The power of a humble life

Tom Bartolomeo
22nd Sunday Ordinary C 2013
Sirach 3:17-18,20,28-29; Psalm 68;
Hebrews 12: 18-19; 22-24a; Luke 14: 1,7-14
Reproduced with Permission

God only employs the humble in his work. Ordinarily, we wouldn't equate humility with the powerful or favored - and we would be wrong. Jesus and his mother Mary exerted their power in humility. We also innately know that pride exerts no real power over men or God. Jesus Christ made this plainly clear, "learn from me," he said, "for I am meek and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls". (Matthew 11:29). "Those who exalt themselves", Jesus said, "will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted." (Matthew 23:12).

The lives of the saints illustrate the power and calming effect of humility, for example, in the life of Saint Francis of Assisi. In Francis' conversion God had asked Francis to repair his church which Francis understood to be a small chapel of San Damiano outside of Assisi. Francis was content to repair the chapel and asked for contributions for his work from his townspeople. At first no one hardly noticed his humble undertaking. And his wealthy father and the local bishop didn't understand. Francis would have worked at the repair of that church til the end of his days and would have died in obscurity except for his joyful humility which drew men to him without his ever asking. Eventually, his band of friars become the Franciscans who worked at repairing Holy Mother Church, the actual call to action God had asked of Francis. His humility was that disarming and affective.

It still lingers in the town of Assisi today were you to visit and see it for yourselves. How simply and humbly Francis changed the world in the manner of his humble life even to this day. The humility Francis bore is the bedrock of all virtues just as pride is the foundation of all vices.

Every saint knows this, and we, too, acknowledge the basis of this truth embodied in our Lord himself and popularized in a canticle of the early church sung and recorded in the Apostle Paul's letter to Philippians:

Let the same mind be in you that was in Jesus Christ, who, though he was in the form of God, did not deem equality with God as something to be grasped at, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. He was known to be of human estate, and it was thus that he humbled himself, obediently accepting death, death on a cross. (Philippians 2, 6-8).

It was Saint Paul's guiding principle in his life as well. "Be imitators of me as I am of Christ" (1 Corinthians 11, 1), the Apostle instructed and, "I will boast of my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities; for when I am weak, then I am strong". (2 Corinthians 12:9-11). No one, however, except our Lord compares more favorably in humility than Mary, the Mother of God. We only have three instances of her speaking, her conversation with Elizabeth while pregnant with John the Baptist, her worried words with the twelve year old Jesus lost in the temple, her nudging Jesus to help two newlyweds who had ran out of wine at their reception and her personal reflections on being chosen the Mother God. Overwhelmed by God's favor, she told the angel who brought her the news, "My soul magnifies the Lord", not herself but "the greatness of the Lord", she told the angel. "My spirit rejoices in God my Savior", Mary continued, "for he has looked with favor on his lowly servant." Before the angel Gabriel announced God's favor he greeted her, "Hail, Mary full of grace" and acknowledged that she had the fullness of God's life in her as no other human before or after her.

Of all men and women who were ever born she was the only human except her son who was not a sinner and whom God had redeemed before her conception. For the rest of us her innocence and humility is practically inconceivable, a person of such grace that the sins of the world must have utterly repelled her. From the beginning Mary shared the life of God in her womb and in her soul - while living in this world, this vale of tears. Sinless she could not die unless she laid down her life like her son to be assumed into heaven. Yet her life in this world was totally framed in humility. "All generations [would] call [her] blessed", she said. Blessed by "the Almighty . . . who has done great things for me and holy is his Name" - was her first and foremost thought. Mary knew that she was the instrument of God's "strength" - not the source of God's power - for the humble , the "lowly" and the "hungry" , not the "proud", the "mighty" and the "rich". As one of God's children she knew already what God had promised to "our fathers, to Abraham and his children for ever." (Luke 1, 46-55).

Jesus' saying, "The truth shall make you free", defines humility. Only in humility can we recognize the truth - not discolored or distorted by our personal interests - that as creatures in the rest of the world we depend on our Creator who choose to make us in his image, the image of God which humanity disfigured and which Jesus Christ would redeem and restore. We should be amazed or ashamed of ourselves when we forget or deny the truth that everything we have received including our lives comes from our heavenly Father. When we are tempted to be prideful we should answer the sobering question Saint Paul asked, "What do you have that you did not receive? If then you received it, why do you boast as if you did not receive it?" (1 Corinthians 4:7). Did Francis of Assisi, did our Blessed Mother or did the Incarnate Word of God presume their relationship with God or were they ever mindful that their relationship of grace in God is his gift which can not be earned? That is the Truth a humble man or a humble woman lives by.