Once there was a guard who was in charge of a lighthouse along a dangerous coast. He was given enough of oil for a month to keep the light burning every night. There came a woman with her child asking the guard to give her a bottle of oil to cook and feed for her hungry child. Again there came a famous farmer for a bottle of oil, so that his son could light a lamp and study for the examination. Thirdly a man came from nearby factory asking for a bottle of oil to lubricate his machine. The guard was a kindly soul who obliged every one. Towards the end of the month there was no oil left for the lighthouse. One night it was pitch dark and the ships passing by dashed against the rocks in the sea and wrecked. Hundreds of people travelling in the ships lost their lives.
The guard who is responsible for the loss of lives was arrested and brought before the judge. The judge said to the guard that all your charitable acts are praiseworthy and legitimate but you were given only one task: to keep the light burning. Everything else, though they are good and praiseworthy was secondary. Your failure is your duty caused the loss of hundreds of precious lives which cannot be compensated.
When we look at our master Jesus, he clearly spelt out his priorities in his mission. The gospels clearly speak about two priorities of Jesus. The first priority of Jesus was “God’s reign” in the world. His public ministry began with his baptism when he received the Holy Spirit with the confirmation of being the “Beloved Son”, because he identified himself with the sinful humanity fulfilling his Father’s Will (Lk 3:21-22). He was there led by the Spirit for forty days in the wilderness, tempted by the devil (Lk 4:2). Jesus overcame all the messianic temptations and return to Galilee in the power of the Spirit (Lk 4:14). He came to Nazareth where he was brought up and on the day of sabbath he went to the synagogue. There he read the prophecy of Isaiah (Is 61:1-2). Then he closed the book and gave it to the attendant. He further began to say to them “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing” (Lk4:18-21). This indeed is the manifesto of Jesus’ mission in this world. His life and works are well marked by this manifesto. This was his first priority of his life – To bring God’s reign in the world, where everyone enjoys the freedom of being the children of God.
The second priority was the formation of the twelve disciples, who would carry out his mission after his return to his Father. The Gospel according to Mark places the call of the first disciples (Mk 1:16-20) and the constitution of the college of the twelve apostles (Mk 3:16-19) to be with him and to be sent out to preach and have authority to cast out demons (Mk 3:14-15). Jesus himself was the message to them. The very life and ministry and the attitudes Jesus they had to imbibe in spite of their weaknesses. Finally Jesus asked the twelve apostles, after his Resurrection to remain in Jerusalem to receive the Holy Spirit to become not merely preachers but also become witnesses to the life and ministry of Jesus.
Whatever Jesus did in this world is well marked by these two priorities. There were other needs and wishes of the people of his time but he did not yield to their needs and wishes. There was indeed the oppression of the Romans through the local leaders like Herods and tax collectors. The people were impoverished because of constant drought, earthquakes and famine. There was indeed the ritualism of the priests and legalism of the Pharisees. People were looking for a socio-political Messiah who would liberate them from these clutches by a revolution. But Jesus did not yield to their desires and expectations. He spoke of the ‘Reign of God’ comparing it with the ‘Mustard Seed’ ‘Leaven’ ‘Wheat and Weeds’ which teaches us that we have to be patient and wait for God’s own time and hour without being disappointed or discouraged.
As lay men and women, the family and work should be their priority. They should develop their own spirituality in their given situation without imitating others. As religious, mission, community life and the needs of the local and universal Church should be their priority and they should develop their spirituality in their own milieu. As priests, the people, the Parish and the Diocese are their priorities. They should develop their own spirituality where ever they are placed without imitating others. Hence, each of us ought to have our own priorities clear. We cannot allow ourselves to be carried away in every direction; or else the consequences will be disastrous.
St. Francis of Sales in his book “Introduction to Devout Life” makes a striking remark on this point. It is worth mentioning here
“When God the creator made all things, he commanded the plants to bear forth fruit each according to its kind and he likewise commends Christians, the living plants of the vine, to bear fruit by practising devotion according to their state in life. I say, the practice of devotion must differ for the gentleman and the artisan, the servant and the prince, for widow, young girl or wife. Further, it must be adapted to their particular strength, circumstances and duties. Is the solitary life of a Carthusian suited to a bishop? Should those who are married practised the poverty of a Capuchin? If workmen spent as much time in Church as calls as a bishop, such devotion would be ridiculous and cause intolerable disorder”
St. Francis drives home a message that each one should have his or her priorities in their life whether religious or secular according to the status, strength, occupation and vocation. If we set our priorities in our life we can be really productive and our life will be meaningful. Duty and charity must go together without creating tension in life – ‘Bloom where you are planted’.
Most Rev. Dr. M. Devadass Ambrose
Bishop of Thanjavur