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Deacon Raymond Chan’s Homilies
 
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Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time A – Let us contemplate the humility of the Son of God born into poverty

January 29, 2023

 

            All three of this Sunday’s readings refer to humility. Humility is a subject we usually avoid discussing, but they go to the heart of our Christian life, our relationship with God. The word humility is best understood when we consider its origin, humus. Humus is used in farming. Farmers call humus black gold. What is humus? It is a composition of decayed plant and animal matter. When humus is mixed with soil it becomes the richest part of the soil and will yield the most bountiful harvest and the most beautiful flowers. Like the rich, broken soil of humus, humility is the capacity to be open to receive the seeds of experience, both the painful and the enriching. Humility is the grace to let ourselves be broken like the humus, broken of our pride and our ego, so that we can be used to provide a rich harvest, far greater than we could create ourselves.  As Pope Francis said: “Let us contemplate the humility of the Son of God born into poverty. Let us imitate him by sharing with those who are weak.”

 

            In the first reading prophet Zephaniah calls the faithful Israelites the humble of the earth (Zephaniah 2:3, 3:12-13). He conveys the promise of the Lord that even when God’s anger comes upon the world, a remnant of people will remain who are humble and lowly. They will not be deceitful. Humility is being open to God’s presence. A proud person does not need God. He or she is a god to himself or herself. The original sin described in Genesis was the sin of pride. Adam and Eve were too full of themselves to listen God. The serpent touched a sensitive nerve when he told them that if they ate the fruit they would be like gods. A humble person needs God. A humble person recognizes God’s presence in others, God’s truth in different ways of thought, and God’s action in his own life. A humble person seeks the Lord wherever He may be found.

 

            In the second reading (1 Corinthians 1:26-31), St. Paul addressed Christians at Corinth, many of whom were at the bottom of the Greco-Roman society. Some were slaves, some were lower class workers. Paul tells them that position in society and family origins has nothing to do with how God’s plan would work through them. God would use them to teach the so-called wise and to demonstrate the foolishness of those who are full of themselves. He uses those whom the world perceives as foolish to shame the wise, and those whom the world perceives as nothing to reduce to nothing those who think they are something. Humility is allowing God to work through us for others. Humility is being less concerned with what we do or how we do it and being more concerned with having a life dialogue with God. It takes a tremendous amount of humility to be good parents and to be good Christians. It takes a tremendous amount of humility to realize that we have to do our best in whatever we do, but God is the one who transforms our efforts into success. Good parents trust God to supply that which they lack. (On a personal note, I realize how much I can learn from my children and even grandchildren as I get older.) Good parents trust God to work through them because they know that without God they cannot provide the best for their children.

 

           Modern life is complex. So are modern people. Modern people try to balance their personal needs with the natural need to form lasting relationships. An example of the complexity of the modern person: The modern person is inclined to hide behind the material things of the world and then berates the lack of the spiritual in the world. Perhaps, the twentieth-first century person is no different than people of other ages. People have always confused their lives with the desire for material goods. People have always sought happiness through selfishness. People have always been too complex to be open to the reality of the spiritual. People have always been too proud to realize that they cannot generate inner peace and happiness. Inner peace and happiness come from God.

 

            Finally, in the Gospel reading, Matthew tells the story of the first part of the Sermon on the Mount, the Beatitudes (5:1-12a). Jesus went up a mountain. After he had sat down his disciples gathered around him, and he began to teach them: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. ……. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. ….. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven,”

 

            Brothers and sisters, when St Augustine was asked to name the three most important virtues, he gave an interesting answer: First, he said, humility. Second, humility. Third, humility. And St, Anthony also said:  “I saw the snares that the enemy spreads out over the world and I said, groaning, ‘What can get through from such snares?’ Then I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Humility.”  Our Mother Mary is the role model of humility. At the Annunciation, she said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be done to me according to your word.” (Luke 1:38).  She put her future in the hands of the Lord.  Her sole desire is to do God’s will.  And of course, Jesus is the perfect example of humility because, “though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness…he humble himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.” (Philippians 2: 6-8).  Humility is God’s favourite thing; he longs to find it in us. Humility is the unifying idea that undergirds the eight Beatitudes, which we just read, and which summarize Jesus’ teaching about how to live. They give us cause for reflection as they turn our normal societal value system upside down, forcing us to confront whether we are guided by the gospel or by the pattern set by society.  They show us that real genuine happiness doesn’t come from wealth, power or prestige. Looking carefully, we see a common denominator: the person who is blessed is the person who is not thinking about himself all the time. The poor in spirit and those who suffer persecution gracefully realize that they are not the centre of the universe – God is. The clean of heart realizes that other people don’t exist just for the sake of his pleasure. The peacemaker is concerned about the needs and problems of others. The merciful is concerned about the suffering of others. The mournful is concerned about the damage his sin does to the Church, the world, and other people. The meek cares more about getting things done than getting credit for doing things. Those who hunger for righteousness realize that their life has a higher purpose, that it’s part of a bigger story. Underlying all the Beatitudes is this fundamental attitude that puts God and others ahead of self. It looks out at the world instead of staring in, fixated on self. This is humility, the bedrock of basic human maturity.  God loves this humility, because it opens the soul to receive his gifts. The arrogant soul is closed in on itself. No one can get in, not even God, who wants to deliver his gifts. This is why the First Reading shows God praising “the humble and lowly” and exhorting us to “Seek the Lord… seek humility.” Only a humble person can have a spiritual life, because he/she knows the need for one. Humility is not looking negatively at ourselves. Humility is not berating everything we do. Humility is recognizing that God has made us wonderful and will continue to work His wonders in us. The humble enter into a dialogue with God to seek that which really matters. And the only things that matter in life are those that flow from God and those that lead back to God. Let’s all pray for humility. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

          

 

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