Catechesis - 20th World Youth Day
Friday, 19 August, 2005
“They departed to their own country by another way” (Mt 2:12)
Dear brothers and sisters,
We are exploring rich and deep aspects of our faith during these days. Throughout these catechetical sessions, as in our sharing and prayer and other events of these days, God is opening us to a deeper discovery of the wonder and beauty of our life, our faith, and especially of His own Divine goodness. We looked at the quest for meaning, for truth, a quest that marks each one of our lives. Considering how the pathway of faith leads us to a deeper engagement of our power of mind and intellect to find God in all things, we then considered the astonishing gift of the Eucharist, and how it is we meet Christ in person in and through this Mystery of Mysteries. Today, we begin by looking again at the account of Jesus’ birth in the first chapters of St. Matthew’s Gospel where we find that the Magi, having “found the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their coffers and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. They received a message in a dream not to return to Herod, so they went back to their own country by another route” (Mt 2:11-12).
What does it mean to give “true worship”? True, we speak of the practices and actions of religious cult as ‘worship’ and rightly so for they are acts of homage and adoration given to God. Going to Mass and participating fully in the Eucharist is the highest point of our worship. Other forms of worship and prayer, the Rosary, meditation, the prayer of the heart are all ‘acts of worship’. But we must also recall the texts of Sacred Scripture that remind us that adoration of the living God, true worship, cannot be limited to prayer in isolation from life. In fact, prayer, to the extent that it is authentic, always leads to action, and action done in faith, brings us back to prayer. This dialectic between life and prayer is a constant of any genuine life of discipleship as we see constantly in the examples of the lives of the saints. Consider Mother Theresa of Calcutta, though she is not yet formally canonized as a saint. Her intense life of prayer lead her to ever deeper engagement in her loving service of the poorest of the poor, and that very demanding – even grinding service brought her back to the sacred moments of quiet intimate dialogue with God in prayer.
It is good for us to remember the warning of the prophets, however, when it comes to relying on cult alone to express our worship. Take for example this gut wrenching text from the prophet Amos:
“I hate, I spurn your feasts, I take no pleasure in your solemnities; Your cereal offerings I will not accept, nor consider your stall-fed peace offerings. Away with your noisey songs! I will not listen to the melodies of your harps. But if you would offer me holocausts, then let justice surge like water, and goodness like an unfailing stream. Did you bring me sacrifices and offerings for forty years in the desert, O house of Israel?” (Amos 5:21-25)
In the fiery language of the great prophet Jeremiah we hear:
“Thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Reform your ways and your deeds, so that I may remain with you in this place. Put not your trust in the deceitful words: ‘This is the temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord! The temple of the Lord!’ Only if you thoroughly reform your ways and your deeds; if each of you deals justly with his neighbour; if you no longer oppress the resident alien, the orphan, and the widow; if you no longer shed innocent blood in this place, or follow strange gods to your own harm, will I remain with you in this place, in the land which I gave your fathers long ago and forever.” (Jeremiah 7:3-7)
Psalm fifty gives us the bitter irony of God declaring that He is not hungry, the meat of the offered bulls and goats is no gift since he is the one who made them in the first place. “He that offers praise as a sacrifice glorifies me; and to him that goes the right way I will show the salvation of God.” (Psalm 50:23)
Let us be clear that these words taken from the great prophetic literature of the Bible and from the Psalms do not tell us that we should not pray or participate fully in formal acts of public worship, the liturgy of the Church. What they do tell us is that formal worship makes no sense at all unless it is accompanied by the offering of a repentant heart, a clear conscience and a firm will to live in obedience and harmony with the God we worship.
