One of the most beautiful statements in the Bible, maybe even in the history of life on earth, is Mary’s joyous response to the angel Gabriel at the Annunciation. With her whole heart, she threw herself into God’s request that she bear his son, giving the assurance, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord.”
These eight words resound in my soul as I reflect on the virtuousness of them, said by this young woman who so confidently proclaimed her desire to do God’s will despite the personal cost.
This was before the days of television, radio, and newspapers; before social media, email, and texting. Now information scatters across the world. Someone famous dies and within minutes everyone knows. In Nazareth when the date was B.C., one’s personal world was smaller. In comparison people knew very little. What Mary knew about God was told to her verbally by parents and grandparents. She had no way to fact check and probably no desire to. She was taught about Yahweh and heard Scripture proclaimed in the Temple. I imagine life was quieter.
To Truly Serve God
I admire Mary for many reasons. I wonder what she thought when Gabriel appeared and gave her God’s message. Her faith was much more than a mustard seed. She gave herself to his plan. She was an important part of the salvation of the world.
So many times I have prayed for just a fraction of her faith—half a mustard seed would be an improvement. I desire to be God’s handmaid, to serve him. I wonder how I could though being nowhere near as holy as Mary. After praying about this I realized that in order to truly serve God, I need to know, really know, and believe a few things.
1. I am a beloved daughter of God.
Each of us is “wonderfully made” (Psalm 139:14). Break it down:
I am …
Yes, you are too. We all are, but it is easy to distance myself. It is easier to accept that someone else is special than to acknowledge that I am. Yet I am.
A beloved daughter …
I am more than a lucky collision of cells. I am beloved, irreplaceable, a daughter, and part of the family.
Of God …
Not just a daughter of my dad Paul, but of God—the one who put the birds in the sky and the leaves on the trees. The Maker of all calls me his daughter.
2. Because of this beloved daughter status, I was intended.
God made me for a reason and a purpose and it does not matter what that purpose is because the mere fact that it is God’s purpose is enough.
3. I can trust God.
He is not a God of tricks. God has kept his promises throughout history. He told us in Jeremiah 29:11 that he has plans for my good. I believe him.
So if I believe these things, if I believe that despite my mess-ups, God has something he wants me to do, I can offer myself with confidence and boldness as his handmaid. How do I know what he wants from me? If only a parchment scroll just fell from the sky to my hand or I opened up an email one day:
Here’s what I need you to do today. Slay some Philistines. Talk to those people at the well. Offer a sacrifice (a goat will do).
Thanks and have a good day,
Your Father, God
Alas, it is harder than that to get direction from God. I cannot hear when I am not listening. I cannot serve someone I do not know. The first step in serving God is getting to be besties with his son, Jesus. I need to be a disciple.
Step 1: Pray. Every day.
Praise the Lord. Ask him for help. Tell him my frustrations. Apologize.
Step 2: Listen.
Read Scripture, God’s living Word that talks to us. So many times I have gone to the daily readings only to discover they were exactly what I needed to hear that day. How that happens is a mystery but it is so affirming.
Step 3: Visit God.
Go to Mass as often as possible. Adore Jesus in the Eucharist. Go to confession and let God clean you up. If I show up, so will God.
When we are baptized, the Holy Spirit gives us each a charism—a special gift we can use to help build the Kingdom of God. A charism is for the good of the Church more so than the good of the individual gifted with it.
“charisms are oriented toward sanctifying grace and are intended for the common good of the Church. They are at the service of charity which builds up the Church.”Catechism of the Catholic Church 2003
In 1 Corinthians 12, St. Paul writes about these gifts.
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.”
He cites wisdom, faith, healing, and prophecy as a few. However, service, hospitality, and administration are also ways the Holy Spirit works through us.
According to the Catherine of Siena Institute:
“There are three primary lists of gifts in the New Testament (Romans 12, 1 Corinthians 12, and Ephesians 4), and St. Thomas Aquinas lists about 14 charisms in his Summa. We have no reason to believe that these lists are meant to be exhaustive.”
All baptized Christians receive charisms, but in order for the charism to be discerned, we must have a close and personal relationship with Christ.
Doing God’s Work
When I experienced a deepening conversion five years ago, I learned about charisms and wanted to discern mine. A holy friend who knows so much more than I advised me to wait. Her counsel was wise; I was not ready. She spent time discipling me, walked the path with me. She is my Paul; I am still her Timothy. In time, after learning to pray regularly, discovering God in Scripture and returning to confession for the first time in many years, I discerned a writing charism.
I have always been a writer in some way but the discernment process gave me focus and permission to experiment. I started to be intentional about putting time into writing, I asked some close friends to read what I wrote and I started paying attention to the signs. According to Sherry Weddell of the Siena Institute, we can confirm a charism by the three Fs; Feeling (writing is energizing and fun for me;), Feedback (people have told me my writing is meaningful and helpful in their faith), Fruit (it is not hard for me and opportunities to write that I could have never engineered have come up).
A friend of mine has a music charism. When she sings, it makes me think of angels; it brings me to tears. Another friend has the gift of encouragement. Talking to her makes me feel loved and helps bring clarity to problems. God is working through them to bring people to him.
A Joyful Mystery
It brings me great joy to know that God is allowing me to serve him and he is helping me do it. God’s brilliance in gracing us with what we need in order to help him is humbling. He does not need us to help. He’s God, he’s got it. Yet he invites us to help anyway.
So if you want to help build God’s kingdom, remember you are a beloved son/daughter of God who is intended. You can trust God to lead you to him through prayer, Scripture and the sacraments. This is one of those slam dunk prayers: if you ask God how you can help, he will answer. Then tie your shoes and get ready for a joyous ride.
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About Merridith Frediani
Merridith Frediani’s perfect day includes prayer, writing, unrushed morning coffee, reading, tending to dahlias, and playing Sheepshead with her husband and three teenagers. She loves leading small faith groups for moms and looking for God in the silly and ordinary. She blogs and writes for her local Catholic Herald in Milwaukee.