A CALL TO UNITY, CHARITY, FRATERNITY AND SERVICE – THE ROLE OF THE MARSHALLAN – BY REV. FR. DR. MICHAEL MENSAH
Mr Chairman, Ladies and Gentlemen, I will first of all like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to the organisers, and particularly to the Host Grand Knight, Bro George Anthony Biney and Noble Lady, Sis Cordelia Nyimebaare of Council 108 and Court 103 respectively, for inviting me as Guest Speaker at this year’s Accra West Regional Conference of the Marshallan Fraternity.
The topic for our consideration is “A call to unity, charity, fraternity and service – the Role of the Marshallan. The choice of the terms unity, charity, fraternity and service, I must presume, is an attempt to reflect beyond the superficial, on these virtues which constitute the motto of the Noble Order. The topic as stated requires however some clarification. Who is it that is called to unity, charity, fraternity and service? Is it just the Marshallan Fraternity? Or is not rather the church in general? My understanding is that the call is a general call to the entire church in line with the universal call to holiness. The whole church is called to unity, charity, fraternity and service. It is a fundamental call to every one of Christ’s faithful to pursue these four ideals. If the call is universal, what then is the role of the Marshallan as a member of Christ’s faithful in ensuring that we all live up to these ideals? I will proceed in this address, Mr. Chairman, to examine each of the four virtues outlined in our topic – Unity, Charity, Fraternity and Service – Subsequently, I will attempt to discuss the role of the Marshallan Fraternity in the promotion of these ideals in the Church and beyond.
- The Call to Unity
The Oxford learner’s dictionary defines the term unity as “the state of being in agreement and working together”. An agreement itself is “the situation in which people have the same opinion, or in which they approve of or accept something”. Unity therefore of its very nature presupposes plurality. It requires that more than one person for whatever reason arrive at a common consensus regarding some issue which then leads them to work as one to achieve a desired goal.
Unity as the essential nature of the Church
One cannot speak of unity without referring to the nature of the Catholic Church itself. St. Paul in his letter to the Ephesians reflecting on the nature of the body of Christ attributes this oneness to three factors (cf. Eph 4:5) –
- One Lord – meaning that the same one Lord has called each member of the church to the faith and to live the life of holiness;
- One Faith – meaning that there every one of us in the church has come to believe the one truth, namely that we all are saved through Christ;
- One Baptism – meaning that each one of us having died from our former selves in the death of baptism has received the same new life in Christ, making us children of the same father and brothers and sisters in the Lord.
In the Nicene Creed, the Church Fathers continued to lay emphasis on this same truth professing their faith in “unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam” – One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church – One, because the church derives this unity from the Most Holy Trinity who are three persons in one God (cf. CCC 813); Holy, because the Church is sanctified by Christ, whose bride she is (cf. CCC 823), Catholic, because the church is universal since she exists wherever Christ is and is sent to all people (cf. CCC 830) and Apostolic because she is founded on the Apostles and continues to be instructed by the faith of the apostles.
Threats to the Unity of the Body of Christ
While this is the ideal, no one is under any illusion about the threats that stand in the way of perfect unity. Indeed a close reading of the Acts of the apostles indicates that threats to the Church’s unity were already present from the very beginning. The very constitution of those who gathered in the upper room according to Acts 1:13-14 on the day of Pentecost indicates at least three main groups. Luke mentions that the Apostles were present. These twelve represent those whom Jesus himself had called and appointed to be his followers. Luke subsequently mentions the women. These we know, according to Lk 8:3, were those who provided for Jesus and the Apostles out of their own means. Finally, there were the mother and brothers of Jesus, in other words, his relatives.
The above situation may not be as benign as one might suspect but could very well represent three positions of potential conflict in the upper room on Pentecost day. First, there were those who had directly received from Jesus, the mantle of leadership in the church – the Apostles; then there were those who had the financial muscle without which the day to day running of the church would collapse – the women – and finally those who could claim to be related to Christ by blood – Mary and his brothers – after all, blood, many say, is thicker than water.
The miracle of Pentecost was the ability to create out of these three groups what came to be known as the koinonia or the “fellowship of the Holy Spirit”, such that by the time we read of the same group in Acts 4:32, St. Luke makes that rather profound statement “…the company of those who believed were of one heart and soul”.
Unity and Disunity in the History of the Church
If it appears that the teething problems of disunity were effectively handled in the early church, a brief look at the church’s history indicates that the question of unity or otherwise of disunity was never going to be resolved that easily. Already in Acts 15, the Council of Jerusalem had to decide on the question of the acceptance of pagans into the Christian community, an issue which had the potential of breaking the church apart.
