22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time. September 1, 2013
Sirach 3:17-18, 20, 28-29: Psalm 68:4-7,10-11; Hebrews 12:18-19, 22-24; Luke 14:1, 7-14
“You will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous”
Alehandra Pereyra is a 44 year old woman in the Cordoba Province of Argentina. She had accused a police man of sexually molesting her several times but she was unable to get her case against him brought to court. She suspected that the local justice department was covering for the accused police man. She had no one else to turn to for help. She wrote to Pope Francis a few weeks ago asking for the Pope’s prayers and help in her predicament. A few days ago, she received a surprise phone call from Pope Francis himself and they talked for over 30 minutes. Speaking of the phone call from the Pope, she said, “I was completely stunned by the call…The phone call gave me back my faith and confidence…It was as if I was touched by the hand of God…Now I know that I am not alone, and I will pick myself up again…The Pope told me that I am not alone and that I should have faith that justice will be done.”
A busy Pope makes out half an hour to make a personal call to an abandoned unknown woman in desperate need of a just hearing of her case just to inform her that she is not alone and to strengthen her in her faith and confidence. What did the Pope personally gain from this personal call? Can she repay him with an equally surprising and uplifting phone call? I don’t think so. Is he seeking publicity? I don’t think so too because he does not have to. He is Pope already for goodness sake!!! He called her discretely and she is the one who chose to make the personal call public knowledge. However, the Pope’s action and its effects on this woman show us that humility must be the very first step and constant companion to selfless charity. Without humility, we cannot realize our need for God; without realizing our need for God, we cannot receive the grace that God offers us; without the grace of God, we cannot love selflessly.
The First Reading from the Book of Sirach says, “Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.” The greater that God raised him to be Pope, Pope Francis humbled himself the more by seeking to strengthen a person in need who may never be able to pay him back for the encouragement that he gave to her by his personal call. Selfless charity is impossible with true humility.
Jesus gives us two lessons in today’s Gospel passage. He ends the Gospel by calling the host who invited Him to give selflessly by inviting the more remote ones, the weaker and poorer ones who may never be able to invite him back or pay him back. Such a host will be “blessed because of their inability to repay him” because he will be “repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” It is this selfless giving without expecting some form of repayment that will lead to the blessedness of the giver.
But before they can give selflessly, before they can give to those who are weaker and poorer and who may never be able to repay them even with words of praise or appreciation, people who may never have the resources to invite them back to their own banquet, Jesus teaches them that they must practice humility before others. They must not “choose the places of honor at banquets” but “go and take the lowest place.” They must practice humility by placing others before them before they can give heroically and selflessly. The one who “exalts himself will be humbled” because he will lack the grace of God needed to love God and neighbor, but the one who “humbles himself will be exalted” because such a person will be open to receive an abundance of grace and thus will be “equipped for every good work,” (2Tim 3:17) beginning with selfless charity. No humility, no grace; no grace no charity.
We must never forget that it is by the humble charity of Christ that we have the unimaginable dignity of being God’s beloved children today. The eternal banquet of heaven remains our destiny as God’s children only because “While we still sinners Christ died for us.” But to enter into His heavenly banquet, we must love others just like He has loved us i.e. a selfless love. “Whatsoever you do to the least of my brethren you do unto me.” But to love like Christ did, to give without seeking reward, acknowledgement or praise, to give when it hurts and we are not sure that we are appreciated by those for whom we sacrifice so much, we need the grace that is given to the humble heart alone. Thus we too must humble ourselves before others realizing that we are all paupers before God and always keeping in mind that that “God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble.” Humility alone opens our heart to receive His grace and His grace alone can make us Christ-like in all things, beginning with selfless charity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, we live in world that has moved beyond mere normal competition among people to the point of oppression, predatory attitudes, and neglect of the defenseless, the weaker and the poorer ones. We talk of love a lot without thinking of the necessity of humility before God and thus our love is far from selfless. Love easily becomes sex when the heart is proud and seeks self alone. Euthanasia, sometimes called “Mercy killing,” is a very good example of what happens when we try to love with a proud heart that is always seeking self at any cost. A proud heart seeks its own benefit alone in all things and does not care about how that is achieved. A proud heart forgets or ignores God and His will, failing to realize its need for God or others’ need for care and attention because it is fixated on its own self-gratification and exaltation at all cost. Constant competition with others is the focus of such proud souls and this closes it to the grace of God and the selfless love that this grace makes possible.
God has given us numerous gifts and graces in this life. His benefits to us are not for us to use in exalting ourselves or oppressing others. They are not for us to use in seeking to be #1 at all cost even if it means putting others down and getting personal gain from them. God has raised us to the dignity of His children so that we reflect to others too the selfless love that Christ Jesus showed us by putting others before ourselves. In short, we are gifted so that we practice Jesus Christ’s humility before others and give of self without seeking repayment.
No better example of a humble human person can be found than our Blessed Mother Mary. God gave her the greatest gifts and privileges like the Immaculate Conception making her free from sin from her very conception and giving her the ability to conceive and bear the God-Man as His Mother without losing her virginity. Yet, despite her high dignity, she was also God’s humblest creature, willing to say to the Angel Gabriel not “Behold the Mother of God,” but rather, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” God responded by giving the whole of Himself to Mary in a way that He could never do to any other creature. In the words of St. Bernard, “Mary pleased God by her virginity, but she conceived Him by her humility.”
In her humility before others, Mary visited Elizabeth and the latter declared Mary’s humility with these words, “Who am I that the Mother of my Lord should come to me?” What did Mary personally gain from such a visit? Could Elizabeth surprise her with an equally unexpected and uplifting visit and produce the same amount of joy? I don’t think so. Once again we see in Mary the selfless love that comes from a truly humble soul. In the words of Ben Sirach, Mary really “found favor with God” because she “truly humbled herself the greater she was.”
The letter to the Hebrews reminds us that the same fearful and terrifying God seen in the epiphanies of the old covenant has now humbled Himself in Jesus Christ to dwell in our midst. We can now approach God, not in fear and trembling, as in the old covenant times, but now with confidence and love as a child approaches a loving father because the “sprinkled blood of Jesus speaks more eloquently than the blood of Abel” and obtains mercy for us. How great is our dignity and also how seriously we need to humble ourselves the more.
We rightly say before receiving Holy Communion, “Lord, I am not worthy to have you come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul will be saved.” We show the authenticity of our humility when we go to Jesus Our God the way that He has come to us. He humbled Himself and gave Himself to us through the humble Virgin Mary to show His love for us. Through Mary, with Mary and like Mary, let us go to Him through the path of humility before others. If we too show our love to Him by humbling ourselves before others, we shall realize our need for God; and if we realize our need for God, we shall receive abundant graces from Him; if we have these graces, we shall love selflessly like Christ too; and if we love selflessly, we shall surely be paid at the resurrection of the righteous.
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!