Service as true presence

Categories: Guest Views

A Holy Thursday reflection
by Maureen and Jim Otremba

If you have never participated in the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, then you might understandably expect the Gospel reading for this liturgy to recount the meal in which Jesus gave us his body and blood in the first Eucharist. But you may be surprised when you hear instead the account from John’s Gospel in which Jesus washes the feet of his disciples.

In choosing this Gospel, the church teaches us a critical lesson: that participation in the Eucharist must lead to service, in whatever ways our life invites us to serve.

If we look at Jesus’ example, we’ll note that he is truly present to his disciples. Washing a person’s feet involves being attentive to that one person, in real time, with no distractions. It means being present in the moment.

Focusing on others

jesuswashingfeetIn our busy world of distraction, this kind of presence can be a challenge for us. Our minds are full of so many things: what’s happening next, where I need to be, what’s happening on social media, what my plans for this day are. Being present involves setting those distractions aside and focusing on the people around us. In the realm of service, it can even involve putting their needs before ours.

What does this look like for parents? First, it is rooted in prayer that enables them to model service to their children and to each other.

Next, it recognizes that service doesn’t mean servitude. In other words, parents aren’t supposed to be at the beck and call of their kids; rather, they are called upon to assist their children in becoming faith-filled people of integrity and goodness. This doesn’t happen when parents meet every whim or demand of their children. Instead, it happens when families choose to be present to one another, to pray and worship and to serve each other and the world.

What does service look like for children? The fourth commandment is a good starting place: “Honor your father and mother.” Honor involves respect, obedience, attentiveness and gratitude. We owe these to our parents no matter how old we are (or they are).

In addition to serving parents, children can serve each other. Sharing, assisting each other with tasks, being patient with each other and being willing to forgive are just a few of the ways children grow in service.

There is an often-repeated saying, “Charity begins at home.” If we consider the Christian understanding of charity as self-giving love, then this phrase makes sense. But as with charitable donations, our self-giving love should begin at home but not end there. The love that gives itself in service:

  • listens to a co-worker, neighbor or fellow parishioner to get the whole story, not taking sides but being lovingly supportive;
  • tries to be present to the newcomers in our midst without judging;
  • helps us to do what we can this moment, even if we can’t fix the whole situation.

The Holy Thursday liturgy celebrates the night when Jesus gave himself to us as an eternal gift — body, blood, soul and divinity, what we Catholics refer to as the Real Presence. But he also modeled how that love is to be lived out: in real, present and loving service to each other and the world.

Maureen and Jim Otremba are members of Sacred Heart Parish in Sauk Rapids and the parents of three children, ages 15, 14 and 10. They are frequent presenters on marriage, family and parenting topics and are primary authors of “Fully Engaged,” the pre-marriage inventory and catechetical formation program created by the Diocese of St. Cloud. Their website is