Association of Priests

Year of Priesthood XI
Vol. XVI, January 2010

Year of Priesthood VII: “I am a fellow servant” (Rev 22:9)

Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

In our last meditation St. Cyril of Alexandria showed us that “the angels and archangels make merry” over the Blessed Virgin Mary on whose account the “demons are put to flight; the devil, the tempter, is thrust down from heaven”. This surprises us and makes us reflect: Are not the angels much greater than man? Are we capable of having an adequate idea about the majesty and power, the intelligence or holiness of the angels? And then we hear, that the angels and demons are divided before the humble “handmade of the Lord”.

In his Catechesis on the angels John Paul II asked: “What can be the motive for such a radical and irreversible choice against God?” His answer was: All is “summed up concisely in the words: ‘I will not serve’ (Jer 2:20), which manifest the radical and irreversible refusal to take part in the building up of the kingdom of God in the created world” (July 23, 1986, 5). “To serve” or “not to serve” as the choice of the angels in their test, indicates the differentiating criteria of good and bad angels, of heaven and hell; it gives us the key to understanding the entire length of history, the depth of life with God, and what should be central in the life of priests.

1. Servants in the kingdom of God

Upon reflection, we realize - perhaps to our surprise - that every member of the Kingdom of God on earth characterizes himself by the service.

a) The Servant of Jahwe. Jesus Himself explained the reason for His Incarnation with these words: “For also the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mk 10:45). He took on the form of a servant, of a slave – doulos (cf. Phil 2,7), and lived as such all His days on earth: At the wedding in Cana, in spite of being an honored guest, he used his position to influence in order to serve. You see, the servants willingly followed his directions.

Similarly, on the Cross He cared for His mother’s future, and also took care to provide “his children” with a mother. And all the time in between He was continually serving all to the point that they said “He is beside himself.” (Mk 3:21) Jesus Himself tells His disciples after the most menial service of the washing of feet: “I am among you as one who serves” (Lk 22:27). It is just another illustration of His love “to the end” (Jo 13:1; cf. 1-17); it is inserted into his free surrender of His life for our redemption as “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (Jo 1:29) or, the “servant of Jahwe” (Is 42:1-7; etc.).

When we ponder Jesus’ life, example and teaching, we understand the conditions He gave for those who want to follow Him: “Whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be the slave of all” (Mk 10:43-44).

b) The “Handmaid of the Lord”. Before Jesus gave this clear orientation, and before He could give His example, His Mother declared herself a “servant – slave – ancilla - doule”: “Mary said, ‘Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.’ And the angel departed from her” (Lk 1:38) with this declaration. More with her life than with words, we find Our Lady in this servant-attitude. As she said “Yes!” to the Will of God, so she said “Yes!” to the indirect invitation to help Elisabeth; she said “Yes!” to any further wish of God as we know very well from her life. And she continues to serve from heaven His Mystical Body, the Church, even “until the eternal fulfillment of all the elect” (CCC 696).

c) The “servants of God”

Our Lady passed on what she recognized to be the most righteous attitude before the Lord: “His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever He tells you’.” (Jo 2:5). However, still afterwards, twice the disciples showed a contrary attitude and discussed about the first place among them. Jesus needed to instruct them on this fundamental point (cf. Lk 9:46; 22:24). In time, with the help of the Holy Spirit, they all recognized what they really were: “Simeon Peter, a servant and apostle of Jesus Christ” (2Pe 1:1); “James, a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ” (James 1,1); and John, as God had sent “His angel to His servant John” (Rev 1:1). St. Paul, “a servant of Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:1), even explains what this title means: Similar to His Master, he says: “I have made myself a slave to all, that I might win the more … I have become all things to all men, that I might by all means save some” (1Cor 9:19,22; cf. Mt 10:24f.; Jo 13:16). Since St. Gregory I (590-604) the successors of St. Peter call themselves “Servant of servants”, and we are already familiar with the sacramental priesthood as “ministerial priesthood” (cf. II Vaticanum, Lumen Gentium # 10).

