|Years ago, I was an assistant principal in a Catholic high school in New Hampshire. The school, which was part of a network of schools of the Brothers of the Sacred Heart, was intentional with its stakeholders about celebrating the rich history of the early brothers, and especially the founder of the order, Fr. Andre Coindre. Fr. Coindre, a post-revolutionary French preacher, was known for his fiery sermons and his intense zeal for the disadvantaged and neglected youth that he saw around him. In the early days of the religious order, it was reported that a young brother, frustrated with the enormity of his responsibilities of supervising others, asked Fr. Coindre how much more he needed to do. If I recall correctly, Fr. Coindre’s response was “when you have done all you can, you have done all you must”. That phrase became a bit of a motto among the faculty, and even the students. It was a reminder to us all to be intentional about our work, and to always seek ways to serve others more greatly.
For some reason, that story always stuck with me, and I think that it is especially applicable to this week’s readings. In today’s Gospel, Jesus, in his usual direct style, teaches his Apostles about the very same idea – that we have work to do here on Earth, and that we need to understand the importance of that work. Coming to terms with that takes time and intentional action.
The title of today’s Gospel reading, “[the] Attitude of the Servant”, frames how we ought to consider our Earthly existence as we prepare to take our place at the Lord’s table in Heaven. It is important for us to ask ourselves, have we done all that we can? This question really requires deep reflection, especially in contemporary times, when we are confronted with a constant barrage of 24-hour news cycles, rapid media consumption, and all the information that we would ever need wired into our homes and available in an instant. It is so important for us all to slow down and to thoughtfully examine the extent to which we are preparing ourselves for our spiritual inheritance.
And, only after we have done what we have been commanded, Jesus instructs us to say “we are unprofitable servants; we have done what we are obliged to do” (Luke 17:10). What does it mean to be an “unprofitable servant”? When I reflect on this phrase, I am drawn to the idea that the work that we do to glorify the Lord here on Earth is never transactional. Rather, it is always for the greater good. Perhaps our prayer should reflect that. Today’s Gospel is a reminder that we should not be praying for own interests, but instead, we should be praying that we can continue to grow in how we bring glory to God in all that we do every day. By being mindful of this subtle shift in perspective, and by always striving for greater service for those who it most, we make ourselves more worthy for life with Christ.