Gratitude, Love, and Humility
Sixth Day of the Novena in Honour of St. Anne (St. Anne’s Church, Hamilton, Ontario)

What is good has been explained to you, man: this is what the Lord asks of you: only this, to act justly, to love tenderly, and to walk humbly with your God.

Justice, love, and humility: I’d like to say a word or two about each one. In this first reading, the Lord says: “My people, what have I done to you, how have I been a burden to you? I brought you out of the land of Egypt…” What comes to mind is the ingratitude of the Lord’s covenanted people. As a result of this, His commandments have become burdensome.

Gratitude is a part of the virtue of Justice. We have a duty, in justice, to be grateful. When we are grateful, life becomes much brighter. Last year I drove through Bellville and was listening to a Christian radio station. A quadriplegic woman was being interviewed, and she really had a wonderful spirit about her. She began talking about her conversion because she wasn’t always full of joy. In fact, at one time in her life, she was downright miserable.

But a friend challenged her. She said to her: “You know, St. Paul says to give thanks for all things. So, instead of being so miserable, why don’t you thank God for everything, for all that He has given you, and maybe things will begin to change for you”. This woman reacted with such anger: “How dare you talk to me like that. You have no idea what it is like having to lie in a hospital bed 24 hours a day, completely dependent upon the care of others, etc., etc.” She was furious. Her friend just left her there. But she said that she began thinking about this suggestion, and after a while, she started to thank God for one thing, then two things, such as “Thank you, Lord, that my favourite nurse is on shift tonight”. Or, “thank you, Lord, that I have a bed by the window today”, etc. As she began to do this, all sorts of things were coming to mind that she could thank God for, and soon she found herself spending the entire day thanking God. And this transformed her whole interior, filling her with light. And she really was a joyful woman to listen to, you’d never guess by listening to her that she was a quadriplegic.

We really don’t know what we have, unless we stop and think really hard about it. But sometimes even that is not enough to wake us up. Sometimes we have to lose it until we really begin to see.

I know someone who lived in a not so luxurious apartment in the city, she was near a beautiful Church where she’d go to pray, and she was in a good location, but she hated her apartment. I remember trying to get her to see how lucky she was to be there. You’re near the main street of the city, you are near people who love you, near that beautiful basilica where you can pray anytime, etc. But she moved, hated her new place, and started to miss her first apartment. Then she ended up in the hospital, and now she’s in a nursing home, on a waiting list for an apartment, and she so wishes she could be back in her old place.

If we have the peace of Christ, faith enough to love the Eucharist, if we have a place to pray, it really doesn’t matter that we’re not living in a palace.

At the same time we tend to think that those who do live in these big beautiful mansions are so happy. We used to go on retreat to Larchmont, NY, an affluent village in Westchester County, just north of New York city. My spiritual director was at the Larchmont Yacht club for one reason or another, and at one point they were on the deck looking at all the beautiful multi-million dollar mansions and they started to ask one another: if you had your pick, which one would you like to own? Someone would say, “Oh, I’d like that one over there because of...”, and Father Frank said, “Well I like that one there with the huge pillars”. At that point a lady, sitting on a bench nearby, said, “Oh, Father, believe me, you would not want to live in that house. I live in that house, and that’s why I’m sitting over here.”

The Lord commanded Israel to celebrate religious festivals during the year, festivals that recall God’s fidelity to His promises to Israel and His saving action in Israel’s history, such as Israel’s deliverance from Egyptian slavery. The reason is simple: If Jews did not re-live these historic events, keep them fresh in their minds, they would eventually forget them, and when we forget, we lose gratitude, and when we lose gratitude, we lose religion, because religion is the most perfect part of the virtue of justice. That’s what we’ve inherited from the Jews, for we too have a liturgical calendar, and it is all ordered towards remembering, for the sake of gratitude.

Have you noticed how many people do not think to say thank you when you hold the door open for them at the Mall or the local Tim Horton’s, for example. This is a sure sign of an irreligious culture.

Gratitude takes us out of ourselves. But when gratitude begins to fail, we slowly and almost imperceptibly make ourselves the center of our existence, and soon others don’t have the same meaning in our eyes. Ingratitude, which is a fundamental injustice, begets further injustices.

We love ourselves naturally. If we are buying some apples at the grocery store, we look for the best ones, not the rotten ones, because we want the best for ourselves. That’s natural, because to love yourself is natural. But we don’t naturally want the best for others. To achieve that, we have to make a conscious decision. Christ calls us to love others as we love ourselves, to will the best for others as we naturally will the best for ourselves.

To love another as I love myself is to love another as if that person is another me, another self. To actually achieve that, I have to freely choose to be that other, without ceasing to be myself; that other will have to become another me. So, if I genuinely love that person as another ‘me’, another ‘self’, then I am no longer one, but two. And if I love a third person as another me, I have become ‘three’, and ‘four’, and ‘five’, etc. Genuine love of another involves an expansion of the self. We actually become larger. We’re called to become spiritual giants.

