The spiritual life is a continuous journey that never ends. It culminates in the all consuming, burning heart of God. We are all called to this journey of sainthood which results in our knowing and loving God. As we know God, and He draws us into deeper love with Him, we begin to search for ways to serve Him. But sometimes I fear we do not serve with the correct disposition.
If I were to ask my class, What does it mean to serve God? The first answer I would probably get would be Go to mass, and Be nice to other people. While neither of the answers are incorrect, what these answers usually mean for the American Catholic is: I go to mass every week to fulfill my Sunday obligation to show God that I love Him, and when I leave I try to be as nice as possible to all I meet. At first, this seems to be an excellent start to a Catholic life, and it can be. However, there is one small dangerous word that, if emphasized too much, can lead Catholics astray. This is the focus on the word “I.”
Service is the third ‘step’ of the saintly process. We begin with knowledge and love which draws us into service. Yet this service often looks very different than what we expect. In our desire to find out how to serve God, we hear about the lives of the saints from the pulpit, in our Catholic Schools, or online, and we can be tempted to focus on the fantastic stories of prayer, fasting, and miracles and think that doing those things equates to us loving and serving God. Consequently, we may take on spiritual challenges that are way too big, or we are so intimidated by the lives of the saints, that we think that life is not for us. Or due to the current state of the culture, we set up a list of the minimum requirements (going to mass, praying before meals, and being nice) and check those things off the list as we complete them.
Why do the previous ‘minimum requirements’ fall short of what God intended for our lives? Because they all focus on what “I” can do. “I” try to grasp at the lives of the saints so “I” mimic their actions; “I” give up because “I” do not believe that “I” can do it; or “I” accept the list of a culture that is centered on self gratification. By doing this we complicate things and create an ego of sorts. Implicitly, it encourages us to believe we are in right standing with God if we have accomplished things that look like sainthood. Or it causes us to reject going deeper because we believe sainthood is too hard for us.
What Catholic Education/Sermons have often failed to teach in recent history, is that serving God has very little to do with “I.” It is not about what “I” can give God, it is about how the love and baptism God has given us moves us to act in the Body of Christ. The action of love in salvation history is God’s action, and His alone. He allows us out of His benevolence to participate in this action through the Church in the Body of Christ. This means that it is up to us to find our place in the Body of Christ and participate in its act of service to God.
So practically what does this mean? It means that our service is much simpler than we think. We must be rooted in prayer and contemplation, waiting for the Holy Spirit to inspire us to action. This can be a hard discipline to learn. Hearing the Holy Spirit in our life can often be difficult if we are surrounded by noise, entertainment, and sin. However we must learn as Psalm 123:2 says to sit with “the eyes of servants on the hand of their masters,” waiting for God to call us into action. Rather than living life to get all of the things we want accomplished done and fit service to God into that plan, we must sit in His presence waiting for Him to call our name. Yet this can only be done if we submit joyfully to God. As St. Theresa of Kolkata tells us, “Jesus can take full possession of a soul only if it surrenders itself joyfully.”
So day-to-day life looks simply like this: First, we must put personal holiness at the center of our lives. Prayer must be the pillar of our day. Next we must fulfill our personal vocation (father, mother, husband, wife, single, etc). And then we must fulfill our social vocation (job, vocation, role in our local parish, etc) all in this order. If these three areas of our life are faithful, every moment put in front of us is an opportunity to accept God whether it is His blessing or His purification (or both). If we sit in God’s presence, the Holy Spirit will guide us to the things God desires for us to do. This guidance is not for God getting the service He wants. Rather, it is God putting us in the places, situations, and vocations that will bring us interior peace. As God is love, He only acts for our ultimate good.
In serving God, we look to the ultimate disciple Mary who desired holiness daily, was a faithful wife and mother, and spent the rest of her life in the passive acceptance of God’s will. When Jesus moved, she followed. Now she reigns in eternal glory as Queen of Heaven. If we imitate Mary’s example of simple service to God, we receive the same reward as Mary – eternal communion with our loving God.