Fr. Justin Sheehan, OCSO
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
In his book Heretics, G.K. Chesterton reflected on what the ancient pagans discovered, and his description bears a remarkable resemblance to the neo-pagans of America today. Chesterton wrote:
“The great psychological discovery of Paganism can be expressed with some accuracy in one phrase. The pagan set out, with admirable sense, to enjoy himself. By the end of his civilization he had discovered that a man cannot enjoy himself and continue to enjoy anything else….(We must not) imagine that the pagan enjoyed himself only in a materialistic sense. Of course, he enjoyed himself, not only intellectually even, he enjoyed himself morally, he enjoyed himself spiritually. But it was himself that he was enjoying; on the face of it, a very natural thing to do. Now, the psychological discovery is merely this, that whereas it had been supposed that the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by extending our ego to infinity, the truth is the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero”.
The truth is what Sirach had already said in the first reading: “Conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts”. And Christ in this morning’s Gospel points out the consequences of this truth: “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted”. Chesterton nailed it: the fullest possible enjoyment is to be found by reducing our ego to zero. It’s called humility.
Humility is the point of departure of all God does in us; it is the foundation of what he wants to bring about in us. He looks for humility and brings it about; and he must do this before he can begin his work: it is humility which turns us to God. He can do nothing with proud people, since an evil growth has taken root in them. And we are all proud in so far as we are turned toward ourselves, bent on merely enjoying ourselves.
Humility is the discovery that the fullest possible enjoyment is found by those who humble themselves, so that they can enjoy the greatness and goodness of God. The humble, “the just, shall rejoice at the presence of God”. They shall exult in the unique and full richness of his Being, which is so very far beyond the limits of their own being.
Those who humble themselves make music to the name of God by asking God to give himself to them. They ask for what God most desires to give: himself as a home to live in. Humble people recognize that the desire to give themselves, to enjoy something other than themselves, does not come from them. They can have that desire only if God himself gives it. Their humility touches the heart of God and gives him the glory. That is why humility is all-powerful: it is irresistible. It was her humility that God looked upon and loved in Mary, and it is what he looks for and loves in us, what draws him to us.
Those who reduce their egos to zero present themselves with the attractive power of emptiness to God who is longing to fill them with his Being. There is no resistance to break, no other presence to interfere, no transformation to bring about. “God is infinitely generous”, says William of Auvergne. “He loves to give as much as he is. He is never so happy as when he is giving himself like that. Whoever tells him of needs to be satisfied, of a weakness to be relieved, of sufferings to be healed, delights him”.
A God like that is the first to be humble. When his people are starved, he finds a way to give them new life. Every day he takes impersonal bread and wine, the work of human hands, and finds them worthy to be changed into the Body and Blood of his Son.
Blessed are those who allow God to give himself to them in holy communion. They should delight him by humbly bringing to him all of their needs and weaknesses and sufferings. This is a sacred banquet, a sign of that eternal banquet where the divine Host will say to all those who humble themselves, “My friend, move up to a higher position, to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem. Welcome to the home prepared in God’s goodness for the humble”.