|A small chain worn as a reminder of Holy Slavery|
As you all know, I’m something of an amateur runner. A very amateur runner. One thing that I’ve learned in the past few years of preparing for races is that I’m very bad at setting my own steady pace. I start off at a good quick pace, feeling confident that I can keep it up. And so I begin at 11-12 minute miles. Then after a half mile I’m at 12-13 minute miles. Before the second mile is done I’m often slugging along at 15 minute miles, which is more of a quick walk than a slow run. Not only do I tend to slow down over the time but I find myself out of breath and occasionally unable to finish the intended distance I had set as a goal. In contrast I find that when someone else sets a moderate pace and is consistent with it that I can usually keep up and run for longer distances. And breathe.
That image came to mind as I was praying with the Scriptures for this weekend because it seems that James and John are out there trying to set their own pace and it doesn’t work out so well for them. They walk up to Jesus and in a statement that shows what is either great boldness or great stupidity: “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.” Jesus humors them a bit, knowing the foolishness of such a request but using it as a teachable moment. Upon hearing their request for the seat at the right and left of the Lord’s glory, He immediately responds, “You do not know what you are asking.” He knows what His seat of glory would look like and it was anything other than a comfortable kingly chair; it was a cross. If James and John had understood the reality of their request they would surely have shrunk back in fear and willingly abandoned their desire. The problem is that they were trying to set their own pace and had the Lord let them pursue it, they would surely have been unable to run the full race. Thankfully it is the Lord who always walks with us in our eagerness so as to bring us back to the place where we need to be. He enters into the darkness so as to guide us back into the light.
“Whoever wishes to be the first among you must be the slave of all.” With these words Jesus helps to point the disciples back in the right direction. We all know that as Christians if we seek to exalt ourselves we will be cast down and if we humble ourselves we will be lifted up. And yet we still struggle. Jesus uses this strong language to challenge us to keep up the struggle and indeed to place ourselves in the last spot of all. In the day of the Lord there were essentially two types of people who did the lowest forms of work: servants and slaves. Servants were free persons who did the work for the money. Slaves, as we know, were simply perceived as property of the master. A servant could leave his labor and go elsewhere, but a slave was unable. A servant received a reward for their labor; a slave was simply carrying out their duty. A servant gave a part of himself; a slave gave everything. A servant sets his own path in some sense, but a slave is simply directed in the way to go. The labor may look the same, but the interior reality is far from the same.
It might startle us a bit to hear Jesus tell us to be slaves, but this is a common theme in the Scriptures. Jesus Himself alludes to slavery also in the last line of the Gospel just proclaimed with the reference to ‘ransoming the many’ – a description of purchasing persons. To this we can also add the other passages in which we are reminded that we all were “purchased, and at a price.” We all were born in original sin, slaves of the evil one and the desires of our flesh. But it is Jesus Christ Who has bought us for God, who set us free from slavery to sin and invites to take up a new slavery, a holy slavery, a slavery not of obligation but of love.
Holy slavery seems like a strange idea, since we are brothers and sisters of the Lord, and Jesus Himself refers to us as ‘no longer servants but friends’. But it is Our Lord that first sets the standard of holy slavery. In his letter to the Philippians, St. Paul speaks of Christ “taking on the form of a slave” – He took on humanity. His life in the flesh is not one that seeks to accomplish His own will but the will of the One Who sent Him (God the Father). It is a life in which He willingly submits to follow the pace of the Father out of love for Him. And He invites us to join ourselves in doing the same.
Holy slavery has a great tradition in the life of the Church, but came alive in a new way in the late 1600’s in the preaching of St. Louis Marie de Montfort. St. Louis wrote a book called True Devotion to Mary and numerous saints and popes of the Church have spoken of it as “the highest form of devotion to Our Lady”, “a decisive turning point in my life” and spoke of the graces of following his method of devotion to Mary. And that devotion was holy slavery to Jesus through Mary. The encouragement is to give everything we have to Mary, that she might bring us to Jesus. She is so powerful because she alone among humanity was free from sin here entire life, from conception until her Assumption, and so can help us to follow the divine pace rather than rely upon ourselves and our own plans.
To this end, I will be consecrating our parish to Our Lady on December 8th of this year, the feast of the Immaculate Conception, which will also mark the beginning of the Jubilee Year of Mercy. What I propose to you though is that you don’t allow it simply to be ‘Father consecrating the parish to Mary’ but rather to have each of us consecrate ourselves to Mary that same day as a parish. I have in the back of the church copies of a book titled “33 Days to Morning Glory” which everyone is encouraged to pick up and take home. It is a method suggested by St. Louis of taking 33 days, mirroring the 33 years of Christ’s life, to prepare our hearts by reflecting on our relationship with Jesus & Mary. To conclude in time for the consecration on December 8th, you would begin on November 5th. So I invite you to join with me in taking up or renewing this holy slavery. Together let us give everything to Jesus through the hands of our most loving mother Mary, knowing that though the rewards will be many, the great reward will be the consolation and joy that wells up in the Heart of Jesus that we are joining with Him in this labor.
Read more about Holy Slavery HERE.