Disinterestedness: The forgotten virtue – A homily for the 5th Sunday of Ordinary Time

5th Sunday in Ordinary Time. February 9, 2014.
Is 58:7-10; 1Cor 2:1-5; Mt 5:13-16

Disinterestedness: The forgotten virtue

Blessed Theresa of Calcutta was once asked in an interview what she would do if she was forced by the government of any country where she had established her Missionaries of Charity sisters to close down any of her community’s houses. She calmly replied, “After a time of prayer, I will close it down immediately. It is not my work; it is Jesus’ work. If He wants it to end in that way, then so be it.” Despite her passionate and undying desire to quench the thirst of Jesus on the Cross by loving and serving the poorest of the poor in as many countries as possible, Blessed Theresa was ready to close down any of her houses peacefully if compelled to do so because, in her words, “It is Jesus’ work.”

“It is Jesus’ work.” That is the language of disinterestedness. Disinterestedness is that attitude by which one relentlessly seeks the greater glory of God by the grace of God while remaining so detached from the results of such endeavors that they can say at the end, whether they see positive, negative, or no results at all, “It is the Lord Jesus’ work.” The disinterested person leaves the results to God however it may turn out after honestly and generously doing all that can be done with the graces of the present moment.

Jesus uses two images in today’s Gospel passage to teach us about discipleship. We are “Salt of the earth” only because we have received this “saltiness” from God and not from the earth. We are “no longer good for anything” only when we lose this “saltiness” from God. Again, we are “light of the world” only because we have received light from Jesus Christ and not from the world. Jesus is the “true light that enlightens every man in the world.”(Jn 1:9, 9:5) Likewise, the city cannot build itself or set itself on a mountain and a lamp cannot light itself or place itself on a lampstand. These images show our utter dependence on God for everything and that we can depend on God to provide us all we need.

Because we are the “light of the world,” drawing our light from Jesus, our light is not meant to shine in the world so as to bring us the results that we so desire or to glorify ourselves. On the contrary, our light shines before others so “that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.” We bear Christ’s light in the world so as to edify others and to give greater glory to God and not to gratify ourselves. God assures us that we will have all that we need to edify others and to give Him greater glory. But He does not assure us that we will see results favorable to our tastes, desires and wishes. Our vocation as disciples is to be as faithful as possible to the graces received for the edification of others and the greater glory of God and to leave the results to God no matter what they may be. Jesus repeats this call to true disinterestedness by saying to His disciples, “When you have done all that has been commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”(Lk 17:10)

In his disinterestedness, St. Paul did not come to the Corinthians with “sublime words or words of wisdom” as many do so as to win the people over by their wisdom and eloquence. Rather the Apostle came to them in “weakness and fear and much trembling.” His intention was not to achieve favorable results in great number of converts but he came in fidelity to what has been given to Him by God which is the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.” His purpose was to edify them and to bring glory to God by leading them to have a faith that “rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must cultivate this disinterestedness if we are going to be faithful and fruitful disciples of Christ to the very end. This disinterestedness is not easy for us because it strikes at the root of our own pride and egoism. Unfavorable results or lack of results disturb our peace and make us lose focus on what matters most – the call to be faithful to the gifts received from God and leave the results to God. We are so attached to visible and positive results at all cost that we have come to depend more on statistical analysis of results than on be power of the divine gift that God has placed in us. By so doing, we forget that it is the Lord’s work; both the initiative and the results are His alone.

This loss of disinterestedness is evident in many ways in the Church today. We turn our sacred liturgies into rock concerts because we believe that this will revive interest in the Mass and bring back many fallen away Catholics. We have a disdain for the discipline of celibacy today because we blame celibacy for the shortage of priests. We get rid of Eucharistic adoration in the parish because few people attend. We give up prayer and tending to holiness because we do not see results of spiritual progress in our lives. We do these because we think that it is our work to draw people to the Mass, or call generous men to priesthood, or draw people to adore our Eucharistic Lord, or produce visible results in prayer and spiritual life. On the contrary, what we are called to do is to be faithful to what has been given to us and leave the results to God, always reminding ourselves that it is the Lord’s work and the results are His.

