Parish life has its own rhyme and reason. Things move at their own pace and patterns can be discerned. For example, every summer Mass participation drops and every autumn it picks back up. It’s an interesting phenomenon.
Summer hits, it gets hot, school is out, and people take a vacation from their attendance at Mass. Of course, the pandemic makes such a seasonal rhythm even more uncertain.
The entire observable reality begs some questions. It calls for us to explore the unpopular, and sometimes unfamiliar, notion of our duty to worship God.
If we’re not careful, we can fall into thinking that worship is optional, that it’s something we do because we want to, and that somehow we’re doing God a favor by choosing to worship him.
All of this points us to the forgotten virtue of religion.
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 drive to offer true worship to the living God.
God is our everything. If we acknowledge this truth, we can pursue a life of peace, since all other things flow from getting this first thing right. If we do not acknowledge this truth and its exercise does not become the center of our lives, then we drift aimlessly from one form of emotional fulfillment to another. We will have fragmented lives, with no lasting foundation.
As human beings, made in God’s image and likeness, our life truly begins and finds its deepest meaning in our worship of him.
In the broadest possible way of understanding these state-of-affairs, we can accept God as our eternal Creator, who cares for us by his divine Providence. While God is so much more, and desires to be so much more for us, even this elementary recognition justifies why we are called to offer worship to him.
As his creation, and his beloved children, we owe God our homage and gratitude. This debt falls under the virtue of justice. Justice is to give someone his due, and God is due our reverence and esteem. Under the umbrella of justice, therefore, we recognize the specific virtue of religion.
What is this strange virtue of religion that has been forgotten by so many?
Located within the realm of the virtue of justice, religion ranks supreme among its other virtues, since it involves our relationship with God.
In wisdom that still applies today, Pope Leo XIII addressed the importance of worship and right religion in his landmark encyclical, Rerum Novarum. As the Industrial Revolution sought to strip humanity of its spiritual nature, the pontiff pushed back and taught: “It is the soul which is made after the image and likeness of God… No man may with impunity outrage that human dignity that God Himself treats with great reverence, nor stand in the way of that higher life which is the preparation of the eternal life of heaven. Nay, more; no man has in this matter power over himself. To consent to any treatment which is calculated to defeat the end and purpose of his being is beyond his right; he cannot give up his soul to servitude, for it is not man’s own rights which are here in question, but the rights of God, the most sacred and inviolable of rights.”
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. For those who want to live fully human lives, they must offer worship to God. It is the most fundamental – and most human – act they can make.
The word religion comes from a Latin word meaning “to bind oneself.” Properly understood, it is the perfect word for this preeminent virtue, since religion is a binding of ourselves to God and a worship and way of life that loves and serves him.
The virtue of religion is a binding. It is a recognition that our lives are not our own. Religion includes a death to self, the joining of a community, and a commitment to true worship. It means coming to Mass in the summer when we don’t feel like it. It means not taking a vacation from the duty and the privilege of offering worship throughout our lives.