The Annotated Catechism for Autistic Thinking: Serving God
"Knowing, loving and serving God in this life" are the first three reasons given for God creating us in the first place. As much as we have systematically looked at these as an interconnected process, there still remains the fact that most of us take all of these in one bite. We are here to know, love and serve God. That word "serve" puts quite a spin on the first two, doesn't it? Let us imagine, in utter absurdity, inviting a total stranger to a lavish dinner. Afterwards, we approach our guest with this greeting: "Hello! Did you like your food? Was everything to your satisfaction? Wonderful! I invited you here so that you could get to know me. I actually kind of hope you'll come to like me... maybe even one day love me. And then, you get to serve me! What do you think?" As their laughter dies down, our guest would most likely leave - well fed, but never to return.
We do well to ask, "Are they serious?" in reference to the writers of the Baltimore Catechism. It's a pretty bold move to lead off with something that strong. At least give us a little more before revealing the catch, right?
Well, as we saw last week, "serve" does not necessarily mean "submit to" or "do labor for." As we come to know someone, and grow fond of that someone, we tend to extend ourselves for that someone in ways that overlook convenience. It may objectively be a chore to do a favor for someone, but when it's someone we love, and when it's a desire of our hearts, it's not perceived as a chore. The reason is, we freely choose to say "yes" when it's someone we love. Sometimes we even offer before they ask. On the flip side, if our someone was to demand, coerce or accuse in the course of seeking our favor, we might not be so eager. We might refuse, or, if we do the task, harbor a certain measure of resentment.
Free will is key to understanding service. Also, a good dictionary; even a thesaurus!
The Word Web app gives these suggestions for "serve:"
We could substitute any of these, easily, and see how they fit with our willingness to approach God. If he created us to know him, love him and "act to fulfill a purpose for him," that almost seems amazing - that God would have some purpose in mind for us just because we were born. To "do duty for God" seems like we've been chosen, found worthy, passed muster. To "benefit God" is perhaps the best one of all. Could my life really benefit the Creator of the Universe?
Of course, in there too is "be used by," and "promote," and "give a portion to." Yet, again, we would have to objectively see if these things are demanded of us or hoped for from us. When people say that "our God is a God of hope," it is both that God is a source of our hope AND that God hopes we will say "yes." God does not force anything.
Some will still say that this is merely an optimist's view of religion, and that ultimately it still comes down to control. We invite a review of the evidence to see if that bears out, and we will concede any point that definitively proves God forces anything. Since time began people have debated the existence of rules, terms and conditions, since it seems there are certain non-negotiables when it comes to God and Church. This is more or less where "promote" comes in. God did not create us as billboards, necessarily, but more as creatures particularly well able to reflect his goodness and mercy. We can promote the beauty and clarity and integrity of God's order by demonstrating it in action, or we can take liberty with our own interpretations... with the caution that the former rests on trust, and the latter, distrust.
Ultimately, it comes down to a simple choice: "Yes, I trust that God's intentions are pure, beautiful and have my best interests in mind" or "No, I don't trust God, because I think he his ulterior motive is to gain control over me.". One is surrender, which calls for our willingness to risk our vulnerability; one is submission, which accuses God of demanding our freedom from us.
Before we make our choice, consider how each of these attitudes affects our ordinary relationships. How well do we thrive on receiving the trust of others, and how difficult is it to endure the perpetual badgering of the distrustful? One promotes order; the other, disorder.
There's that word again, promote.
Feel free to choose whichever synonym communicates "relationship" best when reading that pivotal sentence, and take it to heart as we ponder our purpose: to know, love and serve God in this life... and then, to be happy with him in the next.
"Next" week will touch on that "next" plank in the platform: the life to come.
May the power of Divine Love shine in and through my weakness, so that He might be glorified in and through me, and that in my weakness, His power may reach perfection. Through Christ Our Lord, AMEN.
Fr. Mark P. Nolette - Spiritual Director for the Mission of Saint Thorlak