LESSONS FROM THE MAGI (II) – Wise men kneel

Rev. José Mario O. Mandía

“Wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, saying, ‘Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we have seen his star in the East, and have come to worship him.’” (Matthew 2:1) And when they found the Child, “they fell down and worshiped him” (2:11)

The opening  and ending lines of the story of the Wise Men explain how it was possible for them to find Jesus, or why Jesus revealed himself to them: they had come to adore. On the other hand, Herod, the priests, the Scribes – they were not interested in worshiping anyone.

There are some Catholics who desire to be well versed in Scripture and to give a sophisticated exegesis of the Bible texts. They are immersed in inquiring into the meanings and nuances of terms and expressions in the Bible, but as for adoring Jesus, they have no intention. What a pity! 

This is not to say that we should ignore the study of the Sacred Text. Because God used men as instruments to write his Word, we need to study the cultural and historical background of those men, and the language they use. We have to inquire into the literal sense of the words. The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: “The literal sense is the meaning conveyed by the words of Scripture and discovered by exegesis, following the rules of sound interpretation: ‘All other senses of Sacred Scripture are based on the literal.’ (116)” 

Adoration is an act of the virtue of Justice because it has to do with giving to another what we ought to give him. Unfortunately, we always associate Justice with society, with the underprivileged, and those in need, but frequently forget that the first one we owe something to is God himself. This part of Justice (to give God was is due to him) is called the virtue of Religion and it is the highest form of Justice. It is commanded by the first commandment of the Decalogue. It might actually happen that many years after we are baptized, we think we are already fulfilling this commandment (ahem, except for some superstitions and belief in good luck). In reality, we are always in danger of falling into idolatry, because in every thought, word or deed of ours where God falls into second place, we are worshiping something or someone other than God.

This is why Pope Francis declared on April 14, 2013 in St Paul’s Outside the Walls: “[W]e have to empty ourselves of the many small or great idols that we have and in which we take refuge, on which we often seek to base our security. They are idols that we sometimes keep well hidden; they can be ambition, a taste for success, placing ourselves at the center, the tendency to dominate others, the claim to be the sole masters of our lives, some sins to which we are bound, and many others. This evening I would like a question to resound in the heart of each one of you, and I would like you to answer it honestly: Have I considered which idol lies hidden in my life that prevents me from worshiping the Lord? Worshiping is stripping ourselves of our idols, even the most hidden ones, and choosing the Lord as the center, as the highway of our lives.”

Adoration involves the entire person. It involves both soul and body. So I cannot say I adore only in my heart. I have to adore also with my body. On the other hand, I cannot say that I adore only with my body. All words and gestures have to reflect what I have in my heart. I have to adore with soul and body. Adoration without one or the other is false adoration – it is a mockery of God. 

One bodily sign of adoration is kneeling. Pope Benedict, in his book Spirit of the Liturgy tells the story of a man who was given the grace to see what the devil looked like. The devil looked really ugly, but what called the man’s attention is that the devil had no knees! The devil is not capable of worship because he adores only himself! Don’t we do that often in front of the mirror? (Ouch!) 

Someone once said: “The shortest distance between a problem and its solution is the distance between the floor and your knees.” Amen!

Some people say that kneeling belongs to another culture. But in Asia, kneeling always shows reverence for the supreme leader. Just look at Thailand. Or ancient China. See how the Hindus worship. However, Pope Benedict says, “Kneeling does not come from any culture — it comes from the Bible.”

As believers, we need to learn to kneel again. We need to learn to bend our knees before the Lord of Lords: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10). We need to learn again how to genuflect before the Most Blessed Sacrament, because we believe that God is really and truly there.

We need to learn to adore because by adoring God we acknowledge his greatness. When we acknowledge his greatness, we understand why we have to respect and love our neighbor (especially the ones who annoy us at home or in the office – ouch again!), because they are made in God’s image and likeness. A person who does not adore does not know the real value of human beings, whether they be unborn or at the doors of death. 

Adoration of the Eucharist does not take us away from paying attention to the poor, the sick, the underprivileged and those languishing in jail, because the same faith that makes us see God’s real presence in the Eucharist makes us also see his image in likeness in the people around us. Remember how Blessed Teresa of Calcutta and Saint John Paul II spent hours before the Blessed Sacrament and and see what they were able to do for others.

Adoration gives us peace, because it makes us realize that we are not the ones who will single handedly save the world: “It is God who governs the world, not we,” Benedict XVI wrote in Deus Caritas Est. Our role is to do our best, as long as the Good Lord allows us, and leave the conclusion in his all-wise, all-merciful and all-powerful hands.

In the meantime, let us learn to “fall down and worship him.”

(O Clarim, 16 January 2015)