The Pedagogy of Humility

Lectio Divina: 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

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Religious rule not etiquette    

The liturgy of the Roman Rite in the first reading taken from the book of Sirach presents a paternal recommendation: we should make ours an attitude of attention and docility, a disciples’ attitude in front of the One that speaks to us like a father. We not only will recognize in him a wise man, but also will trust his advice given with paternal concern. Clemency makes man loved (v. 17), humility opens him to  the gifts from God(v.18) and puts him in front of God and of His power( v.20) because it allocates him to his designated place and makes of him a witness of God and of His grace.    

Reading Luke’s Gospel we can notice that it describes an event that has happened to Jesus. When he arrives at the house of one of the leaders of the Pharisees following his invitation, the Messiah notices that the guests are fighting to get the best seat at the table. They are sure of deserving the place of honor. The Redeemer than tells a parable not to remind people of the simple etiquette but to offer a religious rule on how to behave with God and consequently with men.    

To give this religious teaching the Redeemer says: “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say ‘ Give your place to this man’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table.  For every one who exalts himself, he will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”(Lk 14:7-14)     In the New Testament there are two passages that can explain this parable:

The first one is the letter of Saint Paul to the Philippians 2,3-11 where the most important sentence is the invitation to  Have among yourselves the same attitude that is also yours in Christ Jesus, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this God greatly exalted him”. The truth of Jesus’ words on humility is in the fact that He himself lived these words in his own person in support of his mission and preaching. To leave the first place to occupy the last is the true meaning of His incarnation.

    The second reading is the Magnificat (Lk 1:46-55): “God has looked upon his handmaid’s lowliness…” the two words (lowliness and handmaid) clearly show that the unique mission given to Mary has its origin in her lowliness lived with simplicity and joy, open to God’s will.

2)     At the school of humility

    Let’s look at Mary to learn from this humble Mother to follow her Son, to identify with Christ Jesus (who from his condition of God’s Son has lowered himself (and has humbled him to the point of taking the human condition) to be able with Him and in Him to reach the glory of the resurrection.

    In Mary, but we can say the same for every Christian, humility doesn’t concern one’s self-worth, but the relationship with God, who looks upon his beloved servant whose love is humble because she puts herself at the service of the Love and agrees to belong to him by giving Him life.

    The humility taught and practiced by the Mother of God is the focal point where God looks where He can establish a profound relationship and call the humble[1]friend”. The friend is not an acquaintance, an accomplice. He is the humble man loyal to the Father’s Word. Let’s follow Mary to identify ourselves with her who as a humble servant has accepted to house His Word, to keep it in her heart and in her body and to offer it to the entire humanity.

     If Mary would not have been humble, “little’”, she would not have been able to welcome the “greatness “of God. The little one that she carried in her womb is the big thing that we now and forever can and must welcome as the greatest good that we can freely share.

     Let’s go to Communion daily (or at least more often) with a pure and humble heart, totally free and willing to welcome the living God, to conceive and give Him life through our fragile flesh redeemed by Him.

3)     Gratuity without borders

     After the words told to the guests, Jesus speaks also to the owner of the house,

 “When you hold a lunch or dinner, do not invite your friends or your wealthy neighbors, rather invite the poor.” Why do we invite always our friends and relatives? In doing so we are always inside a self-absorbed love, inside a closed understanding of life. We invite each other; today I invite you, and tomorrow you invite me. The poor are always left out, excluded. The Gospel on the contrary requires a fraternity with two well-defined characteristics: gratuity and universality. We must give also to the ones from whom we can expect nothing. Jesus is thinking of his future community. He dreams of it as a place of hospitality for everybody. It is not a new teaching. Jesus has done that already on the sermon on the mountain (Lk 6: 32-34): if you love only the ones that love you, what is your merit? Even the sinners love the ones that love them. There is the beatitude for the one who is poor (“blessed are you because yours is the Kingdom of God”) and there is the beatitude for the one who transforms his assets in an occasion of hospitality. However it must be hospitality also for the excluded. (“You will be blessed because they cannot give you anything back”).

    This kind of hospitality is possible only if we welcome the other as Mary has welcomed the Other with a faith and a love so big that her eyes and her heart opened to the God’s Charity and “the Word became flesh and lived among us”

      Christian life is not above all prayer and meditation, but to welcome and live the presence of Christ that loves us with infinite love.

     If we live the reality of this mystery of charity we live in Paradise. The consecrated persons live already in Paradise. In fact Catholic theology has always considered religious life as an anticipation of heaven’s life.

    It is said that the nuns that do a contemplative life live in seclusion. It is not true because a nun who lives entirely for God lives the purest freedom of a soul that stretches itself in the divine immensity.

    Also for the ones who belong to the Ordo Virginum, the place is the immensity of God. They are not confined in the house or in their places of work. Secluded are the ones who are nomads, errant in the world and live only their little life in the little world that is a tiny speck in the Universe. Their soul breathes the Infinite. They live in God and God is the infinite; they live in Christ and Christ is the Love. “God is the God of human heart” (Saint Francis of Sales[2], Treatise on the Love of God” I, XV).

[1] From the Latin word humus which means earth. To be humble is to recognize that we are earth loved by God.

[2] “Dieu est le Dieu du Coeur humain”: in these words at first glance simple we can feel the spirituality of a great teacher, saint Francis of Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He was born in 1567 and died in 1622 in a region of France, lived between the XVth and the XVIth century and summarized in him the best of the teaching and of the cultural achievements of the ending century  reconciling the inheritance of the humanism with the push towards the absolute
typical of the mysticism. Among his books I’d like to point out Introduction to the Devout Life that is one of the most read books of modern times.


Roman Rite

XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- September 1, 2013

Sir 3: 19-21. 30-31; Ps 68; Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24A; Lk 14:1, 7-24  

Ambrosian Rite First Sunday after Saint John’s Martyrdom Is 30: 8-15b; Ps 50; Rm 5:1-11; Mt 4:12-17   1)    

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Archbishop Francesco Follo

Monsignor Francesco Follo è osservatore permanente della Santa Sede presso l'UNESCO a Parigi.

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