Saturday, August 29, 2009

Homily for 22nd sunday of the Year

This people honours me only with lip-service, while their hearts are far from me. The worship they offer me is worthless (Mark 7:6-7)

Many years ago, when I first became attracted to the Catholic faith, I remember being told, “It’s not all about bells and smells, you know”.

It is a criticism often made, and especially pointed at Catholicism, and even directed by some Catholics at other Catholics. The faith is not at all about how many candles you have on the altar, how much incense you use, whether mass is celebrated in Latin or not, how colourful and valuable the vestments are and so on. The beauty of the liturgy, the splendour of the music, and even the language used can become gods in themselves. If they do, then we fall into Jesus’ condemnation - lip service, worthless worship.

But of course, it is not just the old mass or the high mass which can go this way. The number of choruses sung, the quality of the sound system or video projector, the number of guitars or flutes, the height of the hands raised in worship - all these can become over important too.

The person who claims that elaborate and beautiful worship falls under the condemnation of this Gospel is missing the point. The question about what is the right way of worship is just not the same question as whether that worship is lip-service or not.

Worship becomes worthless, Jesus tells us, when the heart is not in it - or rather, when the heart is not in God himself. It is empty when the focus is on human desires, not divine purposes. And the measure of true worship is not the quality of the ceremony, impressive and inspiring though that may be, but the song sung by the charity, the mercy and the love of those whose worship is their lives.

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