Worshipping God in Spirit & Truth

A few months ago I thought I’d get in touch with a college buddy and roommate of mine whom I had lost contact with since we graduated from college. I did an internet search for him and was shocked and pained to find out that my dear friend was now serving jail time in Nigeria for financial fraud. I asked myself the question, “Why me?” How come we were so close then in college and now have come to go our separate paths in life? Why am I a priest today and my close friend is serving jail time for fraud? God knows that it is not about who is holier or who prayed more or who went to Church more or who is more devout. Just live with me for a while and you will know why it would be unpardonable madness for me to suggest that God’s choice has anything to do with personal holiness.

The bottom line is that I stand here today before you as a priest only because God loves me and continuously desires to sustain my response to His love with His grace. God loves us all even in our sinfulness and has freely chosen to sustain us with His grace so that we make our response of love to Him wherever we find ourselves in life and in the spiritual journey. In His love, He has called me and graced me to respond to His loving invitation even as I struggle with my own sinfulness. If not for the grace of God, I would surely do worse than my friend had done. And I mean a lot worse! We can only realize this truth when we stop and ask, “Why me?”

“Why me?” This is undoubtedly the question on the mind of the Samaritan woman in Sunday’s Gospel passage. Why is Jesus, a Jew, speaking to her of all people and asking her to give Him a drink? First, He is a Jew and she is a Samaritan, sworn mutual enemies of the Jews. Secondly, Jesus’ speaking to her one-on-one goes against the custom. Jesus’ disciples were shocked to find Him talking to her on. Thirdly, she was a woman with a sinful life with her long list of husbands. According to some biblical commentators, she came at the time of the noonday heat and not at the earlier and cooler hours of the day as others do because she wanted to avoid contact with those who looked down on her because of her sinful lifestyle. Of all the possible choices, why was she the one so privileged to have this life-changing conversation with Our Lord Jesus Christ? The answer is simple – because God loves her and wishes to sustain her own loving response with His grace.

Jesus reminds her that this His encounter with her is not merited on her part but God’s way of gifting her with something that she could never merit: “If only you knew the gift of God and who is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him and he will have given you living water.” When she failed to realize the import of these words, Jesus goes ahead to remind her that this gift of His was far beyond ordinary water: “The water that I shall give will become in him a spring of living water welling up to eternal life.” This living water is a reference to the grace of the Spirit of love (See Jn 7:39) It is only after talking of the unmerited nature of this gift and its power to introduce one into sharing in the divine life that Jesus taught that true worship cannot be limited to certain conditions or places, be it Jerusalem (as the Jews believed) or Mount Gerizim (as the Samaritans believed). “God is Spirit and those who worship Him must worship in Spirit and in truth.” It is impossible for us to worship God in spirit and in truth and to do so in every time and place without realizing and accepting the great love that He has for us sinners and the power of His grace to move and sustain us in our somewhat pathetic efforts at loving Him back.

What happens when we forget why God has chosen us? We find an answer in the First Reading where the newly liberated Israelites forgot why God had chosen them among all the other nations. Moses had informed them earlier why God chose them: “It was not because you were more in number than any other people that the Lord set His love upon you and chose you, for you were the fewest of all peoples; but it is because the Lord loves you, and is keeping the oath which He swore to your fathers, that the Lord has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of bondage, from the hand of Pharaoh, king of Egypt.” (Deut 7:7-11) God chose them out of His love for them and intended to sustain them in the journey to the Promised Land. This fact was to be the impulse to faithful worship of God on their part. But faced with lack of water, they failed to remember this truth and ended up complaining and grumbling to Moses, even regretting that God had brought them out of Egypt in the first place. Failure to ask and ponder the question, “Why me?” inevitably led to ungrateful and rebellious hearts.