St. Polycarp of Smyrna, a 2nd Century Church Father reflecting on the same of Church Unity, lays the blame for all this confusion on the inability of the church in his era to keep as its model the nature of the primitive church. In words that would seem to be addressed to the church in Ghana in the 21st Century, St. Polycarp writes,
“Another ill effect of not knowing, or at least of not regarding primitive Christianity, is the want of union and order.” … Love and union was then the badge or phylactery that distinguished the Christian sect from all others. The Church of Christ was then a well-regulated society, like a natural body, wherein all the members maintain their respective relation, and act in a due subordination to, and dependence upon one another; no dispute or schism about fundamentals of faith or government arose in any church, but they all sympathised as members of the same body, and bewailed it universally, and forthwith applied all the lenitives of persuasion to heal the breach; and if these proved ineffectual, proceeded to severer methods of penance and excommunication. For they concluded with St Paul, that without church unity there was no inheriting the Kingdom of God…But now this union and correspondence between churches is in a manner quite laid aside; every one forms its own way of worship and polity without consulting another” Epistle of St Polycarp on the Right use of the Fathers. 264-265.”
Subsequently, in the 4th and 5th centuries, the church in the councils of Nicea (AD 325), Constantinople (AD 381) Ephesus (AD 430) and Chalcedon (AD 451) had to settle questions regarding the nature of the Trinity and the Divinity of Christ in order to maintain orthodoxy in doctrine and by extension the unity of the Church. In the year 1054, however the bonds of unity would be sorely tested. The mutual excommunication of the Bishops of Rome and Constantinople led to what has come to be known as the Great Schism, dividing the Eastern Church – the Orthodox Church from the Latin Church – or the Roman Catholic Church. Despite years of dialogue, the bonds between the Western Church and the Eastern Church have never been the same.
In fact, at one of the General Audiences held in St. Peter’s Square on 28th May 2014, Pope Francis alluded to this division, stating,
“Once more, as former Popes have done, I ask forgiveness for what we have done to foster this division, and I ask the Holy Spirit to help us heal the wounds we have inflicted on other brothers”.
If the Great Schism began to show the initial signs of disunity in the Body of Christ, the Reformation led by Martin Luther, an Augustinian monk, would finally lead to the divisions that gave rise to Protestantism. Since then, as we are all witnesses to, the problem of disunity has only gotten worse with a proliferation of sects of all shapes and colours and the chances of true unity of the body of Christ appearing to recede further and further on the horizon.
But Mr. Chairman what is the state of unity within the Catholic fold, as we speak? Anyone who follows closely, events in the universal church would have observed a certain disconcerting phenomenon right at the top of the church’s hierarchy. I am referring to open disagreements with the Holy Father, Pope Francis which have been put out in the press in the form of “dubia” or doubts with regard to certain aspects of his teaching. In some respect, these are not completely new. There is no secret how liberal elements in the church in places like Germany were strongly opposed to the presumably conservative teachings of Pope Benedict XVI, how Latin American Catholics clashed with Pope John Paul II on the question of Liberation Theology or how Pope Paul VI was vilified for his stance against contraception.
The trend unfortunately is not reserved to the universal church. Closer home we should be asking ourselves how much support our Local Bishops have among their priests and lay faithful when they seek to give guidance on pastoral issues like funerals, weddings, or even when they seek to intervene in national, social or cultural affairs. The continual division in our ranks could only have one effect: it will weaken the hand of our leaders and significantly weaken the ability of the church to influence society.
Ut Omnes Unum Sint (Jn 17,11): Priestly Prayer of Jesus and the Quest for Unity
The Gospel According to John in its 17th chapter preserves a lengthy prayer that has come to be known as the Priestly Prayer of Jesus. One of its most quoted verses, Jn 17:21 reads I pray, “that they may all be one; even as thou, Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that thou hast sent me”. (ut omnes unum sint).
This passage expresses Christ’s burning desire that all his disciples remain that same bond of unity which originates from the Most Holy Trinity itself. But Christ himself gives us a clue at what price unity may be achieved. In Jn 17:5 he prays, “Father, glorify thou me in thy own presence with the glory which I had with thee before the world was made.” This verse reminds us of the kenosis which St. Paul speaks about in his letter to the Philippians 2:6-10, namely that Christ
“though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.”
Unity often comes at a price. And the price of unity is humility.
Toward greater unity
The church in the face of these challenges to unity does not throw up her arms in despair but specifically calls upon the entire church, Clergy and Lay faithful, to be agents who work and pray for the unity of the church. Permit me to list four of the things we are called to do:
- Since division is primarily caused by sin, the church invites each one of us to a permanent renewal such that with greater fidelity to her vocation the church may attain stronger bonds of unity.
- Each of the members of the church is to strive to live holier lives according to the Gospel, since it is the unfaithfulness of members that causes divisions
- Common prayer must continually be offered in order that we all attain a change of heart to enable us live in peace with each other.
