The View From Mount Humility

by Angela Lambert

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August 28th, 2016; 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 14:1,7-14  NAB

On a sabbath Jesus went to dine at the home of one of the leading Pharisees, and the people there were observing him carefully. He told a parable to those who had been invited, noticing how they were choosing the places of honor at the table. “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’ and then you would proceed with embarrassment to take the lowest place. Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’ Then you will enjoy the esteem of your companions at the table. For every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” Then he said to the host who invited him, “When you hold a lunch or a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives or your wealthy neighbors, in case they may invite you back and you have repayment. Rather, when you hold a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind; blessed indeed will you be because of their inability to repay you. For you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Meditation Reflection:

If pride comes before the fall, once could say humility comes before the ascent.  Our selfie-culture promotes self-assertion and our own honor and fame, bolstering pride and feeding competitiveness.  Yet, studies have shown that the social media craze can make persons feel depressed as they strive to compete with the seemingly perfect and glamorous lives of their friends based on the pictures they post.

I can certainly relate.  It seems like the night I order pizza for the kids someone posts a colorful, healthy, made-from-scratch dinner their family is enjoying.  As I take a mental break from the tedium of work, I see a post of someone’s adventurous travels.  When I take a moment to relax after having a difficult parenting day, I see a pictures of friends with their smiling kids, dressed in clean matching clothes, doing a fun family activity.  The temptation can be to respond by working on one’s own image and creating the appearance of similar importance and prestige (the definition of which varies based on what’s important to you).  In Jesus’ time, one’s image and importance could be seen by where one sat at the table. It’s not much different however than seeking social recognition online, at work, or amongst one’s peers based on achievements, physical appearance, or possessions.

For every vice with which one struggles, St. Francis de Sales advises conquering it by aiming for the opposite virtue.  To combat pride therefore, one must cultivate humility.

Humility does NOT mean self-hate or false modesty.  Rather, it refers to an authentic and accurate view of one’s worth as well as the worth of others.  Pride takes many forms as we vie with one another for our place – some obvious and others subtle.

Merriam-Webster defines humility as “not thinking of yourself as better than other people.” God revealed the inherent dignity of every human person by creating each one in His image and likeness (independent of differences in appearance or abilities) and by Christ dying on the cross to save each and every one of us.  If God would become man, to suffer and die for someone, how can I not value them as anything less than priceless?  It doesn’t make me any less, but it also means I’m not anything more.     C.S. Lewis captured this mystery well in his essay, “The Weight of Glory”.  In it, he reflects on the grandeur of the human person, whose immortal nature will share in the either the horror of hell or the magnificent glory of God in Heaven.  He writes:

There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilization—these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit—immortal horrors or everlasting splendours. This does not mean that we are to be perpetually solemn. We must play. But our merriment must be of that kind (and it is, in fact, the merriest kind) which exists between people who have, from the outset, taken each other seriously—no flippancy, no superiority, no presumption. And our charity must be a real and costly love, with deep feeling for the sins in spite of which we love the sinner—no mere tolerance or indulgence which parodies love as flippancy parodies merriment. Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses. If he is your Christian neighbour he is holy in almost the same way, for in him also Christ vere latitat—the glorifier and the glorified, Glory Himself, is truly hidden.”

In consequence, we need not honor others because we think so little of ourselves, but rather because we rejoice in our shared glory as sons and daughters of God.

A second reflection on humility relates to a definition which can be found in the Catholic Encyclopedia, which defines it further in this way:

“Humility in a higher and ethical sense is that by which a man has a modest estimate of his own worth, and submits himself to others. According to this meaning no man can humiliate another, but only himself, and this he can do properly only when aided by Divine grace.”

“Submitting oneself to others” is verbiage that sounds as archaic as the Latin in which it was originally written.  In our anti-authroity, “look out for #1” society this just seems antiquated.  I have been blessed however to experience the receiving end of this idea and I will admit that it creates a loving, peaceful community.  Just the other day, I walked in late to a meeting at work and a co-worker saw my need as I scanned the full room futily for an open seat.  He waved me over,  reached for a folding chair next to the wall, then opened it for me in an open spot he had found.  It made me feel cared for and respected.  Similarly, I am blessed to work at a place where colleagues regularly open the door for one another, ask genuinely how one is doing, and offer help whenever they see a need. This practice of showing deference toward others, far from demeaning one, creates esteem.

