Beginning the Ascent

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An interesting bit of serendipity stemming from yesterday's writing regarding the Letter to the Philippians. I had not yet encountered this passage from Sr. Ruth's book. Even if God isn't talking to anyone else, He sure is hammering home the message to me.

from Ascent to Love
Ruth Burrows

John says if you want God, if you want to begin the ascent of the mountain, then you have to make a decision against self-importance. You have to remove yourself from the centre-stage, see yourself as a member of a family, a community which you must serve. This is what Jesus taught and Paul after him. Never think yourself more important than others, never put yourself before them. . . . Think little of yourself and be happy that others do not consider you very important. Have a lowly opinion of yourself, not in the sense of unhealthy self-denigration but in that you do not consider yourself the pivot of the universe. Keep correcting in the silence of your heart the contrary natural attitude. Keep reminding yourself that others are more important than you are, that their well-being is more than the satisfaction of your ego. Let your actions conform to the this truth. Do not demand that circumstances change to fit you, do not labour to control events for your own benefit. See yourself as the servant of others.

Okay, now time for the really hard questions. How many of us, well-intentioned though we may be actually live this? How many of us really see ourselves as servants? I might use the language, but is my real image of myself that of one who waits on others? Absolutely not! I am in a position where I am required to lead others, to send them here and there, to tell them what to do, how could I possibly be a servant. The reality of the matter is that whatever it is I do here and now, it is momentary--a task that is not eternal. I must practice whatever influence I have circumspectly, realizing that I am the servant of all in Christ. In fact, I should seek to be the servant of the servants of God, thinking nothing whatsoever of myself, but seeking to give all in service. For example, as a husband I should seek to serve the needs of my family, caring more for the needs of my wife and my son than for my own. If I do things that are not acknowledged as readily as I would like, then so long as I do not become nonplussed and put-out about that fact, it is a jewel in the crown. Because just as I owe them this service, so to they "owe" it to me. I should not sit around waiting to be waited on. Rather, I should work to be a greater servant. I should do as I would be done by--not because I expect the return of the favor, but because it is the right thing for a servant of the Most High to do. Treat others as you would be treated and do not expect to be treated in return with this high regard.

I think one of the hardest things for the rugged individualism of the people of the U.S. is to think of ourselves as all connected. And if we are all connected the really difficult thing is to seek to be in the portion that serves, not in the portion that is served. We need to break down the arrogance of our false masks of freedom, independence, and stoic isolation and surrender entirely to the notion that by our baptism we are called to service. This means service of rude people, mean people, people who you'd really rather just kick and get it over with.

There is no real love without service. St. Thérèse of Lisieux taught that love is not merely a feeling, and not merely an act of the will, but it is expressed in concrete terms of small individual services. It needn't be anything spectacular. For example, I might serve someone by listening to them with a patience I do not have--by listening when I really just want them to come to the point and be done with it--by not deconstructing everything they say into the components of self-importance they seem to represent. Service takes many small steps.

"Think little of yourself." I like this expression for its productive ambiguity. It is both to think of yourself as small and as a servant, but it is also not to so intensively direct your thoughts inward. Rather think little of yourself and let the majority of your thoughts ascend to the throneroom of Heaven. Think little of yourself and more about who needs help and what form that help can take. Think little of yourself and rejoice in the good that accrues to others. Think little of yourself and immerse yourself in the vast world of all that God has laid out for you. Let your gaze follow that of the Blessed Mother, babe in arms, and let it rest always upon the face of Jesus--the face of the person God has sent to you in this moment.

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Wow, Steven!

I know a woman whose brother, his wife, and children hadn't spoken to her for more than three years, following a quarrel. After many unsuccessful attempts to put out "feelers" for a reconciliation, each of which was rebuffed, this woman resigned herself to the idea that the hoped-for reconciliation was not to be, and was firmly convinced that these relatives and she could never get on, no matter what.

The woman agonized over the Scripture passage which read, "Go and be reconciled with your brother; then bring your gifts to the altar."

After three-and-a-half years went by, the brother's wife fell ill and had to undergo surgery and several days' hospitalization. This left the husband home alone with five young children and an invalid mother to care for. To the first woman, it seemed somewhat justifiable to continue to stay aloof from the estranged family at this time, but she felt that the Lord was calling her to help.

"If you are to help" the Lord seemed to tell her,"you must do it in My way, not in your own way."

"You mean, Lord," she said, wincing, "as a...servant?"

"And a very lowly one."

"Lord, may I say, 'Total bummer' here?" she asked.

Well, she did what the Lord asked, and miracle of miracles, the family has been successfully reconciled!

With continued prayer and service, healing can begin.


Thank you for that. A successful witness is better by far than any amount of theory to show the strength of a course of action.





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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on January 14, 2005 8:28 AM.

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