I'm breaking a rule today in sharing a personal struggle of my own - this only because I'm sure I'm not alone, but those of us trained to set a 'good example' are ever so hesitant in mentioning such points. Remember the old jokes about the 'good angel' and 'bad angel' (both being oneself, and arguing - cartoonists used to enjoy those images immensely)? My 'angels' certainly are having a sparring match! The one with the louder voice at the moment is saying, 'why did you give away so much? Had you banked what you gave away - sometimes to people who were swindlers - and invested what you were stupid enough to tithe, maybe you wouldn't be struggling so today. Had you not thought your particular form of vocation meant endless hours with the homeless, mentally ill, criminal, all this on top of the charity sector job and political petitions, you might have close friends - people who'd be there in a crisis, love you, socialise with you, share your interests, laugh. Loser, loser, loser! And just do a Google search for some psycho-babble site - you'll learn you only did those things either because of some weird sense of guilt or because you hoped people would love you."
The other voice, of course, is saying, "I was hungry, and you gave me to eat...." I've written elsewhere about how we mortals, created in God's image and likeness, are icons of the transcendent, unknowable God - and this vocation was given to His people from the first chapters of Genesis. I'm not suggesting that any one of us should smugly imagine "well, I'm the sheep, not the goat - come blessed of my Father meant me," but those of us feeling utterly discouraged, fearing our efforts to live the gospel were foolish or harmful to us, aren't likely to claim any sheep status beyond that of wanting a kinship with the Good Shepherd. ('the most abject of men... no place to rest his head..') We who came full circle - where we had hard times and had to go from 'server' to beggar - can easily forget that Jesus Himself was very dependent on others.
I could divert myself writing some theological exposition on the differences between virtue and vice, what's morally good, virtuous, or indifferent - but I'm not doing so today. I'll add an aside, whether it is heresy or not. :) It's true that I am one among many (fools?... see how that 'bad angel' can creep?) who sought to feed the hungry, campaign for the needy, whatever, in a commitment to living the gospel. For others, it is not explicitly so. Yet I believe that we are the 'icons' in our love for each other (the reflection of that divine image) when we are creative and loving - and that this share in creative power and communication (again which hearkens back to Genesis) is so part of our humanity that one who is not a believer at all is no less God's instrument.
A few weeks ago, I was joking (on Facebook) with a priest-friend (who shares my commitment to the 'Christ of the slums,' though I don't believe his family is as close to that status as was mine any time recently, but who also loves everything very High Church.) Someone who didn't understand our 'inside humour' was insulted by his saying (and my responding) 'isn't it fun playing church?' It is indeed!
I have no idea how widespread this is, but, in my own case, I need beauty, dignity, and formality in worship. I love quiet services, but also love gold vestments, incense, 1549 or 1662 English (in what period was our language more glorious?), or Latin for the timeless, unchangeable, universal qualities. (Oh, please - don't comment that this is because it is dead! Greek is even more precise and has a longer liturgical precedent, but I started too late and never caught on.) Those of us who see the transcendent God as unknowable still need expressions of awe, majesty and the like. I think this may be all the more true when we have a strong dedication to 'the least of my brethren' (...or we currently are members of that set.)
Others have vastly differently liturgical tastes, and indeed some craft their common worship to use popular music, include many petitions, carefully cut out whatever can be considered out of date, 'sexist,' or make someone feel guilty (...though that can be a grace, but that's another topic for another day.) In my case, I need to go beyond just 'the people,' whom I already do care for deeply. I cannot stay entirely focussed on the icons, important though 'whatsoever you do...' remains. My formal worship must be in a category where it not only is appealing to the artist and literature nut that I am, but where it is beyond the norm of my life - has a transcendent quality that captures, somehow, the transcendence of the God I cannot know. (Awkward expression, I know... but I did enough medieval studies to know that stained glass can make for enduring catechesis...)
My act of humility for the season is in admitting that this post would never meet any scholarly standard - but that I'm trying to soothe my winter-ruffled emotions with 'you did it for me... and, when you are the one who is needy, if anyone helped you they did it for me - whether they knew this or had the specific intention or not.' I cannot know if anything I did trying to live the gospel benefited anyone else, the more if some of them were lying. Even those who seemed appreciative have long forgotten me. I indeed am struggling, and wish I'd developed social as well as ministerial contacts all those years, because I'm happily retired and would love the bit of fun for which I finally have some time. Yet if I did this by divine grace, responding to the humanity created in his image in love for others, somehow 'doing this for Me' just has to work out in the end... (I hope I don't have to wait for the next life...)