3 Trinity 2008

The Third Sunday After Trinity
June 8, 2008
Verses 5 & 6 of I Peter 5:5-11

It seemed a small thing, a very small thing indeed! Yesterday, I stopped at the grocery store to get some last minute ‘travel sized’ toiletries for my trip to Wichita this week. I couldn’t believe my eyes: the parking space nearest the market’s entrance was unoccupied. As I drove toward it to occupy it, a small car coming toward me from the opposite direction suddenly did a rapid U-turn right in front of me and slipped into that parking space.

It wasn’t as if he didn’t see me coming or didn’t know where I was headed. He was willing to risk causing a potential head on collision in the parking lot to beat me to that parking slot. I thought how dangerous and how childish of him! I sat there momentarily stunned at his discourtesy and then drove further down the aisle to find another space. He must have felt a real sense of pride in the way he took that space right from under me. Well, perhaps he was on a more urgent mission than I!

Courtesy and also humility are in pretty short supply these days, if you haven’t noticed. However, exercises in humility are plentiful. I had a challenging one later the same night. I was working on the last page of the sermon for today, composing the next to last paragraph, when I accidentally and quite stupidly DELETED ALL that I had been working on for the previous 6 hours! Absolutely gone! Vanished, and non retrievable – believe me I tried to retrieve it. That was a humbling moment! Did the good Lord want me not to preach today’s sermon? With what limited time remained before it was time to retire, I labored to recall the message and the illustrations that had disappeared so abruptly. A very humbling exercise!

Humility! Our Lord had plenty to say on the subject and about the virtue of Humility. St. Luke records Jesus’ admonition to those who were invited to a supper, when he marked how they chose the places of honor for themselves, saying to them, ‘When you are invited by anyone to a marriage feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest a more eminent man than you be invited by him; and he who invited you both will come and say to you, “Give place to this man,” and then you begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, “Friend, go up higher;” then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but he who humbles himself will be exalted.’

St. Matthew records Jesus’ words to his disciples when they asked him who is the greatest in the kingdom of Heaven. ‘And he calling a child to himself, put him in the midst of them, and said, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” ’ And of course, there was Jesus’ own living example, as recorded also by St. Matthew. Jesus says of himself: ‘Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’

And St. Paul says to the Philippians of Jesus, ‘Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name…’

Now Moses, Gideon and David were great men (a Patriarch, a Warrior, a King), each with no knowledge of the fact that he was great. Greatness was not on their minds. And St. Peter admonishes in this morning’s epistle: ‘All of you be subject one to another, and be clothed with humility: for God resists the proud, and gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, that he may exalt you in due time: casting all your care on him; for he cares for you.’

My mother had a favorite saying, ‘A man wrapped up in himself if a very small package.’ Its true! A man full of his self leaves very little room for God to move in his life to exalt him. There is an old Maury proverb that says: ‘The fuller the ear is of grain, the lower it bends; empty of grain, it grows taller and taller.’ Grain being a desirable commodity to produce, one interpretation of this proverb is: Grain represents the virtue of humility. The more one is filled with that virtue, the more one bows in lowly submission to the Will of God. However, the emptier or more devoid of virtue one is, the more obvious it is to all who observe, that such a one is exalted with self.

A second interpretation of the proverb could also be: If the grain represents being filled with Self, the more one is weighed down with self and hence cannot be exalted by God. The more one is emptied of Self, the more one grows in exaltation by the power of God.

Have you ever been humbled by being in the presence of one who is truly humble? They exhibit the true ‘greatness’ that comes only from humility and submissiveness to the Will of God. But most of us have been humbled in other ways! And not necessarily in ways that are worthy of imitating. I’m thinking of the times in the lives of most of us, when we were humbled suddenly by the discovery, or the disclosure, of situations or circumstances from our past about ourselves which had been long forgotten or that we thought we had hidden, which suddenly came back to confront us – and by which we are taught a lesson in humility!

The current movie sequel of Indiana Jones includes a part of the tale in which Indi is vigorously pursued by a young man who wants Indi to help him find his mother and an old professor of archeology, both of whom have been mysteriously kidnapped.

