Archive for the ‘Virtues’ Category

31st Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 31, 2010

“Before the Lord, the whole universe is as a grain . . . or a drop of morning dew.”  When was the last time you even noticed one drop of dew, or a single grain?  Those things are so small that we rarely even notice them.  When Scripture says that our whole universe is like a single grain before God, it is actually being generous: because next to God, creation is nothing at all.  The universe, our planet, each and every one of us does not need to exist.  We exist because God created us and He continues to will our existence at each and every moment.  Saint Paul tells us that in God we live and move and have our being.  If God stopped thinking about you, you wouldn’t just die, you would cease to exist.

Yet we do exist.  God created us, and He holds us in existence.  Why?  God created everything out of love.  God is love and love is fruitful.  God created us out of love and He loves His creation; He loves each and every one of us.  It can be hard to grasp the fact that Almighty God, before Whom all the universe is as nothing, could care about you and me.  If the whole universe is as a single grain, how much smaller and insignificant is our whole planet?  Much less an individual human being.  Yet we are made in God’s image and likeness.  God created us to know Him and to love Him.  His greatest desire for each one of us is that we spend all eternity with Him: perfectly united to Him in love.  If we are ever tempted to doubt God’s infinite love for us, all that we have to do is look at a Crucifix: the Crucifix assures us of God’s infinite love for us.  So much does He love each and every one of us that He sent His own Son to die in order to save us from sin and death.

God desires our love; He thirsts that we would thirst for Him.  Jesus shed every single drop of His Most Precious Blood upon the Cross out for love of us, and His desire is that we respond to His love.  Yet God does not coerce us to love Him.  Love cannot be forced.  God never takes our free will away from us: He allows us to choose between Him and sin: between life and death.  Even when we use our free will to sin and turn our backs on God, He does not withdraw His gift of life from us: instead, He patiently calls us to repentance.  As soon as we turn away from our sin and ask Him for forgiveness, God willingly pours His mercy out upon us; and Jesus tells us that there is rejoicing in Heaven over one sinner who turns away from sin.

Today’s Gospel is a great example of the way that God calls each one of us.  Zacchaeus was the chief tax collector, and the Gospel tells us that he was a wealthy man.  Many tax collectors in that day were wealthy because they used their position of authority to extort money from the people: that is why “tax collector” in the Gospel is synonymous with “public sinner.”  It was well known that the tax collectors took over and above what they supposed to and thus became wealthy.

Zacchaeus was wealthy, yet his wealth did not satisfy him.  Riches can never satisfy our hearts: we were made for more than this world can offer; we were made for God.  Zacchaeus wanted to see Jesus.  He had probably heard the stories about Jesus healing people.  Perhaps he had heard of how Jesus claimed to forgive people their sins.  We do not know what Zacchaeus knew about Jesus, but whatever it was, it was enough to strongly draw him to want to see Our Lord; he wanted to see Jesus so much that he ran ahead and climbed a tree, we are told.  Those facts don’t particularly strike us today, but to those who lived in Jesus’ day, those two facts would have been significant.  People didn’t run, in Jesus’ day: especially not wealthy people.  It was undignified.  They had long robes and in order to run they would have to pull their garments up.  A rich man running through the crowded street would have certainly caught people’s attention.  Then, Zacchaeus climbed a tree.  If running wasn’t undignified enough, here was this wealthy tax collector scurrying up a sycamore tree.  Surely people would be talking about that for days to come!

Yet Zacchaeus forgot himself and his own dignity entirely, he humbled himself and ran and climbed in order to just catch a glimpse of Our Lord.  There must have been a very strong draw on his heart, indeed, in order for him to cast aside his dignity just for a glimpse of Jesus.  What did he expect to see?  When He saw Zaccheaus, Jesus must have noticed the man’s humility and faith; and Jesus gave Zacchaeus more than he had hoped for; Zacchaeus was hoping for a quick look at Jesus; not only did he see Jesus, Jesus spoke to Him and went to eat at his house.