- Ecumenical consciousness and formation must be deepened in order to promote greater collaboration among all Christians especially in the area of service to humankind.
Mr. Chairman let me conclude this discourse on unity with a truly delightful quote from Pope Francis on the unity of the universal church. At a General Audience held in Saint Peter’s Square on 25 September 2013, The Holy Father said,
Wherever we go, even to the smallest parish in the most remote corner of this earth, there is the one Church. We are at home, we are in the family, we are among brothers and sisters. And this is a great gift of God! The Church is one for us all. There is not one Church for Europeans, one for Africans, one for Americans, one for Asians, one for those who live in Oceania. (We could add, there is not one church for Ewes, one for Gas another for Fantes, Nzemas, Gonjas, Mamprusis or Asantes). No, she is one and the same everywhere. It is like being in a family: some of its members may be far away, scattered across the world, but the deep bonds that unite all the members of a family stay solid however great the distance.
- The Call to Fraternity
We have already spent sometime discussing the church’s call to unity and the challenges that arise in its pursuit. Indeed in one of the recommendations of the CCC for unity, the document mentions “fraternal knowledge of each other”. The question which I think immediately arises is “what more does fraternity demand which is not already implied by unity?”
The term fraternity is from the latin “frater” which means brother. A call to fraternity is therefore a call to brotherhood and sisterhood. The Sacred Scripture itself serves as a good starting point for any attempt to discuss the question of fraternity. The passage that immediately comes to mind is Ps 133:1. It reads
Psalm 133:1-3 Behold, how good and pleasant it is when brothers dwell in unity! 2 It is like the precious oil upon the head, running down upon the beard, upon the beard of Aaron, running down on the collar of his robes! 3 It is like the dew of Hermon, which falls on the mountains of Zion! For there the LORD has commanded the blessing, life for evermore.
Mr. Chairman, the beauty of the passage just mentioned is how it clothes sublime philosophical and theological truths in a few brief lines of poetry. Let me attempt to unpack the text by dwelling on a couple of expressions from the passage.
- Brothers: Ps 113:1 speaks of how good it is when brothers dwell in unity. I would like to point out that the psalmist is not concerned about the problem of how great enemies might live at peace with each other. The great problem of unity is not the attempt to bring strangers into agreement. It is the attempt to find common ground amongst people who ordinarily should be able to cohabit peacefully. The very first brothers in scripture – Cain and Abel (Gen 4) were unable to live together in peace. The story of Joseph and his brothers (Gen 37 – 50) is another account of the strife that could develop between brothers. Indeed, six out of the ten commandments God gave to Israel (Ex 20; Dt 5) attempt to regulate how a person should relate to his brother. The need for legislation is the evidence that the rapport between brothers has always been a difficult one. When Ps 133 speaks about the goodness of brothers dwelling together in unity, it is precisely because such unity is not easy to achieve.
Mr Chairman, it should not be too difficult to illustrate the above assertions in our modern world. One could attempt to begin by interrogating on the world stage why a two-state solution in the Israel – Palestinian Crisis has still not been implemented or why North and South Korea are still technically at war. Closer home, the memory of the Hutus and Tutsis in the Rwandan genocide in 1994 is still fresh in our minds. But even if that event happened long ago we cannot forget that South Sudan which only attained independence in 2011 is already torn apart by civil war between the Nuer and the Dinka. Even closer home, we know that the tension between the Abudus and the Andanis in the Yendi crisis was a case of strife between brothers; never mind the ongoing crisis between the Alavanyo and Nkonyas which has claimed several lives this year.
- Precious Oil upon the head: Oil has several uses in scripture, but the passage we are referring to has a particular use of oil in mind. This is oil which is used to anoint a person for public office. The Old Testament speaks of three groups of people who were anointed; Priests (Ex 28:41; Lev 8:12), Kings (1 Sam 9:16; 16:12) and Prophets who received a spiritual anointing (Is 61:1). The problem is clearly not with the oil; it is with the rivalry and power play which has eternally characterized the choice of the person to be anointed leader. Moreover, whatever affects the head, will affect the body, in the same way as oil poured on the head of Aaron runs down his beard upon his robes.
Indeed, a careful look at the Old Testament shows enough evidence that the “anointing” of the priest, the prophet or king or their rights to hold themselves in those offices was challenged at one point or another. The classical example in the case of Kingship is the coup d’état of Absalom against his own father David. The prophet Amos was challenged by the priest Amaziah and had to defend his prophetic calling to preach in Samaria. Indeed, one text in 2 Kg 23:5 at least gives an instance in which priests in Judah were deposed by Josiah under the charge of being idolatrous.
