Adoration: The intense and greatest admiration culminating in reverent worship of the divine. Acts of homage in words of praise, prayer or gifts that express the adoring attitude of the creature in the presence of his Creator. The expression of the soul’s mystical realization of God’s presence (Smith’s Bible Dictionary, 1901).
There is just one occasion in the gospels where God is adored. That is in Matthew 2:11. The Magi, on entering the house, saw the child with Mary his mother. They prostrated themselves and did him homage. Then they opened their treasures and offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh.
The Second Commandment tells us that we must not adore anyone or anything other than Almighty God. This adoration reaches its highest expression in Revelation 5:9-14, where the Redeemer-Lamb who shares the throne of God is the subject of an outburst of adoring praise by the angelic hosts. In Revelation 4:8-11 the hymn of adoration is addressed to the Lord God Almighty, the Creator.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states that “Adoration is the acknowledgement of God as God, creator and savior, the Lord and master of everything that exists as infinite and merciful love” (CCC #2096). “Adoration is homage of the spirit to the ‘King of Glory,’ respectful silence in the presence of the ever greater God” (CCC #2628).
Americans have developed an aversion towards adoration – of anyone but ourselves. Even those celebrities that take our breath away or make us swoon have a limited shelf life, especially if they misbehave in public. We tend to adore ourselves. We make time for ourselves, treat ourselves, spoil ourselves. Even when we give we expect a return.
It is well documented that since the nineteenth century the intellectual class has grown more hostile towards religion in general, Christianity in particular. In the absence of moral leadership, immorality has infiltrated secular life to such a degree that we are now capable of creating laws that not only defy common sense, but are mortally harmful to ourselves. It is one thing to understand when we do something wrong, but quite another thing when we have no concept of what is right or wrong. The result is that we cease to function as a society when laws become irrelevant. We now live in a world that does not realize the referee has left the field and we are making up rules as the game continues.
Society is like a human body. It is capable of living a perfectly healthy life even when infected. The immune system works silently in the background protecting us, but when it fails the infection will spread throughout the body causing sickness and even death. For most of Christian history God has been an accepted fact. With the advance of science, we relegated God to the role of the societal immune system: he is not in our face, but silently working in the background through our conscience and laws. We no longer want his interference.
The last few generations have tried to convince us that we created ourselves, an argument that is void of any shred of evidence, but necessary in order to sever the last remaining cord that binds us to God. In accepting that belief we are freed of the lifelong burden of our purpose in life which is to live for the Glory of God, to adore our God.
There are two remarkable displays that typify adoration in the Old Testament: the Temples and the Psalms.
God himself provided detailed instructions for building his first two houses. The first, described in Exodus, was portable, made of wood, linen, goat hair, hides and adorned with precious metals. It was designed to contain a sanctuary for his Ten Commandments, his covenant with the Jews, his chosen people. The tablets were placed in The Ark of the Covenant in the Holy of Holies. There was an outer room called The Holy Place, which held an altar of incense, a table for showbread and a Menorah lamp stand. The whole was called the Tabernacle and was surrounded by a linen-walled courtyard wherein burnt sacrifices were offered. It was the most sacred place on earth with strict conditions for worship. The penalty for misuse was death.
King David amassed most of the materials needed for his son Solomon to construct what was called the First Temple. A magnificent building of dressed stone, cedar, and fir, much of which was overlaid in gold. The dimensions were about twice the size of the tent temple, but the geography remained almost the same. During the reign of Solomon the temple in Jerusalem was the focal point of the Jewish faith, but after his death the Jews gradually began to practice idolatry until in 425 BC King Nebuchadnezzar laid siege to Jerusalem. The city was pillaged and the inhabitants were either slaughtered or taken as slaves to Babylon. The Arc of the Covenant was never found.
About fifty years later the Persian King Cyrus allowed the Jews to return home and helped them construct the Second Temple, which is described in the book of Ezra. Much of the gold and silver was returned, but not the Ark of the Covenant or the Ten Commandments. This was the temple that King Herod was renovating during the time of Jesus. It was destroyed by the Romans in the year 70 A.D. and has never been rebuilt.
The Psalms, the longest book in the Bible, is a compendium of prayer and praise to God which contain seventy three psalms supposedly composed by King David. Many of the psalms were set to music, some were hymns used in worship, others were a form of prayer to rhyme. They were in common use in Jewish and Christian rituals throughout history, but have lost what I believe was their every day presence in the lives of the faithful.
