Sanctifying the World

Just two weeks ago, Jesus called out the Pharisees as hypocrites for testing him. Last week, the Pharisees tried again. Today, Jesus preaches against the Pharisees. “They do not practice what they teach,” Jesus says, “they do all their deeds to be seen by others.” Jesus is not pulling his punches. Why is Jesus reacting so strongly to the scribes and the Pharisees?

Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees
Woe unto You, Scribes and Pharisees (Malheur à vous, scribes et pharisiens) by James Tissot

Jesus condemns them because their observance of the law is merely external. They preach the law, but they do not live it. They may say, “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and love your neighbor as yourself,” 1 but they love luxury and accolades more than God and neighbor. They have made idols of their phylacteries and their fringes. They have exalted themselves, and they shall be humbled if they do not repent of their ways—either in this life or the next.

The readings here are pointed at the priestly portion of society in Israel. Each reading speaks of the necessity for the priests to care for the children of God, and strongly condemns those who tie up heavy burdens hard to carry and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they will not lift a finger to move them. The message to the priests and scribes and Pharisees in these readings is clear, and it is strong: practice what you preach, or you will answer to God.

But what does this have to do with everyone else? Why does the church give us all this reading?

The purpose of the priesthood is to sanctify. In the Church, there are two fundamental types of priesthood. There is the ministerial priesthood, conferred through ordination. Its goal is to sanctify the children of God. The priest exists to serve and sanctify the baptized. There is another type of priesthood in the church, on in which each of the baptized share: the common priesthood of the faithful. Through this common priesthood, the baptized are called to sanctify the entire world.

When we understand that all of God’s baptized children are a part of the common priesthood of the faithful, the readings take on a new meaning. We must all follow the way of God. We must care for all our brothers and sisters in this world. We must humble ourselves.

Malachi warns us that if we do not do this, our blessing will become a curse. Our baptism gives us a great blessing and great graces. Baptism transforms us into children of God, and God marks us as his beloved. With this blessing, with this covenant, however, we are given a missionary responsibility. God calls us to sanctify and convert the world: to teach the Good News of Jesus Christ to the world through our words and actions. If we fail to do this, the we will not only lose what we had before our baptism, but we will also lose all the gifts we were given in baptism.

This duty is serious. It is a challenge to each of us. We must allow God to take control of our lives, to reflect him in everything we do. We must all humble ourselves and become servants of our neighbor. Jesus was the greatest man who ever lived, and in today’s Gospel, he tells us that the greatest among you must be your servant. Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.

Today’s Readings:
Thirty-first Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A
Malachi 1:14b-2:2b, 8-10; Psalm 131:1, 2, 3; 1 Thessalonians 2:7b-9, 13; Matthew 23:1-12

Reflection for the Seventh Sunday of Ordinary Time / Year A

Today’s Readings: Lv 19:1-2, 17-18; Ps 103:1-2, 3-4, 8, 10, 12-13; 1 Cor 3:16-23; Mt 5:38-48

Humility.

What a virtue!

Without humility, we are like tyrants. Without humility, we cannot truly listen to others. Without humility, we cannot endure suffering. Without humility, we cannot grow to be the man or woman who God created us to be. The readings today show us the need for humility.

The first reading tells us not to bear hatred for our brothers and sisters, to take no revenge and hold no grudge, to not incur sin even if we might need to correct them. Without humility, we cannot do this! The golden rule, formulated here in Leviticus as “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” is a call to humility. This is a challenging command! When I make a mistake, sometimes I am able to realize it, but many times I don’t even realize when I have done it. If I knew about it, I would try my best to correct it. In these cases, the only way that I can grow is for someone to offer me correction. That is why correcting a brother or a sister in Christ is an act of charity!

But without humility, this can become the act of a tyrant. Humility helps us to recognize that we all make mistakes. We all have faults. When someone corrects us, we desire for them to do it out of care and love. When someone corrects me out of anger, spite or a desire for power I can feel it. I do not wish that feeling on others. It is painful! It is hurtful! When we have humility, we can recognize our faults—or at least that we have faults—, and we allow ourselves to be corrected and to correct others in charity and kindness.

As I mentioned, humility allows us to truly hear others. Without humility, we may be tempted to assume that we our always right, and that others are the ones who need to change. Whenever I am driving, I know that I am the best driver on the road. If something doesn’t go my way when I’m driving, it’s never because I made a mistake. It’s the other guy, who obviously never learned how to drive and wants to cause a wreck. Humility, by helping open us to correction, helps us to recognize that maybe, perhaps, I was wrong. Maybe the reason people keep brake-checking me and giving me the “single-finger peace sign” is because I did something wrong while driving. Maybe I should listen when my friend tells me that texting while driving is bad, and that, really, 20 over the speed limit is a bad plan.

Humility helps us to be open to the input of other people in our lives. Paul reminds the Corinthians today that they must be open to others: “If anyone among you considers himself wise in this age, let him become a fool.” The wise one is the person with all the answers. When we think we have all the answers, we are not open to others.

Finally, without humility we cannot fully accept the gift of suffering. Suffering is not fun, and we should not seek it out for its own sake. But, when suffering is inflicted on us we have to deal with it. How we deal with it makes all the difference. Saint John Paul II wrote an encyclical letter called Salvifici Doloris where he searches for the meaning of suffering. Ultimately, however, why God allows suffering remains a mystery to us. This, in itself, is an experience of humility. We are called to recognize that we cannot and will not know everything in this life.

But we are not left alone in this struggle. We are not alone in seeking humility. God himself gave us the ultimate example of humility by suffering and dying on the cross. God become a human being. Think about this for a moment. The all-powerful and all-knowing God became a weak and defenseless baby, and then allowed other men to kill him. Nobody understood what God was trying to teach us until the Resurrection, when Jesus rose from the dead. God was teaching us that there is life after death—death has no power over us! But we must have the humility to accept that we will not always understand.

The Flagellation of Christ

We also learn humility through suffering because we often need the help of others to endure our suffering. We depend on others emotionally or physically. We are forced to exit ourselves and become a part of the larger community. The best way in which we can do this is by joining our suffering to Jesus Christ Crucified. The Crucifixion was grotesque, and in addition to the physical suffering, the spiritual and emotional suffering Jesus must have been immense. My most intense experience of suffering and pain was not due to a physical torment, but from emotions. Something had occurred which did not initially seem like a big deal at first, but I felt a betrayed. I did not even realize that this feeling was growing and growing inside of me until it completely overwhelmed me a few days later. I could not focus on anything, and I was very distraught. People who knew me could tell that something was very wrong. After a couple of days, I was finally able to bring it to prayer. I asked God to help me understand what he is trying to teach me, and I did my best to offer it up to him—but this is easier said than done. Eventually, God allowed me recognize that what had occurred was ultimately for my good. It still hurt, but it changed me. For the better.

 Icon of the ResurrectionWhen we suffer we can join our suffering to Christ’s suffering, and offer it for the salvation of souls—including our own—and the redemption of mankind. In a way, suffering makes us co-workers with Jesus on the Cross in a very special and unique way. Today’s Gospel doesn’t call for us to be crucified—not here at least, but it does call us to turn the other cheek, and to go the extra mile. These aren’t fun, and they often involve a little suffering. But these small experiences of suffering prepare us for the road ahead. They teach us the humility we need for the big suffering that will inevitably come to most of us.

Humility is fundamental to the Christian way of life. It can get us through our suffering. It can help us listen. It can help us be kind and compassionate in dealing with others.

Humility.

What a virtue!