Reflection for Sunday, October 18th by John Rietschin
29th Sunday in Ordinary Time
For printable version: Reflection – Oct. 19th, 2015
When I realized that I had been asked to offer the reflection on the weekend prior to this year’s federal election, it set my head spinning. Certainly I knew that this was not an occasion to simply expound on my own political leanings. In the weeks leading up to a reflection, I always try to immerse myself in prayerful reflection on the Sunday readings. This time, I wondered, should I expect to receive a clear message through the scriptures signaling the Lord’s preferences on voting day? Perhaps I should examine the party platforms through the lens of the scripture texts—seeking coherence or contradiction with their message. As my preparation continued, I took the time to read the Canadian Catholic Bishops’ short document applying the words and thoughts of Pope Francis to our Canadian reality. Perhaps this exercise would lead to political enlightenment that I could share with all of you…but no…
As I continued to ponder the scriptures, I found myself drawn in a different direction. In today’s gospel story, James and John’s request to Jesus seems so obviously misguided that it scarcely bears any comment. How could they possibly misunderstand the Lord’s teaching so badly that they could ask to be placed at the centre of power and prestige in the kingdom that they imagined was coming? Yet, Jesus’s firm but kind response suggests that he did not see them or their request in such a bad light. He acknowledges their willingness to join in his mission but notes this does not lead to any special privileges.
In fact, the story really urges us to look inward and to examine our own desires and motivations. Are we content simply to live a life of service; to allow ourselves to be transformed by suffering and struggles to love our family members, our neighbors, our co-workers, even our government leaders? Or do we secretly long for and perhaps even expect human and divine recognition for our efforts? Which of us hasn’t at least occasionally wanted to be at the front of the room, accepting the admiration and applause of the crowd? It seems that Jesus recognized this very natural human tendency in James and John’s request. He gently challenged them, and us, to look more clearly at what it means to be called to ministry and to leadership.
I have been a part of the world-wide federation of L’Arche communities for almost twenty five years now. For the past several of those years, L’Arche in Canada has been developing a program on Servant Leadership. We have been asking ourselves what it means to be a leader. Two key insights have emerged. First, EVERYONE is called to servant leadership—whether you are a person with a disability, someone in a position of authority, or simply a member of the community—each one has gifts to share for the good of all. Second, leadership, if it is to be a service to others, must always bring us into relationship WITH those we are leading. Leadership is not a power trip. It is not a route to glory and honor and riches but it is a path to service and relationship.
Frequently, I have the joy of seeing this play out in real life here in the L’Arche Ottawa community. It happens as Michelle, one of our members with disabilities, starts us singing a very off-key rendition of grace before dinner because she knows everyone is hungry. It happens when another core member, Pierre, looks after his friend and housemate Harry who isn’t feeling well. It happens when a group of friends and assistants volunteer to plan and prepare a community meal. It happens when volunteer board members the community’s leaders wrestle with community finances.
I am pretty sure that each of you can cite many examples of servant leadership in your own lives. Whether it is in your family, among your friends, here at Saint Joe’s, at your workplace, in the community at large, or at the national level—we can, almost instinctively, recognize that spirit of service and of selflessness. Of course, like James and John, we may occasionally slip up a little bit. And we are perhaps a bit too quick to note when others don’t quite live up to the call. But Jesus is always there to show us how and to call us back to being servant leaders… if we will allow him to do that.
And isn’t this what we want most from our members of Parliament and our national leaders? Not to be perfect, or to be always right, but to be WITH those they serve in a spirit of humility. We want leaders with competence and clarity certainly—but most importantly we seek those who will serve.
I am sure that most of you know, St. Joseph, our parish patron saint is also the Patron Saint of Canada. I was touched a few weeks ago when I received an email from a friend urging all the Catholics in her address book to make a novena, praying to St. Joseph for a blessing on this year’s federal election. Included in her email was the text of a prayer that she had composed for this purpose. In closing, I invite all of us to pray it together.
Prayer to St. Joseph
For a blessing on this year’s Federal Elections*
O Saint Joseph, loving father, faithful guardian of Jesus
and spouse of the Mother of God,
our beautiful country, Canada,
has been consecrated to you from its very beginnings.
Just as Mary and Jesus recognized in you
the protector given to them by God,
so too we place ourselves under your protection.
We humbly ask you to intercede through the power of Jesus,
and obtain for us from the eternal God the grace
to choose the best possible team
of men and women to lead our country,
men and women who will be true leaders,
who are not going to be in government
for their own ego, personal advantage, or agenda,
but who will see themselves as servants of society
and will focus on the common good,
while working as wise stewards of the riches of our country,
in harmony with God’s design.
*Prayer composed by Marthe Lépine, Russell, Ontario