Servants of the Pierced Hearts of Jesus and Mary- Homilies

"The Virtue of Humility in the Beatitudes"
Homily for the 4th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Fr. Jonathan L. Reardon
January 30, 2011
Year A

Cardinal Faulhaber was one of the courageous leaders of the Church in Germany during the tragic period surrounding World War I. During the war he used to visit a veterans' hospital reserved for soldiers in all stages of blindness. Some could see light faintly; others could see nothing. On one occasion, as he walked quietly through the wards, he heard one young soldier praying: Lord, I beg you not to take away the light of my eyes. But if it is your will that I should be deprived of it, then leave me, at least, the light of my mind. But if it is your will that I be deprived of that, leave me, at least, the light of my faith. The Cardinal stopped and asked: Son, where did you learn that beautiful prayer? The soldier answered: Your Eminence, when I was a boy in Austria, I used to lead the old Cardinal of Vienna into his garden and stay with him there. He was 90 years old. I heard him say that prayer often. I have never forgotten it. It was the profound humility that had given that young soldier’s soul twenty-twenty spiritual vision; a vision that gave him strength amid terrible suffering. It is this type of humility that Jesus teaches us in today’s Gospel.

Upon seeing a crowd of people thirsting for His teaching, Jesus uses this opportunity to paint the picture of a true disciple. Many of His listeners were probably disappointed in His words. These were not the same human values – such as those expressed by the Pharisees who saw earthly happiness and wealth as God’s blessing and unhappiness and pain as God’s punishment. But we find in the Beatitudes the essence of true happiness – happiness that is born from the Spirit of God. These words of Jesus, in their structure and form, were not unfamiliar to the Jewish people as they mirror much of the wisdom literature of the Old Testament. They are different, however, in the sense that the wisdom books assume that virtue and good actions are rewarded in the present. The Beatitudes have a different outlook. They look beyond the present and pierce the mysteries of the divine. The Beatitudes have an eschatological view – a heavenly vision – that rewards those who possess their virtues. Thus the Beatitudes do not function as entrance requirements but rather as a delineation of the characteristics and actions that will receive their heavenly reward.

When St. Augustine was asked to name the three greatest virtues, he gave a very interesting answer: 1. Humility. 2. Humility. 3. Humility. Taking a closer look at the words of the Beatitudes we can see just humility undergirds their meaning. 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 gracefully realize that God is the center of the universe – not ourselves. The clean of heart realizes that other people do not exist just for the sake of his pleasure but is able to see the image of God in them. 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 person 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 picture.

Thus, we are able to see that underlying all the Beatitudes is this fundamental attitude that puts God and others ahead of the self. It looks out at the world instead of staring in, fixated on self. This is true 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.”
The virtue of humility, this attitude of being humble before God and men – we must make it our own. There are a number of ways we can seek the Lord and grow in humility. The first is by committing ourselves to daily prayer. We ought to take 10-15 minutes a day to thank God for His blessings, ask His help and grace to serve Him faithfully for another day. Another way is by regularly making a good confession. There is no better way to grow in humility then by acknowledging our faults, asking forgiveness, make resolution to strive to do better and receive God’s healing grace. If we but set our feet in this simple path we will actively nourish and strengthen God’s grace within our hearts and acquire that spiritual vision – the vision of heaven – that will make us those true disciples that live up to the call of the Beatitudes.

Rev. Jonathan L. Reardon is a priest for the diocese of Springfield in Massachusetts.
He serves at St. Thomas the Apostle Parish in West Springfield, MA


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