When Jesus was presented in the temple by Mary and St. Joseph, the aged Simeon described Jesus’ mission: “Behold, this child is destined for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”(Lk 2:34) Faced with Jesus and the demands of the Gospel, some people will be humbled while some will be exalted. In today’s Gospel, Jesus describes those who would be humbled and those who would be exalted, “Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” The choice before each of us boils down to this: self-exaltation or God-exaltation? Are we going to try to exalt ourselves and risk divine humiliation or humble ourselves so that God can exalt us?
If Jesus and His kingdom demands from us a choice between self-exaltation and God-exaltation, then there must be present in the Church founded by Jesus many invitations to this indispensable virtue of humility. Let us reflect on a few of them:
The nature of the Church: The very nature of the Church herself calls us to humble ourselves. The humble soul realizes and believe that, despite our sinfulness, Jesus Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, unites Himself so intimately with the visible Church that the Church becomes His own mystically Body and He remains forever her invisible Head. The proud cannot accept this truth of the faith and would see the Church as only a human institution composed of pathetic sinners that must change with the times so as to remain relevant. Aware of our sinfulness even in our union with the risen Christ, the humble soul begs, “Remain with us, Lord,”(Lk 24:29) while the proud soul adamantly exclaims, “Depart from me Lord, for I am a sinful man.”(Lk 5:8)
The Eucharist: Ever wondered about the depth of humility required to believe in the Real Presence of Jesus under the sacramental signs of bread and wine? It takes a very humble soul to kneel in faith in hours of Eucharistic adoration before what appears like a piece of bread simply because they believe in the words of Jesus, “This is my body, which will be given up for you…This is the new covenant in my blood, which will be shed for you.”(Lk 22:19,20) The humble soul sees divine life and presence being mediated through the ordinary elements of the Eucharist while the proud person cannot see beyond the senses. The humble soul approaches this mystery with faith in the words of Jesus while the proud, succumbing to the dictates of emotions and the logic of human reason, exclaims, “How can this be? Besides, I do not feel the presence of Jesus in this sacrament.”
The ordained priesthood: It takes humility to accept that God has given to a few men the power to forgive sins and to offer the Eucharistic sacrifice in His name and person. The proud person is so focused on egalitarianism that he cannot accept any distinction between the priesthood of the baptized and the ordained priesthood. The humble soul, aware of his own baptismal consecration, makes use of the gifts of the Spirit to worship and give witness to God according to his vocation. The proud soul cannot accept that he is not the beneficiary of such power which a few have received and he can even accuse the Church of being unjust or denying him his “right” to the ordained priesthood. The ordained priest also faces the temptation to exalt himself, forgetting that he is ordained not for his own glory but for the service to God in His people and for the sanctification of the Church.
The Church’s Magisterium: That Christ has a vicar and collaborators in the Pope and bishops through whom He acts to teach, govern and sanctify His Church today is another stumbling block to the proud. The proud will focus on the weakness and failures of such men and ponder what good the teaching of a group of celibate men can be in our modern world. Jesus addresses such proud thoughts in the minds of his listeners about the hypocritical Jewish leaders in today’s Gospel, “Therefore, do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.” Despite the sins and shortfalls of the visible leaders of the Church, the humble soul accepts their definitive teaching with the conviction that God can and does speak to us infallibly about faith and morals through these men today.
Confession: Only truly humble souls can approach the Sacrament of Reconciliation and humbly confess their sins with sincerity to Jesus through the ministry of the ordained priest. The proud person will find this rather unnecessary and beneath him and would choose to only confess sins directly to God. The humble soul reasons that if God can become present sacramentally on the altar through the ministry of the priests, then He can also definitively forgive all sins through this same priestly ministry. The sinfulness of the priest or what he may think of the penitent does not hinder the humble from approaching this sacrament. unlike the humble, the proud person is scandalized by both the humanity and sinfulness of the priest and would easily give up this sacrament in the face of his repeated sins.
Mary and the saints: It takes a humble person to ask for the prayers of others and to depend on others. The proud person is self-confident and dismissive of the truth of faith that God helps us through our brothers and sisters saints who have walked the path of Christian faith heroically. The humble person, rejecting any form of individualism, looks to the saints for example, encouragement and help in his journey of faith.
The mission of the Church: The mission of the Church as the Universal sacrament of salvation demands that we humble ourselves, serve God for His own sake, and strive to make others know and love God more. The proud soul, reluctant to see himself in mission to others while struggling with sin himself, either abandons this call to mission or begins to water down the demands of the Gospel in a false sense of mercy. The humble soul embraces this mission to evangelize simply because he has encountered the gift of God’s love and he cannot but bring the fullness of the Gospel and the accompanying power of diving grace to others despite his own failures.
The Church’s liturgy and prayer: That liturgy in the Catholic Church is a participation in the very prayer of Christ implies that we cannot measure our prayer by visible results. This is not easy for the proud soul to accept because the focus is not on our performance at worship or the eloquence of the preacher of the word. The humble soul is satisfied to know that it is the prayer of Christ, His own thanksgiving, reparation, adoration and petition to the Father that matters. The humble soul is content to participate in this liturgical prayer without trying to take the center stage and to know that the temporal and eternal fruits of his prayer united with that of Christ is not in question even if it is not visible to him.
Suffering: Jesus warns us we would be humbled if we continue to exalt ourselves in our infidelity. God permits sufferings like painful scandals in the Church to bring us to humble repentance. Time of scandal reminds us that we are all sinners in need of repentance and renewal individually and communally. The proud person cannot see in the scandals in the Church a painful purification and an invitation to humble and contrite hearts. Then there are persecutions that the Church faces from within and without in which our humility is put to the test. Only a humble soul will persevere in his faith even in the face of scandals and persecutions because he is not seeking himself. The proud soul, always seeking self, will be discouraged and devastated by scandals, rejections, misunderstandings, and persecutions. The humble knows that his suffering united with that of Christ is redemptive while the proud rejects any value in suffering and would abandon the Church in the moments of pains and suffering in his life or in the Church.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, our Catholic faith is imbued with numerous invitations to humble ourselves so that God will exalt us. The nature, composition, mission and experiences of the Church are invitations to humble ourselves in several ways so that God will exalt us. Our response to this invitation will determine the depth and endurance of our inner peace as the Responsorial psalm’s refrain attests: “In you, Lord, I have found my peace,” and the psalmist reminds us that peace is ours because of our humility: “O Lord, my heart is not proud, nor are my eyes haughty.” Only the one who humbles himself allows God to exalt him and finds his peace in God alone.
Mary, the Mother of the Church, responded to this invitation to humility first among all the children of God as she exclaimed, “He has put down the mighty from their thrones and exalted the humble.”(Lk 1:52) St. John the Baptist expressed his own self-humbling and God-exaltation in these words, “He must increase; and I must decrease.”(Jn 3:30) The enduring peace of Mary and the saints call us to imitate their resoluteness to humble themselves.
Our Eucharistic Lord comes to us today with the same challenge for each and every one of us: self-exaltation or God-exaltation? Our response will determine our inner peace as members of Christ’s own mystical body of the Catholic Church.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!