At a recent Liturgy, I happened to look up at the congregation just at the moment I was coming to the conclusion of the Preface. The Preface said, “with the Powers of heaven, we worship you constantly on earth, and before your majesty without end we acclaim.” The “Holy, holy, holy” followed immediately.
As I said, I looked up at the congregation just as I was saying the words, “we worship you constantly on earth.” At that particular moment, someone walked into church having missed half of the Liturgy, but still having plenty of time to receive Eucharist as if it was a consumer commodity. While the latecomer bumbled and stumbled to a seat, I noticed other members of the congregation staring blankly at the ceiling, still others talking to one another, a few yawning demonstratively, and one examining a smudge on the floor.
I wondered if the words of the Preface were an accurate description or merely wishful thinking. Is it the case that God’s People “worship you (God) constantly on earth”? I think it is the case that most of us do, in fact, engage in constant worship. Unfortunately, our constant worship is not directed to the God revealed in the Scriptures.
I am not aware of any statistical or objective evidence to support my assertion above. I base my judgment only on anecdotal evidence. Please consider the following:
Try to remember the news reports you watched on television last night and the headlines in this morning’s newspaper.
Try to remember the content of the phone calls you made and the text messages you sent yesterday.
Look at the faces of other drivers the next time you’re out and about in heavy traffic. If you happen to be a passenger in a car, look at the content of the billboards and signage along your route.
Based solely on anecdotal evidence, I would guess that most of our attention throughout a typical day is directed to politics, conflict, crime, sports, finance, and personal concerns. If we can be honest with ourselves, these are the gods we worship constantly on earth; these are the things to which we direct our utmost energies and attention.
I’m not suggesting that anyone should ignore current events, personal issues, or social responsibilities. It would be an act of gross irresponsibility not to attend to the necessities of family and societal life. Rather, I am asking whether any of you feel the same uneasiness when you hear Jesus’ words in today’s Gospel reading.
The Gospel says, “Jesus told his disciples a parable about the necessity for them to pray always without becoming weary.” (Lk. 18:1) The persistent woman in the parable demanded of the judge, “Render a just decision for me against my adversary.” (Lk. 18:3) The woman sought victory over a foe; Jesus’ disciples are to follow her example. Jesus commands that we pray always, asking God for victory over our foe, that is, over our tendency to give our constant attention to our anxieties and desires.
The ceaseless prayer that Jesus expects from his disciples is, not surprisingly, unlike the ways that we normally spend our energies and direct our attentions. Just in case we were to misunderstand Jesus’ command, he asks, “When the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (Lk; 18:8) The “faith” to which Jesus refers is not faith in politics, conflict, crime, sports, finance, or personal concerns. Rather, he refers to faith in the God revealed in the Scriptures, the God who promises vindication over our most deadly foes: the idols we create for ourselves.
I’d like to make a recommendation about how to accomplish Jesus’ command. Our fullest energy and attention will necessarily be directed to whatever happens to fill our thoughts. For most of us, our thoughts are filled daily with ephemeral things, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be the case. It is equally easy to fill one’s thoughts with the One, True God; the Liturgy exists in order to help us do precisely that. Try starting each day with a few words from the Scripture readings for the day’s Liturgy. A few words, or a few phrases, are all that is necessary. It is not necessary to understand fully the words of the Scriptures; no interpretation is required. The only requirement for filling one’s thoughts with God is to keep those few words of Scripture in one’s mind throughout the course of the day. Let’s try an experiment to discover how this might work.
The next time you look at the news, or converse with a friend, or navigate heavy traffic, remember the words, “pray always without becoming weary.” (Lk. 18:1) Your experience of daily life might be transformed completely if your constant worship is directed by the words of Scripture.
You can start immediately to direct the way your mind worships. For the remainder of this Liturgy, keep in mind a few words. The conclusion of the Preface I mentioned earlier says, “we worship you constantly on earth.” To whom does that word “you” refer in your life?