On Power and Service

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“But woe to you Pharisees! You love the front seats in synagogues and greetings in the market places. Woe to you! You are like secret graves over which people stroll unaware. . . . Woe to you lawyers! You pile loads on people that are hard to carry, and yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers.”
Luke 11: 43-4; 46

We appreciate and embrace the lay character of our Congregation rooted in the Roman Catholic Church. From our place within the Church, we live in solidarity and availability among the people, freely renouncing any sense of power or prestige, and striving to witness to the ideals of the first gospel community.
“A Description of the Charism as Lived by the Brothers”

In his commentary on this section of Luke’s gospel, the scholar Luke Timothy Johnson writes:

Underlying the specifics of Luke’s version . . . we detect a central understanding of leadership as service which in his eyes the Pharisees and lawyers have failed. Seeking first places in synagogues and greetings in the market places are only the most obvious symptoms of an attitude of self-aggrandizement. . . . The ‘”love of God” should lead them to the doing of “justice” by sharing their possessions with others.

In our struggle between “flesh” and “spirit” that St. Paul describes in Galatians, we are constantly losing the discerning distinction between what Martin Buber called the “it” and the “Thou,” between seeing the other as one I “work on” or as one that I reverence and accompany.

The spirituality of “brotherhood” and “sisterhood” is one in which we attempt to constantly remember “our place” as one among and with all others. The philosopher Louis Lavelle points out that “there is no influence that is not full of dangers. There is no person, even when that person endeavors to give to others what is best in her/him, who is absolutely sure of not wanting to dominate them.” At every turn even those who wish to dedicate themselves in service to others are threatened by the largely unconscious tendency to see themselves as superior to those whom they are to “set straight” in one way or another, that is, to come to see even those they serve as the “objects” of their help.

It is a great gift to receive professional training and education by which one is better prepared to be of service to others. But, it is also very difficult, once titled or professionalized, not to experience oneself as of a different order from those who do not possess those titles or training. What Johnson terms “servant leadership” is not merely the act of being of service to others from a place of power and position, but rather of being with in solidarity and availability. A spirituality of brotherhood and sisterhood is essentially a spirituality, as Pope Francis has said, of being present among persons and to a changing world in the mode of a listening that serves the emerging spiritual direction of those persons and events.

One of the most basic acts of violence is to relate to the personal, to a “Thou”, as if it were an object, an “it.” At the point at which the other is merely the object of my functional capacity, when the other is something that I am “working on,” I am being present in a violent rather than reverent mode. It is difficult for human beings not to unconsciously appropriate reality as hierarchical, be it in the ecclesial, political, professional, or inter-relational worlds. But the teaching of Jesus is a constant challenge to this taken-for-granted attitude. A world that has largely lost its sense of the sacred, and so of the spiritual core of humanity, sorely needs communities of sisters and brothers who serve by witnessing “to the ideals of the first gospel community” where all was held in common and all were aware of sharing the same new life.

I do not know who coined the slogan of the French Revolution; (s)he must have been a person of rare insight. To the pair of opposites, Liberte and Egalite, irreconcilable in ordinary logic, (s)he added a third factor or force — Fraternite, brotherliness — which comes from a higher level. How do we recognize this fact? Liberty or equality can be instituted by legislative action backed by force, but brotherliness is a human quality beyond the reach of institutions, beyond the level of manipulation. It can be achieved only by individual persons, mobilizing their own higher forces and faculties, in short, becoming better people. “How do you make people become better?” That this is a question constantly being asked merely shows that the essential point is being missed altogether. Making people better belongs to the level of manipulation, the same level at which the opposites exist and where their reconciliation is impossible.

E. F. Schumacher, A Guide for the Perplexed, p. 124.

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