XXII Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C- September 1, 2019
Sir 3: 19-21. 30-31; Ps 68; Heb 12: 18-19, 22-24A; Lk 14:1, 7-24
Look like Christ, meek and humble of heart.
First Sunday after Saint John the Precursor’s Martyrdom
Is 30: 8-15b; Ps 50; Rm 5:1-11; Mt 4:12-17
Repentance is a first step towards a likeness to Christ
1) Humility: road to true greatness.
Pope Francis’ s sentence “To be great we must first of all be able to be little and humble, because humility is the basis of every true greatness” helps us to understand the liturgy of the Word of this Sunday that ,in the first reading taken from the book of Sirach, gives us a paternal recommendation: assume an attitude of attention and docility, the attitude of disciple in front of the one who speaks to us like a father.
Not only we will recognize the man rich in experience, but we will have confidence in his advice dictated by paternal solicitude. Meekness leads to being loved (v. 17). Humility opens man to the gifts of God (v. 18) and places him before God, before the greatness of His power (v. 20) because it assigns him to his proper place and makes him a witness of God and of His grace. In short, the book of Sirach exposes the advantages of humility and meekness over the intellectual presumption and the ignorance of the superb.
“Do your works with meekness”, that is, be aware of your limit with sincerity, do not seek a luxurious standard of living or honors and social privileges. Meekness makes man lovable in the eyes of God more than a very generous person. Those who are not proud, presumptuous, ambitious or arrogant towards their brother are humble. “The greater you are, the humbler you must become.”
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. Every one of them is sure to deserve 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 everyone 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. Leaving 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 looked1 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 and open to God’s will.
Let’s ask Our Lady to make us better understand that the best place in life is not the first but the last, where we descend to serve, where there is Christ, and where we can experience the gratuitous love of Christ. May the Virgin Mary, humble servant of the Lord, help us to be humble and to abandon ourselves with total trust to Christ and to the Church. The great danger, the great enemy is always pride, and Jesus insists on the virtue of humility because before the infinite one can only be humble. Humility is truth and is also a sign of intelligence and a source of serenity.
2) At the school of humility
Let’s look to Mary to learn from this humble Mother how to follow her Son, to identify with Christ Jesus (who from his condition of God’s Son has lowered and humbled himself 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 self-esteem, 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 Love by giving Him life.
The humility2 taught and practiced by the Mother of God is the focal point to which God looks and where He can establish a profound relationship and call the humble “friend”. 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 him in her heart and in her body and to offer him to the entire humanity.
If Mary would not have been humble and “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 take 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. Christ is the event where the covenant willed by God with each of us is fulfilled. God with man, God in man and through man becomes a concrete “character” of human history and redeems it.
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 only 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 beatitude for the those who are poor (“blessed are you because yours is the Kingdom of God”) and there is the beatitude for those who transform their 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 already 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. This 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.
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. The soul of the consecrated virgins breathes the Infinite. They live in God and God is infinite; they live in Christ and Christ is the infinite Love made flesh. “God is the God of the human heart” (Saint Francis of Sales3, Treatise on the Love of God” I, XV).
Treatise on the Love of God
Saint Francis of Sales
Bishop and Doctor of the church
Part III, Chapter 5
To you, however, my child, I would teach a deeper humility, for that of which I have been speaking is almost more truly to be called worldly wisdom than humility. There are some persons who dare not or will not think about the graces with which God has endowed them, fearing lest they should become self-complacent and vain-glorious; but they are quite wrong. For if, as the Angelic Doctor says, the real way of attaining to the Love of God is by a careful consideration of all His benefits given to us, then the better we realise these the more we shall love Him; and inasmuch as individual gifts are more acceptable than general gifts, so they ought to be more specially dwelt upon. Of a truth, nothing so tends to humble us before the Mercy of God as the multitude of His gifts to us; just as nothing so tends to humble us before His Justice as the multitude of our misdeeds. Let us consider what He has done for us, and what we have done contrary to His Will, and as we review our sins in detail, so let us review His Grace in the same. There is no fear that perception of what He has given you will puff you up, so long as you keep steadily in mind that whatever is good in you is not of yourself. Do mules cease to be clumsy, stinking beasts because they are used to carry the dainty treasures and perfumes of a prince? “What hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?”On the contrary, a lively appreciation of the grace given to you should make you humble, for appreciation begets gratitude. But if, when realizing the gifts God has given you, any vanity should beset you, the infallible remedy is to turn to the thought of all our ingratitude, imperfection, and weakness. Anyone who will calmly consider what he has done without God, cannot fail to realize that what he does with God is no merit of his own; and so we may rejoice in that which is good in us, and take pleasure in the fact, but we shall give all the glory to God Alone, Who Alone is its Author.
It was in this spirit that the Blessed Virgin confessed that God had done “great things” to her; only that she might humble herself and exalt Him. “My soul doth magnify the Lord,” she said, by reason of the gifts He had given her.
