In the office of readings, July 2nd, 2015 we read 2 Samuel 6:1-23. This has always been a fascinating passage of scripture. We begin this reading with the movement of the Ark of the Covenant known to be the most holy possession of Israel. The Ark itself was venerated primarily because of what it contained: the presence of God. Leaving aside the very direct application this might have to our Blessed Mother, we realize that to the Jews, the Ark was to be treated with great reverence.
Why does God expect reverence from us?
Sometimes people will suggest that God is so humble that He would never demand reverence from us. This is true, only insofar as God would never demand reverence from us out of some ego-centric motive. However, God will demand reverence from us if it is for our own good. The opposite of reverence is familiarity, whereby we seek intimacy’s counterfeit. Familiarity is reducing a mystery into an object to which we claim to know everything about. Consider couples who begin with romance and end in familiarity; they begin with respect, but end with possessiveness and entitlement. This is an example of people who have lost a sense of the genuine mystery in the one to whom they are married to, and how much more true is it when applied to our relationship with God.
God expects reverence out of Justice. Keep in mind that God wants us to be righteous people, because that is good for the soul. Avoiding the poison of injustice helps us find inner-peace and peace with our neighbour. Therefore God wants us to be people of Justice. It is truly right and just, therefore, everywhere to give God thanks and praise. That is to say: in order for us to be “good” as far as justice goes, we need to be able to give credit where it is due, thanksgiving where it is due: and this begins with God. If it doesn’t begin with God who is responsible for everything, then our whole lives lack the proper orientation. How could we give more credit and thanksgiving to someone who is less responsible for all that is good? Would not our neglect of God become a twisted form of injustice?
Furthermore, we must understand why reverence is important from a Trinitarian perspective. The Father loves His Son, and out of that love expects us to Love him also. He does not appreciate when we defy or neglect His Son, to whom he Loves infinitely. Therefore out of love for His Son, he demands our reverence. Likewise, the Son is utterly in love with His Father, that he demands we respect Him. It is no wonder that the Father told us to Listen to Christ, and Christ told us everything He had heard from His Father. They are a united front, and expect us to respect them both. It is not as if they are seeking their own glory, but rather are seeking to glorify each other. Therefore, in this sense, out of Love for each other, the Trinity demands our respect.
Therefore, God seeks our reverence out of Love for each person within the Trinity and for our own good; thus the law of Christ (To love God and neighbour) is perfectly recapitulated in His demand for our reverence.
Spiritual Death: Entitlement to Grace
Being aware of our own motives may help us to critically examine why we may or may not be overly critical of various forms of reverence. It may simply be that we have just grown accustom to the status quo in this regard. But if we are in Love with Christ, the status quo will never suffice. Perhaps change in the way others pray is perceived as a distraction: but sometimes distractions are good when they awake us out of a spiritual sleep and spiritual deafness to God’s presence. Perhaps they seem to draw attention to ourselves, and thus people automatically consider this a vain and unproductive activity. Aha, if this is the case, you must read the office of readings we encountered today. How easy it is to fall into the same trap that Michal fell into!
Before we examine Saul’s daughter’s reaction to King David dancing in the street before the presence of God, let us begin by examining what led up to such exaltation of the Presence of God. We note that Uzzah witnessed the Ark of the Covenant tipping, and so he stretched out His hands to steady it. On the surface, this might seem to be a fairly reasonable thing to do. However, God was utterly furious at Uzzah’s action that he was struck dead. Why?
Uzzah was not a Levite, and therefore not a priest. He took it upon himself to fulfill a role that God had not ordained him to accomplish. This means that Uzzah, who was not worthy of the task (election), was not permitted to take on the role of one of the priests. The priests had been consecrated to this particular task, and the whole established order that God had created around the Ark was meant to establish within the social-mindset of the Israelites a deep and profound reverence: the Ark was not something to be “familiar” with, but rather required a Divine-calling to handle. The Ark therefore became a tangible means to understand our relationship with God in a properly ordered fashion. The organization of the various roles/vocations of the Israelites became a means to teach people how to approach God, and in what spirit.
