Thursday, March 18, 2010

Idolatry, Dignity, Authority and Worship

Once again today I heard a homily that I need to file away into my memory to keep its insight. This one was from Fr. Dan Pattee, TOR.

He preached on the Old Testament reading for today, Exodus 32:7-14, where the Israelites coming out of Egypt decide to build the golden calf and worship it. Fr. Dan explained how when we make an idol of something, proclaiming it the image of God in this world, we demean ourselves. Human beings are the image of God in this world. So if he would proclaim something else (like he said, the ambo where he stood) as the image of God, then that means for him, the people in front of him become lower in dignity than that ambo. True worship, Fr. Dan explained, not only aligns us properly with God, but also properly orders our love for one another.

My ears are extra-perked these days for mentions of worship, and this caught my attention as a worthy nugget for me to mull over. This tells me that pride is a form of idolatry. Pride is essentially self-worship. Now, it is in once sense correct to say that I am the image of God in this world. But the difference comes in when I see myself as somehow a wholly unique grain of sand, somehow more enlightened than those other grains of sand that surround me. This also tells me that if I have trouble owning my own dignity, there is also a form of idolatry going on. I am looking to something that is not God to empower me. And probably becoming damn frustrated that it is not empowering me as I wish. God is "my glory and the lifter of my head" (Ps. 3:3). It is worship of Him, it is the exchange of my life for His in every moment, on which my knowledge of my dignity is based.

There is something in this that has been slippery in my hands all my life. I think a line in Scripture that stood out to my yesterday at Mass and sort of whapped my ears is connected to this: In the Gospel it was said of Jesus "he also called God his own father, making himself equal to God"(John 5:18). This verse resounded in my ears like a bullhorn. I immediately thought of how we pray every single day: "Our Father...". The dignity God has given me is not just that of being a decent person. It is the dignity, literally, of the Son of God. In Baptism, He's given me His own life. All that "priest, prophet and king" stuff from the Baptism liturgy isn't poetry, it is a reality that I experience and own as I live a life of worship. There is a spiritual authority in it. "Asking permission" is not the right posture of worship. Neither of course is brash assertion or presumption. God is I AM, not I Would Be If I Could, nor Up Yours.

True worship embraces the truth of God and gives me the truth of who I am. Only in the truth of who I am comes spiritual authority. In that authority comes life for others. This thing of spiritual authority keeps crossing my radar screen... I am reminded of my days wading through the Strong's Concordance that the one of the two common words in Greek translated authority or power is exousia. 1849: privilege, i.e. (subjectively) force, capacity, competency, freedom, or (objectively) mastery (concretely, magistrate, superhuman, potentate, token of control), delegated influence:--authority, jurisdiction, liberty, power, right, strength. Hmm, now that's an interesting surface to scratch: the relationship between authority and liberty as synonyms. All sitting in this spiritual context. Hmm..

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