Fr. Paul MacNeil
Habit 4: Worship - 7 Habits of Effective Catholics
Our fourth habit is about worship. I love Rick Warren's book Purpose Driven Life, where he writes, "It's not about you." The purpose of our lives is very clearly to worship God, to acknowledge his Lordship and to realize that God has a very special purpose in your life - and whatever that purpose is, it all boils down to worship Him:
"Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days - when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you are out of options, when the pain is great - and you turn to God alone."
Perhaps the greatest form of worship we can experience s the Eucharist. If worship is about expressing our love and affection for God, and the greatest act of love and affection for God in the history of the world is the offering of Jesus on the cross, an act that is recreated whenever we celebrate Mass, then the Mass is the greatest form of worship we could ever express. I often say that I am a Christian because of the resurrection, but I am a Catholic because of the Eucharist.
My own understanding and appreciation of the power of Mass came to me from an unlikely place -- when I was teaching English as a second language in South Korea. I had been in the seminary for four years, so I knew my theology, but I was at the time having issues with my faith. In this instance, we were at a memorial service for one of our fellow teachers who passed away. At the service, we set up a shrine with a photograph of the person who passed away, decorated with flowers and candles and other pictures of him and his family, not unlike anything you might see at any funeral. But here's what happened: all of us, in turn, took a gift and presented it to the shrine with a profound bow. It was a way of giving the deceased "food for the journey," so to speak, and a way to express our love for him as he passed on to the next life. It was in every sense an "offering." But then, after the ceremony was over, we took all that food to the staff room and had a big celebration, and we ate it all. This enabled us to share our life with him and have him share his life with us. Then suddenly, I realized that this was what was happening at Mass. Think about it: we bring up gifts of bread and wine, they are presented at the altar, and the bread and wine are received and changed, in fact, into the Body and Blood of Christ. This offering is then presented to God (Through Him and with Him and In Him, in the Unity of the Holy Spirit, all glory and honour are yours forever and ever), and then we receive this offering in the beautiful ritual of communion. We are drawn close to Jesus and to God, and he is drawn close to us. We are united, hence the word "communion."
There are some important differences, of course. For one thing, the gift we are offering God is nothing less than God Himself in the person of Jesus Christ. "Take this, all of you, and eat; this is my body, this is my blood, the blood of the new and everlasting covenant, given up for you." So when we share communion, we are receiving the very life of Jesus Christ, of God, Himself. In the words of a former evangelical mega-church pastor who became catholic:
“It became obvious why Catholics had built such beautiful cathedrals and churches throughout the world. Not as gathering or meeting places for Christians. But as a home for Jesus Himself in the Blessed Sacrament. Cathedrals house Jesus. Christians merely come and visit Him. The cathedrals and churches architecturally prepare our souls for the beauty of the Eucharist.” (Allen R. Hunt, Confessions of a Mega Church Pastor: How I Discovered the Hidden Treasures of the Catholic Church)
I would like to share one more image about the value and importance of communion. In the movie Phenomenon starring John Travolta, he had been diagnosed with terminal cancer, and he had just shared this news with two young children (see the youtube link below). The children are angry with him, and so he tries to calm their fears and strengthen their friendship with an offering - in this case, an apple. Here's how the scene unfolded:
Travolta's character is eating an apple, and the children are fixing their car with him when one of the children asks him:
"You came here to die, didn't you."
Travolta nods his head slightly. "I like this place, and I love the people here."
At this point, the children take a few steps away from him, and all three of them are standing at a fence, Travolta still holding the apple: "If we were to put this apple down and leave it," says Travolta, "it would be spoiled and gone within a few days. But, if I were to take a bite of it like this, it would become part of us, and we could take it with us forever."
He offers the apple to the little girl, and she takes a big juicy bite of it (she gets it). He offers it to the boy, and he refuses. Then Travolta leans over to him and says to him, "everything is on its way somewhere. Everything." Then the little boy took a big bite of the apple and shared it with his sister.
To me, this is what happened at the last supper. Jesus wanted us to feel united with Him forever, so He took some bread, blessed it and broke it and said, "take this all of you and eat it; this is my body, do this in memory of me." The only difference here is in the divinity of Jesus Christ. Through his resurrection, what he did at the last supper - well, let's just say it suddenly becomes very real.
I began with a quotation from Rick Warren: "Your most profound and intimate experiences of worship will likely be in your darkest days - when your heart is broken, when you feel abandoned, when you are out of options when the pain is great - and you turn to God alone."
I conclude with a similar quote from J.R.R. Tolkien:
“Out of the darkness of my life, so much frustrated, I put before you the one great thing to love on earth: the Blessed Sacrament … There you will find romance, glory, honour, fidelity, and the true way of all your loves upon earth.”
"I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again. Whoever believes in me will never be thirsty" John 6:35. This is the best kind of worship we could ever experience.