Enter with Reverence

Examining our appreciation for sacred spaces

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Bonnar (new)One of the joys of being a bishop is that I get to travel throughout the diocese and pray with the People of God in their parish churches. In the nearly two years that I have been a bishop, I can tell you that each parish has its own story with its own style and nuances. Nevertheless, all our church buildings invite one into a sacred encounter with the person of Jesus.

Recently, I visited one of our parishes as part of a Mass for the Eucharistic Revival, and I saw something I had never seen before. In fact, I had been in that church a handful of times and had never seen it. As I was standing in the vestibule to greet the people after holy Mass, I saw a sign on the wall facing the people as they came in that said, “Enter with reverence.” For whatever reason, my eyes kept gazing at that simple sign, and it got me thinking about the sacredness of our churches and how I need to be more reverent.

I then found myself peering at the threshold from the vestibule to the nave and I thought about the many times I crossed that threshold and did not appreciate the space I was entering or the ground I was walking on. You see, it can become all too familiar. All of us, clergy and faithful alike, can tend to bring with us the noise and distractions from the world that inevitably preclude us from beholding the sacred space we just entered.

But there are more thresholds to cross in this holy place. When I was a parish priest, I remember having to enter the confessional to be a minister of God’s mercy and forgiveness. I know that there were times I ran into that holy place with other things on my mind. Even as a penitent, I sometimes, in my sorrow and restlessness, fail to realize the peace of the confessional and the loving embrace that Jesus provides.

Of course, every priest eventually crosses the threshold into the sacristy where he is to prepare himself for the sacred mysteries. These preparations involve getting vested and looking again at the missal and praying some preparatory prayers. I am mindful of the times when I have vested and looked into the mirror to make sure that I looked good but failed to look deeper within to ready my heart to preside and preach.

There is also the moment of crossing over the threshold, so to speak, at the pulpit, which is a sacred place that houses God’s Word. There is a reason we reverence the Gospel book. I need to be mindful that the pulpit is God’s platform and not mine. What matters most is not my words but his Word. I am merely his instrument. It is never meant to be about me. Like St. John the Baptist, I need to keep saying, “He must increase; I must decrease” (Jn 3:30).

Subsequently, every priest crosses the threshold to stand at the altar and confect the holy Eucharist. The altar is so sacred that twice in the liturgy the priest demonstrates reverence by kissing it. I am sorry for the times when out of distraction or familiarity I lacked reverence and intentionality.

Finally, the priest along with the faithful eventually exit the threshold of the Church and go back out into the world to proclaim the joy of the Gospel. I feel bad for the times when I brought more sadness than joy, failed to practice what I preached and did not become what I had just received.

“Enter with reverence.” Those three words triggered a powerful examination of conscience for me about reverence or my lack thereof, in God’s house and beyond. As we stand on the threshold of this new liturgical year and season filled with waiting, those same words offer a resolution and a charge. I believe that the reverence we are called to bring involves a more intentional sense of silence and waiting along with a greater mindfulness of crossing the thresholds in our life and ministry.

I find it humbling that a form of the word “reverence” is often ascribed to our name as clergy. Priests are often called, “Reverend Father”: Vicars, “Very Reverend”; and bishops, “Most Reverend.” I don’t necessarily see myself as worthy of reverence. If anything, as I cross the thresholds, I know that I need to: Enter with more reverence.

BISHOP DAVID J. BONNAR, editor of The Priest, is bishop of the Diocese of Youngstown.

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