This weekend, Christian believers reach the middle of the Lenten season. As a point of emphasis, the Church declares this particular Sunday as Laetare, or “Rejoice,” Sunday. It’s a reminder to us all that the paschal celebrations are quickly approaching.
Are we getting ready? Will we be prepared to worship the Risen Christ?
Such questions lead us into an examination of the nature of worship. Such an exploration can guide us as we seek to worship the Lord Jesus in spirit and truth.
As such, let’s start at the very beginning of the Catechism of the Catholic Church. The Catechism begins by teaching: “God, infinitely perfect and blessed in himself, in a plan of sheer goodness freely created man to make him share in his own blessed life.” It is an uplifting thought that the very first word of the Catechism is “God,” not us. And the reference to God is placed within the acknowledgment of his perfection.
It is ironic that what would seem to be an obvious observation – God is perfect – is now a countercultural declaration. In truth, God is infinitely perfect. He doesn’t need a reboot, an upgrade, or any assistance from any of his creatures to be somehow better or more relevant, or more kind, or more merciful. God is infinitely perfect. He doesn’t need our help to make him any better.
Within his perfection, God is blessed in himself. He’s not looking for any affirmation from us. He doesn’t need our praise or adoration. He doesn’t rely on our fellowship. He is not made greater when we worship him, not is his perfection or blessedness diminished when we turn away from him or create our own idols. God created us in an act of sheer goodness. He wants to share with us what he already possesses within himself. He invites us to love and praise him because these build us up and help us to be more like him.
As human beings, we have been made by and for God. As such, we have also been created for worship. We have a fundamental, existential need to offer true worship to the living God. He is our everything, and if this is not acknowledged, and its exercise does not become the center of our lives, then we drift aimlessly from one emotional fulfillment to another. We will have fragmented lives, with no lasting foundation and no source of enduring joy.
Our life truly begins and finds its deepest meaning in the worship of God. It is an unavoidable decision. Will we humble ourselves and worship the living God? Or will we deny this call to worship? Will we manipulate it into some form of self-worship?
In the broadest terms possible, God is our eternal Creator, who cares for us by his divine Providence, and – as such – we owe him our homage and gratitude. This debt of sorts falls under the virtue of justice. Justice is to give someone their due. God is due our reverence and esteem. Under the umbrella of justice, therefore, we recognize the specific virtue of religion. Located within the realm of the virtue of justice, religion ranks supreme among other virtues, since it involves our relationship with God.
The virtue of religion is the command within our souls to acknowledge God’s goodness to us, humble ourselves, and give him proper honor and adoration. This reverence includes the duty of worship. If someone wants to live a full life, existentially satisfied with peace in their heart, then they must exercise the virtue of religion and properly worship God.
Religion is a binding of ourselves to God, a proper worship of him, a way of life and a community that flows from that worship, as well as the many customs and traditions that surround such a community and way of life.
The virtue of religion is a binding. It is a recognition that our lives are not only about ourselves. Religion includes a death to self, the joining of a community, and a commitment to true worship. The virtue of religion begins with a free choice by each of us to reciprocate God’s love, to give him his due, and to properly worship him above all things. This is the virtue of religion. This is what each person is called to accept and to integrate into their own lives.
Knowing our fallenness, and desiring to provide his divine assistance, God included in his revelation the path to true worship. In the Paschal Mystery of Jesus Christ, he has given to us the summit and source of all worship. Our call, therefore, is to use the remainder of this Lenten season to prepare well, encounter the Risen Christ again in our lives, and to more deeply worship the living God in spirit and truth.
Portions of this column were taken from Father Kirby’s newest book, Real Religion: How to Avoid False Faith and Worship God in Spirit and Truth (Catholic Answers Press).
Follow Father Jeffrey Kirby on Twitter: @fatherkirby