“To Serve Is To Reign” Lumen Gentium #36
Soon after “lockdown” began here in Ireland, a friend of ours stopped by unexpectedly with food for us. When one of the sisters went to answer the door, our friend explained her inspiration for coming by. She said that her husband is working from home at this time, and her teenagers were all arguing over who was going to use which computer, and she went to try to find a quiet corner of the house. As she sat in the relative quiet, she thought, “I’m going to go do something for myself.” And the “something” that she came up with was to go shopping, but not the kind of shopping binge we normally think of. She put on her mask and gloves, went to stand in line at the shops, bought food and other helpful essentials, and delivered them to a few people who she thought would really need them (including us!). We’ve known her and her family for years, but this was the first time she’d done this for us. We were delighted and grateful. But while the items she got us have long been consumed, her story has really stayed with me. In Lumen Gentium, one of the documents from Vatican II, there is a line, “to serve is to reign.” This is what our friend was choosing in that quiet moment in her house.
In his apostolic letter Mulieris Dignitatem, Pope John Paul II references this same idea when he says, “Christ the ‘servant of the Lord,’ will show all people the royal dignity of service, the dignity which is joined in the closest possible way to the vocation of every person.” He then says, “For no human being, male or female, created in the image and likeness of God, can in any way attain fulfillment apart from this image and likeness.” Jesus Christ came among us as “one who serves.” In one confrontation with the Jewish leaders, He asked them, “For which of my good deeds do you wish to kill me?” His goodness, His service, His love made them uncomfortable; He is King. He teaches and shows us this royal dignity of service.
How can we serve in these strange times? One thing we all can do is make an offering of all our prayers, works, joys and sufferings each day, in our morning offering and throughout the day (there’s not much in our day that doesn’t fit into these categories!). Another thing we can try to do is to live lives of virtue, and we can practice that especially with the people we live with and are in contact with. They say that charity begins at home; perhaps a way for us to serve is to live with virtue. St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians gives us these familiar lines, which could be helpful to look at with greater attentiveness in light of our present circumstances. “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”
St. Francis says it very simply, “Hold back nothing of yourself for yourself.” He lived well before Vatican II expressed it, but I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to imagine him singing this sentiment throughout Assisi and the surrounding countryside, “To serve is to reign!” May we, too, echo these words in our own hearts and lives in whatever part of His Kingdom the Lord has placed us at this time.
Sr. Kelly Francis, CFR