When we truly meet Christ, he calls us into the fullness of truth, and loves us in the fullness of the truth of who we are. Jesus, our Lord, does not love us because we are holy, but we become holy because he loves us. In Him, there is no confusion or admixture of light with darkness. Jesus desires of us true worship that is not something only of the lips but of the heart, of the whole of our lives. In John’s Gospel, Jesus tells us we are to “worship the Father in spirit and truth!” (Jn 4: 23)
How do we truly live out this challenging but wonderful invitation from the Lord in the reality of the world in which we live today? This life as is sometimes said in a slightly vulgar phrase, “is not for wimps”. It takes courage to be an authentic Christian, a real and faithful member of Christ’s holy Catholic Church. We will and must be prepared to swim against the tide. The apostle Paul reminds us that we are not to be conformed to this world, but to have in us the mind and heart of Christ. Walking in the footsteps of Jesus will not necessarily gain you great popularity, or a higher social status. On the contrary, it may well earn you “cat calls” and rejection by people around you. How often have you heard the retort when you tell someone, “this is true, this is the real good” – well “you have your truth and I have mine”. What a totally and utterly ridiculous statement. Can the truth stand against itself? And yet our culture is rife with this practical and even foundational relativism. There have even been certain entries of this poison of relativism into the way in which the demands of living the gospel are presented in some expressions of moral teaching. Theories of so-called “situation ethics” in practice tear the heart out of the dignity of following Christ. What would have happened to the poor little martyr of chastity, Saint Maria Goretti, had she been schooled in such a “situation ethic”? But no, there she stands, a little twelve year old poor child, prepared to accept death rather than to allow her chastity to be violated. What a further miracle, that her would-be rapist was able to attend her canonization by Pope Pius XII. There is no other way to the fullness of life and happiness than the way of the Lord Jesus. He tells us that “I am the way, the truth and the life” and we know that there is no other way higher or better than this way. Christ Jesus is the “one mediator between God and the human race” (I Tm 2:5) and he alone is the Savior of the world.
To meet Christ Jesus is to open our hearts and our lives to him. If we would have him come in and dwell with us, we must prepare a place for him. This is the grace, but also the hard work of conversion. It means being willing to change. Cardinal Newman said many years ago that to live is to change, and to be a saint is to have changed often. How is it that we must change? It is from the inside out, from the heart to the everyday decisions of our lives. Hearing the Gospel, means also taking it into our hearts and living by it as a leaven in society. We are not here to create an earthly paradise, a sort of utopia. Karl Marx had this dream and we see where this has taken humanity. In conversion, we need a teacher, and thanks be to God, we have the very best of teachers. Christ is our teacher, but his teaching is not like that of the scribes and Pharisees who tie up heavy burdens and lay them on people’s backs, but do not raise so much as a finger to help carry them. Christ teaches us by living the word he speaks. Dear friends, do you truly place your confidence in him? Is his vision your vision? His vision is neither naïve nor is it trite or full of platitude.
Even in some of our religious education programs, we have settled for a sort of “social engagement” in place of the radical demands of a new life in Christ that takes in the whole of who and what we are. Of course, it is a wonderful and necessary thing to be concerned about the poor and the suffering, but if at the same time we pay no attention to the person of Christ, to his real words, to the authentic teaching that comes to us from His Church, how are we faithful to this friendship with him?
Of course, we all know there are immense social problems facing humanity. But how is it that we are to respond? The temptation is constantly to substitute ourselves and human initiatives for God’s own loving plan to save and redeem the world. Take for example the question of population growth. How many proposals are brought forward, even by highly respected prestigious world bodies, that are abysmally flawed and do great violence to human dignity. So we have scores upon scores of those who follow the ultimately racist views of Margaret Sanger in imposing upon developing nations quotas for their population growth. So we gather up billions of dollars so that we can chase down pregnant women to abort their babies and hand out artificial contraceptive chemicals and devices as if they were candy or play toys in the developing countries of the world. Are we to assume that God made a mistake in designing the wonder and beauty of our human bodies, with this God-like awesome power of transmitting life through sexual generation? Male and female he created them – be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth! Would it never occur that perhaps some education and genuine economic assistance so that poor populations have a chance to live a dignified autonomous existence, might work infinitely better at bringing about a natural curve of population growth.
The enemies of our true freedom are everywhere around us. Without any hint of paranoia, we must be on the lookout for the sometimes subtle and sometimes very blatant way in which things like the occult, sects, New Age music and rhetoric, false forms of ‘spiritualizing’ draw us away from the truth of Christ and the authentic values to which he calls us. Moloch has many faces in the world these days, and we are invited to worship at all sorts of Moloch’s altars.
To offer true worship is to live the Lord’s command of love. As our beloved late Holy Father, Pope John Paul II wrote: “Christians know that love is the reason for God’s entering into relationship with man. And it is love whih he awaits as man’s response. Consequently, love is also the loftiest and most noble form of relationship possible between human beings. Love must thus enliven every sector of human life and extend to the international order. Only a humanity in which there reigns the ‘civilization of love’ will be able to enjoy authentic and lasting peace.” (Compendium of the Social Teaching, p.254) I will bring this teaching on our true worship to a close with a reference to another of the saints so near to us, the young beautiful woman, St. Therese of Lisieux:
“In the evening of this life, I shall appear before you with empty hands, for I do not ask you, Lord, to count my works. All our justice is blemished in your eyes. I wish, then, to be clothed in your own justice and to receive from your love the eternal possession of yourself.” (St. Therese of the Child Jesus, Act of Offering in Story of a Soul, in Catechism 2011).