Some of us may recall The Hit Parade, a twentieth century phenomena, which lasted from the thirties through the fifties and superseded by many Top Twenty programs. These kept the young humming the latest songs and dreaming about romantic themes. I like to think that the Psalms in biblical times were just as famous and popular in everyday use by both the young and old for inspiration and supplication.
Prior to the Reformation all of Europe was enveloped in an environment of faith where it was natural to be Catholic from birth through death. Monasteries and churches proliferated and were the center, the beating heart of communities, essential for learning, medicine, and faith. Nothing exemplifies the adoration of God within a community more than the Gothic cathedrals of the Middle Ages. It began when Abbé Suger, the abbot of St. Denis, near Paris, attempted to provide the faithful with an experience of heaven on earth within church walls.
His church became the model for European Gothic architecture characterized by pointed arches, large stained glass windows, ribbed vaults, flying buttresses, high ceilings, tall spires, and ornate facades. These structures were the tallest buildings in towns and cities across Europe, a reflection of faith and the channel for much of the creative energy of medieval European society. They remain a living testament to the faith, devotion, and love of God for the era.
“Half a century ago serious Christian intellectuals occupied a prominent place on the national stage. They are gone now and it would be worth our time to inquire why they disappeared and where they went.” -Alan Jacobs, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities in the Honors Program of Baylor University
From a spiritual perspective if we fill ourselves with ourselves we leave no room for God or others. There is a human characteristic in all of us that believes that when we look up to someone we diminish ourselves and inversely when we raise up ourselves everyone else is diminished. This is Original Sin, which is only cured when we learn to love one another – the message of Christ, a necessity for a viable society. God is the source of love and in seeking the source we will learn, once more, to adore.
In the Book of Samuel a series of events takes place where the Israelites ask Samuel to appoint a ruler, a King, over them. God instructs Samuel to tell the people the mistake they are about to make, for God knows he will eventually be replaced by men. In the end they anoint Saul as their King and the rest is Jewish history. How clearly we now see the truth in what God told Saul. This gives us yet another glimpse of the relationship that God wants with his people. Always a well-intentioned Father, yet always allowing us to ignore his loving advice.
Since we no longer live in an Environment of Faith it is difficult to imagine how we may begin to adore God.
We are enthralled by the grandeur of Niagara Falls or the immensity of the Milky Way. It is natural for us to comprehend these phenomena in their whole rather than in their separate parts as drops of water, or a enormous collection of solar systems. We could, if we chose, look at them as an artist may, as individual brushstrokes, which would greatly enhance our appreciation and admiration for them. Maybe we could cultivate our view of God by learning to appreciate all the bits and pieces of our faith. How could we say that we visited Niagara Falls if we never got off the bus, never heard the noise or felt the pull of the water, the feel of the mist, the view?
What is required for us to take that first step, to turn around, to look at Jesus and feel his presence? We are given a simple method by Jesus himself in Matthew 18:4, Mark 9:37, 10:15, and Luke 9:48, 18:17. The answer lies in humility. It is through child-like humility and trust that we see the vision and feel the presence of God. Advent, a new beginning, is the ideal time to start a journey of adoration – to kneel at the feet of the baby Jesus.
The Bible is an in depth study of God, a good place for anyone to begin a personal encounter. When approached with an open mind and accompanied by the Holy Spirit it will reveal a truth that eclipses anything else we have ever imagined.
The most important physical feature in the Old Testament Temple was the Ark of the Covenant, containing The Law and enclosed in a Tabernacle. The most important physical feature in the New Testament Church is the Tabernacle, which contains the body and blood of our Savior – The Way. The Holy Mass and the sacraments of Reconciliation bring us back into the grace of God. The easiest way to adore God is through the Blessed Sacrament, either spending time before it in communion with God or in the reception of communion. Imagine, Jesus puts his trust in us to be his safe harbor in this hostile nonsensical world. Every time we receive his Blessed Sacrament we carry Him physically as if both his protector and light through every day and in every encounter. What better way is there to adore God?
Every season of advent, via the Gospels of Luke and Matthew we retrace the story of God’s most precious gift to us: himself. From “Hail Mary” when the angel Gabriel greets and acknowledges Mary’s extraordinary role as the living Tabernacle for baby Jesus, through the visitation, the most profound example of the personhood of a child in the womb of his mother, through the humble and joyous birth of Jesus and then finally the recognition of the Kingship of Jesus via the Three Wise Men. It is fitting that we make the same journey and confirm it by re-gifting ourselves in homage to our God, through service for Him and for our neighbors.