Reverence is the soul of true religion. Its seedbed is sincerity. Its quality is determined by the esteem in which one holds the object of his reverence as evidenced by his behavior toward that object. When that object is God, the genuinely reverent person has a worshipful adoration coupled with a respectful behavior toward him and all that pertains to him. The want of such appreciation or behavior smacks of irreverence.
Judged by their superior knowledge of God, Latter-day Saints should be the most reverent people in the world, and I believe they are.
Order is a part of reverence. So is cleanliness—cleanliness of person, of apparel, of speech, of action, and of thought and impulse. So also are courtesy, respect for one another, and kindred virtues. True reverence for Deity induces one, by self-imposed control, to do the will of God at all times and in all places. With respect to reverence, as is true with all other virtues, Jesus is our great exemplar. Note the reverence he paid his Father as he taught us how to pray:
“Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.
“Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.
“Give us this day our daily bread.
“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.
“And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil: For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever. Amen.” (Matt. 6:9–13.)
In this prayer Jesus spoke sixty-six words; thirty-eight, more than half of them, are words of veneration. Mark how attentive he was to his Father’s will as he strove to persuade the unbelieving Jews that he was in fact the Son of God. “I do nothing of myself,” he said, “but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. … I do always those things that please him.” (John 8:28, 29.)
Reverence for his Father’s house gave rise to the righteous indignation in which he twice cleansed the temple. “Make not my Father’s house an house of merchandise,” he said “unto them that sold doves,” as he ordered them out of the temple. (John 2:16.)
It is true that when he came to the suffering of Gethsemane, which caused him, as he put it, “to tremble because of pain, and to bleed at every pore, and to suffer both body and spirit—and would that I might not drink the bitter cup, and shrink” (D&C 19:18), he cried out, “Father, if thou be willing, remove this cup from me.” But even in this agony he was more concerned about doing his Father’s will than he was in terminating his suffering, for he concluded, “Nevertheless not my will, but thine, be done.” (Luke 22:42.)
From his first recorded words, “How is it that ye sought me? wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?” (Luke 2:49), to his last recorded words spoken from the cross, “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46), his whole life was a demonstration of unbroken reverence to his Father.
Walking in the footsteps of the Master, mature, faithful Latter-day Saints have no difficulty being reverent. Through a lifelong struggle to understand the gospel and live it, they become so trained and conditioned by the Holy Spirit that intuitively they respond reverently to every situation.
It is said of President Wilford Woodruff that while the sacrament was being passed, his lips could be observed in silent motion as he repeated to himself over and over again, “I do remember thee, I do remember thee.”
Some time ago, a custodian of a recently dedicated meetinghouse was proudly showing me through it. When we came to the rest room, I commented on its cleanliness. Whereupon, he told me that on the day of dedication he had come to the rest room and found the floor littered with paper towels. As he stood surveying the situation, the President of the Church entered and immediately began to pick up the towels. “Imagine my embarrassment,” he said; then he added, “It will never be disorderly again.”
The acquisition of the type of reverence demonstrated by Jesus and the President of the Church is, of course, the goal toward which each of us should unceasingly strive.
Children are not born with the concepts which produce reverence, nor can these concepts be matured in them suddenly. Some exceptional children will in maturity, by the exercise of their own free agency, develop reverence regardless of their training. But by and large, children in their early years and most of them in later years will be just about as reverent as they are trained to be, and no more. Wittingly or unwittingly they will be trained either to be reverent or irreverent. If in their early years they are what we term irreverent, the fault is not theirs, it lies rather in their training. The irreverence of the younger generation is always chargeable directly to their elders. Of course, it is trite to say that the responsibility for the training of reverence rests with the home, the school, and the church, but this self-evident truth needs to be repeated until parents, and teachers in school and church, awaken and arise to meet this, their primary responsibility. Neither parents nor teachers can neglect it with impunity.
The ultimate goal is, of course, to develop in each individual the sincerity, the concepts, faith, and testimony, and the self-discipline which will induce him to voluntarily be reverent. But in the beginning children have to be specifically taught habits of cleanliness, courtesy, consideration, and respect for one another and for sacred places. Proper habits and behavior with respect to these matters constitute the foundation upon which true reverence may be built as understanding develops.
Home training or lack of it is strikingly apparent in the conduct of children. In some homes when the children are called to breakfast, from the youngest to the eldest, they come with their faces washed, their hair combed, ready for prayer. When after prayer they take their seats at the table for breakfast, they respectfully wait for the blessing to be asked.
Some time ago a mother with five very young children came to the stake office where her husband, their father, was to be set apart as a high councilor. Each child quietly climbed into a chair, folded his arms, and closed his eyes. These children could not have been more reverent had they been in the presence of the Savior.
Let us sincerely strive to be reverent. Reverence is a sign of spiritual maturity, strength, and nobility.