Disinterestedness: The Forgotten Virtue

Blessed Theresa of Calcutta was once asked in an interview what she would do if she was forced by the government of any country where she had established her Missionaries of Charity sisters to close down any of her community’s houses. She calmly replied, “After a time of prayer, I will close it down immediately. It is not my work; it is Jesus’ work. If He wants it to end in that way, then so be it.” Despite her passionate and undying desire to quench the thirst of Jesus on the Cross by loving and serving the poorest of the poor in as many countries as possible, Blessed Theresa was ready to close down any of her houses peacefully if compelled to do so because, in her words, “It is Jesus’ work.”

“It is Jesus’ work.” That is the language of disinterestedness. Disinterestedness is that attitude by which one relentlessly seeks the greater glory of God by the grace of God while remaining so detached from the results of such endeavors that they can say at the end, whether they see positive, negative, or no results at all, “It is the Lord Jesus’ work.” The disinterested person leaves the results to God however it may turn out after honestly and generously doing all that can be done with the graces of the present moment.

Jesus uses two images in Sunday’s Gospel passage to teach us about discipleship. We are “Salt of the earth” only because we have received this “saltiness” from God and not from the earth. We are “no longer good for anything” only when we lose this “saltiness” from God. Again, we are “light of the world” only because we have received light from Jesus Christ and not from the world. Jesus is the “true light that enlightens every man in the world.”(Jn 1:9, 9:5) Likewise, the city cannot build itself or set itself on a mountain and a lamp cannot light itself or place itself on a lampstand. These images show our utter dependence on God for everything and that we can depend on God to provide us all we need.

Because we are the “light of the world,” drawing our light from Jesus, our light is not meant to shine in the world so as to bring us the results that we so desire or to glorify ourselves. On the contrary, our light shines before others so “that they may see our good deeds and glorify our heavenly Father.” We bear Christ’s light in the world so as to edify others and to give greater glory to God and not to gratify ourselves. God assures us that we will have all that we need to edify others and to give Him greater glory. But He does not assure us that we will see results favorable to our tastes, desires and wishes. Our vocation as disciples is to be as faithful as possible to the graces received for the edification of others and the greater glory of God and to leave the results to God no matter what they may be. Jesus repeats this call to true disinterestedness by saying to His disciples, “When you have done all that has been commanded you, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’”(Lk 17:10)

In his disinterestedness, St. Paul did not come to the Corinthians with “sublime words or words of wisdom” as many do so as to win the people over by their wisdom and eloquence. Rather the Apostle came to them in “weakness and fear and much trembling.” His intention was not to achieve favorable results in great number of converts but he came in fidelity to what has been given to Him by God which is the “demonstration of the Spirit and power.” His purpose was to edify them and to bring glory to God by leading them to have a faith that “rests not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, we must cultivate this disinterestedness if we are going to be faithful and fruitful disciples of Christ to the very end. This disinterestedness is not easy for us because it strikes at the root of our own pride and egoism. Unfavorable results or lack of results disturb our peace and make us lose focus on what matters most – the call to be faithful to the gifts received from God and leave the results to God. We are so attached to visible and positive results at all cost that we have come to depend more on statistical analysis of results than on be power of the divine gift that God has placed in us. By so doing, we forget that it is the Lord’s work; both the initiative and the results are His alone.

This loss of disinterestedness is evident in many ways in the Church today. We turn our sacred liturgies into rock concerts because we believe that this will revive interest in the Mass and bring back many fallen away Catholics. We have a disdain for the discipline of celibacy today because we blame celibacy for the shortage of priests. We get rid of Eucharistic adoration in the parish because few people attend. We give up prayer and tending to holiness because we do not see results of spiritual progress in our lives. We do these because we think that it is our work to draw people to the Mass, or call generous men to priesthood, or draw people to adore our Eucharistic Lord, or produce visible results in prayer and spiritual life. On the contrary, what we are called to do is to be faithful to what has been given to us and leave the results to God, always reminding ourselves that it is the Lord’s work and the results are His.

The virtue of disinterestedness does not mean that we become inactive or unaffected in any way by poor results in our life of discipleship. Neither does it mean that we become complacent or do nothing to improve the outcomes of our efforts. But it simply implies that complete detachment from the results as much as possible should accompany our relentless effort in serving God. We lack this disinterestedness when we let poor results diminish our constant effort to love and serve God. Lacking this virtue, we forget that we have been equipped for fidelity in edifying others and giving glory to God and not for advancing our own cause. For those of us who easily let results dampen our commitment to serve the Lord, Pope Francis has this to say, “Though mission (evangelization) demands great generosity on our part, it would be wrong to see it as a heroic individual undertaking, for it is first and foremost the Lord’s work, surpassing anything that we can see and understand.” (Evangelii Gaudium #11)

