Sunday, July 09, 2017

The Humility of Faith

"The Door of Humility"
The Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

(Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year A; This homily was given on July 9, 2017 at St. Paul Church in Cranston, R.I., and Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church in Woonsocket, R.I.; See  Matthew 11:25-30)

One of the most ancient churches in the Christian world is the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem.  It was built over the place where Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, was born.  That church has been invaded, destroyed, rebuilt and reestablished, over and over again, across the centuries.  It is a testimony to the power of perseverance and to the tenacity of the Christian faith. 
The main entrance to the Church of the Nativity was built as a massive portal, with the arch of the gate reaching some twelve feet high.  Invaders and marauders would sometimes drive horses in through that vast doorway, or drive horse-drawn carriages out of it, loaded with the church’s treasures!  In order to defend against that sacrilege, the entrance was eventually walled up with brick and mortar.   Having sealed off the main portal, a small doorway was chiseled out, standing a mere four feet high and two feet wide.  There is no chance of getting a horse through that entrance!  In order for pilgrims to enter into the place where Jesus Christ was born, they have to literally kneel down and shift their bodies through the doorway.  Fittingly, it is called the “Door of Humility.”

Our readings for this Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, as well as the “collect,” or opening prayer for this morning’s liturgy, are focused on that beautiful virtue of humility.  I would offer three small points (pun intended) for our reflection this weekend.

First and foremost, we discover in the Sacred Scriptures and in this morning’s Mass that God is humble.  God, who created everything we see and everyone gathered in this place; who is so far beyond anything that we could possibly think or imagine; God who is all powerful and who “dwells in unapproachable light” (1 Timothy 6:16), chose to be born as a little child in Bethlehem.  The God who created the universe was content to be cradled in the arms of the Blessed Virgin Mary.  

More than that, when that child grew to be a man, He chose to redeem us not by force or by physical strength, but in weakness and humiliation.  Jesus Christ allowed Himself to be handed over to sinful men, to be unjustly treated; to be beaten and spat upon.  He suffered crucifixion before a jeering crowd in order to set us free from the slavery of sin.   As we heard this morning, in the opening prayer for the Mass:

“O God, who in the abasement of your Son, have raised up a fallen world, fill your faithful with holy joy, for on those you have rescued from slavery to sin you bestow eternal gladness.”

God’s humility redeems and renews our fallen humanity.  Following upon this great mystery, we recognize a remarkable reality in the Sacred Scriptures this morning.  It is in that same humility that God calls us into a deep and abiding relationship with Himself.  God does not coerce us into following Him.  He does not make demands or violate our freedom.  With gentleness and humility, He approaches us and asks: 

Are you tired?  Are you worn out?  
Are you lonely and afraid?  
Come to me!

Come to me, all you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble of heart; and you will find rest for yourselves. 
—Matthew 11: 28-29

What an amazing and overwhelming invitation!  God wants you and I to share in a relationship of love with Him.  He wants to cooperate with us in a shared life of grace and fruitfulness.  We, for our part, are completely free to receive or reject so wonderful an offer.  

Which brings us to the third and final point for our reflection this morning.  There can be only one true response to so great a gift as this relationship with God: humble faith.

Humble faith believes and accepts God’s offer on His terms, not on our own.  We cannot say to God, “I will believe in You and follow Jesus Christ IF You do this, or IF you grant me that.”  Humble faith does not say, “I have most of the important things in my life covered for now, but I would like to keep you here in the background, just in case I need to bring you out for the big stuff.”  

Faith means acknowledging that we do not have all the answers, but that God does.  It means that we are willing to trust in God and in His mercy, knowing that He can—and will—take care of us.   He can—and will—provide us with exactly what we need in all of the challenges we face in daily life.  Pope Francis, in his first Encyclical Letter, Lumen Fidei, The Light of Faith, explains:

Faith is not a light which scatters all our darkness, but a lamp which guides our steps in the night and suffices for the journey. To those who suffer, God does not provide arguments which explain everything; rather, his response is that of an accompanying presence, a history of goodness which touches every story of suffering and opens up a ray of light. In Christ, God himself wishes to share this path with us and to offer us his gaze so that we might see the light within it.
—Lumen Fidei, #57

Placing our faith in Jesus Christ will not make our lives easy, nor will it answer all of the questions, doubts and fears that we face.  Nonetheless, making that commitment to live the Christian life will light the path before us and help us to be radically transformed within.  We can, with the grace of God, discover the freshness of faith and the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23).  Who among us would not greatly desire more of those fruits in our lives?

In conclusion, our readings for this weekend remind us that we do not need to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and visit the Church of the Nativity to enter through the Door of Humility.  That door is wide open, and we can enter it right here this morning, as we kneel before our Eucharistic Lord in the Blessed Sacrament.  We come before Him here, and in the quiet places of our daily lives, and seek Him in that humility that He models so beautifully for us.  And when we do, we rediscover the God who wants nothing else from us than to give us His mercy, His love, His grace and His peace.