So I hereby task myself with writing a short, unfocused meditation upon a certain topic every Sunday for a couple of months. Perhaps I shall meditate upon Sacred Writ or perhaps just upon the changing of the seasons or the subtle melodrama of my own existence. It will be as the muse takes me. But my subject this week, to begin is piety.
Often, after the Sacred Sacrifice has taken place I note the devotion of others, once my own is concluded. Some offer quiet thanksgiving after the dismissal, others go to statues and icons and give great public devotion. Others slink silently back into the world, perhaps, I assume, to give thanks in their thoughts and deeds for the rest of the day.But what of this simple act of supplication; piety. The gentle love of God from man, a people unworthy of even the slightest affection of the Supreme. That we are afforded a foretaste of His divinity in the Sacred Mysteries should cause us to fall to our knees and sing aloud from our hearts. But is this right? Perhaps it can be said that there is a sort of false piety that we, as sinners, are doomed to fall into. Overcome with hopelessness at our own wounded state, or consumed with the presumption of His wont and mercy. Can the person, who falls at the feet of the icon of our Blessed Mother, to recite his prayers in the ancient and holy tongue of the church be but an obstacle to true devotion and piety? Is there more to piety than just devotion? And to this end, what is true devotion and piety? Perhaps to better understand this question, we must think in terms of the truly divine. Of what the essence of God truly is. For God is Love. This we know. But what manner of Love is this? Scripture takes it to be ἀγάπη - the distinction between this and filial love or the eros of man and wife. No this is a love that is gently spoken, that proceeds from the father and the son, that is attributed to the πνεῦμα of God but is God for God is in totality in each part as unified as one. This is the breath of Love that flows from the Father through the Son to the Holy Ghost.
It is not the love of mourning; that is not love. That is the hopelessness of love lost. Nor is it the love of a man for his sweetheart. For this is the productive love of mankind, that is derived from our nature and is not divine but earthly in nature. This is a sweet love. A private love; not ἔρως but divine in origin. A guiding and revelatory love. A love that underpins all existence. To think of it in terms of love is not to know it all. To think of it in terms of grace perhaps is more helpful. For as this love flows into us, it is accompanied by the outpouring of grace. Grace that we are undeserved of.
But is it piety to fall down and declare, striking our breast "domine non sum dignus"? No. This cannot be the case. For grace is outpoured on us, whether we deserve or do not deserve. It is what we do with this grace, how this love shapes our will that is most important. Piety is in essence, not the falling down and crying that we are not worthy, but more an acceptance of the following line "sed tanctum dic verbo et sanibitur anima mea." God is the word. And grace from the sacraments is the healing medicine of our souls (the Sanabitur) as St Thomas Aquinas puts it. Piety is putting the word of God into the world. Literally "Et Verbum caro factum est. Et habitavit in nobis" Literally, to dwell within us.