Serving others is its own reward


My father, freshly arrived from Maryland, sat in his hotel room placing batteries into a flashlight as diligently as a boot camp recruit loading a rifle under a drill sergeant's stare.

Assured there would be light, he twizzled with companion gizmos he'd just bought: jumper cables, crampons, a full-blown roadside emergency kit.

"There," he said, finally satisfied, "now you'll be safe."

I had not, until that moment, felt endangered. I am a middle-aged man with decades of university education and professional training behind me. I've lived in Montreal for years, and know its winters well. I am also a Catholic priest. Let us just say I know Who to call for help.

But this man is my father and, on checking into the hotel, he sensed a blizzard in the air. The ink was barely dry on the guest register before we were on our way to Canadian Tire to make sure I had everything I needed to drive and survive in the coming storm.

Was he just being a busybody? Violating "personal boundaries" by interfering in my adult autonomy? Some modern psychologists might say so. They, unfortunately, would be aping the late 19th century's self-declared "psychologist" and philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche, who preached the futility of being concerned with the care and comfort of other human beings.

Nietzsche's creed came down to the declaration that "there is no God, no afterlife, and therefore man is completely on his own." His outlook on life can be summarized as "maximize earthly enjoyment at whatever the cost because that's all there is." Pope Benedict XVI has masterfully summarized Nietzsche's approach as offering only: "a narrow this-worldliness -- with the will to get the most out of the world and what life has to offer now, to seek heaven here and to be uninhibited by any scruples while doing so."

For anyone who has bought into this vision of life, the driving force will be an ideology of power and domination. Such intangible values as generosity and mercy will most likely be scorned.

We don't need to scale the lofty heights of German philosophy to see the damage done by this belief system. We encounter it in our daily lives, for example at work when we hear the boss who barks, "I don't care what or how long it takes, just get it done!" Suddenly, people become merely a means of production, or even obstacles to production, rather than individuals possessing dignity and worthy of respect. Forgotten is the fact that we are not machines but rather human beings who have been created to be happy.

There is, and there always has been, another way -- one that begins and ends with the word "service." Not self-service. Rather, service as a way to recognize the great dignity and worth of those around us.

My father is someone for whom service is one of life's great essentials. Serving others is just a natural reflex for him and others like him. If you are bareheaded when it begins to rain, you may wind up sporting a hat that you wouldn't normally be caught dead wearing in public, but for which you will be infinitely grateful. Trust me. I know.

What my father and his generation taught me is that the greatest happiness of all comes from scratching someone else's back, usually in the spot they just can't quite reach.

A saint of the Catholic Church, Josemaria Escriva, had a favourite Italian expression per servire, servire. The obvious meaning is "To serve, serve." The deeper meaning is "to be useful, serve." The inescapable conclusion of this tidbit of wisdom from the founder of the Catholic organization Opus Dei is that unless I serve others I am of no use to them. Just imagine for a minute what your workplace would be like if your boss discovered that to lead means to serve by discovering and developing the talents of others.

Yet it is not only holy men and practical dads who can serve as reminders of what giving can bring. The Tiger Woods of women's professional golf is a very classy 28-year-old from Mexico by the name of Lorena Ochoa. Each time Lorena arrives at a golf course for a tournament, the first thing she does is shake the hand of each and every Mexican working at the club. It is her way of pointedly acknowledging their dignity.

What my father and his generation taught me is that the greatest happiness of all comes from scratching someone else's back, usually in the spot they just can't quite reach.

Which brings us back to the look of contentment on my father's face as he sat back from assembling my winter-driving survival kit. It was the calm before the storm when he noticed me scratching my ankle.

"What are you doing?" he said "It just itches," I said. "Pharmacy," he said.

And off we went to the drug store, emerging with two king-sized servings of Keri Lotion. It helped, as my father knew it would. Per servire, servire -- truly balm for the world around us.



Msgr. Fred Dolan, "Serving others is its own reward." National Post, (Canada) April 11, 2009.

Reprinted with permission of the National Post.


Msgr. Frederick Dolan is Vicar of Opus Dei for Canada. After several years in the business world as a sales representative and a stockbroker, he pursued graduate studies at Harvard Business School. In 1980 Msgr. Dolan moved to Rome where he completed his doctoral studies in philosophy. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1983. Msgr. Dolan served as a chaplain at a student residence in South Bend, Indiana, and later worked with high-school students in the Bronx and college students at Yale University.

Before his appointment as Vicar, Msgr. Dolan was the Chancellor of the Curia of the Prelature in Rome from 1992 to 1998.He is based in Montreal at 1380 Pine Avenue West, H3G 1A8.

Copyright © 2009 National Post

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