Just as Our Lord called Zacchaeus to Himself, so too He calls each one of us.  He calls us to draw ever closer to Him.  He calls us to set aside pride and sin and humble ourselves.  What if Our Lord appeared and said to you that today He was going to come to your house and eat with you?  First of all, many would probably run home and start cleaning like never before.  How much care would you put into cleaning and preparing the meal?  Wouldn’t you serve Our Lord the very best that you could possibly offer?  The reality is that Our Lord is coming to visit you today: He will come to your soul in Holy Communion.  Do we spend as much effort preparing our hearts to receive Him as we would our homes?  Are our hearts swept clean of sin: are they prepared to receive the King of kings and Lord of lords?  God is love and He loves you, personally, with all that He IS.  Jesus gives Himself to you completely in Holy Communion: He gives you His Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity.  He asks that we respond by giving Him all of our heart.  Let us pray that we may have hearts that are ready and willing to respond to Him:

Lord Jesus Christ, draw us ever closer to Yourself.  Lord, help us to be aware of the great love that you have for each and every one of us, and may we respond to Your love by seeking You above all else.  Help us, Lord, to love You and to do all that we do for love of You.  Amen.

 

30th Sunday of Ordinary Time

October 24, 2010

“Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  In order to live out the words of Our Lord from today’s Gospel, two things are necessary: a proper understanding of what it means to be humble, and a true knowledge of ourselves.

True humility is not about putting ourselves down, or imagining that we do not have anything good to offer.  In order to be truly humble, we have to acknowledge truth: we have to be connected with reality.  Our fallen human nature is inclined towards sin and sin is always an excess in one direction or another.  Virtue is not simply just the opposite of one sin or vice, it is usually the middle between two vices.  For example, courage is not merely the opposite of cowardice.  On the opposite end of the spectrum from cowardice is rashness, or foolish lack of regard for danger.  To be truly courageous, one has to avoid both the temptation to cowardice and the temptation to be rash.  Someone who is truly courageous doesn’t rush blindly into danger, but the courageous person also doesn’t shrink from the danger.

The same is true of being humble: humility is the middle between two opposite vices.  To be truly humble, we have to avoid the temptation on the one hand that we have to inordinately exult ourselves above everyone else and even above God; on the other side, we also have to resist the temptation to unduly regard ourselves as completely unable of doing anything good and fall into the temptation of despair and discouragement.  True humility helps us to see our own dignity as sons and daughters of God.  True humility also helps us to see that we are all sinners who stand in need of God’s mercy.

Humility helps us to proper order our lives.  It helps us to love God above all things and others as ourselves.  True humility is not about saying that there is no good in us; true humility recognizes that the good that is in us comes, not from us, but from the hand of God as a gift.  True humility enables us to see our brothers and sisters as sons and daughters of God and helps us to remember that we are all equal before God.  Humility helps me to remember that the gifts and talents I have, I have received.

If I am good at math or sports or playing a musical instrument I should recognize that God gave me my mind, my body and my talents.  Even if I have spent a lot of time practicing to become good at something, God gave me the motivation and the work ethic to put in those hours of practice.  God gives each of us different gifts and talents and we are to thank Him for those gifts and talents and use them for His greater glory and honor.  All that we have, we have received as a gift.  It is good to give thanks for the many gifts and blessings in our lives and it is good to return thanks to God by offering back to Him all that He has given to us.

The first part of being humble, then, is about understanding and acknowledging God as the source of all good things, the source of all life, and praising and thanking Him for it.  The second part of being humble is to also have a true knowledge of our selves.  This is where the Pharisee that we heard about in the Gospel today fell short.  He looked at himself as if he was not a sinner.  The reality is that we are all sinners; Scripture says that even the just man falls seven times a day.  In other words, every single one of us is a sinner and falls short of the glory of God.  God calls us to love Him with all of our hearts and with all of our minds and with all of our strength.  If we are honest, we have to admit that we fail to do that each and every day.  Our fallen human nature is weak.  We have to constantly work at being virtuous; we have to exert effort to grow in our spiritual lives.

Part of being humble is remembering that we all stand in need of God’s mercy.  You and I are not self-sufficient: we rely upon God.  God gives us all the good things that we have, and He gives us His mercy when we fail to live the way that we know we are supposed to live.  If we are aware of our own sins, we ought to be slow to judge or condemn others as the Pharisee did.  Being truly humble reminds me that I am a sinner, and I stand just as much in need of God’s mercy as others do.  When tempted to judge others, or look down on others, we ought to recall to our minds the fact that we, too, fall short of the glory of God.  To exalt ourselves over others is to deny the fact that we are sinners and all that we have that is good comes from God.