As a parent however I am finding it ever more difficult to create a sense of deference in my children.  On a recent road trip they argued that I was being a hypocrite because I made them take turns between the bucket seats in our van and the back seat but I always got to sit up front.  “Why do you get to sit up front?” they asked, “and why don’t you have to take a turn being squished in the back bench seat?”  “Because I’m an adult” I replied.  It seemed obvious to me. That thought would never have crossed my mind as a child. I had done my time sitting in the back as a kid.  Yet, it was not so obvious to them.  A similar incident occurred during a trip for my sister’s wedding. My dad had graciously rented a mini-van to help drive us as well as other extended family around.  On one excursion my aunt decided to come along and my kids began to fight over who had to give up a bucket seat for her.  She kindly offered to sit in the far back which, I remarked, was virtuous of her, but denied my kids the opportunity to practice virtue themselves.  Much like Jesus’ parable, her humility resulted in being urged to a place of honor (even if its’ prime seating in a van!), whereas one of my children had to be scolded and moved to the back.

Practicing deference shows love and respect.  It means honoring one another rather than grasping at it for oneself.  This doesn’t mean you will be destined to be a doormat, but as Sirach proclaims in chapter 3:17-18:

“My child, conduct your affairs with humility, and you will be loved more than a giver of gifts. Humble yourself the more, the greater you are, and you will find favor with God.”

Paradoxically, when we celebrate and appreciate others, we ourselves experience celebration and appreciation too.  Moreover, by valuing what truly maters in others, we learn to value ourselves more authentically as well.  It means we feel secure in our worth as sons and daughters of God.  We feel loved for who we are and not just what we can do.  It frees us to be teachable and learn from those who know more or have more experience.  It also frees us to mentor others in love rather than pride who could learn from us.  This builds the kingdom of God and gives us a taste of the wedding feast of heaven, where everyone rejoices in the grace of God and the work He has accomplished in the souls of every person there, including ourselves.

Jesus accepted the invitation to dine at the home of a leading Pharisee.  Humility does not therefore entail avoiding all social opportunities.  Instead, Christ exhorts us to evaluate the reasons for our decisions and to be aware of the snares of subtle pride.  Christ dined with the Pharisee to teach, heal, and save.  Others had come to be taught, healed, and saved.  Still others, Jesus observed, concerned themselves with image, honor, and their place at the prestigious table.  Jesus teaches us to celebrate the honors of others and thereby frees us from the striving and grasping after notoriety.  Instead of de-valuing your own worth, it actually means you feel secure and content with who you are and it frees you from judging yourself in comparison to others.  A good friend of mine once said, “to compare is to despair.”  I have found that to be true.  If however you take joy in other people you will be happy in any circumstance – either celebrating their successes, or being thankful to be in a position to offer help if they are in need.

Consider:

  • In what ways or areas do you sometimes over-estimate yourself? In what ways or areas do you sometimes under-estimate yourself?
  • Consider the deference Christ shows toward you by dying on the Cross for you, inviting you into relationship with Him, and transforming your life with his grace.
  • How might you show greater deference and humility toward others?
    • In your home and family.
    • Toward your peers and colleagues.
  • Reflect on the relationship between being humble and being teachable.
  • Consider the relationship between humility and service.
  • Consider the relationship between being humble and accepting the responsibility of leadership.
  • How does Christ model true humility in each of these ways?
    • Think of His obedience to Mary and Joseph.
    • Consider His relationships with His family, friends, and disciples.
    • Reflect on His humiliation on the Cross to elevate us.
  • With whom, or in what situations, do you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image the most? Invite Christ to help you with His grace to acquire peace and humility in that.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray the Litany of Humility each day this week.
  • Choose one person or area of your life in which you struggle with pride, over-competitiveness, or excessive focus on your image. Each morning this week, decide on one way in which you can practice humility in relation to that person or situation.
    • Examples: Towards Persons – ask him/her for help when needed, offer assistance, encouragement, or praise. Toward situations – Let others speak first at meetings, choose a simpler hair style or clothing for the day, invite a visitor in even if the house is a mess.
  • ~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016
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The The Fork In The Road For Every Christian

by Angela Lambert

fork in the road

August 14th, 2016; 20th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel Luke 12:49-53 NAB

