Thursday, July 18, 2013

Meek and Humble of Heart

Today's Gospel is one in which Jesus explicitly describes his heart. It's from Matthew 11: 28-30 and goes like this:

Jesus said:
“Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened,
and I will give you rest.
Take my yoke upon you and learn from me,
for I am meek and humble of heart;
and you will find rest for yourselves.
For my yoke is easy, and my burden light.”
Meekness and humility are not valued in the world.  Our entertainment and sports-driven world glorify being on top, being #1, not giving way to others. How can the "rest" that Jesus promises to the "meek and humble of heart" be real?  How does being meek and humble lead to peace?

Meekness does not mean being a doormat for everyone in the world to walk upon. Humility does not mean thinking of oneself as the worst or lowest.

One of my favorite meditation books is an updated four-volume series published by Ignatius Press, written by Carmelite Father Gabriel of St. Mary Magdalen, entitled Divine Intimacy. In volume 3, writing about the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Fr. Gabriel explains what it means to be meek and humble and how they lead to peace.  Here are some excerpts which I've taken the liberty to paraphrase a bit:

Jesus fulfilled his mission as savior especially through meekness and self-sacrifice. This was the meekness he proposed to his disciples as the condition for interior peace. Too often people lose their peace of heart and consequently disturb the peace of their relationships with others because they let anger agitate them.  Jesus proposes gentleness as a condition for doing good and for winning over our brothers and sisters to God. Violence convinces no one, rather it turns away and hardens hearts; while meekness bends and saves.

Christ, "gentle of heart," does not avoid the fight when the glory of the Father and people's salvation are at stake. He welcomes sinners with infinite kindness, but he openly condemns sin, especially pride, hypocrisy, and hardness of heart. He also uses strong language and forceful actions like that against those who were profaning the temple.

Jesus' meekness is the remedy for our wrath and anger, and for our violence and intolerance. Meekness soothes life's sufferings and disposes us to accept the will of God and to abandon ourselves into his hands in times of tribulation.

Jesus was meek because he was humble: he did not seek to assert himself, nor to be applauded, neither did he pursue his own glory, but desired only the honor and glory of the kingdom of the Father; his one aim was to accomplish the mission entrusted to him in total dedication to the salvation of humanity.  We are not meek, because we are not humble, and even in performing good works, we do not know how to renounce our affirmation of self to its very core. Jesus was essentially humble because he acknowledged and fully lived his dependence on the Father. We are not humble because we are not fully conscious of our total dependence on God; although we may be convinced of it in theory, we are not so convinced in practice, but are always, to a greater or less extent, escaping from the service of God to serve ourselves, our own pride and self-love. 

These thoughts of Fr. Gabriel challenge me to find my identity as Jesus did: to know myself as a beloved son of the Father who loves me with an infinite love.  Knowing this in a deeper way one day and a time, I will be secure and at peace and ultimately untroubled by the ups and downs of the events of daily life.

Fr. Gabriel closed his reflection with a prayer from St. Margaret Mary:

O Jesus, permit me to enter your Heart as I would a school. In this school teach me the science of the saints, the science of pure love. O good Master, I shall listen attentively to your words: "Learn of me for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your souls."

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Declaration of Dependence

Abraham was a man of great faith and it didn’t come easily to him. He grew in faith through the exercise of this virtue. He reached the pinnacle of faith when God called him to sacrifice his son Isaac.  Recall all that happened before this.

 God made a covenant with Abraham, promising that he would become the father of many people, so many that the stars in the heavens would be outnumbered by them. Yet Abraham was old and without a child, without an heir. When he was 86 he decided to take matters into his own hands. He followed the advice of his wife Sarah and had a son through her maidservant Hagar. Though he had a son whom he named Ishmael, things didn’t work out. A rift developed between Sarah and Hagar. Things usually don’t work out when we don’t trust God, when we take matters into our own hands and make a declaration of independence from God.

 Thirteen years passed and God spoke once more to Abraham, renewing the promise. Abraham laughed at the thought that he, now 99 years old, and his elderly wife Sarah would have a son. But they did. God fulfilled the promise and told Abraham to name his son Isaac, a name which means “Laughter.”

 Some more years passed and Abraham was called to sacrifice Isaac, his only son, his only hope of being the father of a great nation. This “test” deepened Abraham’s faith even more. He was ready to make the sacrifice. He didn’t take matters into his own hands. He didn’t declare his independence from God. His faith in God’s providence and plan reached the high point that has led to Abraham being called the father of faith. 

 God stopped Abraham and provided a lamb instead of the son for a sacrifice.

 During this Year of Faith we are called to deepen our faith. The world is not lacking in faith, but it’s a faith that is in the wrong things. It’s faith in science and technology, in human ingenuity and human good will, and not in God. We are challenged to place all our faith in God as Abraham did. Our faith, our declaration of dependence upon God alone, will open the way for God to act in our lives and in the world.

 At Mass we celebrate the ultimate faith—the faith of Jesus. We remember the pinnacle of Jesus’ faith when He offered Himself on the cross, trusting that, in the words of the Eastern Liturgy, He would “trample down death by death.” Jesus placed Himself totally in the hands of the Father, trusting that through His sacrificial death humanity would be saved and death itself would be overcome. 

 The story of Abraham and Isaac foreshadows the Passion and Death of Jesus. God did what Abraham in the end did not have to do. The Father provided a Lamb who would be the Sacrifice that would replace all other sacrifices. The only Son of God is the Lamb that was sacrificed to reconcile humanity and God. 

 Now we, members of the Body of Christ and joined to the Lamb of God, are called and empowered to make of ourselves, in the words of St. Paul to the Romans (12:1), “a living sacrifice.”  This is the Eucharistic spirituality of the Apostleship of Prayer. One day at a time we make an offering of our lives in a prayer, then strive to live that offering throughout the day, and finally examine the offering we’ve made at the end of the day.  Doing this we declare our dependence on God and find true freedom.