What is the purpose of worship? Worship connects people with themselves, others, and God. By practicing worship, we grow in our faith through thinking through and reaffirming what we believe.
As a personal, individual act, worship can create close experience between yourself and the god you worship. It allows us to understand ourselves when the only thing we have to face is our beliefs and our god.
I must admit, I’m not a ‘good’ Catholic. I’d like to think I’m a good person, but I know I’m not a good Catholic. I barely pray. I never talk to God, except when I swear (which I tend to do a lot). The few times that I do turn to God are when I am terrified or in pain. In my darkest times, the rare instances of abject terror or isolating loneliness from a panic attack or deep emotional distress, I have looked to God. I have pleaded with God.
In high school, I was chosen as a Kairos leader. Kairos is an overnight retreat Catholic high schoolers go on to connect to God through their community. It was a life-changing experience, and I was lucky enough go twice (once as a retreatant, once as a leader). Kairos allowed me to bare my faults and insecurities to my classmates without fear of judgement or rejection. For the first time in high school, I seemed to have made substantial, close friendships with people at my school.
Leading on the retreat had been an eyeopening experience. I was good at it. It made me so happy to see the positive effect I had upon the members of my small group, my fellow leaders, and all the retreatants. My vulnerability had meant something to them. After the retreat ended, numerous retreatants came up to me, saying how they heard my leading partner and I had been the best on our retreat, frankly two of the best leaders from our entire grade. I became hopeful that I would be chosen to become a rector. As rector, I would go on Kairos a third time, being in charge of my fellow student leaders and running the retreat. Ultimately, I was not chosen.
Never in my life have I been more heartbroken. It was one of the few things I had prayed for. Kairos actually brought me closer to God, which fifteen years of Catholic school had failed to do. Why wasn’t I good enough? Why did I have to watch others be given my dream? My heart was broken. I felt rejected and used, like a greedy plaything who expected to be rewarded. I felt no solace, no comfort, only pain.
My peers were joyous around me, congratulating the new rectors at the ceremony while I was barely holding myself together. As I went to leave, I saw the woman who ran the retreats, Ms. White. In her, comfort began. Never in have I known someone to better represent God in my life. She told me that she had voted for me to be rector, put the deciding panel had gone the other way. I barely remember the other words she said, I just remember how she made me feel.
She reminded me of my worth. She reminded me that people still care about me and that I was not the insignificant, lonely insect I felt myself to be. Even now, months later, thinking of Kairos still gives me pain. Thinking of my rejection makes me hurt inside. But thinking of that moment, when I was by myself, praying for God to make me feel better, to just get me out of that room, I remember Ms. White. She brought me to God when I first went to Kairos and when was last turned from Kairos. Through her, God gave me peace.
Those ‘low moments’ when I have turned to worship, attempting to communicate with God, have been the most painful and difficult moments of my life. Yet, somehow, my prayers, desperate pleas, and questions get answered. God has served as someone who does not judge me because I feel vulnerable, who reaffirms that life does matter, that I do matter.
As a shared act, worship builds community and connection within ourselves and with others. It makes us question our own perceptions and our own roles in our society and our relationships. This past Ash Wednesday was the first time I had gone to mass of my own initiative. I was raised Catholic and went to church with my mother every Sunday (mostly because it made her happy that I went with her). I went to Catholic school for fifteen years, from the age of three to the age of eighteen. Until I came to university.
I don’t really know why I felt like going to mass that day. Perhaps it was because I hadn’t missed Ash Wednesday in my lifetime. Maybe I thought it would make my mother happy to know I went. Packed into the smallest Catholic church I’ve ever been in (I am from one of the most Catholic cities in America), I didn’t stand out as much as I thought I would. I guess, per my usual overinflated sense of self importance, I expected the entire congregation to turn and look at me like the errant cafeteria Catholic I know myself to be. I could not have been more wrong.
They came for themselves and for the church. Or, perhaps because they too were feeling the immense Catholic guilt that I had been overwhelmed with that Wednesday. I saw people at that service who I never knew to be Catholic, who I never imagined shared the same core life experiences and beliefs that I did. There were people from my previous tutorials and classes, even people who belong to the same societies and residence halls that I do. By sharing in that worship experience with them, by even just sitting in the same church, I learned so much more about myself, my perceptions, and those whom I call friends.
I had been wrong about so many people, about who they were and who I am. It was surprisingly comforting to be with most complete strangers in a new place thousands of miles from home, because I was back in that shared experience of worship that was familiar to me and so key to my identity as a person.
Worship facilitates understanding. It allowed me to understand myself at my lowest moments and to see my own incorrect perceptions of others. Worship creates a sense of community, that we still matter and are not alone.