In a comment box of another post on http://holysoulshermitage.com, I was alerted to the fact (I checked it out) that Pope Francis did not genuflect after the consecrations at his first Mass with the Cardinals in the Sistine Chapel concluding the Conclave. Even donkeys genuflect if they can, don’t they?
But the question is about ability, is it not? Pope Francis, as he seems to have indicated the other day, may have bad knees!
Just to say, when watching him at the consecrations, what I noted was a deep humility and reverence before Him whom he knows to be the Son of God at the moment of His Holy Sacrifice. He bowed, it is true, after those consecrations, instead of genuflecting, but let’s think about that for a second, shall we?
Sometimes, it takes a cripple to know a cripple
I can walk in such a way that no one would know I have leg problems. But I often just let myself limp. Easier that way. I have not only bad legs, but bad knees. This has been a problem for decades. Sometimes, in lifting my leg to go up steps, I will simply crumble and fall. At other times, my knees hold up much better. I think it is a matter of diet and exercise. I’ve been doing better since I’ve been at the hermitage. Everyone has high points and low points, good days and bad days. My extreme sports childhood did not help. Here’s an account of that if you want your heart in your throat, an example of what not to do, an account of the best way to destroy your legs for life: Yikes! and a half! ;)
I’ve had multiple operations on the one knee, and that leg has seen — I think the count is now at — 25 full breaks (plus a full spiral fracture that put me on crutches for months), many of them with bones and chunks of bone coming right through the leg and being scattered about the pavement. There’s one chunk of bone growing in a most grotesque way perpendicular to the leg. It doesn’t hurt, mind you, unless a log falls on that bit while I’m chainsawing or splitting wood for the hermitage wood stove!
Right now I’m not in a wheelchair nor am I even using crutches. I was really rather proficient with these instruments of extreme sports, going all over Rome in my wheelchair, right on the cobblestone streets (with bicycle like tires), and, with the Canadian crutches (great invention, those) would often be able to bound down stair cases six steps at a time. I was in the chapel of Santa Marta one fine afternoon (a favorite spot, where the Cardinals stayed during the Conclave just now), with a friend from the Holy Office. He laughed out loud when he saw me do a perfect genuflection with the crutches and a nasty metal contraption on the one leg, which was shattered in little bits and pieces at the time. He said that surely he was laughing with our Lord, who had to be wondering, he said, what I could possibly be doing with such gymnastics. I still did this, however, when he wasn’t looking.
Anyway, I’ve grown a bit older, and I am filled with fear when celebrating Mass at an altar which is not fixed firmly to the floor. In order to genuflect, I have to lean heavily on the altar. I’ve almost upset some altars in this way, which is not good when you have consecrated chalices on the altar! It’s bad enough where even the Mayo Clinic had a great time checking out my knees.
I mentioned this to one of my ecclesiastical superiors, who severely reprimanded me, saying that he has bad knees as well, and simply does a bow, reverently, mind you, not just a nod, but from the waist, slowly, much like what we see with Pope Francis after the consecrations at Holy Mass.
So, O.K., thought I. I’ll just start bowing, though not so profoundly, which would make me dizzy so that I would fall over!
I started doing the bowing thing at the Josephinum a few years ago when I was teaching there. After some days, the seminarians started getting on my case about this, nicely, mind you, as they knew I had problems with the legs. One said, however, that even Father K.L., who has such terrible knees, still does a kind of mini-genuflection. I thought about that, thinking that a mini-genuflection looked hasty and disrespectful, but, you know, rubrics are rubrics, so this is what I did, and still do so today. I hate it. I ask the Lord to overlook my silliness.
Having said all that, I’m still not convinced I’m doing the right thing in doing a mini-genuflection. On some days, I feel that I could crumble to the floor. I feel it coming in the knees. When I go down, it’s instant. Crash! I greatly fear that I will send the chalice flying. I would cry. A mini-genuflection takes only a fraction of a second, and it can’t be longer than that, trust me. A bow, with all gravity of the unction of reverence, can take as long as one wants.
So, I’m willing to give the Slum Pope Francis a pass on this one, in a matter of speaking. It’s not up to me to give him a pass! I just don’t think that he is doing this to mock our Lord and to get everyone else to mock Him. Really, not!
Let’s not forget that Jesus is good and kind and merciful. He sees our infirmity when others do not. Let’s try to see things with the eyes of charity!
I’m sure we all look forward to heaven, when we will have the privilege, in all good health, to bow the knee at the name of Jesus, before whom every knee shall bend, in the heavens, on the earth, and under the earth. Praise be to Him who wrought our salvation!
Oh, and one last thing: Donkey’s may well be able to genuflect better than any of us, more spectacularly, but only if they are also in good physical shape to do so.