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Summary: Cult is part of culture, even materialistic culture; our cult must be conducted as God wishes.

Feast of St. Francis of Assisi

October 4, 2010

Spirit of the Liturgy Series

By all testimony, including his own, Francis was a self-willed man. Even when he heard God’s call, we see over and over again his early actions as those of someone who is making his own way. The Francis of the early days would not recognize the St. Francis he later became. Francis learned the two lessons of today’s Scripture: there is no glory in war, or fame, or anything else but the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross was the throne where Jesus began to rule. The cross is the place of our own glorification. The other lesson is from the Gospel. Like a child, we have to turn everything–every decision, every possession–over to the Father. Our life must be oriented toward doing God’s will, and a passion for doing God’s will must be ours if we are to post ourselves on the path to union with God. That is the glue that keeps together what we have been considering for the past month with the Holy Father. A passion for God’s will holds together worship, law and ethics.

“Worship–the right kind of cult, of relationship with God–is essential for the right kind of human existence in the world. It is so precisely because it reaches beyond everyday life.” It gives us a “share in heaven’s mode of existence, in the world of God, and allows light to fall from that divine world into ours. . .[it]has the character of anticipation. It lays hold in advance of a more perfect life and, in so doing, gives our present life its proper measure. A life without such anticipation, a life no longer opened up to heaven, would be empty, a leaden life.” Cult is always a part of culture, even pagan culture. Even atheistic and materialistic systems create cult, a kind of illusion. Every day in public school we pledge allegiance to the U.S. and Texas flags, and then have 12-15 minutes of silence. It is a silence that is always awkward, because it implies prayer to a being that it is illegal to acknowledge publically.

But Catholic cult is overtly centered on God. We might ask, “whose work is it?” In the heady days after the Council, much was made of a possible derivation of the word “Liturgy,” from the Greek laos (meaning people) and ergon (meaning work): Liturgy is the “work of the people.” It was emphasized that our worship should be one in which all the members of God’s people are active, not passive, participants. We know the result, of course. Our Masses have become very busy, with lots of talk and motion and noise and maybe 30 seconds of silence. But the Mass is not primarily our work. It is God’s work in our behalf.

“Man himself cannot simply ‘make’ worship. If God does not reveal himself, man is clutching empty space.” (21) Like Moses and the Hebrews, we don’t start off knowing how and with what we must serve the Lord. (Ex 10:26) All we can do without God’s self-revelation is build altars, as the Greeks did, “to the unknown God.” (Acts 17:23) Real liturgy requires the response of God and His revelation of how we can worship him. That is why the institution narrative preserved in Paul’s letter to the Corinthians–and the legislation that he surrounded it with–and of course in the Gospels is so critical. “In any form, liturgy includes some kind of ‘institution.’ It cannot spring from imagination, our own creativity–then it would remain just a cry in the dark or mere self-affirmation.” Liturgy is not our doing what pleases us. In both the Old and New Testaments, there is a direct criticism of that kind of worship.

While Moses was on the mountain, Aaron and the people became impatient. Their apostasy took the form of worship with a golden bull calf. “They want to glorify the God who led Israel out of Egypt and believe that they may very properly represent his mysterious power in the image of a bull calf. . .Presumably even the ritual is in complete conformity to the rubrics.” But it is idolatry. Instead of letting God draw them to Himself on His own terms, the people drag God down into their own world and make Him into the god they think they need. “Man is using God, and . . .is placing himself above God.” This is why we can’t be surprised that the worship of the golden calf turned into a drinking party with all kinds of nasty sequellae. We can’t be surprised that God and Moses were violently angry, because without following God’s ordinances, worship, ethics and law become disconnected and inhuman. Paul fussed at the Corinthians for the same abuses. Such so-called worship is “no longer concerned with God but with giving oneself a nice little alternative world, manufactured from one’s own resources.” That is the path to emptiness, not liberation. That is why so much modern liturgy feels so void, leaves us down, not uplifted into a world beyond our own. For that to happen, we, like Francis, must listen intently and humbly to God speaking thru the church.

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