A Servant Leadership

Jesus, the Model Servant Leader

Reflecting on this weekend readings, I came across an article I read a few days ago titled: “Jesus: The Role Model for Christian Leadership” written by Thorsten Grahn on 08/11/2011. Some parts of it could be useful for our reflection this weekend.

“Jesus submitted his own life to sacrificial service under the will of God (Luke 22:42), and he sacrificed his life freely out of service for others (John 10:30). He came to serve (Matthew 20:28) although he was God’s son and was thus more powerful than any other leader in the world. He healed the sick (Mark 7:31-37), drove out demons (Mark 5:1-20), was recognized as Teacher and Lord (John 13:13), and had power over the wind and the sea and even over death (Mark 4:35-41; Matthew 9:18-26).

In John 13:1-17 Jesus gives a very practical example of what it means to serve others (see also “The King Who Led With a Towel”). He washes the feet of his followers, which was properly the responsibility of the house-servant. Examination of this passage shows that:

1. Jesus’ basic motivation was love for his followers (v. 1).
2. Jesus was fully aware of his position as leader (v. 14). Before the disciples experienced him as their servant, they had already experienced him many times before as Master, and as a strong and extremely powerful leader.
3. Jesus voluntarily becomes a servant to his followers (v. 5-12). He did not come primarily as their foot washer, but he was ready to do this service for his followers if needed.
4. Jesus wants to set an example for his followers to follow (v. 14-15).

From the teaching and example of Jesus Christ we learn that being a servant leader in the most general sense means being:

• A voluntary servant, who submits themselves to a higher purpose, which is beyond their personal interests or the interests of others,
• A leader who uses the power that is entrusted to them to serve others,
• A servant who, out of love, serves others needs before their own,
• A teacher who teaches their followers, in word and deed, how to become servant leaders themselves”.

Are we willing to learn from Jesus how to be good leaders in our own community?

“Evangelical Poverty is a Call for Everyone”

When I was reading this weekend Gospel, I remembered a friend who came with the whole family to Sydney to attend the son’s graduation at UTS. After graduation I had a chance to meet them and took them around to see some exotic places in New South Wales and Canberra. Since they were very much involved in the parish where they come from, they would know about priests. One of the comments addressed to me was, oh so you are religious therefore you have the vow of poverty, meanwhile diocesan priests have no vow of poverty. I said yes and no. Yes, I took that vow but “evangelical poverty” is addressed to everyone not just religious.

That is precisely what Jesus said in the Gospel today. At the end of his conversation with a man (not with a religious), he said: “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the Kingdom of God” (Mark 10:24). This doesn’t mean that people who have things are not worthy for the kingdom of God. What I explained to those friends of mine was that it is not about having things, but it is about allowing things to own us. And this message is to each one of us not just for those who pronounce their three religious vows publicly. Evangelical poverty frees us from “being owned” & “competing desire”: (Mat 4:20 – The disciples left everything). Mere things must not own us or block us from hearing divine call (Mat 19:16-30 – rich young man went away sad).

Evangelical poverty also helps me to have an attitude of solidarity. Mother Teresa of Calcutta once said: “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty”. And solidarity is the way to remedy this poverty.

“Good News”

The “Word of God” is also called “Good News” or in Greek εὐαγγέλιον • (euangélion). Reading the gospel of this weekend, especially the passage:

“ …if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell” (Mark 9:45-47).

I stopped for a while and thought: “is this what we call good news? Isn’t it that good news brings joy, peace, comfort and hope?” These couple of questions were with me for a couple of days until I had a great opportunity to be in solitude at Mount Schoenstatt Spirituality Centre in Mulgoa last Thursday afternoon. I brought up these two questions in my prayer. Then I felt strange that my memory went to a man who was my parishioner in 1993. At that time, I had some differences with some parishioners and I tended to show my “power” in dealing with them. I was even a bit arrogant which did not help to solve the problem, instead it made things worse. This wise man had the courage to talk to me and in our conversation he “challenged” me by saying: “Father probably you did not pray enough”. I was shocked with this kind of comment. I did not say anything but after sometime I realized that my prayer life was really dry. He had shot a bullet into my very “core issue”. And his “challenge” had become good news for me to shape up and be renewed.

