Humble service

The WORD in Other Words by Fr Simon Boiser SVD (Germany)

22nd Sunday Ordinary Time, Sir 3:17-18, 20, 28-29, Heb 12:18-19, 22-24a, Lk 14:1, 7-14

Whenever I assist the Missionaries of Charity, while they give food to the homeless in the red-light district of Hamburg, I‘m impressed by these nuns‘ humble service. They speak little about themselves. They don‘t try to manage other people‘s affairs by giving advice on how to live their lives. They accept the contradictions of people. They remain kind and gentle even under provocation. They are willing to accept being slighted, forgotten and even disliked. These attitudes are reflections of humility recommended by their foundress Mother Teresa, otherwise known as Saint Teresa of Calcutta.  

We may not behave as saintly as the nuns do, but we can learn from their humble service. The nuns‘ unpaid work for the poor teaches us about the purifying effects of   unconditional love. By patiently listening to the complaints of others and enduring them with charity, they are able to seal their lips on their own aches and pains. They seem to possess a perfect quietness of heart, which expects nothing and is at rest, even when nobody praises them, or when they are blamed or despised.   

Many of us do not have the ambition to become saints, because we think it is so hard to live with some of them whose so-called “saintliness makes us feel morally inferior instead or reminds us of religious narrow-mindedness or blind church fundamentalism. In today‘s Gospel, Jesus teaches that a true saint is “superior” by becoming inferior in the eves of the world. Instead of giving the impression of being rich and successful, Jesus tells us to look for a place where we can serve those who cannot repay us.   

This act of humility is not a false show of self-abasement, but a decision to serve the poor, in order to experience God. A Christian writer C.S. Lewis wrote, “As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people; and, of course, as long as you are looking down you cannot see something   that is above you.”   

Despite their daily engagement with the poor and homeless, the sisters of Mother Teresa devote regular time to prayer and contemplation. During my Masses in their small chapel, some homeless people often join the liturgical celebration. The crowded room smells of sweat and dirty clothes. But this unpleasant smell does not disturb the nuns. A volunteer who helps the nuns regularly told me once, “When I began my work here, it was really hard to bear the stink of the beggars. Now I get used to it, just like I get used to my own smell.” Humility teaches us not only to accept our own nastiness, but also that of others.

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