[Ordinary of the Mass]
Mankind is capable of knowing that there is a God without
the benefit of divine revelation. We see the effects of God all around us,
and those of a philosophical bent can reason from these effects, back to
their primary cause. Man finds that there are motion, and order,
and causality, and contingency, and perfection in his world—all of these
things point back the First Mover, the First Cause, the Necessary Being, and so
on, Whom we call God. We often associate this reasoning with Saint Thomas
Aquinas, who lived in the thirteenth century of the Christian era, but Saint
Thomas got most of this from the pagan Greek philosopher Aristotle, who lived in
the fourth century before Christ. And, certainly Aristotle was not alone
among those who used their unaided human minds to reason to the existence of
some great Being Who fashioned the world around them.
Yet, Saint Paul was quite correct in today’s Epistle, in
referring to God as “incomprehensible” and “unsearchable.” While
we are capable of knowing something about God by examining His handiwork,
the fact remains that human reason is not always all that careful in its
operation—human reason has produced a number of explanations of our existence
that are “a bit off.” Some have gone awry, by attributing the
effects of the one God to a number of lesser gods—some by positing both a good
and a bad god, one governing the spirit and the other the material things in the
Perhaps more important (and related to the feast we
celebrate today) is the reality that mankind can form its conceptions of God
only by the effects God has on the things He created. That is to say that
we have no way of knowing God in Himself. The philosophers of old may have
known God, but they had not even the wildest guess that the one God exists in a
Trinity of divine Persons. They simply had no way to know this, because it
pertains to the existence of God in Himself, and not at all to the effects He
has on the created universe.
The fact that we know of a Son, distinct from God the
father; and the fact that we know of the Holy Ghost; and the fact
that we know something about the relationship of these three divine
Persons, is due solely to the fact that they have chosen to reveal it to us.
Nothing compelled God to reveal Himself through Moses and the prophets;
nothing compelled the second Person to take on the nature of a man;
nothing compelled the third Person to dwell in the souls of men. All of
these things are free gifts to mankind, and an expression of God’s love and
respect for the people whom He created. In becoming the adopted sons and
daughters of God, we have, so to speak, been invited into His household, to meet
His divine Family. He is our gracious Host.
Now, while there is nothing we can claim to have done to
deserve this intimate relationship with God, there is certainly an
“etiquette” that we should observe. This is obviously true when we
come before God in His Real, Eucharistic Presence, in the Blessed Sacrament, but
we know that God is everywhere; that He dwells in our very souls—so
something of this “etiquette” must be a continuous thing.
One of the ladies at our Study Group remarked that it was
sad to see Catholic people use the name of “Jesus,” and no longer bowing
their heads, as was the nearly universal custom not many years ago. As
Saint Paul wrote to the Philippians: “God exalted him and gave him the name
that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,”
That we know the name of God who redeemed us from our sins demands something in
return from us. Certainly, we can bow the head a little bit, even if we
don’t genuflect every time we hear it. This is something Catholics do,
not just in church, but wherever they might hear the Holy Name.
It goes without saying that none of the names of God may be
used in idle chatter, let alone with vulgar or abusive intent—at no time, never!
Don’t let that become part of your vocabulary.
Prayer is another part of this “etiquette.” Every
one of our days should begin with a prayer: thanksgiving for being allowed
another day; adoration of God and acknowledging our dependence upon Him.
Every one of our nights should, equally, begin with a prayer, again thanking him
for the day, asking His forgiveness for our faults, and requesting the things He
knows to be necessary for us the next day. Some will pray more, but no one
should pray less—we are guests in God’s family, and it should be unthinkable
to ignore our gracious Host. Were we invited to visit the home of any
human person, it would be unthinkable to hide in our bedroom and ignore him
while he waits for us in the sitting room—the same goes for God.
Centuries of Catholic tradition have given us the Sign of
the Cross. With it, we begin our prayers, we bless our selves, our food,
our children. Perhaps it begins and ends our significant tasks and
journeys. Make that Sign carefully: slowly, from forehead to breast;
shoulder to shoulder—not just waving your hand or a few fingers in front of
your face. Do not be so timid as to avoid making the Sign of the Cross in
public when that is appropriate. Our gracious Host did not allow any fear
or concern for human respect to keep Him from dying on that Cross.
The “etiquette” extends to the church as well.
The first item of “etiquette” being that our gracious Host should often find
you here in His church, where He chooses to dwell in the tabernacle, truly,
really, physically present—He should find you here very often; not just on
most Sundays of the year. Do not avoid our gracious Host.
We always genuflect on entering or leaving our gracious
Host in His church—remember that He is God, even though His Eucharistic
appearance may be humble—remember, equally, that He is God no matter where
Mass is said, from the grandest cathedral to the lowest shelter, or even in the
open air when that is necessary. We always genuflect if we pass through
the sanctuary of the church for some reason. We genuflect on both knees if
the Blessed Sacrament is exposed for veneration. Obviously, we can do no
more than our body allows us to do, but if we substitute some lesser reverence
for the genuflection it should be out of physical necessity, and not plain
laziness. The same is to be said for kneeling, both when receiving Holy
Communion and at other times when it is the appropriate posture.
Finally, we come to the “etiquette” of
clothing—probably the most controversial “etiquette” in our time, when
most people have lost all awareness of such a thing. It is complicated by
the fact that we do live in a tropical climate, and by the fact that not
everyone has the same financial resources for buying clothing. I’ve
always felt that it helps to put this in perspective by considering how you
would actually dress if you were going, not to God’s house, but to
spend an hour or two with a person whom you consider to be very important.
I usually pick the Governor, but you can fill in the name of someone you
consider to be worthy of high respect. Would you not arrive as well
dressed as your resources allow? I think you would! And, even if we
factor in the tropical climate, the point of the exercise is to ask yourself how
you would dress out of respect for an important human being—and then ask
yourself if you are doing as much to respect God when you spend an hour or two
It goes without saying that we should always dress
modestly. That may vary some, depending on what we are doing and where we
are doing it—no one in their right mind puts on a suit and tie or a long gown
to cut the grass. But we must never choose our clothes to excite the
passions of those around us. Again, it may help to ask how we would dress
in the company of a respectable governor or senator who would be offended by
immodesty—clearly, we must be at least as modest when we come to visit God.
God is incomprehensible and unsearchable. That we
know the mystery of the Trinity—something we never could have guessed by
ourselves—is a sign of God’s love for us, and even of His respect for us.
In everything we do, we must love and respect Him in return!