At the end of Mass, we are blessed and sent “in peace to love and serve the Lord.” But how are we to be disciples of Christ in everyday life, outside of Mass?
We realize that our Christianity is to be lived, but how do we do so in our ordinary life situations that can be so complicated and somewhat secular?
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The Gospel imperative is clear: We are to love God and love each other. More particularly we know that when we serve “the least of these” we are serving Christ (Mt 25:31-46).
Gifts for service
Our discernment of God’s will begins at the Eucharist. It continues in our personal prayer. We should consider and “pray about” what gifts we have been given by God that can be of service to others.
A spiritual director and/or spiritual friends can be helpful in this process of discernment. My pastoral experience has been that Catholics tend to miss or understate the gifts that they have been given by the Holy Spirit. What is obvious to others may not be obvious to us.
A pastor I knew had the ability to see others’ gifts. His parishioners kidded him at his 50th jubilee. They said: “When you see monsignor coming, flee.” In fact, they almost always said yes to his invitations to serve.
If we come to know our gifts, we can still wonder what we can do specifically. Certainly, we should ask the Holy Spirit to guide us. Often the Spirit can speak to us through circumstances we encounter or, as with the parishioners, the invitation of another.
St. Francis de Sales is insightful here. He observes that daily life provides many small opportunities to serve others. If God is calling us to assume a more extended service, this will become clear to us over time.
“Start small” is good advice. We should consider that God can surprise us by his call. The call can be to do something modest but necessary for the welfare of others.
At times we will plant seeds of goodness and others will reap the results in the future. My friend who volunteers with Habitat for Humanity contributes his time and talent but rarely meets the eventual owners of the house.
Practicing the virtues
Our service will call of us to practice the everyday virtues such as patience, humility, gentleness and simplicity.
If we look at social media or other means of communication, it often appears that Catholic teaching focuses on “what not to do.” We realize that such an emphasis can spark conflict, attract attention and “sell.”
We know from the “inside” that Catholic moral teaching is more positive. Morality is about becoming a certain kind of person. Our service is about practicing the virtues and becoming more like Christ.
Patience is one virtue that stands out. We Americans tend to be in a hurry. My contention for years, on the contrary, has been that “God is slow.” It might be more accurate to say that “God’s time is the right time.” Service often calls for patience with others and most of all with ourselves.
Another important daily virtue is humility. Service is a two-way process. We need to spend more of our time listening to others than speaking. Usually those we think we are serving are also serving us. There is wisdom in paying attention and learning. Service to others can be personally enriching.
A man I knew felt called to serve the dying. He spent many of his Saturday mornings helping at a hospice run by an order of sisters. He told me that he did whatever the sisters told him to do — which included cleaning the floor.
He said he learned a great deal from speaking with the poor people who were dying. I was amazed at the humility of this prominent, successful attorney who for many years quietly served the poor.
Service need not be complicated. Following the guidance of those who are more expert is not difficult, nor is it always hard to listen to others. Service to others can put us in touch with the simple living and detachment from material goods that Jesus teaches.
Gentleness with others shows our respect for their human dignity. This virtue can gradually become evident in all or most of our daily interactions.
Gentleness with others often reflects our gentleness with ourselves. Sometimes we need to silence our “inner critic,” rely on God’s mercy and share that mercy with the members of our community.
Building the community
The monsignor and the lawyer were both using their gifts to build a community of service. As Pope Francis continually reminds us, we are called to walk with others and to encounter others on the pilgrimage of life.
Such friendships are one of the keys to our spiritual growth and to a joyful life. We pray for the others and ask them to pray for us.
We “go in peace,” seeking the guidance of the Spirit in serving others and letting others serve us.
Father John W. Crossin is an Oblate of St. Francis de Sales. He serves in the Washington metropolitan area.
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