Reverence… Begins at the End of Your Comfort Zone!

You know sometimes we overthink things in order to underdo them?
Here’s an Evangelisation rose that takes us back to basics!

EvangelisationThe Witness of Reverence
ObjectiveHelp people to experience the majesty of God by witnessing to it in your own life, prayer and bearing
Seedtime15-20 minute read (blog post & attached PDF, final section of blog optional)
Feedtime+/- 1 hour (a number of small things over several days)
DirectivePerform 10 acts of reverence at the edge of your comfort zone – directives given in the post!
To learn how these boxes work, click here!

A while back, I read something that intrigued me. I’m afraid I can’t find it now to link or quote – so I’m going to have to just feed it back as I remember. You have probably heard of St. Francis de Sales. And if you know stuff about him, perhaps that he was a bishop, that he converted thousands of Calvinists and was a brilliant apologist, that he’s a Doctor of the Church, maybe you’re familiar with ‘Introduction to the Devout Life’ and so on and so forth… If you’re more familiar than me, you may also be aware of what I stumbled across in my reading – but it was new to me!

Basically it was a statement that one of the main things he did in mobilising his people to convert those who had left the Church and become protestant was to have them perform simple acts of piety and reverence in public. The Sign of the Cross, kneeling for the Angelus…

Reading this really got me thinking. So often, when we think about conversion and apologetics and getting people to love Jesus and the Church we turn it into some big ‘thing’ that we have to work out. We come with a predetermined approach that we have to move tactfully and find the best ways to convince them that we’re so well informed that we couldn’t possibly be wrong. We can overthink the process until we barely know where to start. But is this really, really motivated by the purity our love of God? It seems to me to sometimes rather be self love getting in on the act and compromising what may be the greatest witness we have to give – that is to say the simplicity, the reality, of a loving relationship with Jesus – that isn’t afraid to be seen.

We need to be very careful. Sometimes, when the ‘audience’ we are trying to win over becomes our focal point, it can lead us to compromise the very things that might most directly call them to see beyond us – to the beauty of the faith we love. Sometimes, simply observing physical acts of reverence with the objective intent of glorifying God witnesses much more effectively to the onlooker than a display of intelligence, or wit or rhetoric designed to impress and convince them.

What I’m going to propose for this Rose, then, is that we step outside of our comfort zones in terms of the degree to which we are prepared to show reverence to Our Lord in the public sphere. This is not always an easy thing to do in the 21st Century. And to be honest, if it was, this probably wouldn’t be a Rose.

“Love to be real, it must cost—it must hurt—it must empty us of self.”
(St. Teresa of Calcutta)

There should be a cost involved in bearing witness to Jesus. That said, the point of this exercise isn’t to make you look like a wacko in front of everyone for no good reason (that will be a whole other rose, and it will begin with St. Philip Neri rather than St. Francis de Sales… 😉 ). It is simply to love God in a way that is consistent – where our heart finds full expression in our bodily postures without being hindered by our pride and self consciousness. And this is evangelisation because there is no witness more powerful than a consistency of who we are with what we profess to believe. Physical displays of reverence may be one small part of this consistency – but it is an important one, and one that is badly overlooked in today’s world.

At this point, I’m going to give the directives for the Rose. If you’re happy to follow through on them, you don’t need to read the last section of the post. If, after reading them, you are not convinced, or have reservations – keep reading!

Rose Directives

The idea is to undertake 10 actions that move us out of our comfort zone in terms of public displays of reverence. Each one may be repeated UP TO 4 TIMES in this counting. So all in all at least 3 of them should be attempted, 1-4 times each until the total of 10 is reached. The things you choose should be unfamiliar/something of a sacrifice for you – therefore the required threshold is higher if you’re already ‘doing’ more reverential things. That’s as it should be. We thank God for where He has brought us to thus far, and we press on.

N.B. These are part of an evangelisation rose, so at least one person has to be present to see you for them to count. Some of them may lend themselves to inviting others’ participation (and that might actually make them less awkward for you). Where this is the case that is encouraged. Of course it’s beautiful to show reverence whether or not you have an ‘audience’, but the rose is designed to overcome being shy or sheepish about acknowledging the sacred in public.

