(September 1, 2019 Twenty-second Sunday in Ordinary Time)
Fr. Matt’s Corner: . . . but the one who humbles himself . . .
Greetings to you, my dear friends in Christ. St. Bernard was once asked what the three most important virtues are in the spiritual life. He famously responded: “Humility, humility, and humility.”
Humility is so important for us because it grounds us in reality (literally). The word humility comes from the word humus, which means dirt – and dirt that is good for growing things. Thus, the one who humbles himself will be exalted while every one who exalts himself will be humbled. Humility means recognizing that God is God, and I am not – that I am a creature whom God has created, and that my worth and dignity comes from Him (not from me). This means, by the way, that your worth and your dignity are infinite – because God is infinite. Satan attempted to exalt himself saying: “I will not serve”, and so he was thrust down (humbled) into hell. One of the Devil’s favorite ploys, then, is to convince you and I to exalt ourselves as well.
But God’s way (as evidenced by Jesus Himself) is to humble Himself, for Christ, though He was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God something to be grasped. Rather, He emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, He humbled Himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Have you ever felt humiliated or abandoned or rejected or neglected by someone you loved? Have you ever wondered to yourself whether God really exists?
If so, then you know what it is like to be blessed by God – to be a saint. A saint is someone who has been seized by the Great Lover, someone who has caught a glimpse of God and His goodness, His beauty, His truth. As St. Augustine put it: “You breathed Your fragrance on me; I drew in breath and now I pant for You. I have tasted You, now I hunger and thirst for more. You touched me, and I burned for Your peace.”
Our faith is founded on a promise – a promise based on history, based on experience. We can feel the love of God surrounding us, the peace of God washing over us, the beauty of God drawing us, the truth of God speaking to us. These are wonderful experiences; the trouble is that they are few and far between in the spiritual life. So then, most of life consists in panting for God, hungering and thirsting for more, and burning for His peace. That’s what St. Augustine wrote of in his Confessions; that’s what St. John of the Cross wrote about in his “Dark Night of the Soul”; that’s what St. Therese experienced on her deathbed; and that’s what Mother Theresa experienced in her years of darkness.
The saint’s life is full of the doubts, troubles, and pains of ordinary life. The saint’s life is all about recalling His blessings in the midst of our woes – it’s about hoping beyond hope that God will fulfill the promises He has made. A saint is one who has been invited to a wedding banquet and who invites the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind … because of their inability to repay. A saint is one who takes the lowest place – knowing beyond knowledge that when the host comes … he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’
As we prepare to embark on a new year of religious education, our focus once again is to allow God to make us into saints, and to participate in God’s work of making saints of everyone – young and old alike. That’s why every one of us – including you – has a place and a role in what we are doing. May we all be saints.
Peace to all of you, my friends, this Holy Day, and to all who love the Lord in simplicity of heart,