At the end of my prayer in Mulgoa, I came to realize that “Good news is about peace, joy, comfort and hope, but also a challenge to bring the best out of oneself”. Jesus’ words today are not a condemnation or curse, instead they challenge us to shape up and to bring the best out of ourselves for the better world.

Dear Parishioners,

We just successfully hosted the MSC APIA (Asia Pacific Islands and Australasia) Mass and dinner on the 17 September 2018. I was congratulated by various groups, MSCs, parishioners and guests for this successful event. Most of them said: “Well done Alo”. I was feeling good for a few days. Reading this weekend‘s Gospel, I felt something different within me. The good feeling turned to a kind of embarrassment, since knowing that all the works were done by various people not just “me”. The disciples of Jesus argued about who is the greatest among them. Jesus came up with a very clear answer to that matter. He said: “If anyone wants to be first, he must make himself last of all and servant of all”.

Looking back at the recent event I mentioned above, I would like to say that those best wishes shouldn’t be addressed to me, instead to those who have been at service for the event. They are the greatest for being servants for others and making the event a successful one. Therefore, I sincerely thank those who have been planning, preparing, contributing and working tirelessly for that event. They are Liturgy Committee (Lena and friends), Mission and Outreach Committee (Jan Nicholas and friends), Building and Maintenance Committee (Claude Khoury, Stephen Chiew and friends), donors like Niji Restaurant and personal donors who have donated money, drinks and food. Those who gave their time to decorate the church and the hall like Sr Carmel OLSH. Those who were part of the liturgy such as John Allen (Smoking Ceremony), Henry Martin from OLR Primary School, OLSH College Choir, Patricia Reyes, Lily Murcutt, Moon Dunlop, Ricardo Sanchez and Jane Marmotta, Indonesian Community Angklung Choir, Amanda Janturi and the young Indonesian liturgical dancers, John, Susana and granddaughter (Tongan Family), Maria who worked behind the scenes and all others who helped.

You are all great among us. I sincerely and humbly thank you for your dedication and commitment to the life of the parish. Well done. Good on you.

“Khoi Nguyen MSC, New Shepherd of God’s Flock”

We are blessed to have one of God’s servants to be ordained a priest to the Catholic Church. Fr Khoi Nguyen MSC has responded to God’s call to be missionary of His Heart. Khoi’s ordination to the priesthood reminds us of our own call to be God’s people and to be shepherds in our own way of life. Priesthood is only one of the ways of shepherding God’s flock. However, in the midst of our secular society, responding to the radical call to leave everything to follow Jesus is a big step. We congratulate Khoi for such a big decision.

While thanking and congratulating Khoi, we also thank God for looking after “his flock” by sending shepherds in the middle of little hope. Inspired by Prophet Jeremiah, Pope John Paul II in his Apostolic Exhortation “Pastores Dabo Vobis” which means “I will give you shepherds after my own heart” (Jer. 3:15), said: “In these words from the prophet Jeremiah, God promises his people that he will never leave them without shepherds to gather them together and guide them: “I will set shepherds over them [my sheep] who will care for them, and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed” (Jer. 23.4)”.

Today we are witnessing that God’s promise through Prophet Jeremiah has been fulfilled. Some people may say that being a shepherd is not necessarily limited to the call of priesthood. And I agree with that since we could see so many people who are playing the role of shepherd in our families, communities, and the society at large. It doesn’t reduce the meaning of the prophet’s message: “I will send you shepherds”.

As we particularly thank God for the gift of Khoi, we pray that his priesthood will be a blessing for God’s flock. That he may be a good shepherd, a priest who is sanctifying; a prophet who is proclaiming the Good News and King who is governing God’s flock with a compassionate heart.

Congratulations Khoi…..Good on you!

“Hidden Potentials of a Father”

A young lady goes overseas to see one of her parents who is sick and at the same time she would like to have a break. She was worry about her husband who she left behind with two beautiful children who are still in primary school. Now the husband has to do things that his wife usually does such as preparing meals for the family especially the lunch boxes for children, making sure that they study at certain times and some other housework. Interestingly that the husband would do those things even though he never did them when his wife was around. There are few possibilities why he didn’t do those things when the wife was around: firstly, maybe he did not know how to do those things, or secondly, he wouldn’t bother to do so since his wife could do, thirdly, because he is too busy with his work, so there is no time for that or fourthly, because he knows that his wife would do better that him. For the last reason, then we would say that the husband has hidden potentials. Therefore, we shouldn’t undermine Father’s role in our family.

