We are accustomed to show respect to any one who is superior to ourselves in any point, in power, in experience, in knowledge, etc. We also reverence kings, aged men, men eminent for learning or science, and the like. The greater a man’s superiority to ourselves, the greater is our esteem, our reverence for him. Now as God is infinitely superior to us, we owe Him the utmost respect, worship and veneration of which we are capable. This highest worship we call adoration.
We ought to adore God because He is infinitely exalted above us, and because we are entirely dependent upon Him as our Creator.
Let us meditate a while upon the infinite sublimity of God. Con sider first His omnipotence; this is displayed in the beauty of the star-spangled firmament. “The heavens show forth the glory of God” (Ps. xviii. 2). Consider also the eternity of God. “One day with the Lord is as a thousand years” (2 Pet. iii. 8). Think of the wisdom of God, the arrangements of Whose providence are so wonderful in creation, and Who can turn even what is evil to good. “O the depth of the riches of the wisdom and of the knowledge of God! How incomprehensible are His judgments!” (Rom. xi. 33.) Think of His fatherly care even for the most insignificant of His creatures. At the time of Our Lord’s birth, He showed grace to poor shepherds and heathens; He chose for His Mother a lowly Virgin, unlearned fishermen for His apostles, to the poor He had the Gospel preached, etc. “Who is as the Lord our God, Who dwelleth on high, and looketh down on the low things?” (Ps. cxii. 5.) How infinite is the distance between God and man! We love God, because we know Him; we adore Him because we cannot comprehend Him (St. Gregory of Nazianzen). We are entirely dependent upon God; we belong wholly and solely to Him. The members of our body, the powers of our soul are His gift; to Him we owe our being, and by Him we have been redeemed. Since He has given us all that we have, it is just that we should serve Him and worship Him alone. The consideration of the divine benefits bestowed upon us teaches us to adore Him. We must, moreover, consider that we cannot exist , without God’s continual help. If He deprives us of food, we cannot live; if He takes away our life, we die; if He takes from us the light of the Holy Spirit, we become spiritually blind; if He were to permit the devil to have too much power over us, we should fall into mortal sin. What is true of man, is true of all other creatures; they also are entirely dependent upon their Creator. “Thou art worthy, O Lord our God, to receive glory and honor and power; because Thou hast created all things” (Apoc. iv. 11). “Come, let us adore and fall down before the Lord that made us. For He is the Lord our God; we are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His hand” (Ps. xciv. 7).
1. The adoration we pay to God consists in this: That we ac knowledge both in our hearts and by our actions that He is Our Lord and we are His creatures and His servants.
To worship God is to acknowledge our own misery and His greatness. He who worships God says with David “My substance is as nothing before Thee!” (Ps. xxxviii. 6.) Our adoration of God manifests itself first by interior reverence, then by external signs. We call those persons pious who worship God in truth.
2. We worship God interiorly by acts of faith, hope, and charity.
By faith we give our assent to all the utterances of the most high and the true God, we adore God as the perfect truth. By hope we expect all good things from the almighty and most bountiful God, we adore Him as the source of all good. By charity we occupy our selves exclusively with God, we adore Him as our final end. St. Augustine says that the worship of God necessarily commences with a correct knowledge of God, for it is impossible to know Him without venerating Him. And who that knows the omnipotence of God and His beneficence towards mankind, can do otherwise than place his hopes in Him? Who that is conscious of the many benefits God lavishes upon him, can fail to love Him?”Is it possible,” asks St. Thomas of Villanova, “for a creature to know God without loving Him?” Reverence for God, the worship of God, are inseparable from the love of God, for we adore what we love. “Love and adoration are as closely connected as fire and flame” (St. Francis of Sales). Thus the worship of God consists of these three things: faith, hope, and charity; by acts of these virtues we are to manifest our reverence for Him. Exterior worship is nothing more or less than the expression of faith, hope, and charity.
3. We adore God exteriorly by vocal prayer, sacrifice, genuflections, prostrations, folding of hands, striking the breast, etc.
Sacrifice is the surrender or destruction of some visible gift of God, in order thereby to honor Him as our sovereign Lord. By sacrifice we attest our belief that God is the Author of all being, the supreme Lord of all, to Whom accordingly we owe allegiance. The oblation of visible objects is a sign of the interior, spiritual sacrifice, whereby the soul surrenders herself to God as her final and blissful end. By kneeling down or prostrating one’s self, as Christ did in the Garden of Olives, we acknowledge our own insignificance before God; clasping the hands signifies that we are fettered, i.e., helpless; striking the heart, like the publican in the Temple, that we are de serving of chastisement.
1. We ought to pay God exterior worship, because we are bound to render Him the homage of our bodies, and because it serves to increase our interior devotion; furthermore, external worship answers to a need inherent in our human nature.
