'Little Ones' Are Not the Simple-Minded; They Are the Humble-Wise

Lectio Divina: 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year A

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Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year A – July 6, 2014

Roman Rite
Zec 9:9-10; Rm 8,9.11-13; Mt 11,25-30

Ambrosian Rite
Fourth Sunday after Pentecost
Gen 6.1 to 22 ; Ps 13; Gal 5:16-25; Lk 17,26-30.33

1) The gentle and humble[1] of heart.
           After the journey of Lent and the Passion (the Way of the Cross) and Easter (the Way of Light), after the Solemnity of the Holy Trinity (Communion of Love and Light) and of the Body of Christ (the gift of His life for us), the Liturgy takes us back to “ordinary time.” The Liturgy offers us the Word of God so as to continue the journey began in January, inviting us to follow Jesus and to listen to what he has to say in today’s life.
     Christ’s words in today’s readings are truly comforting: “Come to me, tired and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls “(Mt 11, 29-30). To the humility of the incarnate Son of God we must respond with the humility of our faith. It is the humility to recognize that to live we need the merciful goodness of a God, who forgives every day. We become like Christ, the only One perfect to the greatest extent, possible, when we, imitating Him who is meek ​​and humble in heart, become like Him people of mercy.
     We must not, then, forget the words of the prophet Zechariah, ”Thus says the LORD:
Rejoice heartily, O daughter Zion, shout for joy, O daughter Jerusalem! See, your king shall come to you; a just savior is he, meek, and riding on an ass, on a colt, the foal of an ass. He shall banish the chariot from Ephraim, and the horse from Jerusalem; the warrior’s bow shall be banished, and he shall proclaim peace to the nations. His dominion shall be from sea to sea, and from the river to the ends of the earth.
(Zec 9:9-10 – first reading of today’s Mass). These are words that frame those of Jesus in today’s reading as well as those of the beatitude when He says, Blessed are the meek for they shall inherit the earth” (Mt 5:5). If we keep this beatitude joined to the invitation: Learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart” (Mt 11, 29), we infer that the beatitudes are not only a good ethics program that the master designs for his followers, but are also the self-portrait of Jesus.  He is the true poor, the meek, the pure of heart and the persecuted for justice. He is the real king of peace that restores his subjects and protects them with the scepter of the Cross, scepter of powerful gentleness.
     In fact, the higher test of the kingly meekness of Christ is his passion. No wrath, no threat: “Outraged did not revile, and suffering did not threaten” (1 Peter 2: 23). This side of the person of Christ was so stamped in the memory of his disciples that Paul, wanting to beg the Corinthians for something dear and sacred, writes to them: “I beseech you for the kindness and gentleness of Christ” (2 Cor 10 , 1). But Jesus did much more than give us an example of heroic meekness and patience.  He made meekness the sign of true greatness. This will no longer mean to raise oneself lonely above the crowd, but to serve and uplift others. On the Cross, Saint Augustine says, he reveals that the real victory does not consist in making victims, but in being a victim, ” Winner because victim (Victor quia victima)”</em> (Confessions, 10, 43).

2) Humble of heart.
     In a world where everyone says that we should always come forward, the Gospel invites us to step back. “Learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and here you will find rest for your souls” (Mt 11, 29). Gentle and humble” are two terms that Jesus applies to himself. And rightly so, because they indicate his attitude toward God and toward men, an attitude of confidence, obedience, and docility toward God and an attitude of welcoming, patience, discretion, availability, forgiveness and even service toward men. Even the addition “of heart” is not without importance: it indicates that the availability of Jesus – to the Father and to the brothers and sisters – is rooted deeply in his heart and involves his entire Being.
     It’s true that for man humility, as well as poverty, seems a condition for having a relationship with God, moreover it is the essential condition to live it. But, as St. Francis of Assisi had sensed, it is equally true that humility is a characteristic of God.
     When a human being kneels before God, the Lord of heaven, that is not humility, it’s just realism. When God bends over the sick and the sinner, when he bows down to wash the feet of man, this is divine humility. By becoming incarnate, the Son of God does not deny his infinite dignity but manifests it in a sublime way, delicate and full of love. God bows down to give himself totally to man and to save him. He becomes “nothing” so that man can be everything.
     This did not happen only once, more than two thousand years ago. It takes place every time he makes himself present in the Mass under the species of bread and wine to donate himself, to be eaten. Mass finds its completion in the Eucharistic Communion in which He totally gives himself so to disappear for each of us and for all of us.
     God is humility because He is love, teaches St. Francis of Assisi, who knew God in a sublime way because he had experience of Him and because in the Church he meditated the Holy Scriptures. In fact, already in the Old Testament God says that “He (God) delights himself in being with the children of men.” Let’s think of the joy of the Father in being in the heart of Jesus. Let’s also think of the joy of Jesus for the fact that God has been pleased to conceal his greatness to the big ones so as to reveal it to the little and the forgotten ones, to the point of becoming guarantor of our poor fragile human life and suffer its fate. St. Paul refers to this mystery when he says: Who, 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…Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name*that is above every name” (Phil. 2, 6-9). Here is the humility of God: his Condescension in what is nothing before him and that is made possible only because he is the Almighty. Here is the humility of Jesus Christ: “Even he, the Son of God, is lowered to receive the love of the Father” (Pope Francis, homily of June 27, 2014).
     In short, the Christian love, the love that the life of Jesus brings and that, according to St. John, is God himself, rests on humility.

