29th Sunday in Ordinary Time (B)
World Mission Sunday

Antonio P. Pueyo
Reproduced with Permission

“Servire, non serviri,” to serve not to be served. This theme runs through all the readings this Sunday. As we celebrate World Mission Sunday, let us be inspired by the story of that great missionary who was proclaimed a saint by Pope Benedict last Sunday, Fr. Damien the leper. His life and his work illustrate what is meant by missionary service.

Action starter: Self-fulfillment and self-expression are completed by self-giving.

In the words of Pope Benedict VI, “ Jozef De Veuster, who in the Congregation of the Sacred Hearts of Jesus and Mary received the name of Damien, when he was twenty-three years old, in 1863, left his home in Flanders (Belgium) to proclaim the Gospel on the other side of the world, the Hawaiian Islands. His missionary activity, which gave him so much joy, reaches its summit in charity. Not without fear and repugnance, he chose to go to the Island of Molokai to serve the lepers who were there, abandoned by all; thus he exposed himself to the disease they suffered from. He felt at home with them. The Servant of the Word thus became a suffering servant, a leper with lepers, during the last four years of his life.”

Fr. Damien worked among the lepers when he was thirty-three years old. He organized them, ministered to them, taught them how to farm and raise animals, and encouraged them to build their homes and a church. Six years later, he caught the disease and he died at the young age of forty-three. He dramatically announced his own illness when he began a homily with the words, “we lepers.” He became one of them, just as Jesus’ oneness with humanity is described in the second reading today, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to symphatize with our weaknesses, but one who has similarly been tested in every way, yet without sin” (Heb. 4:15).

Like the Suffering Servant described in the first reading, Fr. Damien served through his own suffering (Is. 53:11). This was the lesson that Jesus was trying to teach His own disciples. Occassioned by the request of the brothers James and John for places of honor when he establishes His reign, Jesus told His disciples, “Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all. For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:42).

When I was younger, I was a graduation speaker in a small college and as usually happens in these commencement exercises, I was extolling hard work and consistency of effort to achieve one’s goals. I ended with the exhortation, “Soar high like an eagle. Don’t just be looking at the ground like a chicken. You are meant to be eagles, not chickens.”

I was rather proud of my speech. When the activity was over, a teacher who was quietly listening approached me and ask, “Father, what is wrong with being a chicken? Don’t eagles eat chickens?”

Good question. Are we teaching our young ones to be eagles so that they can eat the chickens? Are we teaching them to achieve wealth, honor, and power without the corresponding virtues of compassion and human-heartedness? Do we teach people to achieve power without the exercise of responsibility?