Imagine being given special binoculars, spiritual binoculars that allow us to see the soul and the size of each person’s soul. We’d look through them, and some people would look puny, tiny, barely visible, because they have only loved themselves, despite appearances. But others would be giants.

I often wonder what it would be like being in the presence of the saints in heaven, these great spiritual giants. Am I going to be comfortable? All we have to do is read about the Canadian Martyrs, for example, like St. Jean de Brebeauf and St. Isaac Jogues. The faith and courage of these saints is really hard to fathom; we complain about the heat and the cold, and many of us are afraid to proclaim the basic truths of the faith in either air conditioned state of the art schools, or in the winter, well heated state of the art schools, etc. And yet these men slept outside, ate corn mush in the morning, and a bowl of corn mush in the evening, sat still in a canoe all day without being able to so much as wipe the sweat off their faces. They walked in the brutal cold of the Canadian winters, at times slept with only one thin blanket, knew they would likely be captured and would suffer unspeakable tortures.

There’s a part in the movie The Lord of the Rings, where Theoden, the king of Rohnan was under the influence of Wormtongue, who was advising the King, but who was secretly working for the evil Sauramon. The king was kept in a semi slumber, oblivious to the dangers around him. He’s finally awakened to the reality of the dangers and rises up to battle after Gandalf reveals Wormtongue for who he really is. King Theoden returns to his senses, and he leads the Riders of Rohan into the Battle of the Hornburg. After this he became known as Théoden the Renewed. Later he is mortally wounded on the battlefield. His last words to his daughter were: “You have to let me go. I go to my fathers in whose mighty company I shall not now feel ashamed”

I see myself, how much I despise suffering, how much I try to avoid it. Am I going to be able to join my forefathers, or will that be an experience of great shame? They did so much more with so much less.

I believe the only thing that will allow the experience of being in the presence of these great giants of supernatural charity to go from being an experience of shame to being an experience of the sublime, is humility:

Although the human person is the only intelligent creature in the physical universe, he is the least of God’s intellectual creatures. Intelligence is not man’s glory; rather, intelligence is the glory of the angels. Man’s intellect is slow and sluggish. Study the history of science, mathematics, or philosophy, and it soon becomes clear. Adolescent teenagers learn in their math classes, in the course of a semester, what it took centuries for the most brilliant human minds to discover.

I turned 50 this past September, and what’s been so different about this year is that every time I discovered something, some insight, I would be struck by the fact that it has taken me 50 years to finally come to understand that. Indeed, there is not much of a difference between 49 and 50, but that number 5 in the imagination is significantly different from the number 4. Merchants have known that for centuries. On the surface of the imagination, 49 is still 40s, and 40 is young. But 50? I would say to myself: that basic, simple, straightforward truth took you 50 years to finally appreciate. Intelligence is not the glory of man. There are nine choirs of angels above us, and the lowest angel on the hierarchy of angels is inconceivably more brilliant than the most brilliant human being.

Man’s glory lies elsewhere. And the clue is in the very word ‘human’ itself, from the Latin ‘humous’, which means soil, or dirt, and from which is derived the word ‘humility’. The human person is from the soil. He is spirit and matter. From dust we came, and to dust we shall return. It is by virtue of matter that human intelligence is so slow. Man’s glory lies in humility. We cannot outdo the angels in intelligence, but we can certainly outdo them, if we want, in humility.

God became flesh, humous, in order to show us what it means to be man. The cross is the glory of man, for it reveals the glory of the divine love. Angels will never envy us on account of our intelligence, but they can certainly envy our ability to share in the sufferings and humiliation of Christ. We can be carriers of that glory of the divine love revealed in humility, if we so choose, in a way that they cannot. As it is, angels are far more humble than we are, for everything they do, every good they accomplish, every danger they save us from, every inspiration they infuse within us, is done invisibly—and part our joy of heaven will be coming to discover all the things our guardian angels accomplished for us without our awareness at the time. Not all of us, but many of us want to be acknowledged, thanked, and rewarded. Perhaps some of you here do not; you are invisible to us, because of your humility.

But our glory lies in the humiliations of our own crosses that the Lord calls us to lift and carry. St. Catherine of Siena says that God loves each one of us, as if there is only one of us, that is, one of us to love. To taste that love, to finally come to experience it, is to want nothing else. Nothing else will matter after that, whether we live and die in complete and utter obscurity, it will not matter. And the knowledge of our own frailty and sluggishness, the knowledge of our own profound limitations, will only be a source of joy, because that knowledge, that awareness, will allow us willingly to decrease so that He, Christ, may increase within us. Amen.

Next Page: The Need for Confession
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