Engaging the Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year C): Gospel – Luke 14:1, 7-14

Why is pride so harmful to the spiritual life? Pride is rooted in a lie, as though we’re the architects of our own existence, with no need for God.

Humility, on the other hand, is grounded in the truth of who we are. As creatures, we are constantly dependent upon God. As sin-prone human beings, we are incapable of saving our souls for eternal life. And as disciples of Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, we are called to emulate His humility.

In today’s Gospel, set against the background of intense social competition at a banquet, Jesus takes the opportunity to instruct the guests on the virtue of humility. In essence, He counsels us to follow His example.

As God the Son, the Eternal Word of the Father, He humbled Himself to take up our humanity in order to redeem us. Just as He tells His host that he should invite the poor and outcast, so does Jesus invite us, who cannot possibly repay Him, to His eternal banquet.

In the words of Pope St. Gregory the Great (d. 604),

that He might bring us back to the way of life through humility, He deigned to exhibit in Himself what He teaches us…For to this end the only begotten Son of God took upon Himself the form of our weakness; to this end He endured…the reproaches of derision, the torments of suffering; that God in His humility might teach man not to be proud. How great, then, is the virtue of humility for the sake of teaching which alone He Who is great beyond compare became little even unto the suffering of death!

Book V, Letter 18.

Remembering that we are sinners, forever in God’s debt, helps us to develop a true sense of humility before God and neighbor – not to denigrate our gifts and accomplishments, but to know that they come from God, and to view ourselves in proper perspective.

Because humility enables us to recognize our dependence upon God, and to treat others charitably, it is essential for growth in the spiritual life.

Question for reflection: How might I cultivate the virtue of humility?

Engaging the Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

25th Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B): Gospel – Mark 9:30-37

This Gospel passage illustrates the problems engendered by selfish pride, as the disciples argue about who is greatest among them.

Pride can give rise to envy of another, which St. Augustine saw as “the diabolical sin” (Catechism 2539).

As St. Ambrose wrote, “Pride transformed angels into demons; humility makes human beings into saints.”

Jesus counsels the disciples to practice humility and self-giving: whoever wants to be first, should be the servant of all.

In this way we will achieve “victory,” but not “in triumphalistic terms,” Benedict XVI explains:

Christ suggests to us a very different road that does not pass through dominance and power. Christ speaks of a victory through suffering love, reciprocal service, help, new hope and practical comfort given to the lowliest, to the forgotten, to the outcast.

For all Christians the loftiest expression of this humble service is Jesus Christ Himself, the total gift that He makes of Himself, the victory of His love over death, on the cross, that shines in the light of Easter morning.

Only if we let ourselves be transformed by God, only if we undertake to convert our life and if the transformation is brought about in the form of conversion, can we share in this transforming ‘victory.’

General Audience of January 18, 2012.

Question for reflection: When is it most difficult to put aside my selfishness?

Engaging the Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

14th Sunday in Ordinary Time: Gospel – Matthew 11:25-30

Take Jesus’ yoke upon you and find rest

Jesus presents us with paradoxes in Sunday’s Gospel. Revelation comes to the “little ones,” not to those who deem themselves wise, and by taking the Lord’s yoke upon us, we actually find true rest in Him.

These statements are integrally related: to accept the Kingdom of God, we must have a “humble and trusting heart” (Catechism paragraphs 544, 2785).

This truth contradicts our contemporary culture, which promotes pride of mind and heart. The culture often denies objective standards of morality and claims that we can fashion individual ideas of right and wrong to suit ourselves.

As St. John Paul II has observed, such moral relativism is essentially “a lack of trust in the wisdom of God, Who guides man with the moral law” (The Splendor of Truth 84).

“God, Who alone is good, knows perfectly what is good for man, and by virtue of His very love,” He teaches us what is good by giving us the commandments (35).

We are authentically free, not when we try to deny the truth of God’s word, but when we embrace God’s will and choose the good (35, 84).

Jesus Himself shows us the way: “The Word became flesh to be our model of holiness” (Catechism paragraph 459). “His exclamation, ‘Yes, Father!’ expresses the depth of His heart…this loving adherence of His human heart to the mystery of the will of the Father” (2603).

Question for reflection: When have I found peace in surrendering to the Lord?

Sin

Summary of Catechism paragraphs 1846-76:

  • Sin is failing to love God and neighbor; by insisting on our own way, even in violation of what is right, we set ourselves against God and turn away from His love; as a result, sin offends God.
  • This disobedience, rooted in pride, is not just a matter of breaking a rule; it reveals an excessive attachment to ourselves, our will, our desires, that injures our spiritual health and our relationship with God, as well as with others.
  • Sin has levels of gravity, a fact confirmed by 1 John 5:16-17; mortal sin, as its name implies, is deadly to the soul and imperils our eternal salvation; venial sin is a lesser offense, but still to be avoided.
  • Sin qualifies as mortal only if it involves grave matter (i.e., actions covered by the Ten Commandments), full knowledge (being aware of its gravity) and deliberate consent (freely choosing the evil); through fulfilling all three conditions, one commits a mortal sin, and thereby loses God’s sanctifying grace.
  • Honest ignorance, compulsions of an exterior or interior nature, or emotions that overwhelm our reason can all reduce our culpability; but a hard-hearted pretense of claiming not to know just exacerbates our sin.
  • If any one of the aforementioned three elements is lacking, it is a venial sin; even when venial sins involve minor matters, they strike at our charity, stunt our spiritual life, and over time, cause us to grow apart from God.
  • As with a bad habit, sin becomes ingrained; the more venial sins we commit, the greater our tolerance for sin, until it becomes all too easy to slip into mortal sin; our conscience can also be impaired by habitual sin.
  • Certain sins have been described as “capital,” from the Latin caput for “head,” because they give rise to other sins; the seven capital sins are pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth.
  • God is eager to forgive us all of our sins, however grave, and restore us in His sanctifying grace; but if we persistently refuse to repent, and want nothing to do with His friendship, we spurn His offer of eternal salvation; this is the sin against the Holy Spirit that cannot be forgiven – not on God’s part, but on ours.
  • Although sin is inherently a personal choice, we can incur responsibility for the sins of others if we approve and support them, or if we don’t try to prevent their evil; thus sins can worm their way into society and institutions, leading to “structures of sin” that ensnare more people into wrongdoing.

Live Your Faith

A lively awareness of sin doesn’t make us wallow in guilt and self-loathing, but instead keeps us grounded in reality, and inspires us to praise God for His limitless mercy toward us.

As a loving Father, God wants to keep us safe and protect us from anything that would hurt us. Unfortunately, like rebellious children, we sometimes view His law as an unreasonable curb on our desires.

But if we develop the spiritual sensitivity to see how damaging sin is, we understand why it’s vital to take responsibility for our failings and seek the sacrament of Reconciliation. Only by knowing ourselves as sinners can we realize our great need for redemption.