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Feb 25, 2023 573 Deacon Jim McFadden
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Make Your Best Choice Today!

Making the right decision is pivotal; What’s your choice?

Forty years ago, Bob Dylan immersed himself in exploring Christianity, which was evident in his Slow Train Coming album (1979). In the following lyrics, Dylan asks the question ’To whom do you give your ultimate allegiance?’:

“Yes, you’re goin’ to have to serve somebody.

Well, it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord,

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody.”

We can’t avoid this question because we are in fact constituted “to serve somebody.”  Why is that? Why can’t we just drift along from one experience to another without giving our allegiance to anything or anyone?  The answer comes from our human nature: we have a Mind (reflective consciousness) and a Will (that which desires the good). Our Mind has the inherent capacity to seek meaning in our human existence. Unlike other creatures, we don’t simply experience; rather, we take a step back and interpret, we give meaning to what just transpired. In our process of making meaning from our experiences, we must face Dylan’s question: Whom will I serve?

Heading for a Dead End?

Jesus, as was his custom, simplifies the choice when he says, “No one can serve two masters. He will either hate one and love the other or be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon” (emphasis added; Matthew 6:24).

Jesus knows that we either seek fulfillment by being in relationship with God, the source of our being, or we seek happiness apart from God.  We can’t have it both ways: “…it may be the Devil or it may be the Lord, but you’re gonna have to serve somebody.” The choice we make determines our destiny.

When we give our allegiance to ‘mammon’ we reject our True Self, which is meant to be in genuine relationship with God and neighbor. In choosing ‘mammon’ we shift to a consuming self, which finds its identity in property, prestige, power, and pleasure. When we do this, we objectify ourselves. In contemporary terms, we call this the ‘commodification of the Self.’  In other words, we are what we possess.

The path of property, prestige, power, and pleasure leads to a dead end. Why? Because they are…

scarce—not everyone has access to wealth, acclaim, pleasure, and power. If having the goods of the world is the gateway to happiness, then most human beings have no chance at happiness.

exclusive–which is a consequence of their scarcity. Life becomes a zero-sum game with society divided into the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots.’ As Bruce Springsteen sings in his song “Atlantic City”: “Down here it’s just winners and losers and Don’t get caught on the wrong side of that line.”

transitory–which means our needs and wants change; we never reach an endpoint because there’s always something else out there to desire.

ephemeral–their chief drawback is superficiality. While materialism, acclaim, status, and being in control can satisfy us for a time, they don’t address our deepest yearning. In the end, they pass away: “Vanity of vanities! All things are vanity” (Ecclesiastes 1:2b).

True Identity

Pursuingthe riches and pleasures of this worldcan have devastating psychological and spiritual implications. If my self-worth depends on my possessions and achievements, then lacking the latest gadgets or experiencing some failure means I not only have less than othersdo or that I have failed in some effort, but that I have failed as a person. Comparing ourselves to others and expecting perfection of ourselves explains the anxiety experienced by so many young people today. And as we age and become less productive,we can lose our sense of usefulness and self-worth.

Jesus tells us that our other alternative is to “serve the Lord” who is Life itself and who wants to share His Life with us so we can become like Him and reflect the wonder of his being. The False Self, the Old Self, the Commodified Self leads to self-absorption and spiritual death. But by “serving the Lord” we enter into His very Being. The New Self, the True Self is Christ living in us; it’s the self that is ordered to love because, as Saint John reminds us, “God is love” (1 John 4:7b). Saint Paul adds that when we have that True Self, we are being renewed in the image of our Creator (Colossians 3:1-4).

Knowing who we are makes it much easier to know what to do. Who we are matters infinitely more than what we have because knowing who we are tells us what to do.We are God’s beloved children created to rest God’s love. If we focus on that truth, knowing who to serve is no longer a difficult decision. Echoing Joshua, we can confidently say, “As for me and my house, we will serve the Lord” (Joshua 24:15).

 

 

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Deacon Jim McFadden

Deacon Jim McFadden ministers at the Saint John the Baptist Catholic Church in Folsom, California. He serves in adult faith formation, baptismal preparation, spiritual direction, and prison ministry.

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