Under the heading of the First Commandment the Catechism embraces all the virtues directly related to one’s spiritual/moral approach to God. Para. 2097 discusses the obligation to adore God. The catechetics of the 1950’s spoke of adoration in the context of prayer, in the mnemonic ACTS: adoration, contrition, thanksgiving, and supplication; four types of prayer with Biblical basis which I still find helpful today.
Adoration is an attitude as much as anything. The opening line of para. 2097 essentially states that “this didn’t have to be,” or existence is not a birthright, either in the cosmic or the personal sense. This calls for our inner philosopher to take center stage and do what philosophers have been doing since recorded time, i.e., address the question of “why?” The beginning of wisdom is acceptance that my existence is tangential, that it depends on something else. The multiplication of creation myths over the millennia of human experience may be eccentric, but they do have the benefit of internal logic in attributing the beginnings of existence to a defined cause being greater than the product. Earth science is not my strong suit, but I am aware of only one enduring modern myth about being, the “Big Bang,” which still fails to answer the question of who lit the fuse…and it certainly wasn’t four nerds and a waitress named Penny at the local Cheesecake Factory.
The honest exploration of the creation question can only instill true mystery. The scientific Aristotle could take the question only so far, to his premise of a First Cause. The authors of religious creation myths captured the more profound idea that Aristotle’s First Cause was living and generous; that our coming into being was more than a lucky reaction in a cosmic void or a chemical reaction in the backwaters of a prehistoric ocean. The Catechism in its early paragraphs on anthropology teaches that all people carry within them a disposition to know the existence of an infinite being with an instinct or drive to “follow up,” so to speak, on this inner sense.
Adoration, in the full sense of the term, is a philosophical and theological recognition that our reality depends upon a gratuitous act of love, and without that Creator there would be no cosmic universe, nor would there be a personal universe of experience. The conscious act of adoration in prayer is an affirmation that we know “what’s what.” Para. 2097 uses the example of Mary’s prayer, the Magnificat, in which Mary, while acknowledging the great things God is working through her, accepts that none of this would have been possible without God.
Para. 2097 goes on to teach that the adoration of the one God has an immense blessing for the individual, freeing one from “turning in on one’s self” [or an exaggerated sense of one’s importance], as well as freeing from slavery to sin and the “idolatry of the world.” I can’t help but wonder if this third point is another way of saying that as a society, we make it up as we go. I received in the morning email from one of my continuing education sites the latest statistics from the American Psychological Association, which reports that 18% of the American public sought mental health services last year. And, despite all we hear about trauma, the most common diagnoses remain anxiety (85%) and depression (84%). [Depression and anxiety are often comorbid, appearing in the same individual].
One can only guess how many people walking the streets are sad and stressed. I told a patient recently that depression and anxiety are often appropriate reactions to circumstances, particularly the ones we cannot change. At the same time, I wonder if much of our “walking around pain” comes from an absence of a belief in a greater power, with a companion sense of order, goodness, and hope. We are indeed inventing our lives as we go, and as William James wrote around 1900, the human being, left to his own devices, will run out of enthusiasm.