“To maintain a joyful family requires much from both the parents and the children. Each member of the family has to become, in a special way, the servant of the others.” St. John Paul II Homily October 7, 1979
On Holy Thursday, the Gospel recalls the washing of the feet of the Apostles by Jesus. He instructs the Apostles to do the same. While there are many truths to be learned from this scene in St. John’s Gospel, we will focus on how this example of service to others can help us in our families.
Family Life, at the Service of Others
We are all called to be a servant to others in our lives, especially within our own family. When we are raising a young family, this is an obvious situation, you have babies, you care for them, they don’t thank you, but you mostly do it out of love and a desire to raise these precious gifts from God as they grow up. A less obvious situation is the out of the ordinary sickness of a family member, perhaps a spouse or an adult child. Another situation that may not be as obvious and perhaps not as common is the care of a parent. Many times in our mobile society, we do not live close to our parents or siblings, we may be scattered across the country and thus this situation of caring for an elderly parent is a remote possibility at best. Many times the care of such a parent who may lose their good health gradually, is a short lived intervention to find a nursing home or assisted living facility to take care of them. This is not how it used to be.
Family life is essentially a life of service to one another. Some in society see this role of serving as a burden to be avoided by making enough money to have everything you want and never have to serve anyone else and instead have everyone serve you. The Lord of Lords, and King of Kings says this is not what will bring us happiness. He says that His way is the best way and that includes being the servant of others, not just sometimes, but all the time.
It makes sense in a way, if we are constantly looking out for the needs of others, we will be less concerned about ourselves and when we focus on others needs we are not as concerned when things don’t go perfectly for us. Benedict Groeschel wrote a book on grieving a number of years ago entitled, “Arise from Darkness”. The main point I remember from this short book, was that the best way we can deal with our own grief is by serving others and helping them through their time of trial.
When you lead by example and seek to serve others before yourself, your children will notice. But you will not know for certain that your children have learned it until they are given the opportunity to serve on their own. Recently, I asked my 17 year old daughter if she would like to make her Grandfather’s day by going square dancing with him since his usual date was out of town. She agreed and has been accompanying him on a fairly regular basis and this has even spread to the rest of the family as my Dad really likes square dancing and despite his health problems, this is one activity that he really enjoys and can still do with relative ease.
A similar situation arose late last year when my father in law was diagnosed with terminal cancer. We spoke with the whole family and asked each member if we should move closer to my father in law to be with him and support him and the rest of the family during this very difficult time. The response was unanimous that we should leave our home, friends, community and move. Each of my children in their own way served their grandparents, many times it was just sitting with them and talking about what was going on in our lives, other times it was doing household maintenance items that my father in law could no longer do himself.
Teaching Your Children to be Servants
You can’t give what you don’t have and teaching your children to serve others is no exception. If your children see you thinking only of yourself, then they will most likely display selfish character traits. But it is not only you that your children will learn from, it is the media they consume. Many times popular music, TV shows, and Movies depict the main characters putting themselves first and winning over others. While this may be an entertaining story line, it is not what Jesus showed us through his life. While there is victory in the gospel story, it is victory through service to others. Jesus is the model that shows us how to live our lives and the main thread is service to others.
Jesus could have had everything in this life, but God’s plan was to show us how to live and how to be happy in this life. But happiness in this life is not the whole story, by being a servant of others, we prepare ourselves for eternity with God in heaven. Imagine eternity surrounded by other people who only want what is truly best for you. No envy, no jealously, no scheming to “pull one over on you”. This is definitely not what we experience here on earth, but if you follow Jesus, this is what we are called to share with those whom we come into contact with. You are called to change the world, to bring about the Kingdom of God here on earth in your marriage, in your family and in your community.