Mission Service

POST BY PGallagher

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

The imitation of Christ is our mission.  To be like Jesus is the task he has given us in the world: the cup that I must drink, you shall drink.    This imitation is much more than copying or mimicry.  To be like the One who came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many is to become him. It is to live in his life.  The imitation of Christ is feasible for us.  This is not an aspiration to be like someone who is so different from us, so far above us, that our mission has no chance of being fulfilled.  The Lord is far above us but he is also right beside us and he urges us to be like him. With the baptism with which I must be baptised you will be baptised.

To imitate Christ is not to stop being ourselves.  In all maturity and integrity and self-respect we can imitate Jesus in a way which far from compromising our own character and personality actually brings those to their best.  We imitate Jesus while remaining ourselves.  We do so by being like him as we meet him and come to know him.  We gather such understanding from the Gospel. We meet the Lord also in his teaching faithfully transmitted to us in the Church. We encounter the imitable Christ also in our personal sacramental and spiritual life.  Little by little, we arrive at an understanding of the Jesus Christ whom we are to imitate completely.  However that totality includes all sorts of details.  For example, Jesus takes his troubles to God in prayer. He puts up with awkward, uncomprehending people. He forgives injuries.  He shows respect for His mother. His presence is a healing, reconciling one. In all these details and many more we can imitate the Lord. 

If it is possible, with the help of the grace of God, to imitate Christ in the details of life, is it possible to copy his larger projects, his grand scheme, his world mission?  The Son of man came to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.   Service is certainly possible for us.  All the time, we can be on the alert for opportunities to serve others.  Jesus alone is the Saviour of the world.  We do not save ourselves or others.   Yet the Lord allows us to help him in great service to the whole world.  He does not promise his disciples places of honour but he does invite us to share his work: to drink his chalice and to live his baptism. 

He is the supreme high priest who offers by himself the great sacrifice which will allow his followers to go through with him into the highest heaven.  Jesus the high priest invites us to imitate him by making sacrifices ourselves.  We will find grace when we are in need of it and this help from God will enable us to join as fully as possible in the sacrificial task of Jesus Christ. Self-sacrifice for the sake of others is Jesus's great project. Self-giving is his reason for being.   As disciples in whom the Lord’s wonderful life of service is being lived we can find ourselves beginning to want to imitate him in this sacrificial way also. 

The arena of our sacrifice is our everyday life.  A marriage, the relationship with one’s children, our commitments to others, our work, our parish, our school and our friendships are the setting for a self-giving which is Christ-like. Jesus is imitated when we are generous, unselfish and kind.  We become Christ when we play our part in the building up of goodness, holiness and peace.

Redemption was a life-consuming project for Jesus.  Our accepting that we are redeemed is going to be hardly less absorbing for us. Saving us is Jesus' reason for being with us. Accepting our redemption is our great reason for being like him.  Otherwise, how impertinent to want to be like God! This divine impertinence, this godly cheek, on our part, which prompts us to embark on the imitation of Christ takes us into very deep water.  Are we up for this? There  is joy in giving ourselves wholeheartedly to the service of others but there are also challenges and difficulties. The pain which might come to us in such self-giving is a cost calculated, a price we are enabled to pay.   It is part of imitating One whom God has been pleased to crush ….with suffering.  We believe that by his sufferings shall Jesus justify many, taking their faults on himself.  The imitation of Christ closely associates us with his suffering and death.  Our troubles and our coping with them are part of our becoming like him.  As we live the imitable life of Jesus what is uphill for us is connected to his going up Calvary to die for us and the whole world.

Christ's great work is undertaken out of love. His ransoming of many is discharged in peace. If we imitate Christ, we also imitate his redeeming atonement.  Unlike him, we have sins for which we seek to atone as best we can.  Such atonement is a big project for us. To imitate Jesus in his atoning work draws us into self-examination. It calls out of prayers for forgiveness. We are learning to make amends. The one who came to serve and to be served shows us how to be humble.

We hesitate at least little before the arduous aspects of the imitation of Christ.  However, before we make too much of the difficulty, we can comfort ourselves with the thought that the labour of atonement for our sins has already been done by Jesus himself. The task is already completed, the work already done.  Our imitative role in this part of his mission is modest.   Here at Mass we join our prayers and communion to the atoning sacrifice of Calvary, made once and for all.  As this source of God’s grace links to our everyday life it helps us to imitate Christ in the difficult things. There will be costly self-giving. There will be vulnerability. There will be suffering.  Mercifully, these trials are often small-scale and un-dramatic.  Our sharing in Christ's mission has everyday manifestations which are simple, ordinary and even, sometimes, easy.  At the same time we are in solidarity not only with the sufferings of Christ but also with those of all our brothers and sisters, near and far, whose troubles are great.  The Lord addresses himself to every person. Not all are having an easy time. In imitating him, we stand close to those who are in pain, or are fearful or are defeated.

Jesus is remarkable.  The imitators of Christ are not unremarkable.  We are, nevertheless, too busy imitating him to notice how remarkable we are ourselves becoming.  The imitation of Christ changes us.  It alters us thoroughly.  We join more and more fully into his life of loving service.  Our own life is no longer the same.

Peter Gallagher SJ