The greatness of one’s love and service is measured not simply by what one gives, but more so by what one gives up. We see this as a subtle theme in today’s Gospel.
Christ enters the home of Peter after the experience in the synagogue, presumably to rest. But he gives this up when he finds out Peter’s mother-in-law is sick. Later, the whole town brings to him their sick to be healed.
He gives up his plans to rest to attend to the needs of others—a visible manifestation of authentic love and service.
Solitude of prayer
“Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed.” He gives up companionship and chooses solitude, which becomes a source of his ever growing giving of self in the years to follow.
We see this in several major events in his ministry. Before or after a defining moment—for example, the multiplication of the loaves and fish—he withdraws to be in solitude to pray and be one with his Father.
We see this most powerfully in the Agony in the Garden, where in the solitude of prayer he gives up his entire will to love and serve his Father.
In solitude, one does not simply give up time and companionship with others, but in the solitude of prayer one gives up, makes an offering of self, in loving obedience to serve our God. We listen and we obey, lovingly, in order to serve.
The German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer writes, “A man can be himself only so long as he is alone… if he does not love solitude he will not love freedom, for it is only when he is alone that he is really free.”
There is a story I have shared previously about St. Thomas Aquinas that illustrates this. In the middle of his writing his final and definitive work, he stops writing. When asked by his community why, he supposedly said that he had encountered Christ, and nothing else mattered.
The freedom to give up everything to encounter Christ and to make him the center of our life is nurtured in solitude and prayer. It is this freedom that enables us to give up all to commit to Christ to love, serve and be with him.
In the midst of this solitude and special moment of authentic freedom, his disciples come to him. Even in our own life, every time we come close to doing God’s will there is a temptation to distract us from doing so.
“Everyone is looking for you,” his disciples tell Christ. Christ gives up the fame and adulation. He gives up his ego. This is an early sign of how great his love and service is.
“Let us go on to the nearby villages that I may preach there also. For this purpose have I come.” The giving up of one’s own will to do one’s mission, this is the greatest form of love and service.
Mission is being sent and in being sent, one has to give up in freedom something essential. We see this is Christ’s mission, “… though he was in the form of God, did seek equality with God, something to be grasped, rather he emptied himself, by taking the form of a slave… he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2: 6-8)
Love is a movement
The late Fr. Joe Cruz, SJ, citing this passage from St. Paul, told us in our retreat as young seminarians almost 35 years ago, that love is a movement. Christ moved from the glory of his divinity to the humility of a slave to love and to serve us.
Through this, he opens the path and gives us everything, all the “tools,” to make us his equal. He becomes human like us and because of this he raises us up to the possibility of divinity.
Mission sums up the grace of giving up everything to render great service in great love. The greatness of our mission lies in the greatness of what we give up with great love to render great service. —CONTRIBUTED