Saturday after Sexagesima
February 22, 2020
How Are We to Serve God?
Meditation from Meditations for Lent from St. Thomas Aquinas by St. Thomas Aquinas
1. We must serve God both by external acts and by internal acts. We are possessed of a double nature, we are intellectual beings and sentient beings also. We should therefore offer to God a double adoration—a spiritual adoration, consisting in the interior devotion of the mind, and a bodily adoration made up of the external humiliation of the body. And since in all acts done in acknowledgment that God is God the external act depends on the internal—for the internal act is the more important—so the external acts of adoration are done for the sake of the internal adoration. That is to say, that it is by our gestures of humility that we are moved to subject ourselves to God in our inclinations and our will. This is due to our nature being what it is, for it is natural to man to proceed to things that can only be known through the intelligence from the starting point of things seen, felt, heard and known by the senses.
So, just as prayer has its origin as something in the mind, and is only in the second place expressed in words, adoration also consists, primarily and in its origin, in an internal reverence of God and only secondarily in certain bodily signs that we are humbling ourselves: such bodily signs, for example, as genuflections to show our weakness by comparison with God, or prostrations to show that we are nothing of ourselves.
2. In doing external acts we must use a certain measure of discretion. The attitude of a religious man towards the acts by which he acknowledges God to be God, is quite different according as those acts are internal or external. It is principally in the internal acts, the acts by which he believes, hopes and loves, that man’s good consists and what makes man good in God s sight. Whence it is written, The kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). Man’s good and what makes man good in God’s sight does not, principally, consist in external acts. The kingdom of God is not meat and drink, says St. Paul (Romans 15:17).
Whence the internal acts are as the end, the thing that is to say, which is sought for its own sake: the external acts, through which the body is shown as God’s creature, are but as means, i.e., things directed to and existing for the sake of the end.
Now when it is a question of seeking the end we do not measure our energy or resource, but the greater the end the better our endeavour.
When, on the other hand, it is a question of things we only seek because of the end, we measure our energy according to the relation of the things to the end. Thus a physician restores health as much as he possibly can. He does not give as much medicine as he possibly can, but only just so much as he sees to be necessary for the attainment of health.
In a similar way man puts no measure to his faith, his hope, and his charity, but the more he believes, hopes and loves, so much the better man he is. That is why it is said, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God, with thy whole heart, and with thy whole soul, and with thy whole strength (Deuteronomy 6:5).
But in the external actions we must use discretion and make charity the measure of our use of them. (In Romans 12)