You are not here to be served, but to serve

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Publication Date: May 25, 2005

Homily from the EWTN Live Televised Mass

Isn’t that a bold thing to say to Jesus? "We want you to do of us whatever we ask of you." Can you imagine these men coming up to Him, saying that? The Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, which is also to say, "You are not here to be served, but to serve." If this is true for Jesus, how much more true is it for us? To serve. This Gospel passage tells us the meaning of service. Service is a word that we use in the Church so often, so freely. We use it in secular society as well; we admire people who have a spirit of service. Here we have the theology of service, that it is based on the historical reality of God pouring out His life for us, pouring out his blood for us on the cross. It’s rooted in something not just conceptual or idealistic, but something historical and concrete, that God gave Himself away for us, He became one of us, offered His life, and that is the model of service. And that’s the reason for service, and there, brothers and sisters, we find the power to serve.

Remember when Jesus, in another passage, when He predicted His Passion and death, as He did in today’s, He said, "No one takes my life from me. I lay it down freely." And then He said, "I have the power to lay it down, and the power to take it up again." We can understand what He means when He says He has the power to take it up again: the power of the Resurrection, breaking the chains of death, emerging glorious from the tomb, never to die again. But what does He mean by "the power to lay it down"? The power to be nailed to the cross? The power to be bound and led away, in captivity? Is that power? The power to be scourged and crowned with thorns, and pierced with a lance? What power is there in that? That’s the lesson of service. There is power in that, because it is power to love so much that you are able to allow yourself to be emptied, even of the last drop of your blood. There’s power in the love that leads to service, the love that is in fact the very soul of service. We don’t do any kind of service for any other reason than we are filled and impelled by the love of Christ and the love of God, that empties even Him, and is to empty us. Here life finds its meaning, its purpose, that we give ourselves away in love.

He gave this lesson to His disciples in the context of a little feud, where some wanted, glory, some wanted to be served, some wanted to sit at His right or His left, some were looking for things for themselves, some kind of status, some kind of position, some kind of honor. And He said, "Enough of that. That is not the basis for which I am calling together this community of the Church. That is not the basis." The basis is forget about yourself, look for those who are in need. And He gave them a lesson about authority, because authority and service are two sides of the same coin. Do you have any kind of authority? In the family, in the community, in the Church, in the government? Do you have any kind of authority? Many of you do. And, brothers and sisters, authority means service. The first duty of those in authority is to recognize the limits of their authority, to recognize the source of it. And here, again, we have today the theology of service. "You have come not to be served, but to serve." And to recognize all authority comes from God, and that authority is not to lord it over people and to decide the limits of what is right or is wrong, but is first of all to submit to those limits, to recognize that there is a truth there that you did not create, to recognize that there are values there which are valuable, and have to be respected, not because you have decided to do so in your authority, but because God Himself has put those values there, so that someone who has authority over other people is not the lord of those people. It’s a big difference.

Now we have an authority problem here in the United States of America, and many other countries as well. We have an authority problem that has played itself out in recent days in great drama, and will continue to play itself out with great drama. When we think about those men and women in black robes, called judges, we’ve got a problem here, because, you know, it’s like many of the judges in our nation and around the world are like the umpire who said, "Two strikes—you’re out." Now an umpire is not authorized to do that, is he? "Two strikes—you’re out." What’s the rule of the game? Three strikes—you’re out. And the umpire is there to judge whether a strike really was a strike. But he can’t change the rule that it takes three strikes to go out, and not two, or not one, or not four! It’s not up to the umpire. That’s where his authority stops.

Well, we’ve got judges who, brothers and sisters, have forgotten all about everything that I’ve just been talking about: the limits of their authority, the nature of their authority, the meaning of service, and the meaning of being a judge. We don’t have time to go into this in great detail right now, but just in a nutshell, what has gone wrong is that courts have taken away the law-making power from the lawmakers. And if you take away the power to make laws from the lawmakers, by making laws of your own, or striking down laws that they made, then the people who elected those lawmakers to represent them, and to be accountable to them, are no longer governing themselves. They have now become subject to the rule of judges who have set themselves up and lord it over us, just like the Lord said should not be done. It is being done, and many people don’t realize that it has been done for decades and decades.

And this is one of the key reasons why in this country right now we have all kinds of policies that the people, who are supposed to be governing themselves, never wanted, don’t want, and never will want. Policies like abortion on demand. Even partial-birth abortion continues today for only one reason: not because the Congress wants it, not because the President wants it, not because the state legislatures want it, not because the people want it, not because the people think it’s okay, but because a handful, literally a handful of men and women in black robes think it’s okay. "Those who are recognized as rulers over the gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones make their make their authority over them felt." We have felt the unjustified authority of godless, un-elected, unaccountable judges who have lost their consciences. And we are to stand for it no more.

Now, brothers and sisters, the complexity here is that shaping the courts is not done in the same way as we shape the legislatures or the White House, because in those cases, we get a chance to vote directly for the people who occupy those positions. And the people of God have been responding more and more to their duty to do that, evaluate the candidate and vote. And we have to continue, even now, when we’re not in a peak election-cycle, with activities like voter-registration and getting involved in the process and learning the process better. But when it comes to the courts, we don’t vote directly for judges on the federal level. The Senate puts them in there upon the recommendation of the president: he nominates, they confirm. And so now the dynamics are different. It involves constantly communicating with our senators, and they’ve been dealing with this issue over recent days, haven’t done such a great job in overcoming the filibuster problem, although some progress has been made.

