Sunday, October 21, 2018

Humility, Queen of the Virtues: Checkmate!

St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

(Twenty Ninth Sunday in Ordinary Time-Year B; This homily was given on October 21, 2018 at San Giuseppe del Monastero di Clausura, Rome; See Isaiah 53:10-11 and Mark 10: 35-45)

James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came to Jesus and said to him, “Teacher, we want you to do for us whatever we ask of you.”  He replied, "What do you wish me to do for you?”  They answered him, “Grant that in your glory we may sit one at your right and the other at your left.”
—Mark 10:35-37 

The conversation of James and John in the Gospel this morning is always difficult for us to listen to. We may even feel embarrassed for them, but we must admit that we are just as weak, and we prove it many times!  Nonetheless, the Apostles are focused on ambition and are moving in the “opposite direction” than Christ would have them.  The only consolation is that, in the end, they will learn to love and serve as Christ—they will become martyrs, saints—but this morning they are far from that ideal.

Isaiah the Prophet speaks this morning of the attitude of Christ, the Messiah.  Jesus, our Saviour, will not come in an ambitious and proud manner, but in humility and with the desire to serve others. Isaiah writes:

Because of his affliction, he shall see the light in fullness of days; through his suffering, my servant shall justify many, and their guilt he will bear.
—Isaiah 53:11

It is the cross of Jesus Christ that will save the world (more precisely, it is the love of Christ on the cross that saves us). We are exalted, because he was willing to be humiliated. He humbled himself, and in so doing He shows us the way to live a fully Christian life.

In her book, "Way of Perfection," Saint Teresa of Avila writes about the power of humility, a power that can even have an influence on God (as we know it did many times in the life of Saint Teresa!).  She writes, in Chapter 16:

Now realize that anyone who doesn’t know how to set up the pieces for a game of chess won’t know how to play well.  And without knowing how to check the king, one won’t know how to checkmate it either . . . The queen is the piece that can carry on the best battle in this game, and all the other pieces help.  There’s no queen like humility for making the king surrender.  Humility drew the King from heaven to the womb of the virgin, and with it…we will draw him to our souls. 
—St. Teresa of Avila, The Way of Perfection, Ch. 16, #1-2

God cannot resist this “queen of virtues,” Queen Humility!

The holy Mother continues to talk about the three essential virtues: humility, charity and detachment from creatures, but the foundation for Saint Teresa is always, always humility.

There are always opportunities for us to practice this great virtue as we follow Jesus on the way of perfection. The more we grow in humility, Saint Teresa teaches, the more we will grow in charity and in our detachment, allowing us to become more and more like Jesus Christ.

It is Christ who teaches us this morning that we should be ambitious, most zealous for the greatest things imaginable, but He clarifies exactly what we should be ambitious for.  He says:

Whoever wishes to be great among you will be your servant; whoever wishes to be first among you will be the slave of all.  For the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and to give his life as a ransom for many.
—Mark 10:43-45

If we are truly ambitious in the Christian life, perhaps we may also become as humble, detached and full of charity as the Apostles, St. James and St. John. Everything is possible with God, the King who loves us and wants us to draw Him into our souls, where He can reign as He should.  Saint Teresa of Avila, pray for us.