3) Humility, foundation of spiritual life.
     Let’s finish by mentioning the fact that humility is the foundation of spiritual life in particular for the consecrated Virgins.
     Spiritual life always involves the feeling of being nothing in front of God, a nothing that does not exclude the fact that the creature exists. It excludes, however, every feeling of opposition, every feeling of otherness, every feeling that gives a man the consciousness of being something independent from Him and not in Him and for Him. The creature for all that she is, is from God and in God.
      Therefore with the recognition of God as the Lord, a certain annihilation of our inner self is implied. In the infinite light of God, man disappears like the sun that as soon as it is high above the horizon, eclipses th
e stars.
     God reveals himself to us through creation, but his most perfect revelation is Jesus Christ. And Christ for Saint Francis of Assisi is humility. He cannot recover from the astonishment caused by his contemplation of the Christian mystery as a mystery of supreme humility: the humility of Christ in His birth, in His Passion and in the Eucharist.
     The consecrated Virgins together with the Virgin Mary, model of discipleship and consecration, grow with special affection and devotion the humble filial confidence, the intercessory prayer and the contemplation of the mysteries of her Son Jesus. They testify in the Church that the fidelity of the Christian has his role in the faithfulness of God, who manifests the humility of his heart. Jesus didn’t come to conquer men as the kings and the powerful of this world, but came to offer love with meekness and humility.
     These women let themselves to be enveloped by the humble faithfulness and gentleness of Christ, the revelation of the Father’s mercy. Their vocation is to serve God in the world with humble courage and with all the strength of their heart.

                                                             Spiritual reading
                                                           St. Francis of Assisi
                                     Letter to the General Chapter and to all the Friars

In lieu of the patristic reading  this time I’m  proposing one of the most beautiful texts of the Franciscan writings;

“Consider your dignity, brothers, priests, and be holy because He Himself is holy. And as    the Lord God has honored you above all through this mystery, even so do you also love and reverence and honor Him above all. It is a great misery and a deplorable weakness when you have Him thus present to care for anything else in the whole world. Let the entire man be seized with fear; let the whole world tremble; let heaven exult when Christ, the Son of the Living God, is on the altar in the hands of the priest. O admirable height and stupendous condescension!

O humble sublimity! O sublime humility! That the Lord of the universe, God and the Son of God, so humbles Himself that for our salvation He hides Himself under a morsel of bread. Consider, brothers, the humility of God and “pour out your hearts before Him, and be ye humbled that ye may be exalted by Him.  Do not therefore keep back anything for yourselves that He may receive you entirely who gives Himself up entirely to you.”

[1] To find out who are the gentle and humble that Jesus called blessed, it is useful to briefly review the various terms with which the word humble (praeis) is rendered in modern translations. The Italian has two terms mite and mansueto. The latter is also the term used in the Spanish translations, los mansos, the meek. In French the word is translated as doux, those who possess the virtue of gentleness. (There is not a specific term in French to say meekness, in the “Dictionnaire de spiritualité” this virtue is under the word douceur, sweetness).
In German there are different translations. Luther translated the term as Sanftmuetigen, mild and meek. In the ecumenical translation of the Bible, Bibel Einheits, the meek are those who do not act violently – die keine Gewalt anwenden– therefore the non-violent. Some authors emphasize the objective and sociological dimension and translate praeis with Machtlosen, the helpless, the powerless. The English usually translate praeis with gentle, introducing the gradient of kindness and courtesy.
Each of these translations highlights a true but partial component of the beatitude. We must keep them together and not isolate any to get an idea of the richness of the original term of the Gospel. Two constant associations in the Bible and in ancient Christian exhortation, help to grasp the “full meaning” of gentleness, one links gentleness to humility, the other gentleness to patience. The first association highlights the interior dispositions from which gentleness flows, the other the attitudes that we must have towards others: gentleness and kindness. These are the same traits that the Apostle emphasizes speaking of charity: “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury  (1 Cor 13: 4-5)T

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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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