Called to Serve
The moment Mary comes to know that her cousin Elizabeth is pregnant she leaves her home to assist and help Elizabeth and she stayed with her for six months. At the wedding at Cana she comes to the rescue of the Bridegroom who runs short of wine, at the foot of the cross John is entrusted to Mary, and we can assume that Mary would have played a perfect host to Jesus and his disciples as he paid visits to his mother.
Mary was not a bystander. She got involved. She was moved to act. Jesus, her son was no different from her. Gospels chronicle incidents where seeing the need/sufferings of others Jesus was moved with compassion to act and he responded in three ways.
those who approached him on their own requesting healing (Bartimaeus, the woman with the hemorrhage, the ten lepers …)
those who came to him asking for help/healing on behalf of others (Mary at the wedding at Cana, the four friends with the paralytic, the Centurion, Jairus, the synagogue leader, the Canaanite woman, …)
and those to who Jesus himself reached out to help and to heal (Jesus feeding the people, the Samaritan woman, the man born blind, the man at the pool, the widow of Nain, …)
The important point here is not so much how and who initiated the healing process but in the face of suffering Jesus does not remain a bystander but reaches out to people to alleviate their suffering. But the humanness and compassion of Jesus in the face of human suffering comes out very clear and loud when Jesus himself reaches out to suffering people even before they could plead for help. That’s the nature of God. Isn’t that what Mary too did when she goes to help Elizabeth and when she asks Jesus to do something at the wedding at Cana? A follower of Jesus cannot be an indifferent bystander in the face of suffering. Spirituality, in its truest sense, is at the meeting point of both the beams of the cross. Isn’t this the meaning of Christian love: love of God and love of neighbor are an expression of the one reality, love; another name for God?
Philip Yancey in his book, The Jesus I Never Knew underscores the link between The Last Judgment Parable (The Sheep and the Goats) and Jesus’ promise that his presence will be with them to the end of the world: “… whatever you do to the least of my brethren you do it for me.” God is present to us in various and manifold ways but existentially and concretely God is present in the poor and the suffering. Mother Teresa once said to a rich visitor, “First we meditate on Jesus, and then we go out and look for him in disguise.” The Sisters of Charity are expected to spend an hour before the Blessed Sacrament before they go out to the streets; to behold Jesus. The challenge is to behold the God we encounter in our places of worship, and in the faces of the poor and the suffering. For most of us to believe in Jesus in the Blessed Sacrament is not an issue but to behold his bloody face in others especially the poor and the suffering is really difficult. At times it is easy to believe in Jesus whom we don’t see than in Jesus whom we can see in others. Even the apostolate of the enclosed contemplatives is to be involved with the world in a way that is in line with their vocation. Ruth Burrows, a cloistered nun, writes:
… The fact remains that I do not think I could be so utterly happy as to forget that others are unhappy; the sorrow of others must always darken our lives and this, I think, is as it should be.I also began to realize that we, in Carmel, share the inner sufferings of the world outside.
…. When I set myself before God it was as the representative of a multitude, or rather, I held the multitude in my heart.
… when one is open to God one is opening the world to God; when one is totally surrendered, everyone else is more surrendered too. If I let God take hold of me more
and more; possess me, as fire possesses the burning log, then I give off light and heat to the whole world even though the influence be completely hidden.
If we believe in the ‘Universal Call to Holiness’ than no matter what our walk of life is, as disciples of Christ, all of us are called to a life of holiness in beholding and worshipping Jesus not just in the places of worship but everywhere especially in the poor and the suffering. If our worship of God is limited only to places of worship than it is an un-Christian and incomplete worship. Let us harken to the words of the prophet from the Old Testament:
What do I care for the multitude of your sacrifices? says the LORD. I have had enough of whole-burnt rams and fat of fatlings; in the blood of calves, lambs, and goats I find no pleasure. When you come to appear before me, who asks these things of you? Trample my courts no more! To bring offerings is useless; incense is an abomination to me. New moon and sabbath, calling assemblies— festive convocations with wickedness— these I cannot bear. Your new moons and festivals I detest; they weigh me down, I tire of the load. When you spread out your hands, I will close my eyes to you; though you pray the more, I will not listen. Your hands are full of blood! Wash yourselves clean! Put away your misdeeds from before my eyes; cease doing evil; learn to do good. Make justice your aim: redress the wronged, hear the orphan’s plea, defend the widow. (Is 1: 11- 17; also cf. Amos 5:21-24).
Equally strong are the words of Rabindranath Tagore:
Leave this chanting and singing and telling of beads! Whom dost thou worship in this lonely dark corner of a temple with doors all shut? Open thine eyes and see thy God is not before thee!
He is there where the tiller is tilling the hard ground and where the path-maker is breaking stones. He is with them in sun and in shower, and his garment is covered with dust. Put off thy holy mantle and even like him come down on the dusty soil!
Deliverance? Where is this deliverance to be found? Our master himself has joyfully taken upon him the bonds of creation; he is bound with us all forever.
Come out of thy meditations and leave aside thy flowers and incense! What harm is there if thy clothes become tattered and stained? Meet him and stand by him in toil and in sweat of thy brow.
God, who hears the cry of the poor, cannot reach out to the poor without the help of human beings. Through Jesus’ incarnation God reached out to us, God became flesh to touch our flesh. Christ’s incarnation is not a onetime event but whenever we reach out and touch the sufferings of others God is incarnated. St. Theresa captures it beautifully:
Christ has no body on earth but ours,
no hands but ours,
ours are the eyes through which the
compassion of Christ
looks out upon the world,
ours are the feet with which he
goes about doing good,
ours are the hands with which he
blesses his people.
Compassion is not a feeling of pity or a feeling of sympathy. It is a stir within the heart, a movement that results in an action. An action that is God like; at the sight of suffering being moved to act on one’s own rather than waiting to be asked for help. To ‘act’ even before acting. That was the spirituality of Jesus and Mary and so is ours too.
PS: This brings us to the end of the series on Mary: Her Courage to be Different. Hope it was helpful.