Service and Sacrifice

Some time ago I received an email from an older Englishman who told me this story. He said, “When I started working at the bank in the 1960s, every Monday morning at the start of work my team leader would gather us in the conference room for a team meeting and he would close the meetings with this reminder, “Gentlemen, remember that your job here is simple. You are here to serve our customers and our shareholders. You are to good and wise stewards of their money. For this you will receive fair pay and benefits, but remember you are here to serve them, and not yourselves.” Then he would lead them in the Lord’s prayer.

What would our world be like if the standards of sacrifice and service were universal? There are plenty of businesses who extol the benefits of ‘customer service’…good for them, but there’s an ulterior motive. When have you heard, for example, any politician talking about public service or the desire to ‘serve his country’? When Harry Truman retired he and his wife went back to Missouri on the train to live in the little house they’d always lived in. He refused book deals and speaking gigs because he said he didn’t become president to get rich. They finally voted him a decent pension, but that attitude isn’t even on the radar today.

If we were to really live to serve others think how our own lives would change. So many of the people I see who are unhappy are all absorbed in themselves and their problems. What freedom they would achieve if they could only shift the focus and begin to serve others! What a transformation in our parishes, our families and our personal lives if we could only shift from my-myself and I to others. My Dad used to sing a corny little Sunday School song and annoy us: the words went like this: “Jesus and Others and You…What a Wonderful way to spell ‘Joy!’ Jesus and Others and You…In the hearts of each girl and each boy. ‘J’ is for Jesus for he has first place, ‘O’ is for others you see face to face. ‘Y’ is for you in whatever you do. Put yourself last and spell Joy.”

OK. It’s pretty lame, but I’m not disputing it. My Father had learned that lesson. He was always happy to see other people and had a simple sense of service about his life. That’s why he was a very popular person and why he was also a very successful businessman. This principle of service will bring joy to life.

Furthermore–it will bring you closer to Christ. The sentiment of that little Sunday School song is actually the heart of the gospel: These are the two great commandments–Love God and Love your Neighbor as yourself. The way you love God and Love your neighbor is not through sentimental feelings or warm cuddly-ness, but through service and sacrifice.

The problem is, I can’t do this on my own. My default setting is to be self centered. That’s how I’m wired. That’s how we’re all wired. The only way to change this is to change from the inside out, and the only way we can change on the inside, and change for good is through a supernatural infusion of grace, and the only way that happens is by drawing closer to God, and the only way that happens is through prayer, penance, sacrifice, self discipline and worship.

In other words, you have to climb the mountain. You have to engage in the beautiful struggle. You have to take up the cross and follow Christ in the way of service and sacrifice. If you do, one day you will not recognize your old self for you will have been transformed. The dust will have been made into diamonds.

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  • Amy

    Beautifully said, Father! Speaks directly to my heart and encourages me to daily take another step up that mountain.

  • Ramanie

    Thank you Father. I am going to share this. God Bless you

  • 42Oolon

    Wow, did you delete my comment? Why?

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    I delete comments that are too long or don’t make sense or are off the point or deliberately offensive. I don’t remember which of these yours was.

  • Thomas

    “through prayer, penance, sacrifice, self discipline and worship.” Wow simply said but very hard for some. I realize now that I have to start withmyself.

  • 42oolon

    Here is a short version. What is the distinction between service and sacrifice? I agree serving others is usually good, but the word “sacrifice” gives me pause. I think your sentiment works fine if we leave the word “sacrifice” out of it.

  • Fr. Dwight Longenecker

    Thank you for your comment. ‘Sacrifice’ is a word that is rich in meaning and mystery. Without it “service” is good but lacks depth.

  • 42oolon

    Certainly all selfless service to others comes at some cost in time or resources which could have been spent on self -serving enterprise. When does this become “sacrifice”? I would suggest it becomes “sacrifice”when we help others to the detriment to ourselves and thisnis not always a good thing. Eg “he provided great service by devoting his weekends to the cause (good) however, he had to sacrifice significant time with his kids (not so good)” make sense? I don’t see why you say “mystery” or why that would add anything positive.

  • Matt

    that J-O-Y thing may be lame, but it will sure come in handy with my kids!

  • Alister

    This is why I became a volunteer ambulance officer: to serve my community and the people around me, because I want to do it and for no expectation of a monetary reward.

    And since I’ve done it? I’ve learned that life is incredibly short and fragile, and that I get back ten times what I put in for feeling that I’m making a difference. Plus, all my problems seem smaller every day.

  • Mike

    I don’t think that businesses used terms such as ‘teams’ and ‘team leaders’ back in the 1960s. I think that there was far less of that silly modern business-speak around in those days. Back then you were simply a member of staff and the person in charge did not have a silly title such as team leader. Teams are what you get in sport. Business should not be confused with sport.

  • Bill B.

    In today’s analysis, to reference the U.S. Supreme Court a bit, the Cross is an “undue burden”. Hmmm. Therein lies the rub. “Burden”? Yes. “Undue”? I’m afraid not. We’d like to think and hope so, but, it’s a fallen world to which we contribute greatly, both knowingly and unknowingly. Sin is not an isolated matter. It has affected everything! Let us beg for Divine Mercy and pray we may be open to the infusion of Grace, His favor and His help.

  • Alex

    Quoting the New Advent Encl
    “In conformity with the usage of the inspired writers of the New Testament, theologians give the name mystery to revealed truths that surpass the powers of natural reason. Mystery, therefore, in its strict theological sense is not synonymous with the incomprehensible, since all that we know is incomprehensible, i.e., not adequately comprehensible as to its inner being; nor with the unknowable, since many things merely natural are accidentally unknowable, on account of their inaccessibility, e.g., things that are future, remote, or hidden. In its strict sense a mystery is a supernatural truth, one that of its very nature lies above the finite intelligence.”

    You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love (agape) your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love (agape) your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward have you?
    —Matthew 5:43-46

    A medic gives his life to save a comrade.
    A family risks housing people from a state enforced genocide
    A stranger jumps under a subway train to save a seizing man
    A martyr professes his love for Thou which gave him his/her very existence
    A mother gives birth to her child though she dies
    A soldier gives precious water to an enemy prisoner
    God understands sacrifice more than anyone E.G. the above quote and His crucifixion even in absolute innocence giving himself to save us from sin yet man despises His Truth.

    The man in your example is say compelled to serve the poor in the soup kitchen on weekends (good). But this would cause him to sacrifice time with his children (bad). Can he serve just on Sat or once month to increase time with his children? Perhaps increasing hours as his children aged? Why not bring the children to help serve the poor? Spending time on weeknights? While this may ‘nullify’ the sacrifice, he is giving to his children AND the poor.

    Lets say the man in your example has a responsibility to feed his children. Employment (good) requires that he work all the time in order to accomplish this (bad). But his children with the understanding of years will realize they were fed from all he could do and that he loved them (good).