Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time
LK 14:1, 7-14
August 28, 2016
I have, and treasure greatly, many Filipino friends, in spite of my persistent disregard for one of their customs. You see, I have discovered that in the Philippines, it is not only polite, but expected, that when a person is greeting an older person, as a sign of respect, they take the “senior’s” hand in their own, bow their head slightly, and touch the top of the older hand to their own forehead. This custom has immigrated to the United States. It really is a beautiful gesture, especially because it seems to me that it is always done with sincerity and a genuine appreciation for the dignity of the elder. It is more than etiquette. The simple gesture of humbling oneself is acknowledgement of the wisdom of age that rests with the elder. The problem for me is that the courtesy extends as well to the clergy, regardless of age…or wisdom!
I was first extended this honor by a very dear and very holy and pious little lady, who, at the time, was well into her 90’s. When she approached me, I didn’t even have an opportunity to see her face. As was her habit, she grabbed my hand (because I am a priest), bowed her head, and pressed my hand to her forehead. I truly felt blessed! But, I’m afraid that I shocked her because I followed her lead. I took her hand in mine, bowed slightly, and pressed the top of her hand to my forehead. Actually, I then felt DOUBLY blessed.
But my rash action embarrassed her. She pulled back her hand and covered her mouth with it, shook her head from side to side, and giggled. Someone then explained to me my breach of etiquette. Still, in spite of the fact that I now understand the tradition, I persist in reciprocating the honor, no matter the age of the person “honoring me.” It seems to me that what is certainly BAD ETIQUETTE on my part…is GOOD SPIRITUALITY. I suggest that because of this week’s Readings.
In our Second Reading, St Paul refers to Jesus as “The Mediator of a new covenant.” There is a private prayer, whispered by the priest at the very beginning of the Liturgy of the Eucharist, which is helpful in understanding the terms of this “new covenant.” As the chalice is prepared for the consecration, a few drops of water are added to the wine as the presider prays: By the mystery of this water and wine (mingling together) may we come to share in the Divinity of Christ, Who humbled himself to share in our humanity. In other words, the “new covenant” brought with it an entirely new way of relating to God, bringing with it a new tradition…a new etiquette.
Through Jesus, it’s as if The Creator has taken our frail, soiled, and unworthy hands into the Divine Hand, and pressing them to God’s Forehead honors and blesses our human nature. We, in turn, are called to humble ourselves before one another, honoring and blessing each other, without consideration to such inconsequential things as age, vocation, wisdom, or wealth…especially not wealth.
Under the old covenant, no one saw the Face of God and lived. (Exodus 33:19-23) With the new covenant, through Jesus, we do see the face of God when we look at one another, especially those who do their best to live as an image of Jesus Christ. And, for that reason, we should make an effort to humble ourselves before everyone we encounter, honoring and blessing them.
It might not be good etiquette, but it is certainly good spirituality…a tradition which leaves us doubly blessed.