Useless Servants

Homily at St Philip Evans, for the 27th Sunday of Ordinary Time, Year C.

On this very weekend, nine years ago, I was in trouble.

At the time, I was a student at seminary. We were allowed to go out after Sunday lunch – but we had to be back for evening prayer at half past six.

With another student, I had driven to a meeting to plan a youth retreat. One of the young women involved had asked for a lift home. I worked out that we had time – but only just – to drop her off and get back for evening prayer. After all, she needed our help, and it was the right thing to do.

We got lost!

Eventually, we found the right road. But we arrived back at the seminary five minutes after the start of vespers. The other student and I had to make a decision – should we go into the chapel late, and hope no one noticed? Or should we say our own evening prayer separately?

We chickened out and decided not to go into chapel. So we took out our prayer books and said vespers together.

Near the end of Sunday Vespers, there is a line which is taken from the Gospel of the day.* It was just as well we hadn’t gone in to chapel because we collapsed in fits of laughter when we read out loud the words: “We are useless servants – we have only done our duty!”

Laughter aside, there is a serious matter at hand here. Jesus wants us to know that God expects us to do our duty.

What is our duty?

Today, let us focus on our duty to do something about injustice. The prophet in today’s First Reading is concerned about injustice. In today’s Psalm, God warns us not to harden our hearts.

If we are to be kind-hearted and generous saints, what can we do about injustice?

When we have a position of responsibility in a workplace or voluntary group, we may have the power to change things for the better.

When we have the right to vote, we should use that right well after thinking and praying about the issues concerned.

But there are lots of problems in the world which seem so big and complicated , that we doubt that we could do anything about them.

Indeed, alone, we can’t.

But if we work together, we can.

There are one thousand two hundred million Catholics in the world. That’s more than a billion people! Together, we can make a big difference. And we have people working for us around the world to do just that.

Across the globe, there are 165 Catholic Relief Organisations, often using the brand name Caritas, working across more than 200 countries and territories.

You might not have heard of Caritas, but you will have heard of the branch which serves Wales and England – it’s CAFOD.

In the UK, CAFOD is working together with more than 200 other charities, ranging from the Welsh Urdd to the National Board of Catholic Women, to push the UK Government to ask why food is not distributed fairly across the world.

  • There would be enough food for everyone IF we give enough aid to stop children dying from hunger and help the poorest families feed themselves.
  • There would be enough food for everyone IF governments stop big companies dodging tax in poor countries.
  • There would be enough food for everyone IF we stop poor farmers being forced off their land and grow crops to feed people, not fuel cars.
  • There would be enough food for everyone IF governments and big companies are honest and open about their actions that stop people getting enough food.

One way we can tackle injustice is by allowing the people we employ to choose particular causes and run campaigns just like this. Remember, these people work for us! When we give money to CAFOD, part of it goes to employ the people who do this work in Britain.

But until the politicians and corporations make things change for the better, we are stuck with injustice. 80% of the people in the world live on less than six pounds per day. We are aware that our own spending money is squeezed as the cost of living in Britain increases. But to most of the world, we in Wales are unimaginably wealthy!

God hates injustice, and expects us to do something about it. This year, CAFOD invites us to think about not one, but two things that we can do: a one-off gift in today’s envelope, and a regular gift by Direct Debit.

It’s not the amount that matters – it could be just £1 a week, the cost of a single meal. What matters here is that we do our bit to put right this injustice, by giving what we can for those who have least.

Let’s remember that our Friday fast, prayer and donation isn’t just about giving someone food today. Through the Caritas network and other partner charities in developing countries, CAFOD will use our money to help men, women and children around the world. They will learn skills and knowledge that will help them enjoy a future free from poverty.

We, who have more, have a duty to help those who have less. We should take no pride in this. We should be quite ready to help others for no reward, to give our gift saying “we are only useless servants, we have only done our duty.”

Does that mean that God is unimpressed by our giving? Jesus gives us today’s Gospel so that we don’t get big headed about our giving. We shouldn’t do it for thanks. But I’ll let you into a secret – if you check out Matthew’s Gospel, you’ll find out what Jesus really thinks: “What you did to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me.” Perhaps doing our duty will not be so useless after all!

A nurse tutor in a CAFOD-funded project to teach skills to nurses in Jos, Nigeria

* Note to readers: Strictly speaking, Saturday Vespers takes a line from the Gospel of Year A, Sunday Lauds from Year B, and Sunday Vespers from Year C. But it happened to be Year C, as it is this year, so forgive me for over-simplifying for an easy read!