[HOMILY] Does It Matter How We Worship God?
Be watchful! Be Alert! That is what Jesus tells us today. It is the first Sunday of Advent, the beginning of this season of hopeful expectation. Will Jesus come? We already know he will, he came almost 2000 years ago, so why do we reenact His coming among us over again each year?
It is a part of our ritual as the Church He founded so long ago, the ritual by which we give God worship. And so it is this – worship – which I would like to dive into today, both because it is the most effective way to prepare our hearts for Jesus’ coming, and because we have developed an aversion to true worship in today’s world.
What exactly does it mean to worship? And are we as Christians- or more generally as humans- obliged to worship God? More specifically, are we obliged to worship him in the way he commands us to? Simple answer: yes, we are obliged to worship God, and in the way he commands us to. What is worship? It is the act of rendering God, who is the creator and lover of the universe, due respect. What does it do for us and why is it necessary? To worship God puts us in proper relationship to him, and in a mystical way it orders the whole universe properly.
Well, all that sounded rather academic and even if you believe it is true, I doubt you find it very inspiring. Let’s ask some tougher questions, questions I get all the time, to try and get to the root of this issue of worship. What is with all these rules about worship? Why do I need to go to mass? Or confession? Why must I Pray? Or Fast? Can I not just try and be an honest, good person? Can I not spend my Sunday in the mountains or at the lake or on the river? Is that not a way of giving fitting worship to God?
Those are good questions, and before I begin the rest of this homily, I want to say that I have spent more than my fair share of time in the wilderness and during that time, I have had many powerful experiences of God. Also, I find fishing a profoundly spiritual activity, I think that is why I am drawn to it. Do I think sitting at home, reading a good book next to the fire can be an act of worship? Yes, because I think every human act can become an act of worship.
Jesus, in his incarnation, did utterly normal, mundane things. Think about that – God washed the dishes, he made his bed, he swept the floor. He also wandered up into the Judean hills to pray- we see in the gospels that the wilderness is his preferred place of prayer. In doing all these things, Jesus divinized our everyday activity; everything can be a prayer, an act of worship.
Yet, above and beyond our everyday mission to pray unceasingly through mundane things, Jesus also gave us very specific commands, specific ways in which we are to worship him. So, I return- Why can I not fulfill my Sunday obligation with a prayerful hike in the mountains? I asked this same question in the course of my conversion and I think it is a legitimate question so I will try and give a few answers.
First, it is only at mass that we receive communion, the Blessed Sacrament, the True Body and Blood of Christ. I don’t think we realize, even if we believe in the true presence of Christ in the Eucharist, the deep impact these graces have on our souls. Blessed John Henry Newman believed it is only the Eucharist- that intimate union with Christ we experience- which can prepare us for the union we will have with Christ in heaven. The Eucharist prepares us to meet God in a way nothing else on earth can.
Further, the mountains do not call me to be a saint. I can be up in the mountains or on the river and, yes, it gives me a very warm, spiritual feeling. Yet, I could very well be acting selfishly at that moment, and who is going to tell me? I once spent five days fishing the Big Hole before finally realizing I ought to be at home helping my father build our deck. He had been working by himself those five days.
The Church demands something of us. It is good that we do not yet know, and perhaps we don’t even like everyone in our parish, because we need to be pushed outside of ourselves. James Joyce, describing the Catholic Church, said “here comes everybody.” The Church is not our private friend group, but we must love each other all the same. Further, we must let God, through those around us in the Church, demand our love.
Finally, regarding whether we can just “be a good person” without being ordered by our worship. In a post-Christian culture, what does that even mean? If you look around, being good is all about taking care of ourselves. Look in Instagram and you will see inspirational phrases everywhere: “Follow your dreams”, “Be who you are”, “Don’t let anyone change you”, “You’re perfect.” Those are all well intentioned phrases, but they are wrong. We are not merely called to be who we are, we are called to be saints, to be who God has called us to be! And none of us is perfect, we are broken. True, we ought not to conform to those around us, but we must let God change us.
It is worship that orders us properly to God, it recalibrates us to True North, you can say. It makes us aware of all the graces he is pouring out upon us and it calls us out of our comfort zone into a place where we can pursue true holiness. And it is here, in the more fitting worship of the Mass, that we encounter Christ in the most profound way possible this side of heaven. Let us enter in, and so prepare our hearts for the solemnity of Christ’s incarnation.