Mr. Chairman, the point I am driving at is simply that brotherhood is not easy to achieve but it is even more difficult when leadership is at stake. Leadership contests even in the church and in church organizations have the capacity to drive a wedge between people who should consider themselves brothers. A rather sad example which has recently received international attention has been the case of the Diocese of Ahiara in the East of Nigeria in which a Bishop appointed in 2012 has still not been able to take canonical possession of his diocese, the grievance of the local priests and laity being the fact that the Bishop elect, though he belongs to the same ethnic group does not descend directly from that particular area or from that diocese for that matter. Several envoys sent to speak to the clergy and laity of the area, including Cardinal John Onaiyekan were simply rebuffed. In a final effort the Pope has had to demand within 30 days the obedience of all clergy of the diocese under the pain of suspension ad divinis in the event of any further rebellion. It would seem to appear that once the “oil of anointing” is in question, the stakes become so high that even clergy forget the ties of brotherhood in the ministerial priesthood that bind them. Unfortunately, and very often, anytime these divisions arise among the clergy, the laity are drawn into the fray, with factions emerging, and the resultant hardening of positions driven by the resolve to cling to parochial interests.
So what is the way forward in building true fraternity amongst ourselves as a church? Pope Francis in his 2014 message for the World Day of Peace had the following to say on the subject. He noted,
“A lively awareness of our relatedness helps us to look upon and to treat each person as a true sister or brother; without fraternity it is impossible to build a just society and a solid and lasting peace. We should remember that fraternity is generally first learned in the family, thanks above all to the responsible and complementary roles of each of its members, particularly the father and the mother. The family is the wellspring of all fraternity, and as such it is the foundation and the first pathway to peace, since, by its vocation, it is meant to spread its love to the world around it”.
The observation of Pope Francis is deep. He points out that the lack of fraternity we experience in the body of Christ is probably on only the symptom of a more serious malady. And that is the lack of fraternity even in our families. This is precisely where you members of this Noble Order and indeed all the faithful have an important role. Without the healing of the pain and divisions that often plague our own families and our homes, there will be little chance to build any lasting fraternity in the wider body of the church.
- The Call to Charity
The term charity, derives from the latin “caritas” and simply means love. The Old Testament uses the term ’ahab and its cognates to cover a wide range of meanings associated with the English term love. These include the love between man and woman (2 Sam 1:26; Gen 24:67; Jdg 14:16), the love expressed in other personal relationships, paternal (Abraham and Isaac, Gen 22:2), maternal (Rebekah and Jacob, Gen 25:28) or even fraternal (David and Jonathan, 1 Sam 18:1,3; 20:17). Theologically, the term is used to describe the relationship between which should exist between Israel and YHWH. God loves Israel (Hos 11.1) and Israel must return this love to God (Dt 6:4; Hos 6:4-6) as well as and is further bound to love of neighbour (Lev 19:18).
The New Testament builds further on this fundamental idea with the use of two concepts agape and philia two terms which show very minimal distinction as used in the New Testament. In the Synoptic Gospels Jesus affirms the great commandment as being love of God and love of neighbour (Mk 12:28-34; Mt 22:34-40; Lk 20:39-40). The love of neighbour is further extended to include the enemy (Mt 5:43-46). In the Johannine corpus the stress shifts to the love that binds the community of believers (Jn 13:34). Finally, St. Paul in his letters links love to the two other virtues of faith and hope. In 1 Cor 13:13 however, he places the greatest emphasis on love. Love for St. Paul does not originate in the human heart but is a divine gift. It is therefore the result of the faith that the believer has expressed in the Risen Christ (Rom 5:8) (Harper 580-1)
In the recent encyclical of Pope Benedict XVI – Deus Caritas Est – the Roman Pontiff builds on the biblical background of the concept of love. But it is in the second part of the above-mentioned encyclical, that Pope Benedict XVI undertakes to explain what precisely the church intends when it speaks of what charity is and the Pontiff does so in these words:
“The entire activity of the Church is an expression of a love that seeks the integral good of man: it seeks his evangelization through Word and Sacrament, an undertaking that is often heroic in the way it is acted out in history; and it seeks to promote man in the various arenas of life and human activity. Love is therefore the service that the Church carries out in order to attend constantly to man’s sufferings and his needs, including his material needs. And this is the aspect, this service of charity, on which I want to focus…” DCE # 19.
Mr. Chairman, no one will be surprised that such a depth of understanding should come from Pope Benedict XVI. First and foremost, the Pontiff seeks to distinguish between charity and many other appearances of love. The main distinction the Pope seeks to emphasize is quite straightforward, namely that other expressions of love might appear to cater for one or the other dimension of human need. Charity of its very nature however seeks the total, holistic and seeks integral good of the human person.
