Paul's Call to the Humble
I know I preach a lot against the concept that good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell. One reason why is I believe it is a heresy. In fact, Dennis Prager in his latest book in the rational Bible series Deuteronomy points out that God called Moses to seek out leaders who were wise, discerning and experienced. Good was not a quality specifically mentioned, he explains.
I have no idea if it is related, but an Archbishop Emeritus unsubscribed from a newsletter I edit and I think one reason may be I criticized one of his statements, I did not mention his name in my critique. He said that we have to work to grow in virtue. That is true but if we take it as that statement alone, it is paganism. As I have explained often, the Church teaches that we cannot live the teachings of the Church nor the commandments if we do not pray.
So, to focus on growing in virtue without rooting that in prayer is to practice paganism. It was the idea of Aristotle who certainly had great things to teach us and, for us to emulate, but Aristotle never met Jesus. He died two hundred years before our Lord walked the earth.
So, if we are to seek what it means to be Catholic, we have to understand that it means more than just growing in virtue. What does it mean? Let us look at today’s second reading.
A backhanded compliment
If you look carefully at St. Paul’s words, you realize that it appears almost like a backhanded compliment. It is like someone saying to you, you are the best at first base than all the players who also strike out every time they are at bat. What does that mean, you play first base well but you cannot hit a baseball to save your life.
Paul says something similar—You have been chosen by God to be channels of his grace and his will basically because you are not known for doing anything right. It is not a perfect translation but look at what he does say:
He calls us foolish, weak, lowly and despised and nothing. Now, look at this within the context of our own culture. You can see that Paul’s teaching is the opposite of virtue in American culture. The greatest virtue in the United States is the rugged individualist who is self-sufficient, who answers to no one and who breaks all the rules. This is everything St. Paul calls us not to be.
So, what is the message here?
The more we choose to see ourselves as we truly are, to admit our faults and failings, to admit our weaknesses and to be whom God called us to be, the more we become channels of God’s grace to others.
The more we try to be what the world wants us to be, the more we try to be most admired person in the bunch, the person who is better than anyone else, who is the best, the brightest, the fastest, the master at everything, the more we become channels of our own human wisdom which is nothing in light of God’s wisdom.
This is the radical difference between who God calls us to be and who we can choose to be without God.
The more we choose to be the person God calls us to be, the more powerful we are in God. St. Paul teaches this in 2 Corinthians 12.
Where is the power of God in our lives, it is when we can realize we are only human and then ask God to lead us as human beings to do his will.
Jesus himself said that unless you become like a child you will not enter the kingdom of God. Why? Because the child knows he or she is a child and may not know its limitations but it is aware they are there.
The old adage of listening to the parent tell the child not to put their hand on a hot stove is such an example. The child may disobey and learn the hard way the parent was right but he or she knows when he puts his hand on a hot stove she is disobeying the parent.
It is the same way with us. We need to be humble before the lord by simply realizing that he is God and we are not. Then by doing this, we open ourselves to receive his wisdom and grace because we acknowledge the source of wisdom, we know that we do not know.
The humble become the wise
St. Thomas Aquinas teaches something powerful in that he says that when we seek to avoid sin and to do the will of God we grow in divine wisdom. If we reject God for our will which is what we call sin, then we cannot receive divine wisdom. We fall back to just human wisdom which is foolishness in the eyes of God.
Currently, in our country, there is great division and part of the reason is the heresy, I cited at the beginning of my homily. It is simply a heresy to believe that we must pursue virtue first. Many have walked away from this heresy but no one is there to tell them that they are walking away from error from which they should. Instead, they can stand before the Lord as who they are humbly realizing that God is the source of all wisdom and learn a truth they cannot find from anyone else but in God.
That is what our country needs and this is not what is being taught so often in our Churches in the United States. The Pope gets it and to be honest, many bishops do get it but we have to live it.
This week ask the Lord to help you accept yourself as you are before him and ask him to lead you in humility where he wants you to be. This is what people do who practice humility, these are the ones who are what Jesus describes as blessed in the sermon of the Mount because they recognize their need for the one is God for they are not.
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