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Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time: Giving one’s life in service of others is the heart of discipleship

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Sunday Scripture readings, Oct. 17, 2021: Twenty-ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time1) Is 53:10-11   Psalm 33:4-5, 18-20, 22
2) Heb 4:14-16   Gospel: Mk 10:35-45 or 10:42-45

Giving one’s life in service of others is the heart of discipleship

As a newly ordained priest, Jesuit Father Walter Ciszek heard Pope Pius XI’s call for missionaries to serve the faithful struggling under atheistic communism in Russia. It was, he said, “almost like a direct call from God.”

After World War II broke out, Father Ciszek entered Russia under a false identity. Soon after, as the war raged on, Soviet authorities arrested and falsely accused him as a Vatican spy in 1941. They sentenced him to five years of solitary detention and torture in Moscow’s notorious Lubyanka prison followed by 15 years of hard labor in the Gulag.

“For all the hardships and suffering endured there, the prison camps of Siberia held one great consolation for me: I was able to function as a priest again. I was able to say Mass again, although in secret, to hear confessions, to baptize, to comfort the sick and to minister to the dying,” he said.

In his book, “He Leadeth Me,” compiled many years later, Father Ciszek wrote, “My aim in entering Russia was the same from beginning to end: to help find God and attain eternal life.”

In the first reading, the prophet Isaiah points to the figure of a suffering servant who gives his life willingly as offering for sin. Through his suffering he reflects the light of God’s love. And his sufferings bring hope to many.

Jem Sullivan writes for Catholic News Service (CNS photo/courtesy Jem Sullivan)

The psalmist expresses this hope in the words of one who suffers patiently while praying, “Our soul waits for the Lord, who is our help and our shield. May your kindness, O Lord, be upon us who have put our hope in you.”

The author of Hebrews fixes our gaze on Jesus, high priest and son of God, who while sinless endured the depths of suffering as he willingly offered his life on the cross out of the love for the world.

“We do not,” says the author of Hebrews, “have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses but one who has similarly been tested in every way yet without sin.”

And in the Gospel, Jesus teaches his disciples the hidden source of deep and lasting happiness, even as they argue uselessly about who is the greatest among them! The gift of finding one’s life in giving one’s life in service of others is the heart of Christian discipleship.

True happiness and enduring greatness springs, not from ego driven selfishness, but from acts and lives of self-giving love poured out to those in need.

Dedicating ourselves to service of others is the most authentic and long-lasting form of power and love. It is what Pope Francis calls the “secret of vocation: to go beyond oneself and put oneself at the service of others.”

Each day we are faced with opportunities to go out of ourselves in service of others. Some opportunities of service are easy to carry out while others are difficult, even painful at times. Jesus gives us his own example of servant love that carried him to his cross and resurrection.

With God’s grace we follow the path of Jesus’ self-sacrificing service as we pray with confident faith, “speak to me, Lord.”

Reflection Question

How do Jesus’ words invite you to greater service of others?

Sullivan is a professor at The Catholic University of America.