Cesar Chávez and servanthood

Twenty years ago today, Cesar Chávez died. A founding organizer of the United  Farm Workers, he did much to improve the lot of migrant farm workers. He was also a man of deep faith and simplicity as well as an advocate of nonviolence.

He loved the Church and challenged the church to be what it should be – a sign of God’s Kingdom and an advocate of the poor.

He once said:

What do we want the Church to do? We don’t ask for more cathedrals. We don’t ask for bigger churches of fine gifts. We ask for its presence with us, beside us, as Christ among us. We ask the Church to sacrifice with the people for social change, for justice, and for love of brother. We don’t ask for words. We ask for deeds. We don’t ask for paternalism. We ask for servanthood.

This is a theme that, I believe, is central to our mission as followers of Jesus.

At his inaugural Mass, Pope Francis noted:

Let us never forget that authentic power is service, and that the Pope too, when exercising power, must enter ever more fully into that service which has its radiant culmination on the Cross.

It was also at the heart of Martin Luther King’s vision, which was well stated in his “Drum Major Instinct” sermon:

And so Jesus gave us a new norm of greatness. If you want to be important—wonderful. If you want to be recognized—wonderful. If you want to be great—wonderful. But recognize that he who is greatest among you shall be your servant. That’s a new definition of greatness.

And this morning, the thing that I like about it: by giving that definition of greatness, it means that everybody can be great, because everybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and your verb agree to serve. You don’t have to know about Plato and Aristotle to serve. You don’t have to know Einstein’s theory of relativity to serve. You don’t have to know the second theory of thermodynamics in physics to serve. You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love. And you can be that servant.

I know a man—and I just want to talk about him a minute, and maybe you will discover who I’m talking about as I go down the way because he was a great one. And he just went about serving.

May we be servants, also, serving God and all God’s people, especially the poor.


One response to “Cesar Chávez and servanthood

  1. John –

    I’ve never seen our call to serve boiled down so succinctly…”You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love”. I am reminded of my first job in a shelter for homeless women and families. At the time I was volunteering at Bethany House and one evening when the director came in I asked her, “Do you think I could get a job working in a shelter without a social work degree?” Mary responded, “Here?” I jokingly said, “Yes, if you have any openings.” She proceeded to tell me how she’d just come from a board meeting where they decided to expand the shelter’s capacity and for the first time hire a male staff person to be a role model for the kids. And to think, all I had was a degree in Forestry, and “a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love.”


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