In a society suffering from a perceived lack of models, a phrase from the Letter to the Corinthians offered as part of this weekend’s Scripture Readings stands out. “I made myself all things to all men in order to save some at any cost” (1 Cor 9:22).
The declaration takes on a particular resonance as we approach another anniversary of the death of Archbishop Anthony Pantin, who took this as his motto and the guiding principle of his years of service.
Here was a man who was like Jesus, a man for others, who spent himself joyfully and enthusiastically to make Christ incarnate in the day-to-day life of the society, with all the suffering, misunderstanding and confusion that such a mission entailed, but from which he did not flinch.
Individualism and self-centredness are the anti-values of our world, so it is not surprising that violence and destructiveness are the prevailing modes of social interaction.
We cannot see the other as neighbour because s/he is a competitor for scarce resources and so must be put out of the competition. There can only be one first place and I must occupy it, no matter the cost to myself or others. In that world, the intrinsic value of the prize is irrelevant—witness the frenzy that characterises sales or markdowns often of trifling goods. Into this world, the commandment to love resounds.
How do we interpret that when love is limited to roses, chocolates and stuffed toys on Valentine’s Day offered to persons whom we have vilified and objectified a few days previously? Where are we to point to models of self-sacrificing service to inspire us to move beyond ourselves?
Of course, in our quieter moments, we can identify the mother, neighbour, teacher who made love real and present to us when we felt least lovable. But these people do not have the glamour of the celebrities whom we are trained to believe are the real exemplars, and whose occasional gestures of generosity capture the headlines.
As we begin this new month enlivened by Carnival, Lent, Valentine’s Day and various other points of interest, let us look more deeply at the real people who can serve as models to lighten our way towards the light—women who direct our gaze away from self-interest and towards service, persons who sacrifice gain for integrity, young people who take time out to help their peers or the elderly, when they could enclose themselves in a cocoon of career advancement and financial gain.
Such persons are all around us, we need to cleanse our vision so that we stop mistaking the mask for the face, the robber talk for the gospel. May the many saints who surround us come to our help in this quest.