|Elephant trees in San Diego Botanical Garden|
This is from Isaiah's first chapter, the beginning of his prophetic ministry. The point is clear: the practice of religion is a means to an end and not an end in itself. Liturgies, prayers, meetings, litanies, missions, etc. are all meant to lead to a change of heart which is made manifest in a life that "works for justice; helps the down-and-out; stands up for the homeless; goes to bat for the defenseless."
Sunday's liturgy was particularly uninteresting and uninspiring: the music was slow; the homily was irrelevant and "literary" without any sense of application to the lives of members, and the gathering was low energy. When this happens, I am tempted to feel short-changed and dissatisfied with the local church. This passage from Isaiah helps remind me that I typically place unrealistically high expectations on liturgies and religious practices. No matter how well done they are, it still always, always comes down to the continual change in my heart and turning toward the gospel message in the details of my daily life.
There is a trap in liturgies that energize me, that make me feel good. The trap is that it all ends right there instead of making a difference in my life. I can begin to think that the quality of the liturgy is the sufficient cause when it clearly is not. My personal relationship with God is the sufficient cause. More precisely it is my response to the Divine One that is central with or without liturgies that make me feel good.
Isaiah calls me to look at my life and to assess it in light of the call to justice and mercy, not in terms of how much I like the liturgy!