Let us kneel before the Lord who made us. (Psalm 95:6)
The Year 2016 will be a year of many blessings for us in the Philippines. It will also be a year of mission for the Kingdom.
From December 8, 2015 until November 20, 2016, the Church all over the world will observe an extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy as decreed by Pope Francis in the papal bull Misericordiae Vultus. We stand in faithful communion with the Holy Father as he prays that “the Church echo the word of God that resounds strong and clear as a message and a sign of pardon, strength, aid, and love. May she never tire of extending mercy, and be ever patient in offering compassion and comfort.
In the Philippines, we opened on November 29, 2015, the First Sunday of Advent, the Year of the Eucharist and the Family, as part of our nine year preparation for the Jubilee of 2021, the five hundredth anniversary of the first Mass and first baptism in the Philippines. We also eagerly await the celebration of the Fifty First International Eucharistic Congress in Cebu come January 2016.
2016 will also celebrate the twenty fifth year of the convocation of the Second Plenary Council of the Philippines, the greatest ecclesial event in the Philippines in the twentieth century.
In this forthcoming year of renewal dedicated to mercy, the Eucharist and the family, under the light of PCP II, how shall we as a people respond?
As your brothers and pastors in the faith, our answer is “If we want renewal, let us learn how to kneel again.” Our generation seems to have 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. Our throw away consumerist culture can hardly imagine kneeling down before one another, like the Lord who washed the feet of His beloved ones. If we are to restore a contemplative view of creation as Pope Francis invites us, we must learn to kneel again by the feet of the Lord and be caught in awe at the wonder of His tenderness and mercy.
If we want renewal, let us learn to kneel again in body, in heart and attitude.
Begging for mercy, we kneel in repentance. Adoring the Eucharist, we kneel down and worship. With humble service, we kneel in the family and wash one another’s feet. If we dream of renewal, let us kneel again in repentance, in adoration and in service.
For Mercy Let Us Kneel
We cannot celebrate mercy without repentance.
Then Stephen fell to his knees and cried out in a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them”; and when he said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:60)
Merciful like the Father, we are called upon to pray on behalf of humanity for the forgiveness of sins. We need constantly to contemplate the mystery of mercy. It is a wellspring of joy, serenity, and peace. Our salvation depends on it. Mercy: the word reveals the very mystery of the Most Holy Trinity. Mercy: the ultimate and supreme act by which God comes to meet us. Mercy: the fundamental law that dwells in the heart of every person who looks sincerely into the eyes of his brothers and sisters on the path of life. Mercy: the bridge that connects God and man, opening our hearts to the hope of being loved forever despite our sinfulness. (MV #2).
Celebrating the Jubilee of Mercy, we are also invited to kneel down in humility and repentance especially in the sacrament of reconciliation where we kneel down to confess our sins and receive pardon. Kneeling is a very important gesture in our Christian culture that we must regain and safeguard. Origen said kneeling is necessary if we want to admit our sins before God and seek His mercy. Kneeling symbolizes someone who has fallen but trusts in the loving mercy of God. When our bodies fail to move with the prayer dispositions of the heart; when we lose the importance of kneeling and bowing, our prayer can become dry and even boring. Praying with the body by kneeling or bowing or raising our hands can ignite the dying embers of our spiritual lives.
John Cassian (360-435) taught “The bending of the knee is a token of penitence and sorrow of a penitent heart”. Furthermore, St. Ambrose of Milan (Hexaemeron, VI, ix) said “The knee has been made flexible so that by means of it, more than any other limb, our offences against the Lord may be mitigated and God’s displeasure may be appeased, grace called forth.”
Kneeling down is not just an act to seek mercy for our sins, it is also a gesture of compassion for our fellow wounded sinners. We are invited to kneel down to bind the wounds of those who are bleeding and hurting. Indeed, mercy is not only an action of the Father, it becomes a criterion for ascertaining who his true children are. (MV, #9). Kneeling disposes us to receive and share mercy. Kneeling humbly reminds us that we have fallen and in our fallen yet forgiven condition, we must show mercy to one another.
We must kneel down in contrition before God for our sins against Mother Nature. We kneel down in sorrow for the scars on nature, the destruction of complex living systems sacrificed on the altar of economic progress.
We kneel down before the poor we have ignored; they whom the Lord assured will inherit the Kingdom. We kneel down in sorrow for our abuses against the weak and the vulnerable. We kneel to seek mercy from those we have marginalized and misjudged, suspected and gossiped about. We need to kneel down and seek pardon for our misplaced prudence and cowardice to stand for the Lord and die with Him.
