An untidy reflection on Romans 12
Discernment is not like job searching. “What am I fit for?” or “What would I like to do with my life or in this particular situation?” are not the right questions. At a deeper and original level there is another question: “Who am I?”, which leads to self-recognition through one’s relationship with God. First I find out that I am. In a following moment, though, I ascertain that I am, but not on because of me; I am, but I am not my own author. Consequently I cannot be my own end or the goal of my own existence. The ultimate explanation of my being is found using the notion of the predicament relation. In a more concrete and abridged way (for this is not the place to develop matters with which we are all acquainted), the mystery of each human existence is illuminated by considering the individual’s relation to God, his origin and end. Discernment, thus, is the process of judging which option among others is best fit to bring me to God, my goal.
Granted, it is not always easy to discern our own path, neither on the most general level (state of life, vocation, overall mission…) nor in more particular circumstances (going to one place or to another, choosing this particular subject for meditation, getting involved with certain apostolates rather than with others…). We can base our life on the conviction that we ought to be guided not by our likes or dislikes, but by God’s operating and transforming grace bestowed upon us. Discernment, however, is not always easy.
I was considering these ideas after a conversation with a friend of mine. Almost instinctively I took the New Testament and opened it on Romans 12. The following disordered thoughts emerge from a reading of the same chapter, as an attempt to explore new meanings of λογικὴ λατρεία, the well-known phrase in verse 1. There St. Paul exhorts his readers to offer themselves to God as a living sacrifice, in order to present to Him a λογικὴ λατρεία. Some translate it as spiritual worship, but I would rather say «a reasonable service», or «a service in accordance with reason». What exactly is λογικὴ λατρεία, anyway? And how does this concept relate to discernment?
Sacrifice, love, and service are recurring concepts throughout Romans chapter 12, but love in particular seems to be the keyword to understand λογικὴ λατρεία as the result of an adequate discernment. Discernment, indeed, is not an end in itself, but a gate to serving God in the most sensible manner, a service (λατρεία) rooted on that which is divinely reasonable (λογική).
The question, still, is how man can get to know this most sensible way to serve God. In essence, this is the same as asking about how God’s will applies to one’s life. There is a link between “How can I serve You best?” and “What do You want me to be?” According to St. Paul, the renewal of the mind is a requirement for understanding God’s will. We cannot live in a way acceptable to God if we do not understand beforehand what is acceptable to Him. But this understanding can only be acquired by ridding oneself of a worldly mentality. At this point it is clear that in order to discern “what is good, acceptable, perfect” we must judge by God’s criterion. The first step, thus, is letting God change the way we think, joining faith to divine prudence (a link shown in the third verse).
St. Paul presents three levels of discernment, based on knowing what is good, what is acceptable, and what is perfect. It is easily seen that the best one of these levels is that in which we get to know what is perfect. Let’s reflect for a moment on this last concept. What is perfection? The concept of perfect is related both to completeness (per + factus, or completely done) and to having reached one’s end (τέλειος, indeed, is derived from τέλος, fulfillment). So what makes man perfect? How does man reaches his perfect state? To put it in other words, how does he accomplish his vocation, for we are called to be perfect, just as our heavenly Father is perfect (cfr. Mt 5:48)? These thoughts regarding perfection can be useful when we find ourselves in a state that requires discernment.
Our vocation is a call to perfection which is really and completely attained only through love. The more we love, the more we will reach that perfection to which we are called. The renewal of our mind, according to Romans 12:2 allows us to discern the will of God. And this renewal is not fruit of our own effort, but a grace (verse 3) which allows us to think according to the law of charity. Again, the more we love, the more we reach perfection. It does not surprise, then that St. Paul in the following verses develops even more the topic of love, exhorting his readers to be guided by charity without hypocrisy, by sincere and genuine love.
As a synthesis, if we read this chapter under the lens of discernment, we see that we are called to love. Life offered lovingly as a living sacrifice is our λογικὴ λατρεία. It is reasonable to love. It is a service/sacrifice that leads to our own perfection.
Where there are qualms, fears, or confusions about a certain matter, find out how you can love more. Acting thus we cannot be overcome by evil, but will conquer evil with love.
Love is the vocation for every single Christian. It is our λογικὴ λατρεία, the reasonable worship we offer, comparable to blessed incense ascending to God as we ask for His mercy, His love. In the big and the small, I repeat it once more, we are called to love, and to love to the extreme, since Love Himself is our final goal.