In the 70’s it was UPSTAIRS/DOWNSTAIRS and for the past few seasons, it has been DOWNTON ABBEY.
Both these television series show the economic, educational, marital, liberties differences between those who have servants, the upstairs crowd in both shows, and those who, for low wages, serve them.
The other contrast: upstairs is filled with sunlight, lots of windows, bright colours, comfort, rich food, while downstairs the windows are smaller, there is less sunlight, less colour, food is plainer.
While audiences may be intrigued by the complex lives of both the served and the servants, likely most in the audience, if given a choice, would chose to be the served, rather than the servants.
In ancient history those who served were mostly slaves, frequently the unfortunates captured in some war, or as in the case of the Chosen People in Egypt, were not of the dominate race and were enslaved over time.
However once the People of Israel became a nation in their own right by the time of the Roman conquest both the conquered people, the Jewish people, and the Romans had servants and the Romans also had slaves.
Throughout the process of history, even within Christendom, the ‘lower class’, mainly the poor and uneducated, found themselves either tenant farmers of some landowner or poorly paid, poorly housed, often forced to live without the comfort of marriage, having to work as servants just to have a roof over their head, food to eat, clothes to wear – though increasingly the clothing for work, that is for serving, became a uniform of far better quality than the servants’ personal clothing.
In colonial times the British and the Germans in particular used indentured servants, that is people, often kidnapped and forcibly indentured, that is blatantly owing several years of service in the new world working the land, serving in the houses, until finally the ‘debt’ paid off they were freed to live their own lives.
Parallel to this was the whole gruesome and evil business of slavery, a particularly dark form of servitude.
While in most of the democratic countries in the world today indentured servitude is banished, it still exists where so-called coyotes and similar gangs promise the desperate of impoverished countries passage to Europe or North America at such exorbitant fees that, factually these poor become indentured; human traffickers also enslave, mostly but not exclusively, women and girls in the sex trade, while Islamists such as ISIS and Boko Haram, kidnap boys and girls to be enslaved into forced marriages or as child soldiers.
Wealthy people in much of the world still have servants, usually called ‘domestics’, who, at least nominally, are protected by laws which are supposed to ensure proper wages, working conditions, housing – however far too frequently these people, mostly women, are in country on temporary work permits for domestic service or the men as farm labourers and so it is suspect to what degree their rights are protected.
Thanks in large part to the Europeans, who learnt a lot of this from the bureaucratic system of the Papal Court [when there was one], and the British who not only perfected the system but implanted it throughout the Empire, another class of servants developed known variously today as ‘civil’ or ‘public’ servants, the men and women who keep the system of government running from the national to the local level.
Finally there are those who work in the so-called ‘service’ industries such as restaurants and hotels, but the totality of actual ‘service’ groups that keep modern societies functioning, if listed here, would have to include everyone from those who collect our garbage, keep the hydro wires connected, nurse us in hospital, keep the libraries and art galleries open, assure clean drinking water, safe food to eat, grow the food, package the food, etc., etc., etc.
Factually then, no need to move Upstairs or into Downtown abbey!
We are all very well served in more ways than we likely ever think of.
Certainly either through taxes or an actual bill, we pay for this being served – however there are two things about this which bear reflecting upon: 1] we tend to approach this whole system with an inner attitude of entitlement, hence, for example, how cranky and rude people can get when having to wait in line at the bank or grocery store check-out [one reason, and who can blame them, banks like atm’s and stores ‘self-check-out’! 2] those who serve us, and in this things are not changed much since the days of Upstairs/Downstairs or Downton Abbey, tend to be factually unseen, unnoticed by us, unless we are part of the impatient and cranky crowd whose sense of entitlement is so fine tuned no one can possibly meet or satisfy our expectations.
Road rage, attacks on transit drivers, hostility in hospital emergency rooms, tense restlessness in bank or check out lines and the general snarkiness of contemporary society – the abuse heaped upon domestics, public servants, temporary foreign workers – are hallmarks of a greedy society, a culture of entitlement, all of which contradicts the Gospel.
The above is also a stark hallmark of what as become, truly, a post-Christian society.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another, Jesus tell us. [cf. Jn. 13:35]
Indeed there are other words of Jesus which are the polar opposite of the entitlement mentality: …whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave – just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many. [Mt. 20:26-28]….If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all. [Mk.9:35].
Then there is the powerful scene of humble service where Jesus washes the feet of His apostles and Jesus explicitly sets before us the counter intuitive way of living and loving, relating to one another, the polar opposite of assuming we are entitled: For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. [Jn.13;15]
During his first Holy Thursday as Supreme Pontiff Pope Francis lived this out, and the whole world saw, as he washed the feet of juvenile prisoners of both genders and various faith traditions.
Since the 19th century, and the Church blessedly loosing the Papal States and reduced territorially to Vatican City State, from the great social teachings of Leo XXIII each succeeding Pope has led the Church to Her original communal origins, deeper into the Gospel of loving service of one another, more fully towards becoming the authentic servant-church.
At the same time the barnacles of luxury and secular power, which had grown over the centuries onto the bark of Peter, from the triple crown to the papal court and all its splendour, have been chipped away in particular by Bl. Pope Paul VI being the last Pope to be crowned, and famous for giving away or selling items to care for the poor, to recent popes assuring at the Vatican itself shelter and soup kitchens for the poor and their own, especially in the case of Pope Francis, simpler lifestyle.