Body and soul are both God’s work, consequently both are under the obligation of manifesting their subjection to Him. An omniscient God does not indeed need outward signs of reverence, because He sees the intention of the worshipper, yet these outward tokens are useful to us, because they inflame the interior affections and augment the fervor of interior worship. And since these external ceremonies during prayer are only means to an end (that of intensifying interior devotion) they can be dispensed with if they prove a hindrance to interior worship. For instance, if one is greatly fatigued, one may sit to say one’s prayers. Nay more, one may pray while walking about or standing, if one finds that thus one can pray more devoutly. Do not weary yourself with protracted kneel ing, or it will occasion distraction. It is enough if the posture of the soul before God is one of lowly adoration. Man is so constituted that he must needs give outward expression to his inward feelings. When a house is on fire within, the flames burst out externally; so when a man adores God in spirit, he manifests his devotion by out ward signs; otherwise he would belie the impulse of his nature, were he to suppress all demonstration of the adoration he pays in thought and heart.
2. We ought never to render external adoration to God without having awakened within us the corresponding sentiments of devotion.
He who kneels down, clasps his hands, strikes his breast, without thinking of what he is doing, is little better than a hypocrite. How many people go through the usual ceremonies in the house of God merely from habit, without thinking of what they are doing! We must not act in this like acquaintances who, meeting casually, repeat a formula of greeting without meaning a word of what they say. The ceremonies we observe when we worship God ought faithfully to express the feelings of our. heart. Christ said to the Samaritan woman that God must be adored in spirit and in truth (John iv. 24), that is, exterior worship ought to be the expression of our spiritual worship, and correspond faithfully to the feelings of our heart. Those individuals who make a greater demonstration of devotion than their interior sentiments warrant, are like people who dress above their station, and give themselves out for richer than they really are. Vicious people sometimes make an outward profession of piety, by which they seek to conceal their evil life. In this they resemble those who seek to disguise some unpleasant odor by the use of a powerful perfume, or those who having a bad complexion by nature, employ cosmetics to give it a fictitious beauty and attractive brilliancy. The ancient Egyptians used to embalm dead bodies to pre serve them from decomposition. So Satan imbues those who are spiritually dead with the aroma of a spurious piety, that their moral corruption may not be apparent. Persons who make a pretense of piety may be detected by their ostentatious display of devotion and their utter lack of charity. They court observation of their religious practices, accompany their prayers with extravagant gestures, affect a downcast mien, take a prominent part in all Catholic confraternities, and count it a crime not to go to confession on particular days. Meanwhile they do not scruple to conceal a grievous sin in the tribunal of penance, they live in enmity, they slander their neighbor, give no alms and indulge envy. Thus these would-be saints betray their real character as surely as a man betrays his nationality the moment he opens his lips. Piety that is simply external does not last, because it is not the outcome of interior devotion. “Planets and comets,” says St. Francis of Sales, “are both luminous, heavenly bodies, and closely resemble each other, but the comets soon disappear, whereas the planets shine on to all time.” So it is with real and unreal devotion. Those who make a pretense of piety render religion contemptible, and deter many right-minded persons from devotional practices, for no one likes to be classed with hypocrites.
3. We ought to avoid all exaggeration in devotion, and never omit the duties of our state in life.
We ought to avoid every kind of exaggeration in the worship of God. True piety does not consist in a gloomy demeanor, downcast looks, a melancholy manner. True piety is cheerful. The soul that rejoices in the possession of God, that is rich in virtue, produces a pleasant impression on others. It is also a mistake to load one’s self with a great variety of religious practices. We should aim at simplicity in our devotions. A short prayer, repeated a hundred times over, is often worth more than a hundred different formulas. The duties of our station ought never to be neglected for the sake of prayer, for nothing is more pleasing to God than their right fulfilment. “He who performs the duties of his calling,” says St. Francis of Sales, “with diligent care for the love of God, is truly pious and a man after God’s heart.” That piety which is incompatible with the duties of our station is false piety. True piety adapts itself to the duties of every state and calling, as a fluid takes the form, of the vessel into which it is poured.
4. We must pay supreme worship to God only, for He alone is the sovereign Lord of heaven and of earth.
Our Lord said to the devil, when he tempted Him: “It is written, the Lord thy God shalt thou adore, and Him only shalt thou serve” (Matt. iv. 10). If I am in the presence of a personage of distinction, it would be showing contempt for him were I to turn away from him, and devote my attention to some one greatly his inferior; so it would not be right to allow any object but God to engross our mind and thoughts. It is however no sin to reverence creatures in whom the perfections of God are reflected. We do not worship them with supreme worship; we only honor and venerate them for God’s sake. Thus it is permissible to venerate the saints.
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2. IDOLATRY OR THE WORSHIP OF FALSE GODS
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