Serving God in Freedom
Sunday 13, Ordinary Time, Year C
In one sentence, what am I living for? Would I call this my “ministry”? Am I willing to sacrifice everything else
for it? Am I conscious of it all day long?
This week the Responsorial Psalm says four things that give us a summary of the Mass prayers and readings— “You are my inheritance, O Lord” (Psalm 16; see verses 1-11).
1. God is my all, my “inheritance,” my “portion,” my “fullness of joy.” I have no good apart from God. Nothing can lure me away from him. The Entrance Antiphon invites us to express this: “All nations, clap your hands. Shout with a voice of joy to God.” He has given us himself; he has given us All. The Prayer After Communion identifies this fullness with the “grace of our Lord Jesus Christ”: “Lord, may this sacrifice and communion give us a share in your life….”
2. God is my refuge, my security. I “shall not be disturbed” or “undergo corruption.” Nothing can frighten me away from God or single-minded service to him.
3. God is my counsel, my guide, who calls me to “walk in the light of Christ.” We ask him in the Opening Prayer(s): “Free us from darkness and keep us in the radiance of your truth.” More than that, we say “Form our lives in your truth.”
4. God is always present. But I need to consciously “keep the Lord ever before me… at my right hand” and “walk in the light of Christ” (Opening Prayer).
The fruit of these four truths, if I absorb them, is single-minded service in ministry to others. In the Opening Prayer we ask God not only to “Form our lives in your truth,” but also “our hearts in your love.” “In the Prayer Over the Gifts we ask: “May this Eucharist help us to serve you faithfully.” The Prayer After Communion associates divine life with ministry to others: “Lord, may this sacrifice and communion give us a share in your life and help us bring your love to the world.”
These four truths, and the single-minded service to God in ministry that follows from them, are the themes of the Scripture readings today.
You are my All
1Kings 19: 16-21 tells us in dramatic terms that when God calls to his service, nothing should delay us, much less impede us. When Elisha, called by Elijah, asked to say goodbye to his father and mother first, Elijah’s response was, “Forget I ever called you!” He was making a point.
Elijah was simply reminding Elisha of the First Commandment: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… soul… strength… and mind.” Psalm 16 accepts this in an acknowledgment that God is All: “You are my inheritance, O Lord… I have no good apart from you.” 1
We are all “idolaters” in the measure that we dedicate ourselves to anything or anyone — or allow ourselves to be allured or threatened into serving anything or anyone — in a way that is independent of our service to God.
It is a denial of what we know God is if we seek any pleasure, joy, fulfillment or happiness in any created person or thing independently of God — prescinding from God, without including God — the way we would if God did not exist.
The truth is, God is all that does exist absolutely. And everything else exists only insofar as God imparts to it some similitude of his own Being, breathing it into existence and sustaining it by his power, being within it the Being that keeps it in being.
And so, to perceive, acknowledge, recognize or desire the goodness of any created being without perceiving the presence and goodness of God within it is to perceive falsely and to love mistakenly.
This is the true meaning and reality of idolatry.
You are my refuge
In Luke 9: 51-62 Jesus echoes Elijah. He warns those who would follow him that they must give up all attachment to shelter and security, and break the bonds of social obligation and even of sacred family ties. To one who said, “I will follow you wherever you go,” Jesus answered:
“Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.” To another [who] said, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father,” Jesus said, “Let the dead bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God.” Another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but let me first say farewell to those at my home.” Jesus said to him, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.”
This is radical. But the truth is, to follow Jesus is to accept death, as he did: “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” Where he goes, we must follow, as Thomas told his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” To accept Baptism is to die in Christ and to rise with him to live as his body on earth — or better, to “become Christ” and let him live in us and through us. We say with St. Paul: “It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” 2
To say this is to declare ourselves emancipated from every obligation that is not included in fidelity to God. It is to “set our face” on God’s service, on fulfilling Christ’s mission on earth, with no backward or sideward glances. Fearing nothing. Distracted by nothing. Desiring only to “serve you faithfully” and “bring your love to the world” (Mass prayers).
You are my light
In Galatians 5: 1-18 Paul reminds us, “For freedom Christ has set us free.” He freed us from sin, death and enslavement to the fears and desires of our culture so that we could claim this freedom, believe in it and live by it.
But we have to remember to do this — always and everywhere. We need to walk consciously in the light given to us. “Stand firm,” Paul exhorts us, “and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery!” We must not submit to the idols of our culture by letting any goals, standards, laws or elements of lifestyle imposed on us by others diminish in any degree whatsoever our freedom to serve God without restriction. “Hear, O Israel: The LORD is our God, the LORD alone…. The LORD your God you shall fear; him you shall serve” — him alone. God is our All, God is our refuge. Nothing outside of God can allure us or threaten us. We are free. To submit to the slavery of conformism to the attitudes and values of our peer group is idolatry. And idolaters we are, all of us, and will be, in some measure and degree, until we grow to the “perfection of love” that the second Vatican Council proclaimed as the goal of every Christian life. 3
What are our idols? An idol is anything we allow to influence the course of our lives or the expenditure of our resources and energies independently of intentional service to God.
It is idolatry to dedicate ourselves to good human values without integrating them into our service to God. Most of the Greek and Roman idols were symbols of good human values. For example: Pluto, god of prosperity; Vulcan, god of technology; Mercury, god of speed, Bacchus, god of joyful celebration. These are all good.
We think that because we do not erect statues as symbolic personifications of these values — technology, art, affluence, productivity, and progress — and burn incense before them, we do not serve them as our gods — though we let them determine our lifestyle. This is naiveté.
What do we sacrifice to our gods? That is, what do we give up because of our devotion to sports, education, success, social acceptance, fun and games, physical fitness and appearance, sex, pleasing family and friends, even religious devotions that are less demanding than God? These are all good values. But when they are not seen or sought as part of our total, unlimited service to God they are idols.
What do we sacrifice to them? — time? energy? family life? opportunities for spiritual growth? Eucharist? engagement in parish ministries?
To what do we give preference over bearing witness to Christ by a prophetic lifestyle? Over ministering to others? Working to establish the reign of God on earth? These are our idols.
To be free we must remember. We have to walk consciously in God’s light, aware of who and where and what he is. “You are my inheritance, O Lord.” You alone.
1 Luke 10:27.
2 Galatians 2:20; John 11:16.
3 Deuteronomy 6: 4,13. “It is evident to everyone that all the faithful of Christ of whatever rank or status are called to the fullness of the Christian life and to the perfection of charity” (The Church no. 40, p 67). “Every Catholic must therefore aim at Christian perfection (cf James 1:4; Romans 12:1-2)…” (Decree on Ecumenism no. 4).
What idols must I renounce in order to be free?
Be alert to the priorities that guide your choices. Call them into question.