If we want renewal, we must learn the humility of kneeling from the heart and with the knees.
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. Miserando atque eligendo.
Mercy is the very foundation of the Church’s life. All of her pastoral activity should be caught up in the tenderness she makes present to believers; nothing in her preaching and in her witness to the world can be lacking in mercy. The Church’s very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love. (MV, #10) We share this mercy not as dispensers of grace from our judge’s thrones but from the common ground of our sinful condition.
In Adoration Let Us Kneel
In January 2016, our feet and our knees lead us to Cebu for the Fifty First International Eucharistic Congress echoing the words of Saint Paul to the Colossians “Christ in you, our hope of glory” (1:27).
If we dream of renewal, let us rediscover the power of kneeling again in silent adoration of the Blessed Sacrament the Lamb of God.
Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe cry out: “To the one who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.” The four living creatures answered, “Amen,” and the elders fell down and worshiped (Rev 5:13-14).
Then Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote in his book “The Spirit of the Liturgy” that Hebrews regarded the knee as a symbol of strength. To bend the knee is therefore, to bend our strength before the living God, an acknowledgment of the fact that all that we are we receive from God.”(p.191)
Kneeling is part of our Christian culture. We cannot abandon or set aside the culture of kneeling in favor of the culture that says as freemen we must face God on our feet. 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 at the consecratory words over the bread and wine is not only an act of humility but a bowing welcome to meet the Lord who Himself has stooped down to reach out to us. Though he was in the form of God, he did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, he emptied himself… becoming obedient to death, death on the cross. (Phil 2: 6)
If you want renewal, kneel again. We kneel to atone 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.
Returning to Cardinal Ratzinger, “there is a story that comes from the sayings of the Desert Fathers, according to which the devil was compelled by God to a certain Abba Apollo. He looked black and ugly, with frighteningly thin limbs, bit most strikingly, he had no knee. The inability to kneel is seen as the very essence of the diabolical” (The Spirit of the Liturgy, 193)
All the families of the nations shall bow down before him.
For dominion is the Lord’s and he rules the nations.
To him alone shall bow down all who sleep in the earth;
Before him shall bend all who go down into the dust. (Ps 22:28)
If we want renewal in spirituality, we must recover the Christian culture of kneeling.
For Love and for Service Let Us Kneel
In this Year of the Family and the Eucharist, we are invited to kneel down to bring renewal to the family. We kneel to serve like the Lord. We envision every Filipino Catholic family to be missionary disciples of the Eucharist.
Jesus got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet. (John 13:4)
Let us kneel again at home for family prayer and for feet washing. Where love and service prevail instead of pride and grudge keeping; where the humility of pardon and being pardoned prevails over revenge and bitter resentments; where siblings wash one another’s feet and parents do the same; where the culture of family kneeling is present, the dream of renewal in family life will not be far from sight.
The family that prays together stays together. The family that kneels together will be refreshed and renewed together. The family that kneels together will remain young and fresh and new. Kneeling empowers families to stand up against the storms of life. Kneeling is strength.
As it is with the family, so it is with the Church and her pastors. The Church is not ours. The Church is Christ’s. We who are only stewards, not master builders, must return to the spiritual value of kneeling for prayer and stooping for feet washing. The mandate the Lord gave on Holy Thursday to “Do as I have done” is a daily obligation we must fulfill with humility, with joy, with faith, with love.
Kneeling for Renewal
In the Jubilee Year of Mercy, this Year of the Family and the Eucharist, let us return to the spiritual value and beauty of kneeling. Tertullian even went so far as saying “No prayer should be made without kneeling”. (De Oratione, 23)
How can we be renewed without prayer? How can we pray without kneeling for repentance? How can we receive mercy if we are proud and self-secure?
How can we worship without kneeling down when the Apostle himself says “At the name of Jesus every knee should bend of those in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”
How can we show that we are His disciples without kneeling down to wash one another’s feet as He has mandated? By love we will be known as His disciples.
In this Year of Mercy let us kneel again. If we want renewal, let the heart and body kneel. Let the mind and the legs bend before the Lord. Let the soul and the knees bow together in worship and humility.
May Mary Mother of Mercy teach us her humility and lead us by the hand to adore her Son and serve like Him. Amen.
From the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines, November 29, 2015, First Sunday of Advent
+SOCRATES B. VILLEGAS
Archbishop of Lingayen Dagupan President, Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the