On Bended Knee

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Fr. Timothy Schumaker shares reflections on some of the signs, symbols and gestures of our Catholic faith that we do so easily, to remind us why we do things so that we can bring more intentionality into them when we do them.

Why, when we enter and exit our pew, do we genuflect? The first thing we need to keep in mind is who we are genuflecting to, now obviously that is God, but we genuflect in a particular way to Jesus in the Eucharist.

You may notice that when Father Dennis and I come to the foot of the sanctuary we bow, that is because our tabernacle is not directly behind the altar, if it was, we would genuflect.

Now at its core, genuflecting is a gesture of obedience and humility as well as a sign of respect. In the Middle Ages when coming in the presence of a king one would genuflect with their left knee. Catholics genuflect to God with their right knee to show that God is not only a earthly king, but a heavenly one.

But there is something to this act which I did not even consider until I was doing research for this reflection. And that is that the very posture of genuflecting places us in a unbalanced and a vulnerable state. When genuflecting, we are easily pushed down, we are physically in a compromised position, we are at the mercy of the one we are genuflecting to.

The symbolism of this is clear, every time we genuflect we are placing our life at the mercy of God. We are speaking with our bodies and saying, Lord, I place myself, my life, at your mercy, to obey you in humility and respect, I place all of the sufferings, anxieties, all of the joys, of my life before you. They are all yours, do with them what you will. The beautiful part is that we are doing this to a God who has placed himself at our mercy, containing himself in a piece of bread, we are just doing to God what he has already done for us.

He Teaches the Humble His Way

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Do you ever wonder if Jesus was ever in a bad mood? The scripture stories of Jesus' cleansing of the temple and His cursing of the fig tree makes one wonder. Matthew's 21st chapter begins with Jesus' entry into Jerusalem, I imagine that is where HIs sense of urgency comes from. Jesus questions the Pharisees' righteousness. They are convinced that they are good while others are "bad" and have closed themselves off to spiritual growth. As I think about this gospel in our current situation and in what we as a global community are experiencing, I can't help but think that we all need to give ourselves a self-righteousness check. Imagine how our world would look if we all listened to each other, and instead of focusing on our own righteousness, we focus on becoming more humble. "He guides the humble to justice, and teaches the humble his way." (Ps. 25:4) What might be the result? A world with more compassion, mercy, and unity!

To Be Salt of the Earth

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“You are the salt of the earth.”

In today’s gospel Jesus tells us this very catchy and familiar phrase. It is also the motto of St. Francis de Sales Seminary, except they use the Latin, “vos estis sal terrae”. Sounds very inspirational. I must tell you, though, I don’t quite know what it means to be “the salt of the earth”. 

To be the salt, does it mean to be one of the people? For us priests, maybe it is a warning to maintain humility and not forget we are sinners like everyone else. My wife had that assignment  when I was a physician. When she noticed I was thinking too highly of myself she would remind me, we all put our pants on one leg at a time. I was never quite sure what that meant, but I listened. 

Maybe to be salt means that we, through our lives, are to be the flavor of humanity? We are to lead joy filled lives of service and thereby flavor the lives of those we meet. Through our relationship with Jesus, through our understanding of salvation in the midst of suffering, we can offer others a means of savoring life. 

I also cannot help but think of a common modern use of salt, especially at this time of year…to melt ice. Being the salt of the earth, we could melt the ice of anger and hate. As the salt, we can give traction to those whose ways are slippery and prone towards falling. As the salt, we can provide a safe path to God and home.

Now that I think about it, maybe I do know what it means to be the salt of the earth.