2. Angels as servants

Besides these clear testimonies and unanimous attitude of all members of the Kingdom of God, we may still wonder how the holy angels, these pure spirits, abase themselves into such lowly ranks and call themselves “co-servaa) The historical testimony. A glance through the history of salvation shows them to us as servants, servants of God (cf. Gen 3:24; Ex 23:20ff. etc.) and in the service of men: One came to the aid of the despairing “Hagar, maid (ancilla) of Sarai”; he recognized her “slave-”position, and showed great sensitivity; nevertheless, he sent her back to serve: “Return to your mistress, and submit to her” (Gen 16:9). The angels as messengers bring the Word of God to man, instructing and enlightening him; in almost all other instances, they seem to be there just to help and protect man. Whether we think of Abraham and Lot, of Moses and Joshua, of Gideon and Samson; David, or Elijah; the angels are attending to their needs at the command of God. And when we ask about their presence in the New Testament, we read in St. Matthew, that “angels came and ministered to Him,” that is, to Jesus (Mt 4:11), and this relationship remains true in all phases of His life. Similarly, we read in the Acts how the angels helped the persecuted apostles in prison, helped the deacon Philip and the first Pope Peter (cf. Acts 5:19f.; 8:26,39; 12:7ff etc.). This help also continues down to the present day and till the end of time. St. Paul lends it the right rhetorical form: “Are they not all ministering spirits sent in service for the sake of those who are to obtain salvation?” (Hb 1:14)

b) The fellow-servant of man. The angel’s self-identification and declaration to St. John on Patmos in the course of the revelation of the Apocalypse eipitomizes the angels’ ministry: “I am a fellow servant with you and your brethren who hold the testimony of Jesus” (Rev 19:9-10; cf. 22:9). The angel called himself “fellow-servant” or “co-servant – syn-doulos”. This we find illustrated in history too:

The angel can only offer his help to man, but the latter has to collaborate as we see with Lot (cf. Gen 19) or Elija (cf. 1Kgs 19:4-7).

Then, the angel can also include man in his service. For example, an angel wanted and brought it about that Habakuk bring the meal to Daniel (cf. Dan 14:31-39).

Finally: The angel wants man to be one with him in the service, first in the adoration of God: “Worship God!”; then also in the contemplation of God (cf. Mt 18:10) and the assistance of the poor and sick (cf. Lk 22:43).

3. To serve and love…

This brings us finally to the question: What does it mean to serve? Why does it become the universal and constant characteristic of all the holy members of the Body of Christ? Did Jesus not change the servants into His friends when He said, “You are My friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from My Father I have made known to you” (John 15:14-15).

a) Three characteristics. St. Thomas Aquinas commented on this phrase (cf. Super Ioannem, Marietti 2015, 1783): The free man acts out of himself and for himself, the slave acts either out of fear for his lord or out of love and then becomes his friend. A good servant does the will of his lord out of love (cf. Lk 12:42-48); he fears to fail in doing the beloved’s will. In this sense, a father serves his family out of love. A Bishop said: I asked the Lord for the grace to love the people of my diocese that I may serve them best. And so will it be with us priests: The more we love the souls entrusted to us, the better we will serve them, and they will love us in response.

Pope Benedict remarked three characteristics of a “servant” at an Episcopal ordination (Homily on Sept. 12, 2009):

- A servant has to renounce and forget himself (in silence);

- he has to dispose himself, his time and talents to others, not imposing, but patiently waiting, attentively watching and listening to the other’s wish; and thus, once called,

- he will do what his lord asks; the more the servant loves his lord, that more perfect his will will become one with that of his lord. A perfect servant will be a real loving person, for “the ‘yes’ of our will to His will unites our intellect, will and sentiments in the all- embracing act of love” (Benedict XVI, Deus Caritas est, 17).

b) “Servant” – the highest title of honour.”

We can say in short: Perfect love is manifest in perfect service. It seems that the Fathers saw this already, because St. Gregory of Nyssa wrote: “The goal of the sublime way of life is being called a servant of God” (The Life of Moses, no 317; e.g. Num 12:7,8). He said it of Moses: “When one has accomplished such noble actions, he is considered worthy of this sublime name, to be called servant of Yahweh. Which is the same as saying that he is better than all others” (Ibid., 314).

Benedict XVI said further about the servant, pointing out to Jesus’ example on earth: It is “the innermost core of Jesus Christ’s mission and at the same time the true essence of His Priesthood. Thus, He made the term ‘servant’ His highest title of honour. … Jesus does not come in the guise of a master of this world but the One who is the true Master comes as a servant. His Priesthood is not dominion but service: this is the new Priesthood of Jesus Christ, in keeping with Melchizedek” (Homily on Sept. 12, 2009).

4. Dear Brothers in the Priesthood!

“Bless the LORD, all his hosts, his ministers that do His will!” (Ps 103:21) What we may have thought to have become in the NT Kingdom of Love, we find it to be not only very much present, but it is almost the most sublime title of the highest members of the Church, namely of Jesus Himself, of Our Lady, the apostles and holy Angels. As almost a synonym for love we will reflect more on this. In the meantime, let us reflect about our love and service in the priestly mission, especially about our co-operation with the holy angels in it, about their presence, our openness and invitation of them and their influence, because the daily renewal of our covenant with the holy angels is part of the commitment in the Confraternity of the Guardian Angels.

Fr. Titus Kieninger, ORC