Today we celebrate Fathers’ Day. A day of thanks for having a father as a special gift from God. They may not do things like mothers do, but they have played different roles in the family. Fathers are caring, protecting, supporting, patient and forgiving.

Children depend on their fathers for their spiritual, emotional, physical, financial and social well-being. Therefore, the role of father is to demonstrate a positive role model. Daughters see their fathers as the ideal man they intend to marry. Equally, for sons, a father is seen to be a ‘man of honour’ they intend to imitate as they grow older. Let’s remember fathers in our prayers every day. They deserve that.

“God our Father,
in your wisdom and love you made all things.
Bless those fathers who have taken upon themselves, the responsibility of parenting.
Bless those who have lost a spouse to death … or divorce
who are parenting their children alone.
Strengthen them by your love that they may be and become
the loving, caring persons they are meant to be.
Grant this through Christ our Lord. Amen
Many times we think of single mother’s raising children, but there are also many single father’s raising children,….today we honor and pray for them, along with all the fathers this special day”.

“Stop Complaining, Be Grateful”

Sr Hiam Boroi, a good shepherd nun was my class mate when I did my Spiritual Director training in the Heart Spirituality Centre in Melbourne. Before she came to do the training, she worked for years in some parts of Middle-Eastern countries during war time. We can imagine that living and working in the middle of a war, we would indeed face some difficulties and we could even lose our life as well. While doing the course, she was staying with her community. She found the facilities were entirely luxurious and yet she continuously heard complaints from a couple of sisters who were not happy with things in the house such as not enough butter, cheese, bread and poor air conditioning during summer. For Sr Hiam, having a three course meal every day was like living in a king’s palace.

I was a missionary in Kiribati Islands a few years ago. Once a month I went to an island to say mass. The whole island would come to attend the mass. They were so happy to have a mass even only once a month. There were no complaints at all. It was contrary to the story of my priest friend who works in a parish in Australia together with two other priests from overseas. Instead of appreciating what the priests do in the parish; some parishioners always have something to complain about the priests. A lady parishioner came one day to say to the parish priest: “We have to pray hard”. The priest asked: “why?” The lady said: “We have to pray for more white priests. I hardly understand those two other priests”. The parish priest was so angry and said: “You should be grateful to have a priest saying mass to you. In some other parts of the world, people do not have mass for months even years”.

The gospel today tells us about Jesus who asked the Jews to stop complaining. They should open their eyes to the presence of God in Jesus. Jesus is asking us to have a positive attitude. There is a woman who always develops a very positive attitude towards things. She says:

“Lord, thank you for this sink of dirty dishes, we have plenty of food to eat. Thank you for this pile of dirty laundry, we have plenty of nice clothes to wear. And I would like to thank you, Lord, for those unmade beds. They were so warm and so comfortable last night. I know that many have no bed. My thanks to you, Lord, for this bathroom, complete with all the splattered mirrors, soggy towels and dirty lavatory. They are so convenient. Thank you for this finger-smudged refrigerator that needs defrosting so badly, it has served us faithfully for many years. It is full of enough leftovers for a few meals. Thank you, Lord, for this oven that absolutely must be cleaned today. It has baked so many things over the years. Lord, the presence of all these chores awaiting me says you have richly blessed my family. I shall do them all cheerfully and I shall do them gratefully. (Author Unknown)”

“Kingdom of God is like a Mustard Seed”

I did a funeral last week for a person who was the co-founder of “Reiki Training” in Australia and New Zealand. He used to travel to give classes around Sydney, Melbourne, Tasmania and New Zealand. Lots of his students attended the funeral. There was a beautiful choir from a charismatic prayer group which his wife is also a part of. When I came home from the funeral I received a text message from a person expressing her unsatisfactory concern about the content of some parts of the “eulogy” done by the deceased’s students. She said: “It is inappropriate to advertise Reiki during a funeral”. Reading the text message, I tried to recall those eulogies at that funeral. I did not recall any form of advertisement of Reiki. The main point of their sharing was about the deceased’s tenderness and love as the focus of the Reiki. He has touched hundreds of hearts with his tenderness and attentive heart.