The Holistic nature of Charity
Pope Benedict XVI in the same DCE 25 further explains, that “For the Church, charity is not a kind of welfare activity which could equally well be left to others, but it is part of her nature, an indispensable expression of her very being”. The pontiff states that the Church’s deepest nature is expressed in three ways:
- The proclamation of the word of God (kerygma – martyria)
- The celebration of the sacraments (leitourgia)
- The ministry of charity (diakonia)
Pope Benedict then goes on to add, that “these duties presuppose each other and are inseparable”. Mr. Chairman the implications for the following are deep. It means for instance that charity of itself cannot be said to be complete if it is not related somewhat to the proclamation of the Word of God and the celebrations of the Sacraments.
In what way for instance can charity be related to the proclamation of the Word of God? Does it mean that we must necessarily hold a bible under our armpits in order that our service of charity be valid? Not necessarily. But there is no charity, if that charity is not first and foremost inspired by the Word of God. It is the meditation of the Word of God which is the very fuel, the very animus, that which provides the purpose and the soul of any activity which the church might term as charity.
We are actually fortunate, in our days to have saints, and I am referring to Saint Mother Theresa of Calcutta in particular, who completely exemplified what we are talking about. This remarkable woman who became the church’s face of charity gave meaning to the above teaching of the Pontiff. Her life, and the rule of the religious order she founded, are based on the same principle – a life of deep contemplation on the Word of God and active intervention in the lives of the poorest of the poor. But the contrary, ladies and gentlemen is also true. Many charities start out with some noble idea of helping the needy but soon get burned out, or are overrun by scandals fuelled by human greed. The right motives for charity are to be found in the Word of God. “You have freely received, so freely give” (Mt 10:8).
But the relationship between charity and the proclamation of the Word is not only linked with the agent of charitable works. It is also the goal and the purpose for which charitable works are done. When we act with charity, it is not to promote our personal image. Indeed in this respect Christ already teaches us “But when you give alms, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing” (Mt 6:3-4). Charity is aimed at showing the face of Christ, the Word of life to the needy, a fulfilment of his Nazareth manifesto – “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, 19 to proclaim the acceptable year of the Lord.” (Lk 4:18-19). Charity must therefore aim at bearing witness to Christ.
St Ignatius of Antioch illustrates perfectly the effectiveness of charity as a primary tool for the proclamation of the good news when he writes,
“The charity of the Christians may have been the first attraction which led these persons to become believers, but it was because they could not help admiring and loving a religion which produced such heavenly fruits. Such motives for conversion were perfectly natural, and wholly unconnected with selfishness. Heathenism had failed to make men charitable, but Christianity, on its very first appearance produced this effect … and this, as was observed above, may have been one of the causes which led to the wide and rapid propagation of the new religion”. 39.
Secondly, Charity must also be related to what we celebrate in the liturgy. The ancient Cristian maxim attributed to Prosper of Aquitaine says lex orandi, lex credendi to which is often added lex vivendi, that is, what we pray, is the basis of our faith and that faith is what we live. The Dogmatic Constitution of Divine Liturgy (Sacrosanctum Concilium # 9-10) thus states
To believers also the Church must ever preach faith and penance, she must prepare them for the sacraments, teach them to observe all that Christ has commanded, and invite them to all the works of charity, piety, and the apostolate. For all these works make it clear that Christ’s faithful, though not of this world, are to be the light of the world and to glorify the Father before men”
Mr. Chairman, I should think that the logic of these statements of the church lies in a simple principle – “nemo dat quod non habet”, that is “one cannot give what he does not have”. It is through our baptism and confirmation that we receive the gift of the Holy Spirit and are continually nourished at the table of the Eucharist. This is what enables us to give freely what we ourselves have received.
It must be clear from the foregoing that charity as the church understands it is thus much more than just giving hand-outs. Charity is so bound up with the church’s life and mission that it cannot be sub-let to any group or organisation. We must necessarily let our good works shine out so that seeing them, the world might give glory to God (Mt 5:16)
Charity and Social Justice
Mr Chairman, we have been looking at the question of the Holistic understanding of Charity but there is another important dimension which Pope Benedict XVI has underlined in his 2009 encyclical Caritas in Veritatis. In this encyclical the Pontiff sought to define the relationship between Charity and the Social Doctrine of the Church. I could summarize the pope’s teaching into three cardinal points.
- The Relationship between Charity and the Church’s Social Doctrine. Pope Benedict argues that entire the Social Doctrine of the church hinges the question of charity. He says,
“Charity is at the heart of the Church’s social doctrine. Every responsibility and every commitment spelt out by that doctrine is derived from charity which, according to the teaching of Jesus, is the synthesis of the entire Law (cf. Mt 22:36‐ 40). It gives real substance to the personal relationship with God and with neighbour; it is the principle not only of micro ‐ relationships (with friends, with family members or within small groups) but also of macro ‐ relationships (social, economic and political ones).”
