Reflection – 24th June 2020
Today is the Feast of the Nativity of St John the Baptist and, as such, is an ideal opportunity to consider how we, in our own age, are being called to serve God – not least in these new and trying circumstances in which we find ourselves. St John, of course, served God as his prophet, the Forerunner of the Messiah and the one who, more than any other, summoned the people of Israel to repentance of their sins and to a life worthy of those who are being called to live as members of the Chosen People. We also are being called by God to serve him, albeit in different times and in a different manner.
In the first place, we are called by virtue of our baptism, to be Children of God. It is through baptism that we are adopted into this filial relationship with our creator. In baptism, we are made co-heirs of the Kingdom and are therefore summoned to live in such a way that we reflect something of the nature of God in our lives. As God is love (1 John 4:8), we are required to reflect that love in our lives. This is not a mere romantic love, still less is it liking; rather, it is a self-giving sacrificial love, expressed in service. It participates in and reflects that love of God which we find supremely in the all-encompassing love of Jesus Christ, who became incarnate purely out of love for us.
Of course, the expression of such a love, even in the form of a pale reflection of that divine love, cannot merely be an act of will, although the will is certainly involved. We cannot just decide that we will always show God’s love in our lives. Rather, we require the grace of God to enable us to do so. Therefore, we must always ask God to give us that grace, for we constantly have to battle against our own sinful and selfish tendencies, our own failings and vain desires. Yet God’s grace is not magic; always we must work with it. This is not just a matter of agreeing with God’s will; work requires actual effort, and effort can be hard going. As often as not, we must admit, we will fail, we will mess it up and fail to show God’s love. Yet, if we persevere in this task, we will discover that God’s grace never fails us, no matter that we constantly fail him!
If we are called to show the love of God in our lives, how is this to be done? Just as Christ showed his love in practical ways, so must ours be shown. Jesus cared for the sick, the outcast, the lonely, the bereaved – and so must we. Over the centuries, the Church has taken on itself the ministry of caring for these, and other groups. Schools, hospitals, hospices, care homes, orphanages and so forth largely have their origins in the efforts made by Christians to act out their love in the most practical ways possible, quite often at the lost of their own treasure and lives. More usually, and in our own case most usefully as a model, they have shown the ordinary kindnesses of caring for the elderly and sick by visiting them, doing their shopping and so forth – the little acts of kindness and compassion which are, each day, placed in our own way.
However good it is to show our participation in God’s love in this way, there is something much, much greater – to be able to lead a person who is not a Christian into the knowledge and love of God. To give practical aid is undoubtedly a good thing, as is to seek to do good at any institutional level, but to be able to help bring someone to faith is far, far greater. Practical help brings the recipient benefits in and for this life; bringing someone to faith enables them to embark on the journey to eternal life. This is what God has created us for and to be able to share in this creative and redemptive work of God by helping a person towards faith is a tremendous thing to be able to do. The gift of sharing in the nature of God himself is the greatest thing we can give to another human being – and, in any given case, it may be that it is our task, and ours alone, to play this part.
So, when we wonder how we are to best serve God, let us not forget that, although we may have neither the gifts nor the opportunity to be a great revealer of the love of God in our lives through the practical works of love and mercy, we all have the opportunity to give that greatest gift of all – the invitation into the Church, which is nothing less than the life in Christ. As the Church moves forward in its life after the pandemic, it may be that we shall all be needed more than ever to help foster the love of God in our neighbour and thus share ever more fully in the work he gives us to do.