31 August 2019

Serviam, non serviam. . .you decide

Audio link

22nd Sunday OT
Fr. Philip Neri Powell, OP

Serviam. Non serviam. God has banished his brightest angel to Hell for rebelling against Heaven. Satan, the Arch-fiend, surveying his fiery kingdom and his fallen kin, boasts to his minion, Beelzebub: “Here we may reign secure, and in my choice/To reign is worth ambition, though in Hell:/Better to reign in Hell than serve in Heav'n” (Book 1). Non serviam. I will not serve. And b/c Satan once and always chooses not to serve, he is eternally chained by his bitter pride, “rolling in the fiery gulf,” Milton writes, “Confounded though immortal.” As a creature of God, Lucifer, receives from God not only his very being but also every gift that he needs to thrive as a servant of the Almighty. Yet, out of jealously and pride, he rebels, placing himself above the duties and obligations of a creature and settles himself into an immortal existence of bitter and ultimately impotent rage against his Father. That is pride's pay-out: bitter, impotent rage. But a rebel against God doesn't have to be an angel first. We humans are quite good at rebelling against our Creator. Every moment of every day, we are all saying, in thought, word, and deed either: “Serviam.” I will serve. Or “Non serviam.” I will not serve. We serve Self, or we serve God. There is no third option.

So, if we are not serving God, then we are serving Self. But how? Sure we avoid the obvious, public displays of Pride that might've been thought good and true in Jesus' day – like marching up to the seat of honor at a wedding feast; or boasting loudly of our wealth; or bragging about our sexual conquests. We know now that that sort of thing is impolite. I hear my grandma's voice, “That's just tacky.” But there are many other more subtle ways that we can serve Self instead of God. You can serve your passions. You can allow your fears, lusts, anger, and loves to run wild, and believe yourself entitled to a forgiving audience. You can serve your will. You can assert your choices, your personal preferences and demand that they be honored simply b/c you asserted them. You can also serve your intellect. You can come to think that your reason by itself is capable of knowing any and everything worth knowing. In other words, in each case, you elect to serve a temporary, limited, unfaithful god. YOU. And like Satan and his minions in Hell, you can become quite proud of your rebellion. An impotent, bitter rebellion against the Very One who holds you in being.

So, what does non serviam look like for us? What does the refusal to serve God actually look like down here on earth? Think about your daily routine, your daily life. Think of each moment as a chance to serve God in love, faith, and hope. To be a living sign, a prophet of mercy to others. Think about each of those moments and then think what it means to say No. I will not love. I will not forgive. I will not believe. I will not hope. I will not pray, sacrifice, or give thanks. I will not be generous. I will not trust nor will I praise. I will not obey. What I will do is do and think and speak as I wish when I wish to whom I wish b/c I serve ME. My life; my choice. My choice; my right. My right; I'm right! This is the bitter, impotent rage of Pride and it places us in the company of the Devil, among his minions, ruling Hell. . .b/c I will not serve. Another way to say this: I will not to serve – deliberate, conscious, voluntary. To serve Self rather than God. And therefore the consequences that flow from this choice are mine to bear. Individuals makes these choices. Couples, families, states, and nations makes these choices. . .daily. And the consequences flow accordingly.

The better seat – the Best Seat – at the wedding feast is the seat offered to you by the Host. Not the one you choose out of Pride, believing falsely that you deserve a better seat, or that you've earned the best seat. But the seat given to you by the Host, the one He knows you deserve b/c you grasp the reality of your relationship with Him. You have lived a life in service to the Truth, serving Him by serving His; always giving thanks and praise for every gift; always bearing courageous witness to His mercy; always placing yourself last – not b/c you are worthless but b/c you know you have been made worthy by His Son. Made heirs in the family. We do not earn that seat. We don't buy it or rent it. We can't steal it or bribe our way into it. We inherit a seat at the table. As loving and well-loved children of the Father, we inherit our places at the feast. And it is humility and godly service that keeps us firmly within the Holy Family. “For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”

Every second of every day until you die you are offered a chance to serve God and secure your inheritance. Which will it be: serviam or non serviam? Choose wisely.

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