Tuesday in the Fourth Week of Easter at Mississippi Abbey
Today we’re told that “My sheep hear my voice; I know them and they follow me.” We’re not sheep, yet we hear his voice and follow. Why? We follow as rational creatures made in the Image and Likeness of God. We have a free will and can go elsewhere (and perhaps we have!). Why do we follow?
We follow because we have been given a disposition, a virtue that enables following. It is called Reverence. Let’s begin with a secular definition of reverence: “Reverence is the capacity for awe, respect, and shame in the face of what cannot be changed or controlled by human effort.” It comes from an awareness of our limitations and thus our common humanity. That awareness leads to awe at things outside of our control…things like… God.
The secular understanding is different from the monastic understanding of reverence that we will look at tomorrow. All reverence begins as admiration. Admiration is incompatible with resentment and contempt that we use to avoid shame. Our faith tells us that reverence takes us beyond admiration so we can learn from shame. Reverence also takes us beyond awe at the great powers of nature such as a starry night. It takes us beyond wonder that reveals the limits of knowledge. Our faith tells us that reverence is our reaction to goodness that is shown and known. We must recognize that goodness in God and in those made in His image and likeness, even those who appear less graceful (the “poor”). Our spirit surrenders to the attractive influence of goodness. Reverence is aroused by nobility of character.
So, it is a virtue because of the emotions it arouses. A virtue gives us the strength to live well and avoid bad choices. Without reverence, authority figures forget to be ashamed. They and their followers put people into categories such as psychiatric or ethnic categories, and miss the goodness, the image and likeness in persons. Goodness is always there, at least in germ form, and must be recognized if we are to stay on the shepherd’s path.
Today’s gospel about a following flock, when applied to rational, free-willed followers, tells us about the importance of community to learning this and other virtues. We’ll discuss that tomorrow when we remember the Holy Abbots of Cluny.