Jesus said to his disciples: “I have come to set the earth on fire, and how I wish it were already blazing! There is a baptism with which I must be baptized, and how great is my anguish until it is accomplished! Do you think that I have come to establish peace on the earth?  No, I tell you, but rather division. From now on a household of five will be divided, three against two and two against three; a father will be divided against his son and a son against his father, a mother against her daughter and a daughter against her mother, a mother-in-law against her daughter-in-law and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law.”

Meditation Reflection:

Imagine someone else saying the same words as Jesus does in this Gospel passage.  We would probably accuse them of not being very Christian!  Isn’t Jesus the Prince of Peace?  Isn’t He the nicest guy there ever was?  Aren’t Christians supposed to be nice people?

pope francis and youth

God promised Noah that He would never destroy the earth by flood again…He said nothing about fire.   Jesus exclaims with great passion His eagerness to set the world ablaze.  This doesn’t seem to fit the sandal-wearing, nice, historical moral teacher image our culture likes to portray Jesus as.

fire pic

 

Jesus connects this mission to His own baptism, one that causes Him great “anguish until it is accomplished.” Fire purifies and destroys.  Christ came to set fire to sin, to destroy its corrupting influence in our lives, and to make room for life in God.  Fire however is painful and detoxing from anything (even something as simple as caffeine or sugar!) hurts for awhile.  Nevertheless, at the end of the purification process one feels liberated and empowered.  To ignite this fire and make our purification possible, Christ knew He had to suffer and die first – something that caused Him distress as He waited in anticipation.

agony in the garden

As disciples of Christ, we share in both His rewards and His suffering.  Christ’s words about causing division seem shocking.  Isn’t He supposed to bring unity and harmony? Jesus offers unity, but not everyone accepts it.  Note that although Jesus often ate with sinners, not every sinner chose to eat with Him and several found His witness challenging enough that they tried to silence Him altogether by crucifying Him.

I often quote G.K. Chesterton who said, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It’s been found difficult; and left untried.”  At the fork in the road therefore, where one must choose the path of discipleship or the path of least resistance, Christians must resolve and accept that as they walk to the left after Christ, some of their closest companions may walk to the right instead and their paths will separate.  Although Christians, like Christ, ought to keep the door open to those friendships, oftentimes living our faith can mean losing some relationships.  Jesus is Goodness, Truth, and Love.  Yet, He was rejected by many.  As we strive to be more Christ-like, we have to prepare ourselves for the same experience.

fork in the road 2

Even in the Old Testament, authentic prophets consistently experienced rejection and suffering.  The community they came to help change would pressure them to conform instead.  When God’s prophets refused, they found themselves exiled or running from death threats.  The first reading for this Sunday’s liturgy provides an evocative image of this from the life of Jeremiah:

“And so they took Jeremiah and threw him into the cistern of Prince Malchiah…There was no water in the cistern, only mud, and Jeremiah sank into the mud.” Jeremiah 38:6

 stuck in the mud

This image strikes me because of the several analogous experiences I can think of in my own life.  Jeremiah acts in truth and love only to be thrown into a pit.  The mud makes the image even better as a symbol of the depressive reality of ones you love rejecting Christ (and you) in favor of persisting in their sins.  When Jeremiah “sank into the mud,” I am reminded of the feeling of helplessness and despair that can discourage me in these moments. Thankfully, Jeremiah did not remain in the mud forever, Jesus’ death was followed by His resurrection, and God will lift us up too.  David expresses this in Psalm 40:2

“The LORD heard my cry. He drew me out of the pit of destruction, out of the mud of the swamp; he set my feet upon a crag; he made firm my steps.”

lake superior pic

Walking the path of discipleship may take you down a different road than some of the persons you love.  You might experience the pain of division and loss, not because you didn’t invite them along but because they refuse to come with you.  This fork in the road can come in many different forms at different times in our lives.  I remember losing a childhood friendship in high school because she chose the path of underage drinking and I did not.  I didn’t stop being friends with her, but she stopped being friends with me.  As an adult I have experienced similar crossroads in other relationships as well.  Choosing between following Christ and following someone we love is as painful as fire.  Our contemporary culture adds even more pressure.  It seems more rare these days to find people who can be friends even though they have different views and beliefs.  Instead, the attitude appears to be that one must condone the decisions of another or they can’t be friends.

