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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