Over fifty years ago, in its Decree of the Life of Priests, teaching about poverty, the Council Fathers urged: Priests, moreover, are invited to embrace voluntary poverty by which they are more manifestly conformed to Christ and become eager in the sacred ministry. For Christ, though he was rich, became poor on account of us, that by his need we might become rich. And by their example the apostles witnessed that a free gift of God is to be freely given, with the knowledge of how to sustain both abundance and need. A certain common use of goods, similar to the common possession of goods in the history of the primitive Church, furnishes an excellent means of pastoral charity. By living this form of life, priests can laudably reduce to practice that spirit of poverty commended by Christ. Led by the Spirit of the Lord, who anointed the Savior and sent him to evangelize the poor, priests, therefore, and also bishops, should avoid everything which in any way could turn the poor away. Before the other followers of Christ, let priests set aside every appearance of vanity in their possessions. Let them arrange their homes so that they might not appear unapproachable to anyone, lest anyone, even the most humble, fear to visit them.
I mention the above profoundly aware of my own struggle to live up to those norms and also aware that, not as excuse but simple fact, contemporary bishops, priests, seminarians, religious sisters and brothers of this generation have grown up in a culture of entitled, self-centered, instant gratification greed and so we all, clergy, religious, laity, Christians and non, as a whole society, truly need to encourage one another to become loving servants of our family members, neighbours, co-workers, yes even of strangers,[cf. Mt. 25: 31-46] also of our local communities and our nations.
I will admit to the temptation, given the way my brain works, to lay out here reams of specific situations, aspects of daily communal, economic, structural, political, religious life, etc., etc., with innumerable how to fix it recommendations.
That would be a seriously wrong, somewhat stupid thing to do, because a] it would usurp the personal freedom and responsibility we each have to choose to love and serve one another, or not and b] would contradict the very sacredness of striving to be a loving-servant by acting like an overlord!
So here I will try, simply, to reflect on needed interior conversion of attitude and very simple, little, almost in the grand scheme of things, unnoticeable ways of becoming more and more a loving-servant in imitation of Christ and fidelity to His great commandment that we love one another as He loves us.
As citizens we do have certain rights/entitlements such as security of our person, freedom from discrimination, a just wage for our labour and as Christians there are certain expectations we can trust, though these are not rights or entitlements, such as expecting and trusting God’s love, the grace of redemption, that our prayers will be heeded and answered in the way He as our Loving Father knows is most conducive to our sanctification.
There are however disordered ways we tell ourselves ‘I have a right to’; ‘I am entitled too’; ‘God must!’
Check with any police force, as an example, about the type of 911 calls which tie up the lines making it difficult for people with real emergencies to get through and get help – those spurious calls come from a mentality that says ‘I have a right to have everyone at my beck and call to meet all my needs.’
So in the first instance, in accord with Jesus’ teaching: You shall love your neighbour as yourself. [Mk.12:31], being a loving servant of self and other is to exercise basic common sense and prudence when stressed so I am not abusing those who are their to help in a real emergency.
We live in a culture of blame which has us furiously determined to extract compensation we believe we are entitled to because someone in the distant past abused, enslaved, beat in battle, our ancestors and so the refusal to serve by living out another of Jesus’ teachings: ….love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven…[Mt. 5:44/45].
All, ultimately, that the refusal to love and serve through reconciliation accomplishes is that the wounds never heal, divisions are never bridged, and in extreme cases such an under the surface heated mass of resentment and anger builds up that eventually it explodes to the surface and we have things like Islamic terrorism, race riots, families torn apart, whole communities divided, indeed Christianity itself split off in all directions confusing non-Christians, making them hesitant to follow Christ because they are unsure of which of the many variations of Christianity is the authentic one.
Perhaps we do not see ourselves as someone belonging to the never-satisfied group of those who believe that they are entitled, endlessly, to various forms of compensation for ancestral injustices, or even recent ones, nor do we see ourselves as among those who assume every system in society, if not everyone around us, is there to meet our entitled, as we believe them to be, needs.
Perhaps we just expect, because we are entitled to it, after all we did pay the fare or for the movie ticket or bank at this branch or shop in this store, not to be denied our entitlement because the bus is crowded or the person in front of us has a big head or the line is slow or…….
Actually to love one another as Jesus loves us, to be a servant as He is means we choose to offer our seat on the bus to someone else, to enjoy the movie as best we can without interiorly wanting to lop off someone’s head, to spend the time in the slow moving lines to pray for everyone there.
Love does such things and being a servant in large measure is to love and serve when it is not all that convenient and it is especially a joyful thing to love and serve when we are not noticed for as Jesus also teaches: ..For if you love those who love you, what reward have you? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet your brethren only, what do you do more than others? Do not even the tax collectors do so? Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect. [Mt. 5:46-48] and: …when you do a charitable deed, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, that your charitable deed may be in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will Himself reward you openly. [Mt. 6:3/4]
The opportunities to choose to be loving servants of one another: within the family, parish, local community, even further afield, are numerous and the ways of being loving servants are as varied as love’s imagination is creative.
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