By Father Patrick Longalong
Immediately after being ordained as a deacon, my classmates and I were sent on a missionary experience to the Dominican Republic in a village about two hours away outside the city of San Juan. It was an exciting and somewhat intimidating experience since it was an unfamiliar environment with its own unique challenges. However, we were looking forward to exercising our ministry just weeks after taking our promises to serve the Church.
We didn’t know what to expect when we arrived at the parish church located in the middle of town. They had arranged for us to eat meals at the church and assigned each of us to live with families close by the church. I felt lucky to have a wonderful family who adopted me for the weeks we were there. It was late in the evening when we first arrived. My host family gave me something to eat and showed me the room where I would sleep for the duration of my stay with them.
I remember that I had trouble sleeping the first night. When I finally dozed off it felt like minutes before I was awoken by a squeaking sound and a sensation of something nibbling the tip of my left-hand pointer finger. I jumped back against the wall on the bed and saw a huge rat staring at me. My sudden movement immediately scared it away as I saw it run through a crack in the wall.
I didn’t say anything the following morning when I met up with my classmates. I listened to their stories of their experiences of their first night. It was then that I realized that the house we were assigned only had one bedroom. My host family gave me their own room so I would be comfortable, and the entire family chose to sleep together in the living room on the floor. Their gesture of hospitality and humility became my first important lesson in service. I was grateful to them and continue to practice the same value wherever I go.
The Gospel reading this weekend teaches us that our definition of greatness in discipleship is not about what others can do for us but about our first gesture of humility and hospitality. We are asked to make our first impulse in response to the authentic needs of others one of kindness, generosity and service.
In order to be successful in our service to others, we are encouraged in the Letter of James to see things a different way. The second reading challenges us to empty ourselves of self-interest in order to bring about peace within ourselves and others. It is good to reflect and identify why we do the things that we do. Is it for our own benefit or for others? Can it be both and not just our own? Even if we may not feel it, anything that we do for the well-being of others does benefit us and define our own character.
There are times when we might feel that our kindness is taken advantage of or people might twist the good works we do because it undermines their personal agendas. The first reading describes some awful things some people can do to good people who work hard to make our world a better place. Jesus reminds us to not be afraid but to continue doing what is right, uniting our suffering to His.
May our psalm response this week become our prayer to be steadfast in our faith and service to others in the face of persecution. “The Lord upholds my life.”
Twenty-fifth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Wisdom: 2:12, 17-20
Father Longalong is the pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes, Queens Village, and coordinator of the Ministry to Filipino Immigrants.