Living for God

Br. James Koester

One of the lines in our Rule of Life which I quote most frequently comes in the chapter “The Word of God in Preaching.” There we say that “people are hungry for good news that life is full of meaning in union with God” (Ch. 19). This theme of life lived in union with God runs throughout our Rule. We say in the very first chapter, “The Call of the Society” that “our mission is inseparable from our call to live in union with Christ in prayer, worship, and mutual love.” We say in another place that “our mission is to bring men, women, and children into closer union with God in Christ, by the power of the Spirit that he breathes into us” (Ch. 31). We remind ourselves that “the gospel proclaims that Christ has transformed death by his cross and resurrection and that through our Baptism we have already passed through death with him and have been incorporated into his risen body” (Ch. 48). Almost the very last word of the Rule states that “hope stirs our desire to adore God for all eternity in the host of heaven” (Ch. 49).

Over and again, we remind ourselves that the aim of the life of faith is to help us all to live in union with God, and to invite others to do the same. Father Benson puts it quite simply this way: “we must seek to realize increasingly the purposes for which our Society is called together – to live for God . . .” (Richard Meux Benson, “Of the Objects of the Society” in The Religious Vocation, 37).

Our living for God will, in the end, result in nothing less than our sanctification. Again as Father Benson reminds us: “as He sanctified Himself, so it is for us to sanctify ourselves by the continual surrender of our will to the will of the Father, in whatever way it is manifested, whether it be the will of God in all the circumstances of His external Providence, or the will of God in all the appointments of our Society. We have to realize that the will of God is that to which we must conform ourselves, and in which we have to seek for sanctification. This is our first object, to sanctify ourselves through the truth, to sanctify ourselves in union with the incarnate Saviour, to sanctify ourselves in conformity with the will of God. Whatever else we leave undone, the culture of ourselves must be the constant aim of our life” (40).

One of the places where this sanctification happens is in worship. We Brothers believe that God “has drawn us into our Society so that our calling to be true worshipers can reach fulfillment in the offering of the continual sacrifice of praise. In this life of worship together we are transformed in body, soul and spirit” (Ch. 16). Such a vision of transformation is open to all who desire to live for God.

One of the marks of our life as a brotherhood is worship. Some will remember Father Gross, who used to tell me when I was a novice that “we’d get a lot more work done around here if we didn’t have to eat so much or go to church so often!” But, with all due respect to Father Gross, the object of our life is not work, but God, and our life is shaped as it is so that “worship sanctifies work, continually interrupting it so that we can offer it to God in thanksgiving.”

It is this constant returning to God in worship that sanctifies not only the day, not only the task at hand, but ourselves as well. It is for this reason that Father Benson challenges us when he says that “our life … must be one continual act of worship. It may vary very much in its features, but whatever the life of religious be externally, it must be a life of worship, all its acts pointing towards God with constant elevation” (Richard Meux Benson, Instruction on the Religious Life, Second Series, “Worship,” 10).

This worship of God is not confined to those moments when we are praying the Office or celebrating the Eucharist. Our worship of God takes place every time we turn our hearts to God, for “the Father never ceases from seeking true worshipers to worship him in spirit and truth. God sent the Son into the world to heal and raise us up so that, empowered by the Spirit, we could surrender our whole selves in adoration and be reunited in the love of God. God draws us into our Society so that our calling to be true worshipers can reach fulfillment in the offering of the continual sacrifice of praise” (32). 

It is this calling to be true worshippers in spirit and in truth which invites us to “dwell upon the contemplation of God, to acquaint ourselves more and more with God, to fix upon our minds a clear apprehension of His glory, to stir up our hearts with an eager desire for His vision, to strengthen our hearts in the continual sympathy of His revelation, to rule our acts in continual obedience to His commands. Our whole life must be an act of worship. We come out of the world for that purpose, and for that purpose alone. We do not come out of the world merely under the idea that by association we may be able to accomplish certain plans which commend themselves to our hearts. We come out of the world in order that we may give ourselves to the worship of God” (Op. cit., “Worship,” 10). 

Such a vision of worship which permeates all life is one of the gifts we Brothers have to offer the Church. By our life we invite the Church: “to rise up to its true calling as a communion of the Holy Spirit, the Body of Christ and the company of Christ’s friends. We are not called to be a separate elite, but to exemplify the life of the Body of Christ in which every member has a particular gift of the Spirit for ministry and shares an equal dignity. Fr. Benson taught that ‘there are special gifts of God indeed to the Society, but only as it is a society within the Church. The small body is to realize and intensify the gifts, to realize the energies, belonging to the whole Church.’ Our witness and ministry is not merely to separate individuals; it is for strengthening the common life in the Body of Christ” (Rule, Ch. 4).

But worship at its best is a dangerous activity. It is dangerous because worship has the power, not simply to engage us, or draw us into the life of God, but to change us as well. In worship we encounter the God “who makes all things new” (Rev 21:5), including ourselves, as we are transformed by Christ “from one degree of glory to another” (2 Cor 3:18). As Father Benson reminds us, “none can come to Christ at Bethlehem and go away as they came … our coming to Christ at Bethlehem changes everything” (Richard Meux Benson, Spiritual Readings: Christmas (1886), 260).

This transformation from one degree of glory to another is at the heart of all worship, as we are slowly and often imperceptibly changed into the likeness of Christ. We may not see the change as it happens, but over time we become more and more the person God has called us to be.

Again as Father Benson so movingly reminds us: “we must look for the development of the life of Christ within us. Each communion should be, as it were, adding some fresh point to the image of Christ within our souls. As each touch of the artist adds some fresh feature to the painting, so each communion is a touch of Christ, which should develop some fresh feature of his own perfect likeness within us. And it is not that it does this merely in some one direction, but as each moment of the morning adds imperceptibly a fresh glow to the whole illuminated hemisphere, so each communion imperceptibly should add a fresh glow, a fresh brightness, a fresh colouring to the sphere of the soul which it penetrates; the whole nature should assume a fresh glory with each communion. As the form and colour of the landscape come out with the sun’s advance, so with each communion the form and colour of our spiritual life, not merely in this or that particular, but in all its complex bearings of form and colour, is to stand out with greater clearness and beauty, each communion bringing its own fresh illumination, and perfecting us in the Sun of righteousness” (Richard Meux Benson, The Religious Vocation, “Of Communion” (1939), 160-61). 

If it is true that each Communion adds a fresh touch of Christ to us, so too does each act of reconciliation through the exchange of the peace; each act of offering, whereby we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies as bread and wine on the Table; each act of sending forth to love and serve the Lord, in the dismissal. Each of these moments in worship has the power to perfect us, not just as individuals, or even as a particular community, but as the Church gathered in a particular time and place – and beyond all time and all place.

Worship then is not something we simply offer to God. It is a participation in God’s mission, God’s purpose, God’s dream for the world, which is to reconcile all things in Christ (Col 1:20). On my worst days, I sometimes wonder if any of what goes on in our chapel makes a difference. On my best days, I know that it does, because even though I cannot tell in the moment, I do know that it changes me, it changes us, it changes the Church. In changing us more and more into the image of God, our worship changes the world, bringing evermore into reality the dream of God for all creation.

Our Rule reminds us that people are hungry for good news that life is full of meaning in union with God. One of the ways in which we proclaim that good news is through our worship, not only formally, as on Sunday mornings, but whenever we open our hearts to God. When we do that, we discover again the joy of living in union with God. 

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