32. The Spirit of Mission and Service
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All our ministries are expressions of our community life; they are carried out in the name of the whole Society, supported by its prayers and the labors of those who carry on the other regular work of our daily life. All of us share in the graces that flow from them. While strictly respecting the confidentiality that covers many aspects of our work, we should share the rest of our experiences in ministry with one another so that we can appreciate them and give praise to God together. Wherever possible we shall go out on mission in twos and threes rather than singly so that we can express our companionship in ministry.
Certain brothers bear their part in our mission chiefly by sustaining the life of the community with their work, witness and prayer at home. It is important to express our awareness of their vital role within the body. This sense of our interdependence and equality will be especially important for the infirm and elderly.
Christ has promised that if we abide in him, and consent to his skillful pruning, we shall bear fruit that abides. If the results of our labors are to last, we need to root our endeavors in Christ and draw on our intimacy with him. This involves prayer for ourselves and for those whose lives we have the opportunity to touch. Knowing that grace is powerful in weakness, we hand over to Christ any anxiety about our own adequacy. We are to trust our own experience of God and draw directly from it so that our witness can be authentic. We also need to let go of any grasping for immediate results; much of what the grace of God achieves through us will be entirely hidden from our eyes. We also expect to experience failures. Some of these contain lessons that can help us become more skillful in the future. Other failures are means by which we enter further into the mystery of discipleship; we are not greater than the master, and many went on their way without accepting his words or deeds.
If we give freely of ourselves, we should expect abundant gifts in return, according to Christ’s promise. We should enter into our ministries expecting to receive as much or more than we can give. Christ will make himself known to us in wonderful ways in those we serve, especially in those who suffer and are poor in spirit. Ministry itself will draw out from us gifts, insights and strengths that we never knew we had. We will be continually taught, humbled, surprised and stretched. Ministry is itself a vital means of our conversion by Christ and its disciplines are central to our asceticism. We must also expect power to go out of us in ministry and to experience fatigue that may sometimes be severe. Seasons of rest and relief are important for individual brothers and the whole community.
The three chapters of the Rule which deal with ministry, while describing the work of the Brothers, have an importance for those of us who live in the world. We are all called, sometimes to our surprise, to certain ministries, and we are all called on, sometimes to the point of feeling taxed beyond our powers. It is then that we can lean on the wisdom of the Rule, learning how to pray ourselves into an appropriate ‘yes’ or ‘no’, learning how to find the balance between what we can do and what we can’t, and placing in God’s hands daily those whom we cannot serve ourselves.
I find helpful the tangible, specific ways offered of knowing how to act in God’s service, and whether we are. If we abide in Christ and consent to his pruning, we shall bear fruit that abides. This requires prayer. We are to draw directly from our own experience of God to witness authentically. We need to be patient for results and not be surprised when we experience failures as they too are instructive and part of the process. If we give freely of ourselves, we will receive abundant reward.