We know that Jesus laid down His life for us on the Cross in complete fidelity to the Father but what we easily forget is that He saved us by His own disinterestedness. He was both faithful to the Father and ready to abandon all the results to His Father. Jesus “did not seek His own glory” (Jn 8:50), but, while on earth, He glorified the Father by “accomplishing the work which the Father gave Him to do,”(Jn 17:4) even if the work accomplished on the Cross looked like a complete failure to the human eyes. The visible results – the hardness of the disciples’ heart, their slowness to understand Him and the message of the Kingdom, their abandoning Him at His time of need, his rejection by entire regions (Mk 5:17, Lk 9:53), the hatred of the Jewish leaders – did not reduce the intensity of Jesus’ saving love for us. In His disinterestedness, He knew it was the Father’s work: “I am in the Father and the Father is in me. The words that I speak to you I do not speak on my own authority; but the Father who dwells in me does His works.” (Jn14:10, 5:17) We cannot ignore Jesus’ own example of disinterested service and still pretend to be His disciples.

St. Louis De Montfort teaches us that one of the signs of an authentic devotion to Mary is this disinterestedness. Truly devoted children of Mary do not turn to Mary because they want to gain something from her but simply because she is worthy of their love, esteem, confidence and service. Disinterestedness is a sign of true devotion to Mary because it is Mary who fosters this attitude in her children who lovingly depend on her. Mary’s fiat “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it done to me according to your words” is her whole hearted acceptance to be a slave of the Lord, to serve God as one who has no rights before Him, to willingly accept all the conditions of service as well as whatever results may come from serving Him to the very end. No result and no conditions of service could diminish Mary’s continuing fidelity to God because, by her disinterestedness, she knew that it was all the Lord’s work: “He has done great things for me.”

Our devotion to Mary, our going to Jesus through and with Mary, gives us a share in this attitude of Mary and allows her to help us die to self and egoism so that we become more disinterested in our life as disciples of Christ. Maybe devotion to Mary is not very popular today becomes it goes against every inclination of our pride and self-seeking. Our devotion to Mary, if it is authentic, moves us to surrender the self-centered and self seeking attitude in our life as Christ’s disciples. We desperately need this if we are going to be servants of Jesus Christ who seek only to edify others and give glory to God with the graces that God gives us.

As we encounter Christ, the light of the world, in this Eucharist, we must remember that He comes to equip us for mutual edification and for lasting fidelity to Him and not to pursue our own desired results. Let us go to Him with confidence through Mary and we will learn how to be disinterested disciples. We will serve Him faithfully and no matter the results we obtain, we will leave the results in His hands and simply utter the language that alone edifies others and brings glory to God: “It is the Lord’s work.”

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

image: Ryan Rodrick Beiler / Shutterstock.com

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV


Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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  • Chris K

    Thank you for such a great article! Your writing is very timely and so well presented. Thank you for your missionary zeal in our direction.

  • Lee

    So often we feel the pain of failure, because we do not recognize that our work is God’s work: and we should not hold back from moving forward. Each decision we make can be painless when we are able and willing to allow God’s Will to be our foremost guide. We suffer so when we deny ourselves the peace and joy He desires for us.Disinterestedness comes much easier to those who are open to Christ and His mother Mary.

  • Rosemary58

    Nothing we do for Christ is ever wasted.

  • BillinJax

    As I contemplated becoming Catholic over 60 years ago and having lost my mother as a child of eight who spent the next several years from home to home as an add on to families Mary was the answer to my prayers. I could have a true faith in God and a mother of my own forever regardless of what else life would bring to me. As time past I wanted to thank God and Christ’s Church for this and here is part of what I had to say about her and my wonderful and holy wife.

    In the beginning the superior “deceiver” wanted to unravel paradise but he
    also wanted to inflict as much damage as possible to God’s plan. His attack was
    aimed at the very “heart” of mankind, the woman. This is why, as a result, God
    spoke to him in no uncertain terms of the “woman” who would in time, with the
    Holy Spirits help, ultimately triumph over him and “crush his head with her
    heel”. Having heard this, instead of centuries of finger pointing submission, I
    think “the man” huddled back there in the corner of the garden, should have
    been cheering his head off for the “woman” God made perfectly for him. I suppose
    his ability to envision the promised confrontation and the role planned for
    her, was a stretch for him. It would be a while before he and the world would
    come to see and understand the foretold “triumphant” woman’s true capabilities.

    (Oh virgin mother Mary most pure and full of grace, God’s promise for
    mankind has been fulfilled in your acceptance to be his chosen one to bring
    forth his divine mercy by your complete obedience to his will through and with
    his beloved Son our Lord Jesus.)