To give a counter-example, I have the greatest respect and love for a college friend of mine who made a decision and developed a conviction contrary to my own convictions based on our shared Catholic faith.  She asked me point blank if I no longer wanted to be friends with her as a result and insisted I be candid about how I viewed her and her choice.  We have a long, deep, loving friendship and to be honest with me, knowing it might mean I would part ways, took guts. I have the greatest respect and admiration for her that she was mature enough to continue being friends with me even though we had different views on a serious topic.

friendship pic

Discipleship may be difficult but in the end Christ conquers all.  Every person must make a choice and, praise be to Christ, He provides us with the grace and the guts we will need to follow Him no matter the cost.

Have you had a similar experience?  If you’d be willing to share, write a short account of your fork in the road in the comment section below!

that you and I may be mutually encouraged by one another’s faith, yours and mine. Romans 1:12

Consider:

  •  How has Christ set your heart on fire?
    • How has He purified it?
    • How has that purification made you more zealous and joyful?
  • Has living out your Christian faith ever caused you to experience persecution from persons you care about?
    • In what ways did it feel like you were sinking into a pit of mud?
    • In what ways did God lift you up from the pit and set you on rock?
  • Who are your true friends who accept you as you are, complete with respect for your beliefs?
  • Have you ever been the one doing the persecuting or rejecting? Consider why we find it difficult to be around people who challenge us to be better simply by the way they are living their own lives.
  • Are there persons with whom you struggle to be an authentic Christian around? Do you live your faith at work or out with friends, or do you hide it so they won’t think differently about you?

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Pray Psalm 40 each day this week.
  • Resolve to let your faith be seen in some small way, especially in a place where you usually lack the courage. (e.g. wearing a cross necklace, having a small crucifix or rosary on your desk, writing favorite bible verses on notecards and placing them in places you will see – whether in your work space or at home, walking away from conversations that disparage the faith or other persons, etc.)

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

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Eyes Wide Open…Gospel Meditation for Sunday August 7th, 2016

by Angela Lambert

 

Raphael,_The_Miraculous_Draught_of_Fishes_(1515)

August 7th, 2016; 19th Sunday in Ordinary Time

Gospel of Luke 12:35-40 NAB

 “Jesus said to His disciples: ‘Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks.  Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.  Amen, I say to you, he will gird himself, have them recline at table, and proceed to wait on them.  And should he come in the second or third watch and find them prepared in this way, blessed are those servants. Be sure of this: if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.  You also must be prepared, for at an hour you do not expect, the Son of Man will come.’”

Meditation Reflection:

Today Jesus emphasizes the need for disciples to be vigilant.  According to Wordbook, vigilant means to be “carefully observant or attentive; on the lookout for possible danger.”  Discipleship can suffer from the same waning of enthusiasm as any of our other noble tasks.  How many New Year’s diets end by February?  How many work-out videos get one viewing before gathering dust?  How many books are left only partially read?  How many friendships or relationships wither from slow neglect?  Jesus exhorts us to head off dangers to our faith by being aware and making efforts to protect ourselves from them.  Discipleship requires the same perseverance, effort, and watchfulness as anything else we hope to accomplish and maintain.

To achieve a goal of getting in shape, having someone to hold you accountable and work out with you will be necessary in order to avoid giving up early or choosing to watch tv instead of going to the gym.  Discipleship requires fellowship as well.  We need faith-filled friends to keep us accountable, inspire us to be better, and keep us in the habit of prayer and worship.  To achieve the goal of developing your mind through reading, you will need to choose a time, place, and frequency or it will never happen.  Forming a book club can also give that added boost of a deadline to motivate you.  Similarly, to grow nearer to Christ you will need to read Scripture regularly.  The same pitfalls apply here so being vigilant about sticking to a routine will be important and joining a bible study could also be motivating.

