Devotion to Christ
Fr. Groeschel explains how “devotion” is a vibrant, powerful and personal conviction that God knows, hears and cares for us as individual persons. Devotion is question of “psychology” and the inner experiences, joys, sorrows, hopes, cares, of each of us. Jesus Christ really “knows” each and every one of us in an utterly mysterious way and only when we realize this fact can we begin to be devout and have Devotion to Christ.
What is Christian Devotion?
The first prayer of the Early Christian Church after Christ’s Ascension can be found in the Acts of the Apostles at the martyrdom of St. Stephen. When St. Stephen knows Our Lord Jesus Christ in a very real and personal way and he believes with conviction that Christ is his Lord and Savior.
Devotion of the Martyrs - Experiencing Christ
The Saints, through the power of God, can hear our prayers and intercede for us. Some of the earliest prayers of devotion to Christ were the prayers of the martyrs, those who were persecuted for their faith. There are many prayers in the early church epistles and liturgies of those who often suffered great pain and were even killed for their faith. These martyrs knew Christ and united their suffering with His.
Devotion to Jesus as the Word of God
The Incarnation is a great Mystery that many have tried to understand with human reason. We can’t. We have to accept the Church’s teaching that Jesus Christ is as St. John wrote, the Word, the only begotten Son of the Father, who in His infinite Mercy took on the form of a slave, an earthly creature and became a real human being, a man, in the womb of the Virgin Mary. Jesus has a divine nature and a human nature in “one person.” We may never fully understand the depth of this mystery.
Devotion of the King of Kings
Constantine, the first Christian Emperor, saw Christ as the King of Kings. In modern Society, we don’t really like Kings - we prefer a Democracy. But Christ is not like other kings of this world. He is the Crucified King. He told Pilate, “My Kingdom is not of this World.” Our Lord’s “kingship” comes from His Divinity, His Divine nature. Jesus is one person, a divine person, with two natures. St. Leo teaches that Jesus was perfect in divinity, of one substance with the Father in Divinity and perfect in His Humanity like us in every way except sin.
Devotion to the Crucified King
We learn about who Jesus is from the Gospels, writings of the Church Fathers, Tradition of the Early Church and Ecumenical Councils. Even so, Jesus is still and will always be a mystery to us here on earth. He is a paradox, the Crucified King. To be Crucified on the Cross was the most shameful and humiliating way to die, yet that is how God, Jesus chose that way to die. He could have chosen other ways, the sword, the noose but he chose the cross. The cross was the first universal symbol of Christianity.
Devotion to the Christ during the Dark Ages
Eventually Europe was settled by the Goths who accidentally plunged it into the dark ages. Fortunately, the Catholic Church’s Monasteries grew in number and they kept records and preserved civilization from the invading armies. These barbarians were favorably influenced by the good Monks and Nuns of the Monasteries and were persuaded by their Christian example and converted to Catholic Church. These previously “barbaric’ peoples became very faithful and devout and it was they who built the many beautiful “Gothic” Cathedrals of Central Europe.
Devotion to the Christ Child
This devotion is recognizes the “Humanity” of Christ. It recognizes that Christ was like us in all ways except sin. In the days of early church, there were various herises concerning the humanity of Jesus. Some said that he was only human and not “divine”, while others siad he was all divine and not “human.” The doctrine of the church tells us that Our Lord is true God and true man. He is one divine “person” with two natures. He has a divine nature and a human nature and when he came into the world, he took his flesh from the Virgin Mary and became man.
The Oldest Devotion
One of the first devotions practiced by early Christians was a devotion to Christ as the Divine Physician, the Divine Healer. St. Augustine taught that our worst spiritual illness is our pride. He believed that it is pride that causes all other “diseases” of the soul. We are healed spiritually through the passion, death and resurrection of the Lord. Fr. Groeschel discusses various devotions such as Devotion to the Sacred Heart revealed to St. Margaret Mary, where the wounded sacred heart of Jesus is crowned with thorns, bringing salvation to us as well as Protestant prays to the broken heart of Jesus. Jesus, as sacred physician - through his passion and cross, heals our souls.
Devotion to Christ During the Reformation
During the Protestant Reformation, the Catholic Church also had a reformation called the “Counter Reformation.” Many great saints like St. Catherine of Genoa and St. Francis of Assisi began to work for reform of the Church. In fact, many of the prayers of the Protestant “reformers” of that time sound very much like their Catholic counterparts. Prayers by Luther, Wycliff and many other early protestants refer to Christ as the crucified God and there are beautiful prayers to the suffering Christ that sound very much like St. Francis or St. Bonaventure.
Devotion and Scripture
The scientific study of Sacred Scripture has often led to a rationalization of many of the miracles found in the Bible. Fr. Groeschel has seen this type of reasoning destroy the faith of many good Christians. But “written history” is not reality, only somebody’s interpretation and summary of events. In the Age of Reason, people got the notion that they can understand everything. The truth is that we can’t. Some things are beyond human understanding and we call them “mysteries.” These things we have to believe without reason, but with faith.
Problems with Devotion
There are two ways we can speak to Christ. The first is very positive. We have a feeling that he hears us and have a real experience of knowing he is present with us. The second way is when we feel that he is far away from us. This type of prayer is like the Lamentation Psalms where we are saying “Where are You?” We don’t really “feel” that God hears us, but we believe He does with our faith. The most important thing about any prayer is to be sure that we are LISTENING. One problem with some particular “devotions” is that we may be listening to and possible praying to ourselves! There is nothing wrong with the devotion, but with our disposition to hear God speak to us.
Devotion in Our Times
Devotion in our times is very weak. Many so called Christians hardly ever speak to Jesus in their hearts, with their hearts. There seem to be a lot of prayers of petition, but rarely prayers of adoration, of repentance, of thanksgiving. Maybe that’s why the world has become so pagan, and we live in a culture of death. We must fight paganism with prayers of repentance. “Devotions” helps us to pray with adoration, repentance and Thanksgiving. Our personal individual prayers must be fed by the Sacraments. All Christians have “Baptism.” With Baptism we have the possibility of cultivating through prayer the “indwelling” of the Divine.
Who Will Christ Be for us in the New Millennium
There is no extended family in modern Society. Our Society is made up primarily of “Nuclear” families that are spread all over the country. We have an increasing number of Single Parent families. This all reflects a rather new 20th century ethic of morality called "selfism.” It is a “me” first mentality where people think that they deserve to be able to live up to their potential to achieve and acquire what ever they want, despite the negative effects their actions may have on others and particularly on their families. The most obvious example of selfism is abortion. Similar to ancient Rome, this type of thinking and behavior will lead us more and more to a life of loneliness, of distrusting our neighbor. A time will come when there will be those who have had enough of selfism and they will turn to Jesus.