As part of our pro life emphasis for October, today at school mass we had the missionary image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The missionary image is a perfect facsimile of the real image in Mexico. After Mass the students filed forward to venerate the image. It was moving to see them reach out and touch the copy of this miraculous icon.
The Protestant in me is always still a bit, well, curious, apprehensive, dubious even, of the veneration of images with kissing, touching, bowing and scraping. I don’t think I’m concerned about people bowing down to images. Our theology is clear that we are not worshiping the image as such, but venerating it because it is a window to the eternal. I think my hesitation is more along the lines of being embarrassed by public shows of affection. I’m embarrassed in much the same way as I am when I attend charismatic worship and everyone is wearing their heart on their sleeve.
I’m quite prepared to blame myself for this. I’m an introverted sort of person. I actually have quite strong emotions, but I’m not good at expressing them. Also, there is still something a little bit Gnostic in my spiritual temperament, which is probably also the residue of my Protestant upbringing. I’m happier with the mental aspect of the faith. I’m good on theory. When my faith gets physical I get uncomfortable.
See, the kissing of an image, the bowing and touching with veneration reminds us that our faith is physical. The incarnation is physical. The virgin birth is physical. The flogging at the pillar is physical. The way of the cross is physical. The crucifixion is physical. The resurrection is physical. That’s why so much of Protestantism wont’ do. Our separated brethren do not deny the physical in their theological views (although the liberal protestants do) but their worship remains distinctly unphysical.
Catholicism, on the other hand reminds us constantly of the embarrassment of the incarnation and the scandal of particularity. It reminds us that sometimes we need to be uncomfortable with our faith, and that it does the soul a world of good to be a bit sheepish in the face of the miraculous, the wonderful and the physical aspect of the faith.
So Catholicism besieges our senses. With stained glass windows, organ music, incense, holy water on my brow and a kneeler to bend my body, and bread and wine to eat and oil to anoint, every sacrament and sacramental of the Church reminds me that God himself took human flesh to enter this world.
So, thinking these thoughts, after celebrating Mass I went first of all to lead my high school flock. I approached the image, went down on both knees, then rose and kissed the feet of the Blessed Virgin.
And then the emotion started, and my eyes started leaking, and God, in his grace broke open this hard old heart just a little.