Wordbook’s synonym for vigilance illuminates the essence of discipleship as well: “open-eyed.” Here however, it’s our eyes of faith that we need to struggle to keep open.  In Hebrews 1:1, St. Paul defines faith as: “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (RSV).  He goes on to illustrate this with the example of Abraham who left for a land God promised without any sight of it beforehand – no map, no appraisal or inspection, no google images – only God’s word.  Moreover, after having received a son despite he and Sarah’s old age, Abraham was willing to sacrifice Isaac at God’s command. Imagine the paradox presented to Abraham.  God had promised Abraham many descendants through Isaac, and yet God also asked Abraham to sacrifice Isaac.  How could both of these things be true at the same time?  Abraham could find no assurance in natural reason or human experience and power.  Abraham merited the title Father of Faith by his response.  St. Paul relates, “[Abraham] considered that God was able to raise men even from the dead; hence, figuratively speaking, he did receive him back” (Hebrews 11:19 RSV).  Abraham had confidence that God is all-powerful and that God keeps His promises.  He didn’t limit God to our human experience.  He trusted God and proved his conviction when he risked everything to be obedient to the Lord.

How can we imitate the vigilant, open-eyed faith of Abraham?  Every day we need to open our eyes through prayer.  We need to ask for the gift of faith and trust.  We have to keep sharp through fellowship with faithful Christians and spiritual reading.  We need to deepen our trust through developing our relationship with Christ and receiving His grace in the sacraments.  Finally, many saints and spiritual writers suggest doing an examination of conscience every night.  Look back on the day and evaluate your choices.  When did you show love for God and for others?  What temptations did you overcome?  What inspirations of the Holy Spirit did you follow?  Secondly, where did you lean on your own understanding instead of God’s?  When did you relax into thinking and acting like a child of the world rather than a child of God?  What choices were motivated by a lack of faith, hope, or charity?  Ask God for forgiveness and an increase in grace to do better the next day.

Even if the end of the day doesn’t work for you, try to at least be more introspective throughout the day.  Jesus warned “Be sure of this, if the master of the house had known the hour when the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into.”  Sins can make little strongholds in our soul if we are not vigilant in identifying them and putting them before the Lord for healing.  We never know when we will be attacked by temptation and sometimes it can be very subtle.  By developing a habit of staying alert we will be better able to avoid or overcome them.

Lastly, we never know when Jesus will come.  He too appears at surprising times in surprising ways.  If we live in faith, our hearts will be open to receive the gifts Christ desires to bestow on us.  We may have to take a step that makes no sense from a practical perspective unless God is real, all-powerful, and keeps His promises.  God will provide.  If therefore we seek first His kingdom, we can be assured that everything else will be taken care of (Matthew 6:33), and quite often in ways we could not have foreseen.

We have a tendency today to need to “see it to believe it.”  Although I still have to struggle to patiently trust God, at this point I have seen God act so many times in my life that I can say I believe it because I’ve seen it.  I’ve seen God provide over and over again, always in unexpected ways, and just at the right time.  He has done this at every level – family, relationships, work, finances, and health. Even though it’s easier to trust the wisdom of the world or our own strength which we can see right before us, we ought to vigilantly keep our eyes open to the wisdom and strength of our loving God which is far more reliable. He is coming, and it will be a day of great rejoicing we won’t want to miss!

Consider:

  •  Reflect on what practices have deepened your faith and helped you grow as a disciple of Christ?
  • Consider where you need further growth. Pray about how you could be more vigilant in that area.
  • Meditate on the words Jesus asked St. Faustina to have written below His image: “Jesus I trust in You.”
  • Reflect with gratitude on a time(s) when God came through for you in a surprising or powerful way.
  • Is there a part of your life that needs more trust in Jesus? Pray for an increase in faith and hope.

Make a Resolution (Practical Application):

  • Choose one way to be more vigilant in your faith life. Share your goal with someone who will encourage you and keep you accountable.
  • Pray the short prayer, “Jesus I trust in You” several times each day.
  • Pray Psalm 27 each day this week.

 

~ Written by Angela Lambert © 2016

* To receive these weekly posts automatically in your email just click the “follow” tab in the bottom right hand corner and enter your email address.