Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Humble As the Incarnation

(Originally written & printed in "The Bells of St. Mary" parish newsletter.)

The Incarnation – the event of God becoming man, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, the Son, taking on a human nature – is the sort of event that alters the course of human history. It is the definitive move by God to usher in the great work of our salvation, thousands of years in the making. It is also, arguably, the most humble act of God.

There are dozens of ways to describe humility and dozens of examples of lives characterized by that virtue. As well, there are plenty of reasons to strive for humility in ourselves and encourage it in those we influence. However, no better description, example or reason can be found than Jesus Christ, Himself.

Our human mind tends toward the belief that to do great things we must be greatly acknowledged and honored. Success is achieved by audacity and notoriety. What do we make then of this Heavenly King born in the quiet of a hidden stable? What could be accomplished by such an entrance into human history? Why would God decide to come in this manner, without a display of pomp and power?

What we make of it ought to be exactly what Christ stated in the Gospel: “I have given you a model to follow, so that as I have done for you, you should also do” (John 13:15). This Advent, consider the effectiveness of humility. Like Christ, you can enter the scenes of life with humble actions and attitudes yet working for great and glorious things. Trusting not in the power of ourselves but the power of God in us, we can do more than we could imagine. With willing obedience to God the Father’s laws and guidance, you will become a conduit of His love, mercy, strength and compassion.

No work of our own, good as it may be, can produce what God’s work can produce. No words of our mouths can convey truth as well as His words. No outreach of ours can reap the changes in this world like His outreach can do. When we submit ourselves to the Lord as His son or daughter and servant, He humbles Himself yet again, as He did at the Incarnation, and works through us in this world. Amongst our families and friends, in the daily grind of the workplace, in the quiet times of prayer, God will include you in the work of His hands. He may bless you with the rewards of your humility here and now, but without question, “your reward will be great in Heaven” (Matthew 5:12), where the Lord keeps for you “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading” (1 Peter 1:4).

Prayer for Humility
Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that you may fortify me with the grace of your Holy Spirit, and give your peace to my soul, that I may be free from all needless anxiety and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you, so that your will may be my will.
Grant that I may be free from unholy desires, and that, for your love, I may remain obscure and unknown in this world, to be known only to you.
Do not permit me to attribute to myself the good that you perform in me and through me, but rather, referring all honor to you, may I admit only to my infirmities, so that renouncing sincerely all vainglory which comes from the world, I may aspire to that true and lasting glory that comes from you. Amen.
~St. Frances Cabrini

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Seeds & Soil

I think it's a combination of the yard work yesterday and the significant but unresolved discussion last night about the growth of faith. I woke up today with the parable of the Sower in my mind. It's one of my very favorite passages, possibly my favorite parable, but I haven't read it in quite some time.

Jesus is speaking, yet again, to a great crowd. He stands in a boat, just off the shore, while the crowd assembles on the beach, eager to hear from this great and mysterious teacher.
And he told them many things in parables, saying: "A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they had not much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched; and since they had no root they withered away. Other seeds fell upon thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty." (Matthew 13:3-8)

Later the crowd waits. Jesus is pausing in His preaching and His twelve disciples gather around Him. They question Him on His method. "'Why do you speak to them in parables?' And he answered them, 'To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given.'" (13:10-11) They likely feel the weight of this privilege, but they realize that they too need help to understand what Jesus has told them. Later they will receive the powerful gift of the Holy Spirit to understand all truth (John 14:26; 16:13) and preach it themselves, but for now they depend upon Christ to enlighten them with His words.

Jesus knows this need and He proceeds to explain to the Twelve, "Hear then the parable of the sower. When any one hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what is sown in his heart; this is what was sown along the path. As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is he who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away. As for what was sown among thorns, this is he who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the delight in riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful. As for what was sown on good soil, this is he who hears the word and understands it; he indeed bears fruit, and yields, in one case a hundred-fold, in another sixty, and in another thirty." (13:18-23)

There are so very many things that impress themselves on my mind from this teaching of Christ. I will keep myself to only two here though. One is the role of the Sower. The Sower of "the word of the Kingdom" is God, Himself. When we present ourselves to Him, admitting our need for Him and His Word, He sows. When we hear His Word proclaimed and taught, He sows. When we pray and entrust ourselves to Him, He sows. Even when we are not prepared, not certain, He sows. Faith is a gift of God. It is not created against our will and so we do hold a role in its inception in our hearts, but we cannot create it ourselves. We are to be soil, receivers of the seed of faith sown by our gracious and saving God. Pride would have us believe we can save ourselves. Woundedness would have us believe God will not come through. Modern mindsets would have us believe we can know all things by our own power. But it is God who created us and it is God who has made it clear that we need Him and His Word.

Secondly, the parable lays out a bluntly difficult scenario for those who receive the seeds of faith. Christ presents "whens," not "ifs." When the evil one attempts to steal away the seeds; when tribulations and persecutions come because of this faith; when the cares of the world and the desire for the things of this world rise up - these are not hypotheticals and the results when the faith has not yet taken root in good soil are not either. I've seen it and experienced it: the uprooting, the withering, the choking out. Good soil... understanding: this is the aim to be taken. To humbly open your heart and mind to truth as revealed by God and proclaimed by His teaching Church. To take up the work of understanding, of growing strong, lasting roots of faith. To let Him take hold by His Word. To "trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways make straight your paths." (Proverbs 3:5-6) To avail yourself of the rich resources of faith. To be a member of the "household of God, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and bulwark of the truth." (1 Timothy 2:15) To be good soil. And in good soil, oh the gloriousness of the fruit borne by those seeds sown by the Divine Sower.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Keeps Getting Better

On my brief commute this morning, I flipped between radio stations a few times. The latest Katy Perry tune just wasn't my cup of tea nor were the DJ's bantering conversations. I settled on a Rascal Flatts song I hadn't heard before. Only half the song played before I reached my parking spot but that's all it took to leave me disappointed. The theme was the urgency of getting married because there wasn't any reason not to do so. His most persuasive argument: "I can't imagine loving you any more than I do today." Romantic? Sweet? Or the makings of a failed marriage?

I know, I know, I'm being far too analytical about a country song, but the statement really bothered me! Maybe when you first realize you're in love, it's so intense that it's valid to say you can't imagine loving the other person more than you do at that point. However as the relationship continues, as time passes and the bond is deepened and solidified, you learn, with considerable amazement, that it is indeed possible to love your beloved more today than the day before. You begin to hope that the trend will continue: tomorrow will see more love than today; next month will see greater commitment than this month; next year will see a richer experience of each other's love than this year. The journey towards marriage ought to make it perfectly reasonable to have confident faith in the ongoing growth of your love for one another. The urgent lust that seems to underly this man's request that they get married immediately? Sure, that might cool off. The passion might even out. The love, though, just keeps getting better. That's what I'm waiting and hoping for; nothing less will persuade me to attend the wedding.