Published January 19, 2006
As a little girl, one of the first questions I learned from the old Baltimore Catechism was deceptively straightforward.
“Why did God make me?”
And, oh, how simple the answer was!
“God made me to know, love and serve Him in this world and to be happy with Him in the next.”
There it was, in black and white, the answer to the thorniest question about life’s meaning, which has inspired thousands of books and plunged many a philosopher into reflection and debate.
It seems God didn’t make us to get rich, grab power or collect fancy titles. Instead, He created us to have a relationship with Him.
And here’s what is so amazing: You don’t need to rush out and purchase any new technology, nor do you have to enroll in an expensive seminar to discover God’s plan for your life.
The recipe is simple. Knowing, loving and serving God are the keys to living a good life—and we all have the ingredients at our fingertips.
Rich and poor, beautiful and plain, illiterate and highly educated: The cake is there for all to enjoy, and what better time to do that than in the start of this New Year?
The whole thing sounds suspiciously simple, you may be thinking, but where do I begin?
To get to know God, you have to visit a classroom where multicolored leaves dangle from trees, red-tailed hawks cut through clouds and butterflies dance on flowers.
That classroom is the natural world, and it is mysterious, magnificent and perplexing, just like its Creator.
If you doubt that, take a fishing trip, because, as any fisherman can attest, dropping a line in the water is about more than getting a fish.
You are there to bask in the silence, admire the clouds and encounter the mystery inherent in God’s creation. Because, let’s face it, when you feel a tug on the line, who can predict what you will pull in?
For city folks, turning off the TV at night, after the children are in bed, and, in the warmer months, sitting outside to watch the moon and listen to the crickets can bring the peace that surpasses understanding.
A wintry walk in early evening can reveal the tiny buds on leafless trees, which in just a few months, will explode into blooms. And which are reminders of how rebirth and resurrection are imbedded in the natural world.
God also reveals Himself in other ways, as St. Thomas Aquinas noted when he told us that two holy books exist: One is nature, and the other is Scripture.
We often grab the Bible when we’re under duress, but reading a few lines each day brings rich insights into the nature of God, who is, after all, the main character.
The Psalms are a good starting place. There you’ll find expressions of joy, gratitude, doubt, fear, anguish and wonder, in short, the entire spectrum of human emotions.
As any Christian knows, to meet the one who was called the Word of God, there is no better place than the Gospels. As regular readers will attest, Jesus has a way of coming to life, stepping out of the pages and taking up residence in your heart.
And then there is the second part of the catechism answer, which is about loving God. How can we more deeply cherish Him?
The good news is that loving Jesus needn’t be a sentimental, mushy greeting-card endeavor. The deepest love, after all, doesn’t come from feelings, which change with the seasons, but from willpower.
Willing to love a human being means living up to your vows, even when times are tough.
It means cherishing your kids when they have made a mess of things and honoring parents who have disappointed you.
Willing to love Jesus means following His commandments, and those of His church, including the ones you don’t like.
It also means spending time with Him, and putting Him first on the list. Which brings us to prayer.
Often, our remarks to Jesus are one-sided filibusters whispered just before we fall asleep: “Dear Jesus, please take care of …” and then we pull out the list.
Heartfelt, unspoken prayers, though, can happen throughout the day.
“What a gorgeous sky! Thank you, Jesus.”
“Oh, I did well on the exam. Bless you, Lord!”
There is also the prayer of silence, which involves spending time each day before the Blessed Sacrament, just sitting there with Jesus and discovering His peace in your heart.
Serving God is the third path to deepening our relationship with Him, but this aspect of the catechism answer takes self-knowledge.
Each of us serves God best by discovering His will for our lives, which requires serious discernment and perhaps guidance from a spiritual director.
Too often, kids believe their future careers should be based entirely on money making. Thus, the boy who wants to be a farmer ends up in computers, and the girl who fancies teaching goes into accounting instead.
Little wonder that Catholics have a shortage of religious vocations. Surely God is continuing to call boys and girls to become priests and nuns, but our consumer culture is drowning out His voice.
Instead of looking at potential future salaries, teens might prayerfully ask: What work did God put me on earth to do? How can I use my gifts and talents to serve Him and my fellow man?
As St. Therese of Lisieux reminded us, serving God doesn’t require world-shaking actions. A smile for a co-worker, a compliment for a spouse and a hug for a child are small ways to please God.
As we soar into 2006, the catechism answer shows that the more we deepen our relationship with God, the more fulfilled we become. We will not wander through life, wondering, “Why am I here?” and “What does God want of me?”
And the simple recipe in the catechism only hints at the very best part.
Knowing, loving and serving God gives us a chance to taste the icing on the cake, which is this: We will not only savor joy on earth but happiness with Him in the next life as well.
Lorraine V. Murray is the author of “Grace Notes,” essays on love, forgiveness, suffering and grace; “How Shall We Celebrate?” reflections on saints’ days and holidays throughout the year; and “Why Me? Why Now?” a guide for Christian women with cancer. Readers may write to her at email@example.com and visit her Web site at www.lorrainevmurray.com. Illustration by Jef Murray.