We are often told that we must worship the Lord our God, but we are not often talk what that actually means? In some ways, it is easier to say what it is not, rather than what it is. To worship God does not mean to bow or kowtow before him, saying nice things in the hope of getting what we want. I remember a woman, some years ago, saying to me, “Father, please pray that I will win the lottery, for I have told God that if I win, I will give half the money to charity.” She was, I think, very genuine in wanting to win the lottery and I am sure she spent a lot of time on her knees trying to persuade God to grant her request, but what, in fact, she was trying to do was “bribe” God – not worship him.
Worship begins to happen when we come face to face with who God is – the One who is creating us: moulding us into the likeness of his Son; the One who is redeeming us: setting us free from the chains that hold us back; the One who is sanctifying us: drawing us into his love and service of the world. It is when we begin to see this, to a greater or lesser extent, that we also find ourselves being drawn to accept him as our God, to bow down and say, “Be it done unto me, according to your Word”. It is then that the act of worship begins, for “worship” is accepting God as God, and accepting ourselves as we are and who we are.
However, this does not happen all at once, for there is a great leap of faith involved and the Lord knows that we cannot do it all at once – for to accept God in this way, is a very scary thing. There are instances in the Gospel, where the Lord did invite people to make such a great leap at one go, such as when he invited Peter to come to him across the water (Mt. 14:29), or when he invited the rich young man to sell everything he owned, give the money to the poor and come and follow him (Lk. 18:22) – but was too difficult and those two failed – Peter sank in the sea and the rich young man went away sad, “because he was a very rich man”. However, we need to note, that, in these two episodes, it was the two men themselves and not the Lord, who, in the first instance, asked for the challenge: It was Peter who said, “Lord, if it is you, tell me to come to you across the water” and it was the rich young man, who asked, “Good Master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Only after being thus directly asked, did the Lord lay out the full extent of the leap of trust they would have to make in order to receive what they asked for. It takes a tremendous act of trust to truly worship God.
We know that with Peter, his failure was not the end of the story and he was to succeed and fail many times on his journey towards true faith and worship, but I sometimes wonder what happened afterwards to the rich young man! We know that he went away sad, but I cannot believe that that was the end of his story, for he was a good and sincere young man, as the Gospel tells us. I am sure that, like Peter, his story carried on and that he was led little bit by little bit to grow in trust for the Lord, until he was ready to entrust himself completely – and find the Eternal Life he had asked for.
One of our difficulties in understanding the true nature of worship is that when we come before the Lord in our time of need, we so often, especially at the beginning, come not with our problems and our needs, but with our solutions instead – and our prayers are concerned with asking God to grant them. It rarely occurs to us that God may have better or different solutions. Thus, the woman who wanted to win the lottery – I do not know what her problem was, maybe she was in difficulties paying the mortgage on her house, or a loved one needed medical treatment and she did not have the money to pay for it and so she turned to the Lord for help, but instead of humbly placing her problems before God and trusting in his mercy, she came with her demands of what she expected the Lord to do – make her win the lottery. However, maybe we should not be too harsh on her, because we all start in that way – or at least I did.
My life is a story of presenting my plans before the Lord and, apparently, not having them answered. However, with hindsight, I now see that the Lord always answered my prayers, but not in the way I asked. Often, his ways were beyond my understanding at the time and it is only now, as I look back, do I see something of the graciousness of my God and that he often gave me life, even though, at the time, I thought I was experiencing disaster. It is because I can now see this in hindsight that I find the courage to give the situations I now face into his hands and ask him to deal with them in his way, not mine. I am not saying that I now have enough faith to walk on water, as Peter was invited to, or sell everything I have and give it to the poor, as the rich young man was, but I am getting there, bit by bit and episode by episode. By looking back, I find the courage to trust a little more today, because the Lord is only asking what I can manage. So, I am gradually learning to worship – discovering who my God is and in so doing, discovering who I am.
This is the first blog I have managed to finish for some weeks. I have started several, but could not find the energy or interest to finish them. I wondered at first what was happening to me, for I did not seem to have an interest in anything. Then, I remembered that a similar thing happened to me about ten years ago, when my mother died and a kind priest friend explained to me that I was grieving for my mother, but that, given time, it would pass – and it did. When I was home on leave, I went to visit my sister-in-law – the first time I had visited since my brother’s death – and I think this brought home to me that my brother had gone, my younger and only brother, and what I have been experiencing are the symptoms of grieving for him. Such a realisation does not take the symptoms away, but having such an understanding I am able to wait with patience and to say: “This too shall pass”
During my leave, I went for a short visit to Prague – a really charming city and one which I would gladly visit again. In one of the markets there, I bought a couple of small pictures, one a water colour of a little girl and then other a beautiful little black and white pen drawing of the old city. They were very cheap and I was very happy with them, but then packing up to go back to England, I left them in the hotel room. It was a small, family hotel, so when I got back to UK, I emailed them asking them that, if they found the pictures, would they kindly send them on to me. This they did, sending them by DHL – and I discovered that the cost of sending them was more than I paid for them. However, you cannot put a price on good memories and I am very happy to have them back. I now have them framed and hanging on the wall in my room.
Last year, I gave a seven week course on the social teaching of the Church in the Cathedral Parish here and it was quite well attended. When introducing that course, I told the participants that the Church’s social teaching is often called “the Church’s best kept secret”, because while Catholics usually know the sexual teaching of the Church, only few know the social teaching, despite there being a large body of encyclicals etc. on this subject. About ten days ago, I met, at the seminary here, a man who had just come from Sunday Mass and when he saw me he said, “Ah! Father Terry, I wanted to see you because I have a video to give you. It is about a priest in central America who is involved in the drug trade and in sex abuse.” I asked him why he thought I would be interested in it and he replied, “Because it is one of the Church’s best kept secrets that you were talking about!” Maybe I should stop teaching!