Mr. Chairman, what the Pontiff sought to say, in a word, is that the same charity that applies in the context of the family is equally valid at the national and even the international level.
- Justice as the Minimum Requirement of Charity: Pope Benedict reiterates the fact that justice is intimately bound to charity. He says,
“If we love others with charity, then first of all we are just towards them. Not only is justice not extraneous to charity, not only is it not an alternative or parallel path to charity: justice is inseparable from charity, and intrinsic to it. Justice is the primary way of charity or, in Paul VI’s words, “the minimum measure” of it.(CV # 6)
The Pope argues that there will be no end to global poverty until structures of inequality are torn down. He writes
“Hunger is not so much dependent on lack of material things as on shortage of social resources, the most important of which are institutional. What is missing, in other words, is a network of economic institutions capable of guaranteeing regular access to sufficient food and water for nutritional needs…” (CV § 2)
- Charity, Justice and Ecological Responsibility: Pope Benedict finally underlines the fact that Charity demands that we take care of this planet which we hold in trust for future generations. He states,
“Human beings legitimately exercise a responsible stewardship over nature, in order to protect it, to enjoy its fruits and to cultivate it in new ways… At the same time we must recognize our grave duty to hand the earth on to future generations in such a condition that they too can worthily inhabit it and continue to cultivate it.
The Marshallan and the Call to Service
The term “service” is defined in the Oxford Learner’s Dictionary as “the action of helping or doing work for someone”. In the Old Testament the corresponding term for service comes from the Hebrew root ‘BD and is first used in the Book of Genesis in terms of cultivation of the soil or what the latins call “agricultura” from the terms ager (field) and cultus (care). Work or Service was thus primarily tw0-dimensional; it entailed that work in which man engaged with the goal of sustaining himself and his family or by extension that which he did in service of humanity. But man’s service did not end with the nourishment of man. It extended to the religious sphere, for man offered the same fruits of his labour as sacrifice to the Divinity (cf. Gen 4:3; Ex 31:10).
A further development of the idea of service in the Old Testament could be seen in the categories of persons referred to as ‘ebed or Servant of YHWH. The Patriarchs, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob bear this title (Ex 32:13); So do Moses (Dt 34:5) and Joshua (Jdg 2:8). The title comes to be attributed to kings like David (2 Sam 7:5), Solomon (1Kgs 3:7) and eventually comes to be used in reference to the prophets like Elijah (2 Kgs 9:36) and the suffering servant in Isa 42:1-4; 49:1-6; 50:4-9 and 52:13 – 53:12. The gradual development of the term in the Old Testament indicates the use of the term servant to indicate leadership.
In the New Testament term “diakonia” meaning service effectively builds on the Old Testament concept. In the Gospels, service is no longer to be seen in terms of servitude but in terms of responsibility. God has put man in charge of his work as a steward who must account for his service and receive praise or chastisement according to his output (Mt 20:8; Lk 12:42).
The Acts of the Apostles sees a significant development in the idea of service or “diakonia” when it becomes a recognized ministry within the church (Act 6:1-6) with the institution of the seven deacons. Of these deacons, Stephen, became the first martyr indicating what the Christian diakonia truly entails – a complete self-giving even to the point of death.
The definition of what service entails and who a servant is for that matter receives an important illustration in the Gospel according to John. In the Last Supper account of this Evangelist, he preserves a tradition of how the Lord at table, took of his garments, wrapped a cloth around his waist and began washing the feet his disciples. Having finished this he taught them saying “You call me Teacher and Lord; and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do as I have done to you.” (John 13:13-15).
The concept of service thus receives its summary or its pre-eminent paradigm in the statement Jesus statement, “the Son of man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Mt 20:28; Lk 10:45). If one word were to be chosen as a substitute for service, that word would certainly be leadership.
Pope Francis and the Concept of Servant Leadership
Mr. Chairman if there is one person whose way of serving or leadership style has caught global attention, in the past 5 or so years, it is no other than Pope Francis. In the words of one author Margie Warrel, Pope Francis epitomizes a true ‘Servant Leader,’ led by his desire to bring hope, equality and opportunity to those who have little, and has become the role model of the mercy, love, compassion and courage of the Man whose church he leads.
Mr. Chairman, what is it that we all could learn from the servant leadership style of Pope Francis? I would like to propose four qualities of his service we ought to consider going forward.