Applying this logic to the Church we realize that the way the Church organizes the liturgy has a profound impact on how we approach God. This is something few seem to grasp in our day and age, which explains why the liturgy is often reduced to a symbol in the minds of many. If we treat the Eucharist as if He is a symbol, people will naturally begin to believe it. The way we pray, shapes what we believe in. Furthermore, after Vatican II it became clear that priests reacted to clericalism by reinforcing clericalism, albeit unintentionally. Instead of approaching their office without a spirituality of entitlement they shared that spiritual sickness of entitlement with the laity. All of a sudden people began to feel as if they had a “right” to approach the sanctuary and preform duties that were strictly assigned to the priest. Therefore, instead of defacing entitlement we hid it by encouraging it in everyone. No longer was grace (gift) even in our minds: entitlement was. And as Pope Francis suggests, we priests clerlicalized the laity, passing on our own sickness, rather than building up the laity in their own vocation.
Uzzah’s extended hand did not convey a reverence for the Ark, but was actually the exact opposite: he felt entitled to approach the presence of God, something that was clearly spelled out to be forbidden. God was therefore not punishing Uzzah’s intention of saving the Ark but rather his spirit of entitlement. Consider this passage in this way: when we approach God with presumption and entitlement we are spiritually dead. We cannot receive “grace” authentically if we perceive “grace” as something we are entitled to. It will never take root in us. If this is our attitude we have reversed the entire order of justice, suggesting that God owes us reverence, and that it is truly right and just for us to be able to be in the presence of God. How spiritually twisted and vile for any human being to consider “grace” a right in the spiritual-sense. For grace is a gift, that we receive with gratitude, not possessiveness. Truly Uzzah was spiritually dead when he reached out to the Presence of God in the Ark.
King David was shaken by this experience and as a result welled up with reverence for the Presence that he could not fathom it being brought to Him in a deserving manner. In other words, David understood the pride of Uzzah and therefore sought to ground Himself in a spirit of gratitude that God had chosen Him and the Israelites to enjoy such a procession of God’s presence.
Michal and Reverence-haters
Michal is a fantastic analogy for the spirituality of many who are off-put by reverence today. As David welcomes the Ark of the Covenant into the City, he dances and seemingly makes a fool of himself. However, David is over-the-top excited that God has chosen to be present to Him, and he can only appreciate this because all entitlement within Him is entirely vanquished. His gratitude is grounded in the very fact that he is dust, but with God’s abiding presence (grace) he is elevated from dust to life. What an incredible and exciting realization to have that a self-affirming culture cannot ever comprehend. When we affirm ourselves in the right-spirit it involves giving no credit to ourselves, but rather to the one who made us. We do not make our own heartbeat, nor do we design ourselves: that is all God’s doing. Therefore, when we affirm ourselves in an inordinate way it means we confuse our behaviour with our being: we think we are responsible for creating ourselves. This narcissism will naturally lead to one conclusion: entitlement and despair.
Michal who has lost her inheritance after David replaces her Father Saul is filled with jealousy and therefore allows her bitterness to guide her interpretation of David’s leadership. She is disposed against Him, and will therefore always resent his actions and find fault with them, even when there is no fault. In this case, she accuses King David of the same thing so many nay-sayers today accuse those who demonstrate reverence: “How the King of Israel has honoured himself today.” In other words, Michal is convinced that David has honoured himself or is showing reverence to God as a façade of actually receiving honour from others for himself. While it is more than possible that false piety can be twisted in such a sense, we must keep in mind that the external action of King David was actually in synch with a proper spiritual attitude. As a result Michal is judgmental and incorrect in her judgment. David responds that he would love to be dishonoured before the presence of God if only it builds up people’s view of God’s presence. What a profoundly humbling statement for David to say: something that is stated from a man who genuinely loves God.
Michal is later said to have lived without being able to conceive until the day she died. Perhaps, interpreting this in a spiritual light, we might be able to say that because her heart was hardened against authentic reverence (borne of her hatred for King David and therefore his example), she was not able to contribute new life to the Assembly of God. Without the spiritual fruit of reverence, it is impossible to add new life to the Church, in the spiritual sense. Our love for God will naturally draw other people into a relationship with God. A love for our neighbour is secondary to a love for God, and rightfully so, lest our neighbour becomes deserving of more honour then God.