Ideas:

  • Bless yourself when passing Churches, in situations/company where you normally wouldn’t
  • If you already do this consistently, genuflect when you’re walking past a Church (or better still, do a St. Francis of Assisi!)
  • If you find the genuflection really awkward, you can go in and visit the Lord instead. To be relevant to this Rose you need to make a particular effort to be reverent in your bearing in so doing and you should be seen at least going into the Church.
  • If your Church presently doesn’t have Holy Water on account of Covid, start carrying a little bottle in your pocket and visibly and reverently blessing yourself with it on the way in/out.
  • Presumably if your Church does have Holy Water this is not much of an effort – however if it is not your current practice it can be counted for the Rose if you are more deliberate about how you do this: Stopping. Blessing yourself slowly, facing the Tabernacle – etc.
  • Stop mid-whateveryou’redoing at 12pm and/or 6pm to say the Angelus. To this end, it may help to set alarms on your phone.
  • If you already do this readily, stand for it and genuflect at the appropriate point (And the Word was Made Flesh…)
  • If you already do this readily, try kneeling for the whole thing, and bowing at aforementioned point.
  • Like the above, set an alarm for 3pm and mark the Hour of Mercy. Depending on your company you might be able to invite them to join you to pray a Chaplet, if not it suffices to bow your head. make a Sign of the Cross, and immerse yourself for a moment in remembrance of the Death of Jesus on the Cross and His Merciful Love for you and for souls. You can explain this to anyone you may be speaking to and/or invite them to join you.
  • Say Grace Before (and/or after) Meals in Public/with company
  • If you already do this, do something to be less shy about it. So, for example, if you would normally make an awkward sign of the Cross whilst mentally mumbling a prayer, try slowing everything down, making your sign of the Cross more deliberate and really giving a few moments to thank God from your heart…
  • Women Only: Start to cover your head in Church
    You don’t need to go out and buy yourself a mantilla for this, if you already have one grand – but a scarf/hat does the same job! For why: Click here!
  • Going to and From Holy Communion
    You remember when you were little and being trained to receive your First Holy Communion and you walked up to the Altar with your hands joined and your fingers all pointy? Do you still do that? If not maybe try it! Other things: Keep your eyes down, walk reverently, if you are going to receive standing genuflect in advance… Choosing the stipulations you take on from this list is left to your discretion, but discern if there are ways you can increase reverence…
  • A note on Family Mass (you can skip this point if not a parent): Obviously managing or carrying young children may at times hinder the capacity to enter into this in reverential behaviour in and of itself, however there are a few other ways in which their presence can be a positive aid towards this Rose (whatever it may feel like!) The fact is when you have young children at Mass you have a captive audience. It may not feel like that when they are in the middle of an ‘altar dash’ or discovering the climbing frame potentiality of a pew. However have them return from their wanderings to find you gone and you would soon discover that your child is actually more acutely aware of your presence in the Church than that of anyone else.
    Therefore, weigh these three things up, discerning what reverence means in your context (how exactly to count is left to individual discretion here). However, that in a single Mass you could find several things to count towards the Rose is not unlikely:
    • One: everything you do matters. You children will notice your eyes, your posture, your bearing – everything. Eventually. It will require consistency. You don’t need to overthink this, but you can know that your perseverance in attempting to find ways to show reverence will bear fruit not only for yourself but for those around you – especially your children.
    • Two: you have someone to instruct in the area of reverence. Not just by telling them to be quiet but by simply and consistently reminding them of why – of what is happening at different parts of the Mass (before/after/during as appropriate). Your words and reverential behaviour will thus grant weight and authority to each other.
    • Three, that your purity of intention is safeguarded in a particular way in this task. However hard you may try, there will probably be times when young children will do something disruptive at Mass. You responsibility is to do what you can, not what you can’t – and not being in control of external manifestations or being able to feel self satisfied about how holy something looks is actually a very good thing for your soul!

“I really did listen attentively, but I must own I looked at Papa more than at the preacher, for I read many things in his face. Sometimes his eyes were filled with tears which he strove in vain to keep back; and as he listened to the eternal truths he seemed no longer of this earth, his soul was absorbed in the thought of another world.”
-St Therese of Lisieux on attending Mass with her Father

  • Reception of Holy Communion:
    At time of writing, this whole area is a mess in many Churches because of Covid, and it’s not easy to give rose directives for. I will try to make suggestions, but you are going to have to discern your circumstances and what, if anything, can be improved. For anything that can change, even a small detail, you can count it towards the rose. To justify the following directives, I ask the reader with objections to read this and this.
  • If you are in a position where you can receive kneeling and on the tongue, I don’t really have anything to add – do that! If you could do that by switching where you go to Mass, making that effort can count towards the Rose. The following are written with other scenarios in mind:
  • The first thing I’m going to say is if you are receiving with a mask on – stop doing that. Take off the mask before getting to the priest, and consume the Sacred Host directly before him. That may sound overly strong, and it may go against the norm in your Church, but unless your parish priest directly instructs you personally otherwise (which is unlikely, though not impossible) it cannot be wrong to push against a measure that facilitates (or nigh encourages) the potential for sacrilege by leaving the Blessed Sacrament unguarded.
  • Secondly, this may feel and look awkward rather than reverent, but if you are forced to receive in the hand you must do so carefully and check your hands for particles of the Sacred Host immediately afterwards, even before blessing yourself. Apart from the practical necessity, it is relevant to this Rose because it is a witness to your faith in the Real Presence.
  • The general – kneel if you can (whether you receive on the tongue or on the hand – not only does this show reverence, but it keeps your mouth and nose further from the priest’s so nobody can fight you on it!), genuflect or bow if you can’t kneel… What else can be done is left to the individual’s discernment.
  • Start wearing or carrying a Sacramental that you can kiss in Church or in public. Maybe a little Crucifix, a Miraculous Medal… You will have to determine the appropriate moments for veneration.

