Palm Sunday. April 13th 2014.
Mt 21:1-11; Is 50:4-7; Phil 2:6-11; Mt 27:11-54
The power of Humility
“He humbled Himself.”
In the course of my vocation discernment journey, I attended many “Come and see” weekends, visiting with the religious communities that I was thinking of joining. I would usually find myself with a group of men about my age who were really thinking of joining one of these communities. On some of those gatherings, the question that usually arose among us prospective religious was, “Which of the three evangelical counsels – poverty, chastity or obedience – was most demanding of us?” Most of the time chastity topped the list. It seemed we were all set to live lives of evangelical poverty and wholehearted obedience but it seemed we needed just a little bit more divine help in living consecrated chastity.
But now I know better. I have had to face my ever present self will that makes religious obedience difficult. I have had to come to grips with the heart’s insatiable want for more that constantly challenges the genuineness of evangelical poverty. I have come to realize that we were then asking the wrong questions about the vows. The question should not have been which of these vows is the most demanding but how deep were we willing to humble ourselves so that God’s grace will prevail in us and over the demands of the vows. Those three vows are not possible without the virtue of humility. Even genuine love that animates the vows is rooted in humility. (1Cor 13:4-5) Without humility, we will constantly seek to get more of material and spiritual goods till we lose the sense of our dependence on God and then violate the vow of poverty. Without humility, we will surely not obey any religious superior out of love for God. Without humility, we surely cannot love others without seeking to possess the beloved so as to gain something from them and this basically puts an end to genuine consecrated chastity.
Palm Sunday highlights how Jesus dealt with the huge demands of being the innocent Savior of all mankind. The liturgy begins with the account of Jesus entering Jerusalem while the crowd proclaims Him as the prophet. What is Jerusalem known for as a city? They are known for killing prophets and they lived up to this reputation. Jesus once exclaimed, “It is impossible for a prophet to die outside Jerusalem.”(Cf. Lk 13:33-34) Yet Jesus knowingly enters into Jerusalem knowing fully well what awaits Him in the city. Where does He get this inner strength to do such a thing? The letter to the Philippians tells us that Jesus first “emptied Himself, taking the form of a slave, and coming in human likeness.” As if it was not enough for Him to become one like us, he also “humbled Himself, becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” Though He is the true Son of God, the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the author and source of all graces, because He continuously humbled Himself in His humanity, the power of God was immensely manifested in His human actions.
Jesus’ humility had no limits. Jesus began with humility, continued with humility and ended with humility and this is why the power of God was present in His humanity. He humbled Himself to surrender Himself completely to a creature of His when He chose to be a slave in the womb of the Blessed Virgin Mary, completely dependent on her as her son and obedient to her as His mother. He humbled Himself to be born in a manger, to live as a son of a carpenter and to heed the rude commands of the Jewish and Roman leaders. He enters Jerusalem today on a borrowed donkey! In His humility, He accepted the painful humiliations of His Passion, the abandonment by His disciples, His condemnation by those of His own nation and his burial in the another person’s tomb. Because of this His humility without limits, “God greatly exalted Him and bestowed on Him the name above all names” such that all knees in heaven and earth must bend at the name of the Lord Jesus.
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ, the demands of the Christian life are great, more so in our day and time. It is so easy for us to be filled with zeal to serve the Lord at one moment only to betray Him the very next moment. We can be like the crowd that shouts out, “Hosanna to the Son of David,” on Palm Sunday and then shout out, “Crucify Him” on Good Friday. Without humility, without that attitude of the heart that recognizes that we are nothing and have nothing good in us that God has not given to us and continue to sustain in us, we will be overwhelmed by the demands of our Christian vocation and we will begin to compromise or even give up completely. We lose our way completely when we begin to rationalize which of the demands of the Christian life are possible or impossible and forget the immense power of divine grace in us and its ability to overcome all things if only we will “humble ourselves and pray.”(2 Chronicles 7:14)
We need to humble ourselves before God and others. Lack of humility before others is manifested in self-righteousness, condemnation and being impatient with others. Lack of humility before God will be shown in giving up on prayer because we do not see visible results or because it does not make us feel good, giving up on the spiritual life because of past moral failures, believing only truths that are suitable to our taste and preference, getting complacent, letting the sufferings and pains of life quench our faith in God and succumbing to the temptation that we deserve a better deal from God in this life. With this lack of humility, we hinder the reception and flourishing of God’s grace in our lives because “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.” (James 4:6)
We can grow in this humility through begging for the grace of humility and by making use of the several opportunities to practice humility that God offers us in daily life. Praying for humility brings the knowledge of our nothingness from our heads to our hearts and thus influences our attitude before God and others. We have ample opportunities to practice humility with this grace in the times of failures and hardships in life, insults, humiliations, rejection and criticism of others, spiritual struggles, incessant temptations, etc. These opportunities are the avenue for divine grace to overflow in us if we approach them with humility and self renunciation.
Lastly, we attain this humility of heart through devotion to Mary. It is in her womb that Jesus Christ began His self emptying and His humility reached its peak on the Cross with her at His side. How did she get the inner strength to fulfill the demands of being Mother of the Redeemer, to stand at the Cross with Him in those painful moments when all the other disciples abandoned Jesus save a handful of them? She continuously humbled herself too, choosing to be the “handmaid (slave) of the Lord.” She witnessed and experienced the humility of God in her very being like no other person. She believed that “with God all things are possible” and she learned how to continuously humble herself too in imitation of Jesus so that God’s grace will prevail in her life. In the school of Mary we learn this humility of heart.
Jesus’ humbles Himself further in the gift that He makes to us of Himself under the form of bread and wine in the Eucharist so as to pour His grace into our souls. This grace is immensely powerful but only a humble attitude on our part will allow this grace to be truly effective and manifested in us.
If after receiving these sacramental graces, we still feel discouraged by the demands of faithful Christian living in our world today and we long for easier demands of discipleship on us, we must pause and ask ourselves the right question, “How deep are you willing to humble yourself before God and others?”
Glory to Jesus!!! Honor to Mary!!!