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There is a difference between working and serving. I think that distinction is part of why Pope Benedict has made the decision to resign his position as Supreme Pontiff and Bishop of Rome. I don't have anything against honest work, or any of the rewards that flow from it. I'll bet he doesn't either. And, I don't have anything against the people who make their way to the top. Neither, I imagine, would the Holy Father, as long as what they do when they get there serves a good higher than just their own.
But where has real service gone? You know, helping because help was needed, not because it was rewarded. I'd like to know what ever happened to doing something simply because it's the right thing to do, or even because no one else was willing to do it. Why are sacrifice and selflessness -- and all the other wonderfully human things people used to do without hesitating long enough to calculate what it would cost them -- in such short supply?
Our kids are growing up in a world of mixed messages. On one hand, they are asked to log service hours. On the other, a 17-year-old college applicant is expected to have built a resume his 40-year-old uncle would envy. Usually, that means lying in the form of overstated "achievements," meaningless "proofs" of "leadership skills," and unshakable "commitment" to lofty, but mostly unattainable, "goals."
We compound it by telling them to work hard, and they naively think they've done so when they haven't even begun to break a sweat. They're also told that working is what life is all about, that climbing the ladders, and building portfolios and empires is the best of what life has to offer, that it will give them the freedom and fulfillment their hearts desire.
But we don't tell them that position and influence are a tricky business, and that promoting such things can be dangerous. We neglect to warn them that the people who want power and prestige the most -- and who will sacrifice the most for them -- are precisely the people who deserve them the least and use them to the poorest ends. And more, we seem to hide the fact that the place at the top is most dangerous for the one who occupies it.
Life was never meant to be swallowed by self. But there it is: the ego has never been more puffed up, and the plate has never been licked more clean. And what's the remedy? Simple: the kind of humility it takes to step down from the highest pinnacle because you will not step aside from the responsibilities that come with it. That is the kind of humility we have been privileged to witness in recent weeks, from the heart of the Church in the Servant of the Servants of God.
Benedict XVI is showing us all that to truly serve, we must be humble. The concept has become so foreign to our culture that many of us no longer know what it is. Humility isn't thinking less of ourselves; it isn't low self-esteem. Humility is acknowledging who we truly are, with all our talents and weaknesses. It is seeing ourselves -- and others -- the way God sees us. It's knowing the limits of our strength and the depth of God's grace.
There's a prayer I try to offer daily. Lord, give me the grace today to do your will: nothing "more," nothing less, and nothing else. Let everything I do today serve you. Let everything I am today serve you. Let everything I touch today serve you. Let everything that touches me today serve you. And in that service may I fulfill the purpose for which you gave me this day, whether I see it, know it, or grasp it -- or not. For me, the Holy Father's choice to lay down the mantle of Peter is what living that prayer look likes. But the next man who picks it up will be no less an example of that same humble service. Viva, il Papa! Viva!
Jaymie Stuart Wolfe is a wife and mother of eight children, and a disciple of the spirituality of St. Francis de Sales. She is an inspirational author, speaker, musician and serves as an Associate Children's Editor at Pauline Books and Media.