These are ideas. The list is not exhaustive, and other similar ideas may be added or substituted for its contents. The main thing is to seek ways to grow in and bear witness through the practice of reverence.

As we near the end of the post, I invite you to prayerfully consider this letter of St. Padre Pio to a spiritual daughter before you begin to make and act upon your resolutions. Not only does it underline the necessity of reverence, but it gives clear guidance as to why and in what spirit it should be undertaken.

Conclusion

As mentioned before, this final section of the blog is unnecessary for those who aren’t dubious about the need or value of reverence in general, so reading it is not a requirement for the Rose.

However as I know there will be some with reservations I would like to pre-empt and answer a few objections before ending:

Objection #1: Jesus tells us not to be like Pharisees praying on the street corners and wearing wide phylacteries etc.! (Matthew 6:5, 23:5)

Response: This is true, but it is is about not having a disposition of heart that is not hypocritical – not abolishing customs displaying reverence altogether! Let’s take another example. St. Bernard says that without Her Humility, the Virginity of Our Lady could not have pleased God. Does that mean that it would be better that She was without flawless purity as it is something that might incline one towards pride? OF COURSE NOT! Her Virginity was an objective good in itself, and far from conflicting with her humility, it aided its perfection.
What we need to weigh up is this:
1. We are incarnate beings. Is it therefore an objective good and a duty for us to treat reverence God not only interiorly but by our witness and actions? Yes.
2. Can these objectively good things be an occasion for pride, and could pride destroy the value of the good actions? Potentially.
3. Should they be therefore omitted to avoid this danger? No. Because they are objectively good it’s not a case of simply avoiding an occasion of sin. One must strive to be humble in carrying them out.
Furthermore, there is more often than not little risk of being a ‘Pharisee’ in today’s world, as reverence is so often compromised that it is very often more mortifying than gratifying to perform simple acts of piety…

For He that shall be ashamed of Me, and of My words, in this adulterous and sinful generation: the Son of Man also will be ashamed of him, when he shall come in the glory of His Father with the Holy Angels.” Mark 8:38

Objection #2: But God looks at the heart, not at the appearance (1 Sam 16:7), why should a Rose give so much credit to what can be externally perceived?

Response: Precisely because the heart is perceived only by God and the individual, our guidelines for Roses can’t really dictate terms for its conduct. What we can do, is outline objective practices and challenges that we hope might tend one more towards a disposition of appropriate humility and devotion before God. The human heart is intimately bound up with our external actions, and practice with interior disposition, the two effect each other mutually. In this case, we are asked by our external bearing to bear witness to invisible realities. This should strengthen both our faith and that of those around us. And in so doing, it will not only be a matter of appearance, but of the heart – the unity of our devotion and our witness.

“Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.
Put away from you crooked speech, an
d put devious talk far from you.
Let your eyes look directly forwards, and your gaze be straight before you.
Keep straight the path of your feet, and all your ways will be sure.” P
roverbs 4:23

Objection #3: I really don’t think this is going to effect any difference in terms of evangelisation. The people I know already think I’m mad enough for the things I do, without going further!

Response: If people already think you’re OTT, but you can see ways in which you could give greater respect to God, what is there to lose in prioritising his opinion over theirs? Years ago, when I was first beginning to think about this whole area, I began simply to genuflect before receiving Holy Communion. Nobody else where I was going to Mass had this practice, so I did it quickly so as not to draw attention to myself. After a while of this my father called me up on it and asked me if I was willing to stop because it looked silly. I began to object, and he listened to me and then (authoritatively) said ‘OK – half the speed’. That caught me off guard. He wasn’t so much objecting to my attempts to be respectful, but to the inconsistency of my compromise. If I was going to reverence the Lord, he wanted it to be actually reverent – and not doing some sort of a ‘skippy jump thing’ (his words!) before receiving Jesus. As an evangelisation exercise, the above points are not intended to make you look and feel like a tube, but rather to draw attention to the holiness of God. They may be uncomfortable at first, but sometimes there are barriers in our comfort zone and the expectations of creatures that have to be broken through in order to come to a place of reason in our worship of God. This is especially the case in our society when so much is compromised in this area. Whilst there are times these things may seem to result in misunderstanding, if the focus is honouring God appropriately, we can trust that He will work out the rest in the hearts of others.

“Simply proclaim the Lord Christ Holy in your hearts, and always have your answer ready for people who ask you the reason for the hope that you have. But give it with courtesy and respect and with a clear conscience, so that those who slander your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their accusations.” 1 Peter 3:15-16

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