Sunday, August 28, 2016

Humility—22nd Sunday for Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

Sirach 3:17–18, 20, 28–29; Hebrews 12:18–19, 22–24; Luke 14: 1, 7–14
            The theme of the Old Testament and Gospel readings this week is humility. It's a subject that many of us would rather not talk about. Fortunately, as the parish staff knows, humility happens to be one of my best qualities. Our youth minister, Alex, assures us that his humility is simply amazing.
            So what is this virtue of humility? I think we hear the word and associate it with humiliation or with being humiliated, and automatically assume humility is something negative. And surely there is something to it. To be humiliated or to be humbled is to be brought low—to be taken down a notch. Humiliation is something that happens to us. Humility, on the other hand, is something we choose. The word itself means lowness or baseness, But perhaps another way to look at humility is in the order of unpretentiousness, and that is how humility is virtuous. To be humble is to see ourselves as we are—to not pretend to be something we are not. In the Magnificat of Luke 2, Blessed Mary says, "My soul magnifies the Lord. My spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He has regarded the low estate of His handmaiden."
               Mary recognizes the unmerited gift she has been given. She has done nothing to deserve God's generosity. In our first reading, from Sirach, the writer exhorts the reader, "Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God."
            Let's paraphrase that. If you are great, you should humble yourself.
            Why? Why diminish yourself? How antithetical to our culture is it to be self-diminishing?
            Part of the reason for that is that we often mistake true humility for groveling. But groveling is false humility. It's making more of your flaws, often so that people will feel compelled to build you up. Sometimes it comes from a true case of insecurity. No wonder people don't want to be around someone like that. It's exhausting! I once worked with a woman who was beautiful, intelligent, and accomplished, yet she constantly apologized for the slightest misunderstanding, even when she had no control over the situation. You just want to shake some sense into those people.
            Naturally, no one likes the opposite end of the spectrum either—someone who is constantly talking about their accomplishments, their skills, and their life extraordinary life experiences. What boorish windbags they can be!
            And I really hate it when I discover that I'm that boorish windbag!
            We're mistaken if we think that true humility is anywhere on the spectrum between either of those extremes. True humility is recognizing one's true state, one's true capability, one's true failings. The English word humility comes to us from the Latin word humilitas, which means lowliness or meekness. It's related to another term—humus. If you garden or study biology, you recognize that word. In Latin it means earth or ground. So if we extrapolate from there, humility really means to be grounded—not grasping for things too sublime, not seeking the positions of prestige—just being the person you are and recognizing both your gifts and your weaknesses.
            Jesus' parable in the gospel reading stresses this point, but He uses a slightly devious tactic. Don't seek for the places of honor, because someone might unseat you, and you'll have to walk back to the lower place at the table while everyone watches. Instead, be content with the low place, and then the host will invite you to take one that is higher, and everyone will see you honored.
            Before we accuse Jesus of being passive aggressive here, let's think about what He's saying. The parable is not really meant to instruct people how to behave at a dinner party. That's just the image He uses. Instead, He is talking about our daily walk. How many of us are concerned with matters of prestige and ambition before all else? Alternatively, how many of us go to the office, or to the clinic, or to the retail store with the idea in mind that we want to serve someone to the best of our abilities? That we want to glorify God in our career? That we want to help someone who cannot help themselves?

            Jesus isn't calling us to be CEOs. He isn't calling us to be executives. He isn't calling us to be movers and shakers. He is calling us to be servants, where ever we may be in our lives—even if we are CEOs, executives, or movers and shakers. Whatever our station in life, we have to remember—as our Blessed Mother remembered—our lowly state. All that we have comes from God, and we are utterly dependent upon His abundant generosity. It doesn't get much more humble than that right there: He set aside His glory to share our suffering. He makes Himself present here on this altar to feed us daily. And if that does not give us reason to be humble, I don't know what else could.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Be a Witness—Twentieth Sunday for Ordinary Time (Cycle C)

