Tag Archives: Humility

Reflections on Kneeling and Humility

“Our generation has lost the religious gesture of kneeling; we have become more a clapping generation. We seem to have compromised the virtue of humility with a culture of self-security and independence. If we dream of renewal, let us kneel again in adoration, in repentance and in service.”

Kneeling Adores
Bending the knee before the tabernacle in genuflection, kneeling down at the celebration of the Eucharist, kneeling down to adore the exposed Blessed Sacrament – these are little but sublime acts of adoration that we must preserve and protect.

Kneeling Obtains Mercy
It is easier to remember that we are sinners when we kneel. It is easier to share the same mercy kneeling down, not from a higher moral level but from our shared sinful condition. “The bending of the knee is a token of penitence and sorrow of a penitent heart.” (St John Cassian)

Kneeling Atones
Kneeling atones for the countless profane actions against the Eucharist. As we bow down and adore the Eucharist, we also beg for mercy for the sacrilege and desecration the Sacred Species are repeatedly subjected to in many communities. We seek pardon for liturgical experiments and abuses: the narcissism among ordained ministers seeking popularity rather than piety; for taking the Mass for granted; for the irreverent attire and the cold interior disposition when we attend Mass.

Kneeling Humbles
We cannot celebrate mercy without repentance. We kneel in humility and repentance especially in the Sacrament of Reconciliation where we kneel down to confess our sins and receive pardon.

Kneeling Renews
The family that prays together stays together.… Kneeling empowers families to stand up against the storms of life. Kneeling is strength.

[Taken from the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines Pastoral Exhortation entitled “Let Us Kneel Before The Lord Who Made Us” (Psalm 95:6)]

I Am a Contemplative

I have heard the phrase, “I am a contemplative” uttered by many devout Catholics who are genuinely interested and participating in the life of prayer. There are good reasons for this expression. They can represent positive sentiments like these:

  • I value prayer and give a good deal of time to it.
  • I want to be identified with a strong commitment to prayer.
  • I appreciate Carmelite spirituality and am or desire to be a part of it.

These positive reasons aside, there a number of problematic elements in this expression worthy of reflection.

Authentic Understanding of Contemplative Prayer

Though I have no doubt that these good reasons exist in every soul I have heard or seen use the phrase, “I am a contemplative,” I have never encountered one instance where, after asking a few questions, I failed to discover significant misunderstandings regarding authentic contemplative prayer.

The most common belief held by those who say, “I am a contemplative” is that contemplation is something we can do. In response to a recent social media claim, I gently and respectfully asked, “What is contemplation?” The answer followed a universal pattern. The good person responded with all the things they do in prayer.

A good student of spiritual theology knows that any definition of contemplation that begins with an emphasis on the action of man is a definition that is completely backward even if it contains some truth. The contemplative state is not one that we can do or achieve by some action or method – it is a work of God for which we can only prepare.

These good folks often make this serious error, and another offspring of it, “I do contemplative prayer” or “I practice contemplative prayer.” Of course, this understanding is as problematic as its parent because one cannot do what only God can provide to the soul.

As an aside, here is a sound definition of contemplation:

An infused supernatural gift, that originates completely outside of our will or ability, by which a person becomes freely absorbed in God producing a real awareness, desire, and love for Him. This often gentle or delightful and sometimes non-sensible encounter can yield special insights into things of the spirit and results in a deeper and tangible desire and ability to love God and neighbor in thought, word, and deed. It is important to note that infused contemplation is a state that can be prepared for, but cannot in any way be produced by the will or desire of a person through methods or ascetical practices.

The Problem of Pride and Humility

To enter into a substantive prayer life, one must begin on the path of humility. Notice I said, “begin.” St. Teresa of Avila notes in her Interior Castle, that authentic self-knowledge and humility are the beginning foundations of a substantive prayer life. They are not something acquired later but must be present to the beginner in some substantive measure before they can venture more deeply into the Castle.

To be a contemplative or a mystic one must be in the Illuminative state or beyond. This means they will usually have spent a number of years, even decades, wrestling against and winning the battle (by God’s grace and their effort) over habitual sin and even imperfections. It means they will have ventured through the dark valley of the spiritual purgation of the nights. It usually means they spend an hour or more a day in prayer and are deeply committed to frequent sacramental participation. It means they are living a life of profound sanctity. These folks are heading for, into or living in, the domain of the saints.

As of yet, I have never encountered a saint or anyone close to being a saint, living or dead, who proclaims “I am a saint” or I am a mystic” or “I am a contemplative.” Instead, what you hear out of the mouths of authentically holy men and women of God is, “I am a sinner” or “I am a worm” as St. Teresa was often heard to say. Yes, she acknowledged the unfathomable beauty of a soul in a state of grace. However, she also knew the dark capacity of her own soul and that of every person. She also understood the danger of spiritual pride. Thus she generally avoided attributing any direct expression of her own experiences with God and never drifted into claims of being a saint or a mystic.

Thus, proclaiming “I am a contemplative” can be a profoundly prideful and theologically problematic statement that should never be uttered by one who seeks the life of authentic prayer or one who is a part of Apostoli Viae.

Yes, we do say that we seek to “live the contemplative life.” However, living the contemplative life means that we recognize our desperate need for God and union with Him. We thereby commit to giving ourselves to a life of prayer, penance, sacrifice, and service to God and those He has placed in our care. This is the path to contemplation, but God is the one who decides whether or not we cross that bridge, how often, and how deeply. Regardless, it is a good life that properly lived, leads one to proclaim, along with the publican, “God have mercy on me a sinner!”

Wisdom from the Desert on Humility

If one sees a person puffed up by arrogance and pride because he has received grace and even if he should perform signs and should raise up the dead, if he, nevertheless, does not hold his soul as abject and humble and does not consider himself poor in spirit and an object of abhorrence, he is duped by the devil and is ignorant. Granted he has performed signs but he is not to be trusted.

For the sign of the Christian is this, that one is pleasing to God so as to seek to hide oneself from human eyes. And even if a person should possess the complete treasures of the king, he should hide them and say repeatedly: “The treasure is not mine, but another has given it to me as a charge. I am a beggar, and when it so pleases, he can claim it from me.”

If anyone should say, “I am rich. I have enough. I possess goods. There is nothing more I need.” Such a person is not a Christian but a vessel of deceit and of the devil, for the enjoyment of God is insatiable, and the more one tastes and eats, the more one hungers.

Persons like this (those who hunger for God) have an ardor and love towards God that nothing can restrain. And the more they apply themselves to the art of growing in perfection, the more they count themselves as poor, as those in great need, and possessing nothing.

This is why they say, “I am not worthy that the sun shines its rays on me.” This is the sign of the Christian, namely, this very humility.

 

Source: From an unknown desert monk of the 4th or 5th century once thought to be Marcarius – Spiritual Homily 15.37