Thursday, July 27, 2017

I have done all things well. . . except humility. . .

Stories have been told of how an insistent Pope John Paul II, though he was dying, weak, and in great pain, made sure that he received Holy Communion on his knees -- no matter how painful or difficult. Story is also told of King Henry VIII who suffered great pain of chronic leg ulcers and who, though being advised that he need not kneel for Communion, insisted upon kneeling. I can personally recall an elderly woman who sat in the front pew, lectern side, at Redeemer Lutheran Church in the 1970s.  She came early because it took her so long to get to her pew.  Despite the pain and difficulty, she knelt for confession, the prayers, and the consecration.  I recall telling her at one point (I was serving Redeemer as a deacon) that she did not need to kneel.  After all, by the time she got down, that part of the liturgy was nearly finished anyway.  My presumption was not appreciated and she was still kneeling there, with even greater difficulty and pain, after I left on vicarage.

So what is my point?  There is something to be said for those whose devotion and piety required them to kneel, for example, for the sake of the Lord and as an outward sign of the inward faith, even though it cost them pain and was very difficult.  We live in an age when it is far more likely we would reason ourselves out of such pain and difficulty.  For we just know the Lord would not want us to be uncomfortable.  And therein lies the problem.  Our comfort (perhaps we should translate that into our preference) becomes the important thing.  Now, to be sure, no one would hold kneeling up to a ritual requirement.  Not me.  No one, and let me make it clear before you start commenting, this is not about requiring a certain bodily posture in order to receive Holy Communion.  Indeed, standing for the Sacrament is the customary posture of the Eastern Church, after all.  But kneeling carries with it a particular character of humility that has kept it consistently among the most sacred practices of Western Christianity (regardless of the denomination).  I feel for those who find it difficult and painful to kneel but I am constantly impressed by their willingness to endure that pain and to go through the difficulty in order to be practice their piety consistent not only with others and the past but their own history prior to onset of age, frailty, or illness. 

We live at a time when our comfort and our personal preferences seem to dictate nearly everything.  From the church where we go (which we chose after trying on several to find a good fit) to the "style of worship" (from casual to formal, contemporary to traditional) to the individual actions of that piety (kneeling among them).  I have had people tell me over and over again that they do not kneel or cross themselves or fold their hands or bow or anyone of a hundred other things because that is just not me.  Lord knows, He would not want us to do anything that was not comfortable or authentic to who we were or are!  Or would He?  That is the dominion of personal preference.  It individualizes everything -- including those things that foster a sense of community!  It would seem to me that the value in some of these rituals is precisely that they are not natural or easy or comfortable.  The posture of confession (both in mind/heart and body) should not be casual or comfortable or easy.  Neither should the posture of our reception of the Lord's body and blood be dictated by or defined in any way by personal preference.

Any pastor hears this all the time.  I don't like the taste of wine.  I am trying out a gluten free diet.  I prefer red or white or amber or non-alcoholic wine.  I don't like to kneel.  I prefer to stand.  I receive in the pew.  I don't sing.  I like a different genre of music.  I prefer spoken liturgy.  I think...  I feel...  I believe...  How wonderful that you are so in touch with your wants/needs/desire/opinions!  How wonderful it is that you are assertive enough to express them to your pastor so freely!  Since you have obviously mastered this aspect so well, why not try humility next!


Anonymous said...

This is a sensitive issue for me personally. Not only is getting down on my knees painful, it is risky. I may quite likely be unable to rise, and I may fall. If I were in the pew, this would be one thing, but when acting as celebrant, I do not want to distract the whole congregation by having them watch me struggle to get up. As a result, I have stopped genuflecting at the altar, even though I would like to do so. Instead, I simply bow deeply, but I do wish I could still genuflect. It is all a part of leading worship, and not really about me or my knee pain.

Fr. D+
Continuing Anglican Priest

Carl Vehse said...

Short version:

My adiaphoron makes me a better Roman Catholic than your adiaphoron because I experience pain in doing it (and it gets me out of purgatory faster, too)!


John Joseph Flanagan said...

I believe kneeling in humility on the inside, and with a repentant and reverential heart before the Lord, is more sincere than the mere outward kneeling done as a public demonstration. Henry VIII may have kneeled for communion, but considering the fate of his wives and the beheadings of his former friends and perceived enemies, one wonders.....why did he bother. No where in his biography does one find any confession of guilt or regret for a life lived in violence and arrogance.

David Gray said...

Just as circumcision of the heart matters more than circumcision of the foreskin.

Anonymous said...

Fr.D+, I appreciate your comments on refraining from kneeling/genuflecting out of fear you may fall or can't get up. You are wise to bow instead. I attend an Anglican church where our pious deacon continues to kneel as he assists in the liturgy - even though he is in poor health and very unstable. He makes me a nervous wreck. I worry he will fall and hurt himself. It is a distraction to my worship. Kneeling is a wonderful outward gesture of humility. But for those serving at the Lord's altar with physical limitations, being safe and not a distraction should be the priority.


Lutheran Lurker said...

Was Pr Peters really talking about people who could not kneel or was he speaking of the tyranny of feelings and preferences? I did not read him saying kneel or else but how people who could choose not to and people who should not still try (or wish they still could). In other words, it sounds like this is a question addressed to the old preference and choice god who seems to rule over everyone and everythin today. So don't feel bad Fr. D and don't be so snarky Mr Vehse.