When people mention “Baltimore Catechism” it’s usually in some derogatory way—either as “old-school” and naïve or simplistic and irrelevant. But one of the core questions in that catechism asks “Why did God make me?” The answer goes, “God made me to know Him, to love Him, and to serve Him in this world, and to be happy with Him forever in heaven.”
A well-known religious scholar who hosts a daily radio talk show, recently appeared at a conference where he addressed that question on a panel with Catholic and Protestant scholars. His fellow panelists gave lengthy, thoughtful variations of the same answer given above. When it was this radio star’s turn, he gave a rather simple answer that drew stares. He said, “God made humanity to live joyfully and to spread that joy to others.” This audience didn’t seem to get the significance of his answer, but the Advent season puts it in just the right context. Look to Luke:
“The angel said to them, “Do not be afraid; for behold, I proclaim to you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord.”
The radio host was Dennis Prager, who happens to be a Jewish scholar, but is well versed in Christianity and friendly to Christian tenets. His belief in the Godliness of love and joy parallels the Christian belief that Jesus Christ introduced true joy to humanity. That joy started in utero with John the Baptist, as we read in this Sunday’s gospel reading (Lk 1:39-45):
“When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the infant leaped in her womb, and Elizabeth, filled with the Holy Spirit, cried out in a loud voice and said, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb.”
Joy is the result of God’s love for us, and we are constantly reminded in the gospels that God is love. So if Prager is right, and we were made to live joyfully, that joy must be sustained as we share God’s love with others. Why else would God send his Son to save us? What was in it for Him? Our Old Testament reading from Micah (Mi 5:1-4a) makes clear the fact that our salvation is also for God:
“You, Bethlehem-Ephrathah, too small to be among the clans of Judah, from you shall come forth for me one who is to be ruler in Israel; whose origin is from of old, from ancient times.”
Note the words “for me.” God is love and through that promised ruler, love and peace will reign forever. During the Christmas season, especially, our hope is that God’s love will live forever in us because Christ came to conquer humanity’s sin and death. Thus we will live “happy with Him forever,” as the Baltimore Catechism states.
God’s manifestation as Christ was part of a plan to ensure eternal love. Our reading from Paul’s letter to the Hebrews (Heb 10:5-10) offers Christ’s answer to the Baltimore Catechism about why God made Him:
“Sacrifice and offering you did not desire, but a body you prepared for me; in holocausts and sin offerings you took no delight. … As is written of me in the scroll, behold, I come to do your will, O God.”
All of us are called to do God’s will—and that is to continue bringing Christ’s joy to those around us. It is delivered in many different forms every day and results in millions of holy moments—like when a special needs student wrote a get well note to her teacher recovering from cancer treatments. The command to “Get Butter Soon!” infused a joy in that teacher that no medicine could.
Joy to the world! It’s why we’re here.