RELIGION AND WORSHIP: A HOMILY ON THE 6TH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME, YEAR C
The word ‘religion’ comes from the latin word ‘religare’ which means to bind. A word that can help us to understand this is ‘ligament’, which is a tissue that connects two bones in a person’s body. So, your religion can be understood as your way of worshiping God. But it can also be understood as whatever you have bound yourself to, whatever you have tied your heart to, whatever has consumed your heart.
The word worship is derived from ‘worthship’ or ‘worth-ship’. The two divisions in the word isolates the word ‘worth’. Therefore, to worship something or someone is to have accorded that thing or that person the highest worth in your life. It means that to worship is to value God above all things. Whatever is most important in your life, whatever or whoever you value above all things. That is who or what you worth-ship.
Thus says the Lord: “Cursed is the man who trusts in man and makes flesh his arm, whose heart turns away from the Lord. He is like a shrub in the desert, and shall not see any good come. He shall dwell in the parched places of the wilderness, in an uninhabited salt land. “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord, whose trust is the Lord. He is like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit.”: Many of us worship human beings without knowing it. Jeremiah was writing this to a people who have constantly tried to depend on themselves and on political powers in dealing with their issues. This has led to exile, which Jeremiah himself is also forced into. Jeremiah makes a distinction between those who put their trust in man, whose heart turns away from the Lord, and those who put their trust in the Lord. If you want to know what you worship, and to what religion you belong, think of what your heart is placed upon. A word that makes this clear is the Igbo sentence ‘Atukwasaram gi obi m‘ which is ‘I trust you’, but literally it says ‘I place my heart on you’. Those who put their heart in man are like shrubs in the desert. They are curesed. But those who put their trust in God are like trees planted by the river side.
But how do I know if I trust in God, if my heart is with God. The responsorial psalm tells us that the person delights in the law of the Lord, and ponders his law day and night. When we speak of the word ponder, it is not just about thinking about something. Its origin is the latin word ‘pondus’ which has to do with weighing something and considering the value of something. It is related to the word ‘Pounds’, which has to do with weight. You can say something is weighing 100 pounds. So, to ponder on the word of God is to value it above all things. The Hebrew word used for this is ‘Hagah’, which is not just like sitting and thinking about something. It has the image of an animal who is eating whatever game he has caught, with passion. It is like gnawing on something. This is related to the word which Jesus used when He told his disciples to eat His body. He told them to eat it as something they are crazy about. So, no matter how much we scream in church, if we do not value God above all things, we are idol worshipers.
ESSENCE AND ACCIDENCE
At that time: Jesus came down with the Twelve and stood on a level place, with a great crowd of his disciples and a great multitude of people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the seacosts of Tyre and Sidon, who came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases. And he lifted up his eyes on his disciples and said: “Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you that hunger now, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you that weep now, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and when they exclude you and revile you, an cast out your name as evil on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But woe to you that are full now, for you shall hunger. Woe to you that laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you, when all men speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.: To value God above all things does not mean other things are not important. It doesnt mean it is not important to own material things. It doesnt mean it is not important to be happy, to have some fun and to be popular. What it means is that, because you have place the highest value on God, because you have worth-shiped God, to be above all things, because you pondus and hagah on his law, every other thing becomes secondary. God becomes the essence of your life, the one to whom your life is bound, the one you place the highest value on. Every other thing falls under ‘good to have’, but not essential. So, if you are poor, or hungry, or weeping, or you are hated by people, for the sake of Christ, you will feel bad, but you will not feel your life is over, because your heart is not set on having these things. As much as you think they are important, you know that your relationship with God is most important. To have this mindset is to be blessed.
But for those who consider God as a means to an end, and who place great value on being rich, having fun, and having a good reputation, these things become their gods, the idols they worth-ship. These things become their religion, because their hearts are bound to them. But why would chosing to worth-ship God with this understanding make sense?
VIRTUE OF HOPE
Brethren: If Christ is preached as raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished. If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all men most to be pitied. But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruit of those who have fallen asleep.: Following our Redemptorist tradition, this month of February, we are reflecting on the virtue of hope. We can have hope regarding our life in this world. A person can hope to have a good job someday, or to make more money, or to get a certificate, etc. But St. Paul tells us here that if our hope in Christ is only about this life, then we are of all men most to be pitied. Our hope is bigger than just this life. We have the hope of a blessed resurrection, that our lives do not end in this world. Without this hope, even all our success in this world become a waste of time. Imagine if you are the richest person in this world, you are having the highest level of fun possible, you are the most popular person in this world, and so what? How long will you sustain that. You live for 90 years, or 100, and so what? Will that be all? If that is all there is to life, then what a shame! So, without the hope of eternal life, even our success in this world will make no sense. But if we hope in the resurrection, even our suffering in this world can be seen as a blessing. If we look at the big picture, then we will bind our hearts to God, put our trust in Him and pondus His word, and worth-ship Him.