Liturgy, Ritual, and Worship that is Pleasing
God gives us ritual as a means to express our love for God with our entire-being. We are body and soul: therefore our worship ought to be comprised of both body-and-soul. With a purely abstract love of God, we develop spiritual disorder within ourselves, and naturally with our neighbour. Do we give God worship in our mind, but not in our body, yet we show honour and respect in both ways to our neighbour? Why would we dare to give God less than what we would give one of His creatures? Ritual and Liturgy are the very means to bestow upon God this reverence. Two friends of mine gave a perfect example of why this makes sense. For the sake of propriety I will give them other names. Matt went to mass with his girl-friend Kelly. He went to mass because he really liked Kelly, but the faith was still growing within him. One day Kelly noticed that Matt’s but was leaning on the pew during consecration (and he had no back-problems). She told him: get your butt off of that pew. His response was swift: “I’m pretty sure God doesn’t care.” She gave him a head-flip, and then flipped back, and said, “If you cannot honour God, who can you honour?”
I love this true-story because it demonstrates a common attitude amongst people today, which is that God doesn’t care about our reverence. God doesn’t care about a “show” of piety, but He does want us to place Him in the highest throne in our own soul. Not because he needs such adulation, but rather, in order for us to be good, we need to place Him there out of justice. Furthermore, our love for our neighbour cannot ever be authentic, if we do not put God in the highest place first. Otherwise, we honour who we prefer, rather than who deserves it, and we cannot be grounded in justice if we are grounded in our preference over truth.
Sometimes we are like Uzzah who consider ourselves entitled to approach God with a spirit of familiarity. One might think acting with familiarity presents ourselves as “down-to-earth” but in reality we are only perceived as down to earth by the people because the people perceive what is base to be down-to-earth. Likewise, we become base and spiritually dead when we buy into such a counterfeit.
One of the practices in our diocese, for instance, is that only the ordained ministers (and those who have received the ministry of Acolyte from the Bishop) are permitted to purify the vessels used after consecration. This often is perceived as “off-putting” because people feel as if they are entitled to touch the sacred vessels whenever it pleases them. People are found to be put-off when one suggests that they are unworthy of such a task. This is the wrong attitude, and it springs from a spirituality of narcissistic entitlement.
An ordained minister who rightly understands his vocation understands this to be something given to Him as a gift and a responsibility. He should never perceive such tasks as being something He is entitled to, but rather elected to accomplish. But when a priest perceives all of ministry under the lens of entitlement he might project that into the role of the laity, and therefore relax such rules, making everyone seemingly “entitled.” The unfortunate thing about such an attitude is it ultimately never uproots the spiritual disease, it simply enables it amongst everyone.
God elects certain people for such tasks as a means to bring about humility: and so when these tasks are blurred between the laity and the clergy what happens is we remove ourselves from a very tangible method of making the Church filled with gratitude and reverence. We do not see the wisdom in the social-dynamic of allowing for such order to be supported, because we only perceive things through the lens of our fallen-nature. We also lack the prophetic vision we are to have, in how God’s little laws and rubrics are actually impactful in an authentic spirituality. We are constantly attempting to be progressive in sin, and totally unaware of this as the objective method and goal of our aims.
A priest has been made worthy, not by His own merit, but by the election and will of God. And with that gift, He is called to holiness as everyone else is: but in his particular task. If we were to internalize the Little-Flower a bit more realistically, we would come to the conclusion that such a task as handling the divine mysteries is incredibly debasing to our own ego.
The solution is in realizing that we demonstrate reverence not because we are worthy of God or showing our own holiness to others, but rather, we are debasing our pride that God may be the Rose that is noticeable amongst us, the little white-flowers that merely draw your attention to the real-deal: God.
Regardless of our vocation in life: life isn’t about any of us: it is about the glory of God. The quicker we learn this, the more abandoned we become from our own glory: the more we will experience God’s glory and all the joy that comes from such exciting love.