Humility reminds us of our need for God’s mercy, and at the same time it reminds us that we are redeemed and blessed in many ways.  We should seek God’s mercy whenever we fall into sin and we should remember to thank Him often for the many gifts that He bestows upon us.  True humility connects us with the reality of who we are.  It is often said that we are nothing more than what we are before God; the opposite is also true: we are no less than what we are before God.  Let us be truly humble, then, and thank God for all that He has given to us and all that He has done for us; and let us acknowledge our complete dependence upon Him.

 

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

August 30, 2010

“Every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”  These words of Our Lord echo the words of the first reading this morning: “Conduct your affairs with humility . . . Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”  These words are not easy to modern ears, because we tend to have a distorted sense of what it really means to be humble.

Humility is sometimes confused with lack of self-esteem.  Some people have the idea that in order to be humble, I have to become a doormat for everyone else to walk on.  These are, of course, false notions of humility.  True humility is not about despising ourselves, or putting ourselves down, or walking around dejected all the time.  True humility connects us with the truth: the truth about who we are in relationship to God and in relationship to others.

Humility is opposed to pride, but it is also opposed to immoderate self-abjection, which fails to recognize God’s gifts.  God has given each one of us gifts which we are to use according to His will.  To deny the gifts that He has given to us is to deny the One Who gave those gifts to us.

In order to truly be humble, I have to acknowledge my gifts and good qualities and talents and I have to acknowledge that they come from God.  Saint Therese, the Little Flower, has a great analogy for humility.  She said that in order for a beautiful flower to be humble, it would not call itself ugly and claim to have a broken stem.  The flower would acknowledge its own beauty and glorify God for making it beautiful.

The Catechism tells us that humility is a virtue by which a Christian acknowledges that God is the Author of all good.  (cf. CCC – glossary)  Humility keeps us from reaching beyond ourselves.  It keeps us from putting ourselves in the place of God and claiming that we, ourselves, are responsible for all that we have that is good.  All that we have and all that we are that is good is a gift from God.  Humility is not about learning to dislike ourselves, it is learning to love all the good things about ourselves that God has created and hate the sin that distorts the image of God which we bear by our very nature.

Humility restrains the unruly desire for personal greatness and it leads us to love ourselves based on a true appreciation of our position with respect to God and our neighbors.  Humility makes us recognize that we are totally dependent upon God and it makes us recognize our equality with others.  God created us.  God gave us the gifts and talents that we have.  God gives us each breath as a gift.  Humility helps us to remember that fact.

Humility also reminds us of our place in respect to others.  Every single human being is a made in the image and likeness of God.  Humility reminds us that we are all equal before God.  God has created every human being in His image and likeness.  He desires that every person be with Him for all eternity in Heaven.  Think of the person that you like the least.  God loves that person and wants you and that person to be in Heaven for all eternity together.

Humility also reminds us that each and every single person is a sinner who stands in need of God’s mercy.  True humility keeps us from exalting ourselves over others, and also keeps us from judging others.  I am just as much in need of God’s mercy as my neighbor is.  That is why Our Lord tells us to take the plank out of our own eye before attempting to remove the speck from our neighbor’s eye.

The Catechism also tells us that humility is the foundation of prayer.  (cf. CCC 2559)  In order for us to approach God, we have to turn to Him and acknowledge our dependence upon Him.  Some people treat God as if He were a genie, there only to grant wishes; others treat God as if He were a last resort to be consulted on in case of emergency.  Humility reminds us that God is the Creator and we are the creatures.  The reality that humility connects us to is that we are not in ultimate control.  God is in control and we rely completely upon Him every minute of every day.  He is our loving Father.  His Providence guides us at every moment.  God loves each one of you more than you can ever imagine and He loves you more than you love yourself.  Remembering that He is in control actually lightens our burdens, if we surrender ourselves into His loving hands.

A great model of humility for us is Our Blessed Mother.  She is the Queen of Heaven, she is the Queen of the Angels; she was chosen to be the Mother of God the Son.  Her exalted position never caused her to fall into pride.  At the visitation, Saint Elizabeth asked how it was possible that the Mother of the Lord could come to her.  Mary, did not deny her lofty status: she merely acknowledged where her greatness came from: “the Almighty has done great things for me and holy is His name.”  Let us all imitate our Mother Mary, and praise God in true humility for it is from Him that all good things come.  Our Lady of Good Counsel, pray for us!