1017] And He himself has repeatedly pointed out the way to us: For which is the greater, the one who sits at table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who sits at table? But I am among you as one who serves. [1018]

Without humility and a spirit of service there can be no effectiveness and it is quite impossible to practise charity. Without humility there is no holiness, for Jesus does not want conceited self-centred friends in his service: the instruments of God are always humble. [1019]

In the apostolate and in the little acts of service we can offer others, there is no room for complacency or for arrogance, since it is the Lord who really does the work. When we serve, our capability bears no relationship to the supernatural fruits we seek. Without grace, one’s best efforts are in vain: no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit. [1020] Grace is the one thing that can raise the power of our human talents so as to achieve by them what would otherwise have been beyond our possibilities. God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble. [1021]

When we struggle to attain this virtue we become effective and strong. Humility will spur us on to carry out great tasks, but only on condition that we never lose sight of our inadequacy, and that we are all convinced, and more so each day, of our own helplessness. [1022] We ought to be constantly vigilant, because the worst kind of ambition is to strive for one’s own exaltation, as the Scribes and Pharisees did – the ambition of seeking ourselves and our enhanced reputations in the things we do or plan to carry out. Pride attacks on all flanks and its victim finds it all around. [1023]

If we are not humble we can make ourselves unfit for helping those around us, for pride infects everything. Where you have a proud person nothing goes right; nobody is treated properly: his family, his friends, his colleagues ... He expects and demands special treatment for himself because he considers himself different; one has to take care to avoid hurting his very vulnerable sensibilities. The dogmatic tone of his utterances, his ironic or sarcastic contributions to any discussion – for he does not mind anyone else being shown up in a poor light if he himself is going to come out well – his tendency to cut short conversations which arise quite naturally, etc: all these are signs of something deep seated: it is the all-consuming egoism that takes possession of the personality when the limited horizons of one’s life are centred on oneself.

These moments of prayer can be of use for us to examine, in the presence of God, the way we treat others, and to determine whether our behaviour towards them is imbued with a spirit of service.

Imitating the service given by Jesus, the supreme example of humility and dedication to others.

Jesus is the supreme example of humility and dedication to others. No one has ever had a greater dignity than He, and no one has served other men so diligently: I am in your midst as one who serves. This continues to be his approach towards each one of us. He is always ready to serve us, to help us, to lift us up from our falls. Do we make a point of serving others, in the family, at work, through those ‘anonymous’ favours for which in all probability we will never be thanked? Today, through the prophet Isaiah’s lips. the Lord tells us: Discite benefacere. [1024] Learn to do good ... and we will only learn if we concentrate on Jesus, our Model, and if we meditate frequently on his example and his teachings.

I have given you an example – Our Lord tells the disciples after he has washed their feet – that you also should do to others as I have done to you. [1025] He gives us the best possible lesson for us to understand that if we are not humble, if we are not willing to serve, we will be completely unable to follow the Master. Our Lord invites us to follow him and to imitate him: He gives us a rule, which is simple but precise, and which will enable us to practise charity with humility and a spirit of sacrifice: Whatever you wish that men would do to you, do so to them. [1026] The experience of what pleases or displeases me, or of what helps or hurts me, is a good measure of the things I ought to do or avoid in my relationships with others.

All of us would like a word of encouragement when things have not gone well, and would appreciate understanding from others when, once again, in spite of our best intentions we have made a mistake. We prefer others to have more regard to our positive deeds than to our shortcomings; we are glad to have a cordial atmosphere at our place of work or on coming home. We like to be stretched at work, but to be asked, nevertheless, with courtesy and in a kindly fashion to do what is required of us; we don’t like anyone to speak badly of us behind our backs; and if someone does, we’d be grateful to have another defend us in our absence; we would like others to be concerned about us when we are ill; we would not be averse to receiving fraternal corrections when we do something badly, instead of having our blunder gossiped about with somebody else; we would be happy to know that our friends pray for us ... These are things which, with humility and a spirit of service, we have to do for others: Discite benefacere. If we behave in this way, the prophet Isaiah continues, though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they shall be like wool. [1027]

We have to serve those amongst whom the Lord has placed us, learning in this matter from Our Lady.