    This time it would be God the Father making the proposal to the “woman” he
    had chosen to fulfill his Will and she accepted, not to gain anything for
    herself but to offer freely and willingly not only the fruit of her womb but
    her entire life and being for the salvation of the world. Mary became
    “Christian” before Christianity had its own identity. Humble and devout husband
    Joseph also followed the will of God. Though he did not immediately understand,
    faithful and gentle Joseph listened, followed God’s plan for him, and without
    any finger pointing, willingly cared for and protected his pregnant fiancé.
    Mary surely told him all that had been revealed to her. This along with the
    angelic messages spoken to him was enough to convince him he was doing the
    right thing no matter how it appeared to others.

    Does anyone doubt Mary’s complete understanding of Jesus and his mission?
    She knew what the Spirit had asked her to do and she accepted because it was
    her desire to do the Will of God at all times. Those 30 years spent in a divine
    love arrangement with Jesus at her side had to be the ultimate bonding
    experience. Their lives and thoughts became one in union with the Father which
    is evidenced in their interactions recorded in the gospels.

    “Mother, (not to worry) did you not know that I must be about my Fathers
    business”? “Son, they have no wine!” “What would you have me do?” “Do whatever
    HE tells you!” “Woman, behold your son; John, behold your mother”. Though
    little of their discourse is recorded in scripture there is no doubt they shared
    an infinite consciousness of their divine and eternal union and the Father’s
    plan for them throughout eternity.

    Awareness, knowledge, and trust were so evident in Mary’s conversations
    with our Lord. She knew who he was and why he had come. It would be totally
    unreasonable to imagine that Mary and Jesus spent all those years together
    without discourse regarding his being, his mission, and his destiny. She was
    the active and ordained “co-participant” in all of it like any mother only more
    so because of it’s divine origin and purpose as foretold by the annunciation

    Mary was really God’s bride and that was alright with Joseph. He was
    privileged to share the nurturing of Jesus through childhood in and around his
    carpenter shop. (There is no doubt in my mind that Joseph was amazed at some of
    their creations.) And I’m sure he became more and more aware of his purpose,
    his faith, and Christ’s mission as the years passed. Joseph is a great role
    model for husbands and fathers. Mary and Joseph were the first “Christians”,
    giving their lives for Christ day in and day out as long as they lived.

    Today as husbands and fathers we need to see Joseph as our patron saint and
    be devoted to our wives as he loved and honored Mary and Jesus. Our wives are
    often referred to as our better half and we honestly have to admit they do have
    capabilities beyond our reach. Also they are wonderful loving, thoughtful, and
    compassionate companions and mothers when we allow them to be just that and not
    ask or suggest they imitate the hollow versions created of them in Hollywood or
    the fashion industry. We need to let them know we will be perfectly content with anything close to the humble faithful servant of God’s holy will who set an example for them in Bethlehem and Nazareth and we are here always to love and honor them as we faithfully care for the family and/or home they hope to provide us.

    I firmly believe the many problems associated with marriages and family
    life today are directly or indirectly a result of the removal of women from the
    pedestal which they rightfully should occupy. There are several reasons for this demise but all have tarnished the elevated image I believe God intended us to have of man’s
    soul mate.

    When Adam was in paradise with all of nature at his disposal he knew he was
    not complete. God must have wanted him to come to this conclusion and tested
    his judgment and selectivity. Nothing on earth suited him and it was up to the
    creator Himself to establish the perfect mate for him. Someone who would
    compliment his nature and enable him to be the crowning earthly creature the
    Creator desired.

    It is safe to say that women originally and unto this day have provided the
    “link” needed by man to reach the heights of human perfection designed for him.
    Yes, thank heaven for little girls and the wonderful mothers they can become,
    like our savior’s mother, Mary Queen of Heaven.

    Mothers are special.

  • Vincent Paul

    Thanks Father for your excellent, excellent essay. I’ve read numerous articles, blogs and commentary by all sorts of priests, theologians and erudite laity over the years, and I think this narrative best describes the true essence of meaningful faith and devotion to our Most Holy Father.
    I’ve come to realize over the years that my only, true benefactor is God, and His blessings that He bestowed on all of us stemmed from the works/prayers done by the faithful solely for the sake of God’s glory. The greatest work of course was Jesus Christ’s ministry, humility and suffering, which showed us the way we can serve God, especially with the hardships, tribulations and sufferings that we often face. This helps us to deephasize our constant and potent tendencies for self-absorbtion and worldliness, which seperate us from God and his grace.
    Finally, this blog reminds me of God’s response to Job’s famous complaint, in which He reminds us that only God is truly all knowing and has the infinite wisdom. That He did not give us in flesh the capacity to fully understand His reasons and ways for all that happens to us all. Hence, we can only find real joy, love and truth through servitude to God, and God only.