- Leadership by example
- Tackling the tough questions
- Fundamental Option for the Poor
Leadership by example
Mr. Chairman, the first principle of servant leadership we might wish to learn from the Roman Pontiff is the need to give an example. The immediate decision by the Pope after his election not to stay in the Papal apartments but to reside in the Casa Santa Martha alongside other Vatican Officials sent immediate signals to the whole world that this was a man who was ready to walk the talk. During his historic visit to the United States of America in 2015, Pope Francis again sent strong signals of the principle of leadership he advocates by a little but significant gesture. On arriving in Washington DC, the pontiff chose to ride in a simple Fiat 500l. These two gestures, small as they might be, have completely captured the imagination of people across the globe and remind us what sort what leaders the world needs today.
The truth, ladies and gentlemen, the principles for this sort of leadership were already enunciated by Pope Paul VI in Evangelii Nuntiandi when he said “Modern man listens more willingly to witnesses than to teachers, and if he does listen to teachers, it is because they are witnesses” (EN#14). The quality of the service we offer the church and its effectiveness will be measured not by the words we speak, but by the authenticity of our actions. The kind of servants the church needs at all levels are those who will lead by example.
Tackling the tough questions:
One of the reasons why Pope Francis continues to be celebrated the way he is has been is his ability to tackle the tough questions without wincing. The Pontiff gave clear indications of this after he took office by addressing as a matter of priority, the questions regarding the integrity of the Vatican Bank, constituting a new board to look into allegations of money laundering among others. The question of abuse of minors by members of the clergy equally received immediate attention from the Pontiff with senior clerics being made to face prosecution in their home countries.
Pope Francis has not failed to make his voice heard on the trafficking of migrants across the Mediterranean and has personally visited refugees in detention centres. Even against the opinion of senior clerics he has moved to review the processes of the Ecclesiastical Tribunals in a bid to reduce the cost and the duration of seeking judicial redress in the church’s courts. Not everyone might agree with everything that the Pope says, but we must at least respectfully concede that the Pope has never failed to speak his mind on any issue and has brought leadership to bear on almost every thorny subject.
The above should lead us to interrogate what sort of servant leaders the church needs today. The church clearly needs courageous men and women, capable of identifying the problems of society and fearlessly confronting them. But all this is not limited to the clergy. As the Pope puts it in his encyclical Evangeli Gaudium, “The essential vocation and mission of the lay faithful is to strive that earthly realities and all human activity may be transformed by the Gospel. (EG # 201)”. If there is any place that the church needs new leadership, it is in politics, in industry, and in various dimensions of social life. And that transformative service can only come from its Lay Faithful who can permeate the temporal realm with the witness of the Gospel.
With nearly 1.1 billion Catholics to lead, Pope Francis is one of the world’s busiest leaders. Even with so many responsibilities the Pontiff has made an impressive effort to connect with his followers. He has made calls to old friends, has visited and celebrated masses in the Italian prison of Rebibbia and washed the feet of muslim women. Every morning in his residence at Casa Santa Marta, the Pope celebrates mass with members of his household and ordinary visitors permitted to attend. Photographs of the Pope clearly show that he is far more at ease picking up babies in St. Peter’s square than he his beside world leaders in the Papal apartments.
The secret of such open engagement with his flock may be couched in what have become one of the Pope’s most famous quotes: “Be Pastors with the odour of the sheep, present in your peoples midst like Jesus, the Good Shepherd”. This advice is however valid for anyone called to serve in the church. To serve means to understand the needs of the people and this can only be achieved if one engages closely with those we are called to lead.
Fundamental Option for the Poor
The Pope’s concern for the poor is not completely surprising, coming from Latin America with their strong background in liberation theology. The Pope, who has sometimes been accused of being a communist, has not hidden his fundamental option for the poor, asserting, “Oh, how I wish for a Church that is poor and for the poor!” The Pontiff’s clear understanding of this mandate of bringing the gospel to the re-echoes Christ’s own manifesto in Nazareth (Lk 4:18). The paradigm for this kind of service is very clear in Paul’s letter to the Philippians 2:6-11. Christ the humbles himself and takes the form of a servant, emptying himself to the point of death in order to lead us to salvation.
The underlying truth that the Pontiff seeks to impart is that no one can truly serve the poor unless he somewhat shares their condition. Try as they may, the paradigm of the affluent leader has consistently failed everywhere in the world. The servant leader must share the reality of his people or is condemned to be cut off, living in a world of his own far removed from the pain and struggle of those he is attempting to lead.
The Role of the Marshallan
What then is the Role of the Marshallan in promoting a sound culture of unity, fraternity, charity and service in the church? Let me begin just by repeating an old maxim, “charity begins at home” – and I mean that quite literally! In my opinion there are four areas where the Marshallan should endeavour to make the qualities of unity, fraternity, charity and service felt and the first must be the family.