The virtue of disinterestedness does not mean that we become inactive or unaffected in any way by poor results in our life of discipleship. Neither does it mean that we become complacent or do nothing to improve the outcomes of our efforts. But it simply implies that complete detachment from the results as much as possible should accompany our relentless effort in serving God. We lack this disinterestedness when we let poor results diminish our constant effort to love and serve God. Lacking this virtue, we forget that we have been equipped for fidelity in edifying others and giving glory to God and not for advancing our own cause. For those of us who easily let results dampen our commitment to serve the Lord, Pope Francis has this to say, “Though mission (evangelization) demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything that we can see and understand.” (Evangelii Gaudium #11)

We know that Jesus laid down His life for us on the Cross in complete fidelity to the Father but what we easily forget is that He saved us by His own disinterestedness. He was both faithful to the Father and ready to abandon all the results to His Father. Jesus “did not seek His own glory” (Jn 8:50), but, while on earth, He glorified the Father by “accomplishing the work which the Father gave Him to do,”(Jn 17:4) even if the work accomplished on the Cross looked like a complete failure to the human eyes. The visible results – the hardness of the disciples’ heart, their slowness to understand Him and the message of the Kingdom, their abandoning Him at His time of need, his rejection by entire regions (Mk 5:17, Lk 9:53), the hatred of the Jewish leaders – did not reduce the intensity of Jesus’ saving love for us. In His disinterestedness, He knew it was the Father’s work: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does His works.” (Jn 14:10, 5:17) We cannot ignore Jesus’ own example of disinterested service and still pretend to be His disciples.

St. Louis De Montfort teaches us that one of the signs of an authentic devotion to Mary is this disinterestedness. Truly devoted children of Mary do not turn to Mary because they want to gain something from her but simply because she is worthy of their love, esteem, confidence and service. Disinterestedness is a sign of true devotion to Mary because it is Mary who fosters this attitude in her children who lovingly depend on her. Mary’s fiat “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your words” is her whole hearted acceptance to be a slave of the Lord, to serve God as one who has no rights before Him, to willingly accept all the conditions of service as well as whatever results may come from serving Him to the very end. No result and no conditions of service could diminish Mary’s continuing fidelity to God because, by her disinterestedness, she knew that it was all the Lord’s work: “He has done great things for me.”

Our devotion to Mary, our going to Jesus through and with Mary, gives us a share in this attitude of Mary and allows her to help us die to self and egoism so that we become more disinterested in our life as disciples of Christ. Maybe devotion to Mary is not very popular today becomes it goes against every inclination of our pride and self-seeking. Our devotion to Mary, if it is authentic, moves us to surrender the self-centered and self seeking attitude in our life as Christ’s disciples. We desperately need this if we are going to be servants of Jesus Christ who seek only to edify others and give glory to God with the graces that God gives us.

As we encounter Christ, the light of the world, in this Eucharist, we must remember that He comes to equip us for mutual edification and for lasting fidelity to Him and not to pursue our own desired results. Let us go to Him with confidence through Mary and we will learn how to be disinterested disciples. We will serve Him faithfully and no matter the results we obtain, we will leave the results in His hands and simply utter the language that alone edifies others and brings glory to God: “It is the Lord’s work.”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

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About Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV

Welcome to my blog. I am Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV, a Roman Catholic priest and religious of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary. I am involved in the Retreat ministry and in formation work in our seminary in Antipolo, Philippines. This blog is called toquenchHisthirst because its goal is to remind us of God's thirst for our love made present in the face of Jesus Christ in the midst of all the sins, pains and suffering of mankind today. Please read and comment respectfully.
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