In the process of discovering and freeing the kidnapped pair, Indi discovers much to his surprise that the boy’s mother is one of his ‘old flames’ from his past. And then comes an even greater surprise. The old girlfriend discloses to Indi that the young man is his child from their failed affair. It’s a great comic scene at which the audience roared with laughter.

But in real life it isn’t a laughing matter! Many a man has been suddenly confronted with the disclosure and living evidence that he fathered one or more children in his past. And it isn’t necessarily that he forgot about it, or intentionally tried to hide it, or that he is simply a ‘dead-beat’ dad. He never knew about it because the affair ended abruptly. And when he is face to face for the first time with his surprise ‘offspring,’ it can either be humiliatingly embarrassing or sincerely humbling. Has any one us ever been humbled in that surprise kind of way? Humbled because of some mistake we made early in life as a result of our foolishness or our sinfulness.

That is not the sort of humility our Lord invites us to imitate. He invites us to imitate child-like behavior, not childish, selfish behavior. Rather, imitate his humble behavior, the kind of humility we find also exemplified also in the lives of the Saints.

Did you know that an early Christian tradition encouraged parents to name their newborn infants with the names of the Saints? The idea was that the child would be named after one or more of the Saints, and the hope was that the child would grow up looking to the Saint for his own life example, and would be inspired by the life of the Saint, and aided by the prayers of the Saint, to imitate their holy example.

As it happens I was named after two Saints. St. Anthony and St. Francis. In actuality, I was named after my paternal and maternal grandfathers. My paternal grandfather was named Anthony. My maternal grandfather, Frank, was actually baptized with the name of his father, Francesco (a Basque-Spanish name meaning the saint, Francis).

Hence, Anthony and Frank were the two Saints names, or a derivation thereof, given me at my own baptism. St. Anthony and St. Francis, classic examples of Saints who exhibited the great virtue of humility. So I was expected to imitate their great humility? I’ve not made a great deal of progress trying to follow along their pathway.

Probably most of us know something about St. Francis, besides the fact his statue adorns so many of the gardens and the bird-baths of the world. And actually, he must detest that. His whole life was spent divesting, emptying himself of the world, and the acclaim of the world, and the notice of the world. Ironically, his image is cast in cement to adorn the world.

For a moment may we look at the life of one of his brothers in religion, from the very Order Francis founded – St. Anthony of Padua, who himself is a prime example of the Virtue of Humility. He was living proof that the King of Kings regards not those who exalt themselves, but looks with favor upon those who humble themselves. According to the Saints themselves, this is because the proud man does not submit his will to the Will of God. He is too full of himself to be able to do or desire such. While the humble man desires only that the Will of God be fulfilled in him.

Of the latter (following in the footsteps of St. Francis) was St. Anthony of Padua. This saint was perfectly disposed for the reception of Divine favor because, like unto a little child – as the Lord himself bid us ALL become –Anthony was truly humble of heart. That is why artisans have always painted and sculpted him with the Christ-child seated on his arm! He had become exactly as his Lord had bid him become.

Were you named after one of the Saints? And if so, what do you know of their lives? Why not do a little research on the Internet, or look them up in Butler’s Lives of the Saints. What was their chief virtue? Perhaps they were known and remembered for the fact they were martyred for the Faith. If such was their fate, I don’t think we would be asked to imitate that same fate; but on the other hand, ALL of us are called upon to die daily to self (to try to daily empty ourselves of Self), that we may live only unto God.

In practice, how unlike the Saints we are! Unlike them, our feelings are easily hurt. We are quick to take offense, and so slow to forgive. We balk at the smallest, slightest humiliations. Life isn’t ‘fair’ to us at times, we say. They so easily disturb the peace of our souls. We tend always to look for human praise instead of seeking the favor of God alone. We say we seek to follow Christ, and yet we still struggle with the virtue of true humility.

May we, assisted by the prayers of the Saints, prove ourselves worthy of God’s trust in us, by being more willing and ready to seek the Will of God in place of always wanting and seeking to do our own will. May we learn from the examples of all the Saints and holy Martyrs to empty ourselves of Self, and to make room for doing the Will of God in our daily lives. And may we remember Jesus, who humbled himself by emptying himself and whom the Father greatly exalted unto his throne in heaven. And may we thereby be filled with holy Virtue and with all the Fullness of God and everlastingly exalted.

The Lord is glorious in all his Saints, O come, let us adore him!