- In the family
The Christian family according to Pope John Paul II in familiaris consortio # 2 is “the first community called to announce the Gospel to the human person during growth and to bring him or her, through a progressive education and catechesis, to full human and Christian maturity”. The special synod on Africa, Ecclesia in Africa, in this direction spoke of the urgent need to re-define the family as the “Domestic Church”. (cf. EA # 85) and the primary place for education in love, reconciliation, justice and peace.” This is where the primary role of the Marshallan begins. Each one of us belongs to a family, in our particular case both nuclear and family. Every family needs unity, guaranteed by the husband and father, and supported by the wife and mother and the children. Unity does not just happen in families. It must be worked at. The first ingredient for unity in the family is prayer. The family that prays together stays together. Pope Francis in the audience of 13th May 2015 shares three words that should guarantee the unity of every family – “please”, “sorry” and “thank you”.
The family is also the school of fraternity. This is where children are taught to live in peace with other siblings. The African context of family is even more enriching, in that, it provides the opportunity for a sense of community which is not limited to one’s nuclear family. As the family in Africa has a deep understanding of fraternity, in that “far from being closed in on itself, the family by nature and vocation is open to other families and to society and undertakes its social role”. (EA # 85). Herein lies the role of the Marshallan to foster these bonds of fraternity.
In the Parish
The parish is another context in which unity is needed. In EA# 100 the Synod of Bishops calls the parish “the place which manifests the communion of various groups and movements”. While this is true on many levels, no one is left in doubt the level of division that often emerges between ethnic groups, societies, sections of the faithful aligned to particular members of the clergy and the rancour that these generate. The Marshallan is however to live above these petty divisions and to help bring unity and fraternity in the parish.
Charity within the parish setting is a must for the church community. Ad intra, charity must go beyond welfare contributions and must seek to identify the poorest of the poor in order to support them materially, emotionally and even physically. Since charity cannot be undertaken by Marshallans alone, networks across church societies should be encouraged so that in tandem with others the needs of the destitute might be met.
Service in the parish setting is a must for Marshallans. While this is so, it must be stressed that service is neither for the promotion of personal or parochial interests but must above all seek the welfare of the group. Rather than seeking the most sought after positions of PPC Chairman, Marshallans should rather interrogate where the parish best needs expertise or service and volunteer. Sometimes, the most critical areas of expertise are far away from the centres of power. And I would give an example – the Sunday School!
In the workplace
According to Lumen Gentium, it is the laity’s “special vocation . . . to seek the kingdom of God by engaging in temporal affairs and directing them according to God’s will. . . . There they are called by God that, being led by the spirit to the Gospel, they may contribute to the sanctification of the world, as from within like leaven, by fulfilling their own particular duties. ” (LG #31). This makes the workplace, yet another frontier for the Marshallan to demonstrate above all service. Service requires trustworthiness and integrity, like those stewards who must account to their master on his return. It is for this reason that the Marshallan must stand tall even in a culture permeated by dishonesty.
In our Nation
The challenges faced by our country suggest that every citizen be on board to tackle them. Apart from the political tensions which threaten to divide our nation, there remain ethnic and religious strains which ought to be managed with skill. The voice of the Marshallans must also be heard loudly on behalf of the voiceless and the exploited, on behalf of the thousands of homeless people who must sleep in the open, under the night sky of our metropolis. They too have a right to decent housing. Justice is the least charity to be exacted for the wrongly imprisoned, for the marginalized and against corrupt officials. Finally service, we must not forget is not only to God or even our neighbour. Stewards that we are, we must also protect our environment, most especially from the current threats posed by illegal mining, indiscriminate logging, over-fishing, plastic waste pollution, as well as noise pollution, just to mention a few.
Mr. Chairman, I should like by way of conclusion to once again express my gratitude to the Regional Grand Knight and Noble Lady for the honour of inviting me to address this year’s annual Regional Conference. The question of the call to Unity, Charity, Fraternity and Service is truly an important dimension of our Christian vocation as it is broad, and try as I may, it remains impossible to enter into every aspect of this all-encompassing topic. I suggest you enrol in my course next semester in Sowutuom so that I might complete the syllabus. It is my hope, however, that the reflections and thoughts here shared will continue to stimulate further discussion among you and will promote the same brotherliness and goodwill that has always been characteristic of the Marshallan Fraternity. But permit me to end this relatio with a quote from Pope Francis from his address to the Leaders of the Brazilian Society in 2013,
Fraternal relations between people, (and I could add, in the church) and cooperation in building a more just society – these are not an idealistic dream, but the fruit of a concerted effort on the part of all, in service of the common good. I encourage you in this commitment to the common good, a commitment which demands of everyone wisdom, prudence and generosity.
I thank you for your attention.
 Meeting with Brazil’s Leaders of Society http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/francesco/speeches/2013/july/documents/papa-francesco_20130727_gmg-classe-dirigente-rio_en.html