We are very apt to speak of ourselves as nought, as weakness itself, as the offscouring of the earth; but we should be very much vexed to be taken at our word and generally considered what we call ourselves. On the contrary, we often make-believe to run away and hide ourselves, merely to be followed and sought out; we pretend to take the lowest place, with the full intention of being honourably called to come up higher. But true humility does not affect to be humble, and is not given to make a display in lowly words. It seeks not only to conceal other virtues, but above all it seeks and desires to conceal itself; and if it were lawful to tell lies, or feign or give scandal, humility would perhaps sometimes affect a cloak of pride in order to hide itself utterly. Take my advice, my child, and either use no professions of humility, or else use them with a real mind corresponding to your outward expressions; never cast down your eyes without humbling your heart; and do not pretend to wish to be last and least, unless you really and sincerely mean it. I would make this so general a rule as to have no exception; only courtesy sometimes requires us to put forward those who obviously would not put themselves forward, but this is not deceitful or mock humility; and so with respect to certain expressions of regard which do not seem strictly true, but which are not dishonest, because the speaker really intends to give honour and respect to him to whom they are addressed; and even though the actual words may be somewhat excessive, there is no harm in them if they are the ordinary forms of society, though truly I wish that all our expressions were as nearly as possible regulated by real heart feeling in all truthfulness and simplicity. A really humble man would rather that someone else called him worthless and good-for-nothing, than say so of himself; at all events, if such things are said, he does not contradict them, but acquiesces contentedly, for it is his own opinion. We meet people who tell us that they leave mental prayer to those who are more perfect, not feeling themselves worthy of it; that they dare not communicate frequently, because they do not feel fit to do so; that they fear to bring discredit on religion if they profess it, through their weakness and frailty; while others decline to use their talents in the service of God and their neighbour, because, forsooth, they know their weakness, and are afraid of becoming proud if they do any good thing,–lest while helping others they might destroy themselves. But all this is unreal, and not merely a spurious but a vicious humility, which tacitly and secretly condemns God’s gifts, and makes a pretext of lowliness while really exalting self-love, self-sufficiency, indolence, and evil tempers. “Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the depth or in the height above.” So spake the prophet to King Ahaz; but he answered, “I will not ask, neither will I tempt the Lord.” Unhappy man! he affects to show exceeding reverence to God, and under a pretence of humility refuses to seek the grace offered by the Divine Goodness. Could he not see that when God wills to grant us a favour, it is mere pride to reject it, that God’s gifts must needs be accepted, and that true humility lies in obedience and the most literal compliance with His Will! Well then, God’s Will is that we should be perfect, uniting ourselves to Him, and imitating Him to the utmost of our powers. The proud man who trusts in himself may well undertake nothing, but the humble man is all the braver that he knows his own helplessness, and his courage waxes in proportion to his low opinion of himself, because all his trust is in God, Who delights to show forth His power in our weakness, His Mercy in our misery. The safest course is humbly and piously to venture upon whatever may be considered profitable for us by those who undertake our spiritual guidance.
Nothing can be more foolish than to fancy we know that of which we are really ignorant; to affect knowledge while conscious that we are ignorant is intolerable vanity. For my part, I would rather not put forward that which I really do know, while on the other hand neither would I affect ignorance. When Charity requires it, you should readily and kindly impart to your neighbor not only that which is necessary for his instruction, but also what is profitable for his consolation. The same humility which conceals graces with a view to their preservation is ready to bring them forth at the bidding of Charity, with a view to their increase and perfection; therein reminding me of that tree in the Isles of Tylos,which closes its beautiful carnation blossoms at night, only opening them to the rising sun, so that the natives say they go to sleep. Just so humility hides our earthly virtues and perfections, only expanding them at the call of Charity, which is not an earthly, but a heavenly, not a mere mortal, but a divine virtue; the true sun of all virtues, which should all be ruled by it, so that any humility which controverts charity is unquestionably false.
I would not affect either folly or wisdom; for just as humility deters me from pretending to be wise, so simplicity and straightforwardness deter me from pretending to be foolish; and just as vanity is opposed to humility, so all affectation and pretense are opposed to honesty and simplicity. If certain eminent servants of God have feigned folly in order to be despised by the world, we may marvel, but not imitate them; for they had special and extraordinary reasons for doing extraordinary things, and cannot be used as a rule for such as we are. When David danced more than was customary before the Ark of the Covenant, it was not with the intention of affecting folly, but simply as expressing the unbounded and extraordinary gladness of his heart. Michal his wife reproached him with his actions as folly, but he did not mind being “vile and base in his own sight,” but declared himself willing to be despised for God’s Sake. And so, if you should be despised for acts of genuine devotion, humility will enable you to rejoice in so blessed a contempt, the cause of which does not lie with you.
1The Greek verb used in the Gospel of Luke should be translated literally: “he looked down” on the lowliness of his humble slave, because doùlos in Greek means slave.
2From humus Latin word that means earth. To be humble is to recognize that we are earth dust loved by God.
3God is the God of the human heart “(Treatise of the Love of God, I, XV): in these apparently simple words we grasp the imprint of the spirituality of a great master who was and is St. Francis de Sales, Bishop and Doctor of the Church. He was born in 1567 and died in 1622, in a French border region, lived at the turn of two centuries, the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and brought together the best of the teachings and cultural achievements of the century that ended, reconciling the legacy of the humanism with the push towards the absolute proper of the mystical currents. Among his various writings, I’d like to point out one of the most read books in the modern age, the Introduction to the Devout Life.