Jeremiah 38:4–6, 8–10; Hebrews 12:1–4; Luke 12:49–53
            The good news for you while the air conditioner is out is that all of us are getting a crash course in preparing two-minute homilies. The bad news is that apparently Jesus meant it when he said in the gospel that He wanted to set the earth on fire.
            We have three readings that all talk about the inevitable conflict between the City of God and the Earthly City: the life of faith and belief, and the life of the worldly concerns. If we take nothing from the news of the times, we should at least see clearly that the demands of faith are coming increasingly in conflict with the demands of our culture. This should not surprise us. It has been this way forever. The first case in point is Jeremiah. He gives the people of Israel and Judah bad news, and what do they do? Well, they want to kill the messenger. Fortunately, Ebed-Melech—literally "servant of the king"—convinces the king that this is the wrong thing to do. That was back when world leaders actually listened to sound advice from their advisers rather than the latest poll results.
            St. Paul exhorts us to keep our eyes on the prize—on Jesus. We will encounter opposition just as he did, and we will feel abandoned, but we have a cloud of witnesses—the saints and each other—to intercede for us.
            And in the gospel, Jesus is not talking about unity, not about tolerance. He says, "I am coming to bring division." In the gospel of Matthew's telling of this account, Jesus goes further, "I have not come to bring peace, but a sword." Why a sword? Why division?
            I think a better question to ask is why continue to pretend that we are not divided when in fact there is division all around us.
            Christian and Catholic faith and morals are being pushed more and more to the peripheries of our society. Our world is becoming more violent, more anti-life, and more anti-faith. This is not a new condition, but it is increasingly our condition. And we can deny it and continue sitting on the fence, or we can recognize the truth and choose to stand our ground and be witnesses for our Catholic faith. There will be division. That much Jesus promised. The questions is whether we'll be willing to pick up our cross when the time comes.

            In a few moments we will stand up to celebrate the Eucharist—the sacrament of our unity with each other, with Christ, and with that cloud of witnesses that St. Paul mentions—that cloud of witnesses that takes part in the same heavenly banquet with us. When we leave this Eucharist today and go about our lives, what will that great cloud of witnesses witness of us?

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Fatima Exposition and Benediction—Aug. 13

This homily was delivered at an exposition and benediction on what would have been the anniversary of the fourth apparition at Fatima. However, because the children were taken into custody on that day, they were unable to attend to the Blessed Mother until Aug. 19.

Matthew 28:16–20

Our reading from the Gospel of Matthew is that final passage that is known as the Great Commission. This is Christ's sending of the Apostles out to evangelize—to spread the good news. When we look at this passage, we see a number of important directives. First is to baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. We recognize in this statement the foundation of the sacraments of initiation. But it is also our call to evangelization—go out and make disciples of all nations.
            How does this passage, then, relate to the apparitions of Our Lady to Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco? Well, for the very simple reason that their mission was the same as the Great Commission. The Blessed Mother's message was for them to make disciples, to help convert the world through the intercession of Her Immaculate Heart.
            Evangelization always has two core elements, the first one being that the evangelized need to understand their condition. They need to understand their need for salvation. Perhaps the world of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco was ripe for such a message. World War I was raging. The Russian revolution was in full swing. The civil wars in Spain and the various secularist movements in Europe were pushing the Church to the peripheries. Perhaps the people could see clearly their need. But in their time as in ours, it is far too easy for people to just keep moving and to ignore the structures of society crashing down around them. In our own time, most people don't even recognize that something is missing from their lives. So part of the message of evangelization is to get those who need to be evangelized to wake up.
            The second part of evangelization, once people recognize their utter need, is to let them know that there is an answer. In that time, the Blessed Mother beckoned all to find refuge in her Immaculate Heart, but Our Lady's ultimate aim is always to draw people to her Son. And the Son is the answer. He is why we call the message euangelion—the good news. The good news is that there is a way out of misery, a way out of the calamity of original sin, and a way back into the embrace of our Lord.

            That was the mission of Lucia, Jacinta, and Francisco. That, too, is our mission—the Great commission. Let us begin by consecrating ourselves to the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and then let us take up what Padre Pio called his weapon—the Holy Rosary—and pray for the salvation of the world.