Advertisements ad

March 15, 2009

Bending the knee and bending the will to God during Lent

By Regis Flaherty


When I was about 17 I injured my right knee while playing basketball. For a variety of reasons I didn’t have the surgery that would have repaired the problem. More of an inconvenience than a serious issue, I would just wear a brace when I did physical activity.

However, advancing age and a touch of arthritis have increased the problems. Now my knee aches in damp weather and gives out at inconvenient times. The activity that most challenges me is genuflection.

I now need to hold onto a pew or chair while I slowly lower my right knee until it touches the floor near my left heel — the proper form that my parents and the good sisters at Catholic grade school taught me. I then must struggle, relying on arm strength, to get back to a standing position.

Thanks for struggle

Yet, I am thankful for that regular struggle, particularly during Lent. Genuflection, bending the knee (flecte genu in Latin), had for too long been merely a perfunctory action. Bob down, make the sign of the cross, bob up, and get into the pew. However, genuflection is not meant to be a meaningless ritual. It is an opportunity to make a statement of faith.

The bending of the knee in genuflection is a reflection of a bending of the will. Genuflection is the action of a servant in the presence of his Master. It is an act of reverence, worship and adoration. In church we genuflect not to a statue, not to the crucifix and not to the altar. All these are items for due reverence, yet they are symbols of greater realities. We genuflect to a Person — Jesus who is truly present, body, blood, soul and divinity, in the tabernacle.

Appropriate position

Genuflection positions us appropriately. We have come to church called by the Lord. We set aside our agendas and look to our King. We will listen to his Word and receive his gift of self.

I still struggle with my thoughts and my flesh, which all too often distract me from what is most important — turning my full attention to the One who has saved me, cares for me now, and has prepared a place for me in his heavenly kingdom. That is why I appreciate my bad knee. I remember that after Jacob struggled with God he walked with a limp (see Gn 32: 25-36). That limp was a constant reminder to Jacob of his relationship with the living God.

So blessed be my knee that I cannot ignore. My struggle to fall and rise in genuflection is just what I need. It forces me to focus. As it is not easy to bend my knee, it surely is not easy to bend my heart and my mind. But I can make an act of the will. “Jesus, I bow before you.”

May I suggest that the next time your knee touches the floor at your church that you not hurry to rise. Linger in that position of submission and tell your Lord: “I adore You; I worship You; I acknowledge You as King of kings, and, as I bend my knee, so I bend my will. Lord, may Your will be done in my life.”

Flaherty is author of “Last Things First,” available at