Several years ago I was asked to introduce a video presentation featuring a well known Catholic priest and personality to an all men's group at a local parish. The presentation was to follow their annual general meeting so I waited in the hall until they completed their prepared agenda. I had arrived just in time to hear the men conclude the business section of their meeting with a Rosary. As is the habit its familiar refrain was recited with the usual vigour and haste. I have often wondered about the value of such prepared and formal prayers. Is it because it’s the dutiful Catholic thing to do, or do we believe that somehow it will please God in his lonely heavenly realm? It did not appear as though the recitation moved anyone to a higher plain or prompt them to question a particular aspect or understanding of faith. Repetition can be a useful teaching tool for primary school students, but these were all mature men, lay and clergy combined. Remember, the Rosary was originally created as a substitute to help illiterate monks recite a simple refrain after they lost the skill to recite the 150 Psalms.
While the value of a repetitive prayer may be very handy when difficult and demanding circumstances keep us from a clearer focus; it should not lead us to a form of unified boredom. The Catholic Mass, except perhaps for the Liturgy of the Word, follows a predictable format. However, Catholics will quickly point out that the Liturgy of Eucharist should be understood as the highlight of the celebration. It is here that the body of Christ takes the physical form of his presence among his people. How many times do we miss that opportunity through our lack of response? I truly believe that God already rests deep within every indestructible soul. The play of Mass is purely intended to remind us of that fact.
Predictability and repetition may be helpful to guide us through a semblance of unified praise and worship but I have often wondered what would happen if the celebrant were to open the proceedings with the questions: “Why you are here and what do you want to do?” It has been said, and rightfully so, that many of us have become spectators instead of participants in what should be high drama. After all we do not gather together to be entertained but to participate in our joint search for God and may reflect his image to all he places in our path. The clergy can help point the way but can never become the destination.
Many Catholics today continue to insist that Tradition and Scripture are the necessary tools to help us find our way to this inward reality. For some that may indeed hold true – but it cannot be the only way. God meets us where we are not where others would have us be. The way to God cannot be attained through formula but rather through the diversity congruent with each unique human being. Tradition must always remain open to question and inquiry recognizing that faith is a dynamic and can never remain static when held under the domain of the Holy Spirit.
Finally it is not about a religious institution, nor about your neighbour, not about me, and not really about you the reader- it is simply about forming a direct relationship with God; or more specifically discovering the God within. For most of us that goal is not only scary but perhaps beyond our immediate imagination.
In order to develop that relationship and trust we need to let go of all our usual support systems. Think of it in these terms. You enter a forest to find God. You set out with a group of trusted friends armed with a book of instructions on how to survive in the woods, and knowledge gained from innumerable lessons previously provided in the in the event you should lose your way. On the third day of your journey you wake up in the middle of the night, from a deep sleep, only to discover that everyone is gone. You are completely alone and everything you need to survive has been taken. What will you do? How will you find your way home?
You will now have to make decisions based on your own judgment – but without the help of others. At this point the advice others have given you, in good faith and to the best of their ability, could prove to be valuable but also useless – now you alone must decide. What will give you the strength to carry on and find your way back home?
I’m sure you will immediately grasp the fundamental truth in this simple analogy.
But now here’s the Good News - we will all find God! But we will also know that he found us first and that it had nothing to do with the morality of your neighbour; what the religious leaders or the church told you, or all of the issues facing the world today, such as abortion, contraception, same-sex marriage, etc. etc., God will always reach beyond all our expectations and assumptions and he/she will never leave us orphans.