St. Paul reminds the Christians in Rome that through Jesus Christ, “we have gained access by faith to this grace in which we stand” and the “love of God has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.” We did not merit this love and grace at all but it is out of God’s love alone: “God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” Christ Jesus died for us ungodly ones “while we were still helpless.” If Jesus so loved us when we were both ungodly and helpless, why should we think that our sins and weaknesses now will overcome His love and grace in our lives and thwart His plan to bring us to Himself through this valley of tears? On the contrary we should be so confident that His grace will sustain us in our own response to His love so that our worship and service of God is deified by divine grace, inspired by love alone, and not limited to certain places and times and conditions. This is what it means to worship the omnipresent God in spirit and in truth.

My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, are we people who worship God in spirit and in truth or are we people who constantly complain and grumble about everything? Are we getting discouraged about our sins? Maybe we are among the many that have had a lousy Lenten season so far and have abandoned the Lenten disciplines. Or maybe we are facing deep pains and sufferings in our lives now that have shaken our faith. Please let us stop and ask ourselves the question, “Why me?” Why are you a Catholic today when many have lost their faith? Why are you called to participate so closely in Christ’s saving mission today? Why are you persistent in seeking holiness of life? Why are you sensing an invitation to share intimately in His sufferings at this time? Why do you still have that desire to give of yourself even in your moments of pain? Why do you have that light of hope that others seem to search for in vain? Why are you here on this beautiful day seeking to receive our Lord Jesus in Holy Communion? Why do you have any love for the Blessed Mother and the Saints when many ignore them? Why do you strive to live in obedience to the Magisterium of the Catholic Church in an age of dissent and rebellion? The only answer is this: because God loves you and His grace is sustaining you now and always wherever you find yourself.

It is only when our minds and hearts are open to this love and grace that we can ever hope to worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme, OMV

By

Fr. Nnamdi Moneme OMV is a Roman Catholic Priest of the Oblates of the Virgin Mary currently on missionary assignment in the Philippines. He serves in the Congregations' Retreat Ministry and in the House of Formation for novices and theologians in Antipolo, Philippines. He blogs at  www.toquenchhisthirst.wordpress.com.

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  • Kathy

    That is a great question, why me? One I should try to never forget, or take for granted. I like to think somebody prayed for me and I ask I wonder who’s prayers were so just and pleasing to God? I like to think that Mother Mary prayed too! Thanks be to God, now it’s my turn to pray for others.

  • Amanze

    Thanks, Fr. Nnamdi Moneme (priestly brother from my great Country-Nigeria). Indeed, after reading this article, my spiritual strength has been renewed. Indeed, I’ve resolved to serve God in spirit and in truth, forthwith.

  • chaco

    Welcome to the Banquet Sis ! You got me thinking about Luke 14: 13-24. where lots of so-called chosen were invited to a party and didn’t have enough appreciation for the invite. I’m also thinking of “The Elephant Man ” movie where the hideous Elephant Man reads some scripture for the beautiful lady actress. She looks at what most of the world sees as ugliness, and with ABSOLUTE ADMIRATION gives him a kiss on the cheek. The love in her eyes is, for me, a reflection of God’s love for us – even in the ugliness of our sin. [ The doctor's wife also looks on the ugliness of The Elephant Man with adoring eyes.] Oh ! How Precious, when we experience the Love from God’s adoring eyes.

  • noelfitz

    Dear Fr Moneme,

    Thank you for this article, but as an ordinary lay person I have difficulties with it.

    You wrote “

    “Why am I a priest today and my close friend is serving jail time for fraud?” I knew a priest who was dismissed due to child sexual abuse; should I ask “Why am I a lay person today and he is removed from active ministry” He may be closer to God than I am.

    God makes choices, so do we.

    Different people receive more graces that others. God’s choice has everything to do with personal holiness.

    Are you suggesting that God did not offer grace to your friend?

    You wrote “The only answer is this: because God loves you and
    His grace is sustaining you now and always wherever you find yourself.” Do you mean to suggest God does not offer his grace to those, who apparently are less respectable than others?

    I would suggest God offers grace to us all, and we are free to accept or reject it.

    A prisoner in jail may be holier than a pope. It is not for us to judge.

