Father Jacob Dankasa
Special to The Texas Catholic
Many of us want to grow in holiness and draw closer to God. Our perception of our personal holiness or closeness to God often revolves around how many prayers we say, how many spiritual books we read, how often we attend church, how often we receive the sacraments of the Eucharist and Penance, or whether we are good parents or good people. Yes, these are excellent steps toward holiness and closeness to God, and I encourage and recommend that we all practice them.
But how many of us have thought about a life of service as a path to holiness and drawing closer to God? Service is one of the most practical ways to demonstrate our journey toward holiness. Christ said the greatest is the one who serves (Matthew 23:11). Any act of genuine service is a movement toward becoming greater in the sight of God.
In this article, I want to reflect on the spirituality of service as it relates to our church communities. Spirituality of service, especially service to one’s faith community, is a marvelous way of life that every Christian, and especially Catholics, should work toward acquiring. It should be part of our faith journey.
Since the COVID pandemic began two years ago, there has been a decline in volunteerism and service, especially in churches. This is a result of the COVID-19 pandemic that is damaging to our faith, and it must not be allowed to continue. Any act of service, especially when carried out in our faith communities, is a spiritual exercise that draws us closer to God and may lead us to holiness. Service must continue to be seen as one of the strongholds of our faith. Many churches today are seeing shortages in ministry, leadership and participation and are struggling to recruit more lectors, Extraordinary Ministers of Holy Communion, ushers, choir members, etc.
I write this reflection to encourage us as people of faith to continue to view the life of service as a necessary step in getting closer to God. As a Christian and a member of a parish, your positive response to a call to serve in your faith community is a movement toward God. In many of our churches there are already service projects under way, and these provide opportunities to serve. Some services are planned, but some are created in response to emergency needs, and our responses in both cases are vital.
For example, an invitation to help in emergencies is an opportunity to show our faith in practice. In Texas, when we have snow and ice it’s always a hectic time. Responding to the invitation to come to the church and help clear the parking lot or the walkways so that people can safely come for worship is a noble act of service. Perhaps you will be asked to serve on the festival committee, or to help direct traffic during high volume liturgical times such as Easter and Christmas; there are many kinds of service opportunities available. These are all great acts of service that draw us closer to God and help us in our journey toward holiness. Service is an act that calls our spirituality to action.
In our tightly-scheduled society it’s very tempting to say that I can’t be an usher because I’m too busy with work; I can’t lead this or that ministry because I’m too busy with family; I can’t be an extraordinary minister because I’m too busy with the kids, etc. And we certainly live in a busy world. But we must reorient our thoughts and realize that when I serve as a lector, I pray; when I sing in the choir, I pray; when I clear the snow on the church’s parking lot, I pray; when I help in organizing the parish festival, I pray. Then we will come to understand that these services are spiritual acts that help us to grow our faith, and we will find even more joy in our works, our families, and all the things that keep us busy in our everyday lives. Indeed, if we come to the full realization that service, especially in the church community, is an act of prayer and growing closer to God, we’ll love doing more to be present to serve in our faith communities. The Church is the visible sign of God’s presence with us. It is through the Church that we experience His real presence in the Eucharist. Thus, service in the Church in any capacity or form is a direct act of worship in the living presence of the Lord.
When we view service in the parish merely as an act of helping the priest or helping other people, we miss the benefit of what the spirituality of service offers us. It is an act of drawing closer to God, done for the sake of His love and blessings. You are the chief beneficiary of your service to the Lord.
I encourage all of us to rekindle in our hearts the desire for service and volunteerism in our churches, especially in these post-pandemic times. Never should you feel that you have already done enough or that you have nothing to offer your church community. Don’t be afraid to take on more service roles in your faith community. You’re in the service of the Lord, not man. And the Lord you serve will supply the strength.
Father Jacob Dankasa is pastoral administrator of Holy Family of Nazareth Catholic Church in Irving.