Reading this weekend’s gospel, I am confronted with the fact that we might not see any good result or progress of the mustard seed in terms of decreasing number of Catholics in Australia as well as the number of Catholics practicing their faith (weekend mass attendance). However, I am gladdened at the same time with the way of life of people that touch lots of hearts like the deceased person I mentioned above. A young married lady who was not allowed to work by her wealthy husband experienced great loneliness. Every day she takes her dog to comfort dying cancer patients at St Vincent Hospital. She can escape from loneliness by comforting the dying. She has touched the hearts of many of the dying. I am glad to see that the mustard seeds have given fruits to the world by loving people around us, because the kingdom of God is not just measured by the number of people going to Mass, but also how people experience love and share love with others.

I may quote from Sunday Missal book concerning our theme today:

“The church is nourished in its growth by the Eucharist and the word of God (Mass). The church is like a growing tree, already bearing fruit and giving comfort (touching hearts of our world)”.

CORPUS CHRISTI

This weekend we celebrate the Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ or Corpus Christi. Every time we celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi, my immediate thought goes to the children who are to receive their First Holy Communion. They have a great sense of excitement and curiosity. Apart from the awareness that they are going to receive Jesus, they consistently ask about the taste of the ‘host’, which is natural for children their age. The term Corpus Christi (Latin) refers to the “Body and Blood of Christ” which is Christ’s life given for us. What does this feast mean for us?

Firstly, it refers to the celebration of the Eucharist, which we celebrate with Christ and the Christian community. This Eucharistic celebration is not just a memorial or remembrance of Jesus’ own suffering, death and resurrection, but also our own (and the community’s) experience suffering, loss/death, and resurrection. Secondly, it is a proclamation of Christ as the “Bread of Life” given for the world. Therefore, we as Christians are a community that are to be that life-giving bread for the world.

How can I personally be life-given for the world? Husbands, wives, and parents, when dedicating their lives to nurturing their families are life-givers. When priests or vowed-religious commit their life in totality for the service of others, they are life-givers. When a person working in public service carries out their duties with honesty and integrity, they are life-givers. When a student puts energy and time into their studies in preparation for a future of service beyond themselves, they are life-givers.

I know that we are all innately good people, and that we all try our best in our own way to be life-giving. May the Corpus Christi inspire us to continue being “Life-Givers” for the world.

“Let the Holy Spirit Win Us”

Reflecting on the work of the Holy Spirit as we celebrate the Solemnity of Pentecost this Sunday, I asked about how the Holy Spirit allows violence like the several bomb attacks in Surabaya, Indonesia. “How can God be so cruel to allow parents to use their children to kill themselves and others brutally?” A similar question would be applied to myself, “Where was God today?” or “How was God moving in my life?” “Is God absent when bad things happen to me and to the world?”

Saint Ignatius the founder of the Jesuit Order has contributed to the church with what we call “Spiritual Exercises”. Discernment is an important part of his spiritual exercises. Discernment would help us to know the works of the good spirit which are different to the works of the bad spirit. And we know that the good spirit gives us consolation (different from happiness) and moves us closer to God. It may sting our conscience when we know we’re getting far away from God. The evil spirit, on the other hand, does the opposite.

Ignatius believed that good and evil are constantly battling to win our fidelity. And the evil would be willing to appear good in order to win us over. Jesus experienced this in the desert when the devil tempted him. Bill Barry, SJ once said: “[the evil spirit] brings good and holy thoughts attractive to such an upright soul and then strives little by little to get his own way, by enticing the soul over to his own hidden deceits and evil intentions.” (Bill Barry, SJ’s article on the evil spirit). I suppose that those terrorists who killed innocent people in the name of a certain religion are guided by the bad spirit to gain a false utopia of heaven.

The celebration of Pentecost today is a celebration of the good spirit winning over the bad spirit. It could be reflected on the fact that the disciples of Jesus became fearless, being filled with the Spirit to speak in different languages and having great zeal of mission. It marked also the beginning of the foundation of the church. Therefore, be open to the Holy Spirit and let the good spirit win. Don’t give any space to the bad spirit. We pray also that people all over the world may be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.