  • chaco

    Dear noelfitz, I’m relating to your bewilderment. I’m getting an inclination that it somehow boils down to; “Do we earn Salvation/ Grace or is it freely given ? ” I was “Set Free” to some degree with this explaination from “Holy Mother Church” ; Unlike Luther’s teaching that we are “Totally Depraved” and that our choices/ actions are of no consequence (like dung covered with the “White Snow” of God’s Grace/ salvation), Catholicism teaches that even though salvation/ grace is a free gift from God, choices/ actions resulting from that grace do “Create Good Fruit” in ouselves & in establishing “The Kingdom” (much like a rose seed recieving nutrients from the dung under the snow). I think the main “Good Fruit” here from Fr. is his pointing out how we should always keep a “Free Grace” perspective so that we never fall into relying on our own accomplishments/ talents apart from seeking God’s blessing on them. Good Fruits/ works void of this perspective are doomed to the “Pit of Self Serving & Self Glorification”. We are created to bring Glory to God’s Image – Or as John The Baptist put it; ” I must decrease so that He(Jesus) can increase.”

  • Mancipium Mariae

    Blessed Lenten season to you my brother. The point in the article is to stress that at every moment of our lives, the grace of God is offered us to respond to God’s love no matter what the past has been like. It is not to suggest that grace was never present to a person. “Why me?” is meant to bring a spirit of gratitude to bear on our present situations in life and in the spiritual journey and not to look down on those who are in difficult situations for whatever reason. Reflecting on the question “why me?” despite our past failures will bring this truth clearly from our minds to our hearts and energize our response to God’s love too. I hope that you realize that your friend removed from ministry can still respond to God’s grace and grow in holiness just as you yourself can do the same as a layman? The last sentence of the first paragraph explains why this reflection is not intended in any way to compare who is holier than the other but to think deeply about the gratuity of God’s choice which alone makes our own response possible and enduring. Prayerfully reflect on the second paragraph too and the clause, “wherever we find ourselves in life and in the spiritual journey.”

    You wrote, “Different people receive more graces that others. God’s choice has everything to do with personal holiness.” I believe that this statement has to do more with meriting an increase of grace through acts of charity performed by someone already in the state of grace. This is true but it is not the point of the article at all. To merit an increase of grace, one has to at least accept the freely given justification through faith and baptism. The initial grace of justification cannot be due to personal holiness in anyway. However one grows in this holiness once justified through loving actions and this is where the question “Why me?” is very relevant.

    I hope this clarifies your difficulties.

  • noelfitz

    Hi MM,

    Many thanks for your thoughtful clarification to my difficulties. I
    appreciate it that you considered my points and replied in such detail with
    insight and charity.

    I must repeat that I find CE excellent. The articles are sound, reflective and constructive. In the past I found some Catholic sites divisive, contributors shared similar, often biased views, being progressive/traditional, liberal/conservative, blue/red, Democrat/Republican, convert/cradle, etc. Here in CE if one wants a label it is ‘Catholic’.

    Some contribute to a topic, to prove “I am right/you are wrong”, or to
    seek clarification and understanding. I hope I am always in the latter category. In other Catholic sites I have been considered mentally ill (with narcissism) when I queried views.

    Here in CE discussions are positive, seeking understanding. Also I find CE honest in showing where it stands, since at times some so-called Catholic sites may be fronts for wealthy conservatives with political agendas. (The opposite may also be true)..

    I hesitate to query views in CE, since I have a tendency to be pedantic.I consider that it is not constructive to criticize clergy. If I do so I would like to be informed to make
    sure my contributions help build up others and myself.

  • Mancipium Mariae

    You are very welcome my brother. Thank God that I could be of assistance to you. Asking priests to clarify their statements may also be very helpful for them and the entire Body of Christ because it makes them go back and know their material better so that the truths of the faith are presented with better clarity next time. I pray that more Catholic faithful will be as interested in deepening their own understanding of the faith as you are doing. I love the exchange of ideas on CE too and I pray that we can mutually support each other in this our very important journey back to God through this earthly life. God bless.

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