The greatest among you must be your servant, [1028] says the Lord. Thus we have to leave our egoism to one side and discover in ourselves those signs of charity which make others happy. If we do not make the daily effort to forget ourselves, we will pass by those who are near us over and over again without realising that they could do with a word of encouragement, that they need their work to be appreciated, and lack perhaps only a word of encouragement from us for them to be better.

Egoism blinds; it narrows our horizons when we look at others; humility constantly opens up a way to charity in practical details and suggests specific ways of serving. This joyful spirit, of openness to the others, and the spirit of availability, is capable of transforming any environment. Charity warms up as water in a rock fissure. Love draws out love, [1029] says St Teresa; and St John of the Cross advises: where there is no love, put love, and you will draw out love. [1030]

But we were gentle among you, like a nurse taking care of her children. So, being affectionately desirous of you, we were ready to share with you not only the Gospel of God but also our own selves, [1031] exclaims St Paul to the Christians of Thessalonica. If we imitate him, our actions will bear similar fruit.

We have to practise this spirit of Christ with those nearest to us, within the family: The husband ought not to seek only his own interests, but also those of his wife; and she, those of her husband. Parents should look after the interests of their children, and these in turn look after the interests of their parents. The family is the only community in which man ‘is loved for himself’, for what he ‘is’ and not for what he ‘has’ ... Respect for this fundamental norm explains, as the Apostle himself teaches, why nothing should be done out of a spirit of rivalry or for vainglory, but rather through humility, because of love. And this love, which is opened up to others, makes members of the family true servants of ‘the domestic church’, where all desire the good and the happiness of each one; where each and every one gives life to this love with an urgent search for that good and that happiness. [1032]

If you act in this way, you will not be inclined to see, as so often happens, the speck in your brother’s eye without seeing the log in your own. [1033] The tiniest imperfections of others are magnified in our perspective and our own graver faults tend to be minimised and all too easily justified.

Humility, on the other hand, makes us recognise our own weaknesses and defects. We are then in a position to be understanding towards the shortcomings of other people and to be able to extend to them a helping hand. We are then also able to love them and to accept them with whatever defects they may have.

The Blessed Virgin, handmaid of the Lord, will teach us to understand that to serve others is one of the ways of finding joy in this life and one of the shortest routes to Jesus.

[1015] Matt 9:36
[1016] cf Matt 23:1-12
[1017] cf Matt 23:8-11
[1018] Luke 22:27
[1019] St John Chrysostom, Homilies on St Matthew, 15
[1020] 1 Cor 12:3
[1021] Jas 4:6
[1022] St. J. Escrivá, Friends of God, 106
[1023] Cassian, Institutions, 11:3
[1024] Is 1:17
[1025] John 13:15
[1026] Matt 7:12
[1027] Is 1:18
[1028] Matt 23:11
[1029] St Teresa, Life, 22, 14
[1030] St John of the Cross, Letter to María de la Encarnación
[1031] 1 Thess 2:7-8
[1032] John Paul II, Homily of the Mass for families, 2 November 1982
[1033] Matt 7:3-5

Francis Fernandez Carvajal was born in Granada in 1938. A graduate in History from the University of Navarre, he also hold a doctorate in Canon Law from the Angelicum in Rome. He is a priest of the Opus Dei Prelature. Since his ordination in 1964, much of his pastoral ministry has been with university students. For more than ten years he was editor of he montly magazine PALABRA. Among his published works are  Lukewarmness- the Devil in Disguise, Overcoming Lukewarmness, Through wind and Waves,and Commentaries on the Gospels of St Matthew and St Luke

His Series In Conversation with God can Be found Here

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