But, brothers and sisters, the point is, we’ve got to get involved in this process of letting our U.S. Senators know, time and time again, over and over again, that we don’t want judges lording it over us; we want judges who understand the limits of their authority. We want judges who understand that it’s the lawmakers who make law. Judges have a very respectable, important, essential role, but it’s not making policy; it’s not imposing on America things that they don’t want seen as policy. It’s judging specific cases that come before them. So keep communicating with your senators. We’re going to have a big, major battle coming up pretty soon over the Supreme Court. There’s going to be a vacancy before too long, and you’re going to see a kind of a battle that will surpass in its intensity anything that we’ve seen before. We have got to be ready, and we’ve got to be ready by keeping informed; we’ve got to ready by not hesitating to mobilize others, to inform others, to write letters to the editor, to get on the telephone, and to contact those offices of our senators.

Now, brothers and sisters, you may have heard some announcements that I’ve made of late regarding a new initiative to help in exactly things like this, to mobilize more and more people in the Church. And as I’ve been doing this work in the course of the years, many young men have come up to me and said, "I want to do the things that you’re doing. I want to be a priest, and I want to fight for life, I want to mobilize people on these issues. I want to dedicate my entire ministry to the defense of the weak and the vulnerable and the unborn." And I’ve had to say to them along the course of the years, I say, "Well, Priests for Life helps all the priests, but if you want o be a priest you have to join a diocese, you have to join a religious community, you have to do that, and then maybe if your bishop or your superior allows you to do this kind of work full-time, you can ask them and they could give you that permission."

Now, however, thanks to Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo, Texas, I am able to say to these young men that come up to me around the country, "You want to do full-time pro-life work, you want to devote yourself completely to this kind of ministry? Come to me." We are able now to accept and to train our own seminarians and ordain them for work in the pro-life effort, exclusively, the same kind of work that our Priests for Life has been doing all around the country. This is going to be a new society of apostolic life, a society with which, by which, through which, those who have and feel this charism for the defense of human life will be able to live it our within the Church. And those who – if you know, or if you are somebody who feels this call to be priest and to do full-time pro-life work, then just contact me. We have a special e-mail And you e-mail us at "vocations," and we’ll let you know about retreats that are coming up and how you apply to this new community.

And many people have been asking me, "Well, is there a lay branch, is there a Third Order?" Yes! You as lay persons, as married people, as single people, whatever your vocation is – even if you’re a priest or seminarian in another community or in a diocese – you want to be associate with this new movement, you contact me as well, and we, in this new effort, are simply giving an expression to something, brothers and sisters, that’s already there! All the progress that we’ve made for the defense of life is because you’re already doing the work, you’re already feeling the call, you’re already living that charism. All we’re doing is providing a rallying-point for things that, thanks be to God, are already taking place. So pray for this new society, pray for the men. I’ve already gotten hundreds of people calling and writing, saying, "I want to be a priest, and I want to do this kind of work," already. And this will foster more vocations, more vocations, thanks to the pro-life effort.

And so needed is it, not only with the judges problem, but with the tragedies, the on-going tragedy, of course, that over-shadows everything else, that of abortion. But also the terrible tragedies, like what we saw with Terri Schiavo, and the last time I was here at EWTN I preached about Terri extensively; and as you’ve seen, I’m sure, since then, I was with her in her final hours, by her bedside, even in her final moments. And I want to conclude, brothers and sisters, by sharing with you, the words I shared with Terri, right before she died. It was one of the very last things that she heard in this life. And as I was sitting there by her bed – and don’t let anybody tell you that her death was peaceful and gentle and beautiful; it was exactly the opposite. It was the most horrifying, violent death that you can imagine. She was not in anyway at peace, or dying in a gentle fashion; she had been with out food or water for two weeks! And, it was just a horrifying thing.

But as I sat there with her brother and sister, and there was a police officer, sometimes two, sometimes three, standing over the bed at all times, making sure nobody gave her so much as a cup of water to drink – this is absolutely outrageous. But there she was, the eyes of the world were upon her, and we were there in that room, and I reached out my hand and caressed her head and blessed her and held her hand. And also within arm’s reach, as I would reach over this way, was a large vase of flowers, filled with water. And I looked at the flowers, living, flourishing, beautiful, nourished, with water! And a few inches away, I looked at Terri, her mouth frozen in an open position, dehydrated, not a drop of water in two weeks. I looked at Terri, and I looked at the flowers, and I looked at God. And I said, "What – what is going on here? How is this happening?" It happened because some judges lord it over us. It didn’t happen because the American people want to treat the vulnerable this way; it happened because judges lord it over us.

And at that moment, when the culture of death was so oppressive in that room, I sang to her the words of the Easter Sequence, proclaiming the resurrection of Christ, saying, "Death and life were in a terrible struggle; death’s captain died. Life, now He reigns victorious." And these were the words I sang to her, the ancient sequence of Easter, the Victimae Paschali:

Victimae paschali laudes immolent Christiani.

Agnus redemit oves; Christus innocens Patris

reconciliavit peccatores.

Mors et vita duello conflixere mirando;

dux vitae mortuus regnat vivus.

Dic nobis Maria quid vidisti in via?

Sepulcrum Christi viventis, et gloriam vidi resurgentis.

Angelicos testes, sudarium et vestes.

Surrexit Christus, spes mea;

precedet suos in Galileam.

Scimus Christum surrexisse ex mortuis vere:

Tu nobis Victor rex, miserere. Amen. Alleluia.

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