The Cross of Christ Transforms. . . How We Worship
Do not be deceived; God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption; but he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. And let us not grow weary in welldoing, for in due season we shall reap, if we do not lose heart. GALATIANS 6:7–9
But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth. JOHN 4:23–24
John struggled with a common sin of the flesh, and found himself in the confessional line every Saturday afternoon. One Saturday, he arrived after the priest had already left the confessional; an usher had to summon Father Will back to the reconciliation room, which evidently put the priest in a less-than-charitable mood. John confessed his sin, and the priest said to him, “You come here every week to confess the same sin. I wonder if you are truly sorry and repentant. I want you to think about what St. Paul told the Galatians, ‘God is not mocked.’” For over a year John thought again and again about the priest’s warning, and wondered if his struggle with this sin was truly mocking God.
When John told me about his situation, I encouraged him to read the rest of the passage in Galatians and to ask himself whether he was trying to overcome this failing by “sowing in the flesh” or by “sowing to the spirit.” When he had thought about it for a moment, John realized that all of his efforts to overcome this fault were totally focused on the flesh, on his own ego. In fact, it didn’t even seem “holy” to bring such a disgusting sin before God.
John is not unique in his struggle; I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who isn’t in some battle with the flesh. But if we are guilty of mocking God, it is in the same way that the Roman soldiers who mocked Christ were guilty of “mocking” him. They dressed him up as a king with a crown of thorns, a rod for a scepter and a cloak of purple, then they spat upon him and struck him. When you and I call Jesus our King, then serve anything or anyone but him, we are mocking him.
In our battles with the flesh, the question we must face is this: Who do we think can save us?
The Samaritan Woman
When Jesus came to the Samaritan woman at the well, he asked her for a drink. When our Lord comes to us, he often asks something of us, too, even when he has an abundance to give us. The asking simply makes us recognize our inability to fulfill our own needs by any means other than him.
So when the Samaritan woman protested at his request, Jesus responded by offering her water that would satisfy all of her thirsts. After some debate, she asked Jesus to give her this water. “Call your husband,” he told the woman. “I have none,” she replied. In this exchange between Jesus and the woman, we find the theme again: God is not mocked. “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband,’” Jesus chided her. “For you have had five husbands, and he whom you now have is not your husband.”
We may play games with others, or try to put on our public façade, but God will not be mocked. He knows us. Startled by Jesus’ revelation, the woman changed the subject: Should she be worshipping in Samaria or Jerusalem? Neither, Jesus answered. “God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:24). In the Scriptures, “spirit” refers to a person’s entire being; it is the breath of God breathed into the clay of Adam, which animates the human person. It is God’s life within us that makes it possible to worship God who is spirit.
Where is God?
Those of us who were taught using the Baltimore Catechism learned on the opening page the response to the question, “Where is God?” “God is everywhere.” This question and answer were so familiar to us, we could reply to the question automatically. However, we didn’t act like we believed it. We tended to think of God being present only when we summoned him or in sacred places like churches and shrines.
At Christmastime a few years ago, a coworker gave me a plaque that reads, “Vocatus atque non vocatus, Deus aderit” (“Bidden or unbidden, God is present.”). Psalm 139 expresses this truth another way: O Lord, thou hast searched me and known me! Thou knowest when I sit down and when I rise up; thou discernest my thoughts from afar. Thou searchest out my path and my lying down, and art acquainted with all my ways. . .. Whither shall I go from thy Spirit? Or whither shall I flee from thy presence? PSALM 139:1–3, 7
Worshipping in spirit and truth, which is the kind of worship that God seeks, involves an intimate dialogue, pouring out our hearts and minds to God at all times. The late Bishop John Sheets used to define the spiritual life as a “dialogic relationship,” a fancy way of saying that we are in conversation with God at every moment. Nothing we do is too trivial for God, nothing beneath his notice. If we truly believed this, our lives would be immediately transformed. Gone forever would be the idea that God doesn’t care what we do with our lives. There would be no area of our lives that would be off-limits to God. Because when we worship in spirit and truth, we realize that we live because God’s breath is within us, and we live best when we acknowledge the source of every breath we take.
Since the time of early Christianity, there have been forms of prayer that use breathing as a cadence for prayer. The Jesus Prayer and the Rosary, along with various forms of contemplative prayer, are all variations of this type of prayer. The real prayer behind all of these methods is the prayer of surrender: “Into your hands I commend my spirit.” This was the prayer that Jesus prayed to the Father from the cross. As we surrender ourselves to God, we acknowledge him to be our source and ask him to animate our actions according to his will at every moment of every day. The inability to surrender in this way, on the other hand, is often the root problem in our struggles in the spiritual life. When we put God anywhere but at the center of our lives, we deceive ourselves. Life is short and unpredictable, and completely beyond our control. By surrendering to God, we acknowledge where the control belongs, and place ourselves where we were created to be: In the loving hands of our Father, under his watchful eye
The Power of the Cross is a book well-suited to daily reading during Lent. The book is available here in pdf version. Daily excerpts will be reprinted in this space during Lent.