‘for whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Dear Lord, I am coming to realize how dangerous pride is in the life of a believer and how important true, godly humility is to the heart of God.
I read in Your word that pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall and I begin to see the devastating and destructive nature of pride and the true blessing that comes from a heart that is humble and contrite in spirit.
Keep me from falling prey to the many temptations that pride seems to scatter in my path, where I want to be the center of attention and desire to receive all the acclaim, the glory, that rightly belongs to You.
Teach me Your ways and show me how I may clothe myself in godly humility toward one another, for Peter teaches that, “God opposes the proud but shows grace to the humble. Thank You for opening up Your Word to me and helping me to see the beautiful truth about humility – and I ask that You would work a good work in my life day by day, until I am more like Christ and less like me, in Jesus name I pray, Amen
Almighty ever-living God,
increase our faith, hope and charity,
and make us love what you command,
so that we may merit what you promise.
Through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,
who lives and reigns with you in the unity
of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever.
Sir 35:12-14, 16-18
The LORD is a God of justice,
who knows no favorites.
Though not unduly partial toward the weak,
yet he hears the cry of the oppressed.
The Lord is not deaf to the wail of the orphan,
nor to the widow when she pours out her complaint.
The one who serves God willingly is heard;
his petition reaches the heavens.
The prayer of the lowly pierces the clouds;
it does not rest till it reaches its goal,
nor will it withdraw till the Most High responds,
judges justly and affirms the right,
and the Lord will not delay.
This wise and pious Jewish writer of the second century B.C. had some very instructive advice for his contemporaries on the qualities which prayers of petition should possess. His advice is still of great value for all of us. While there were truly pious Jews whose prayers were acts of adoration of God, praise for his infinite goodness and mercy and thanksgiving for his manifold gifts to men, the vast majority turned to God only when they needed some temporal favor.
Sirach reminds such people that God is a God of justice, that is, that he will give to each according to his merits. Unlike earthly judges or rulers, he will not be bribed. He will have no favorites. The man who has ignored or forgotten him while all his temporal affairs were prospering, cannot and should not expect a divine intervention when adverse fortune hits him. Nor will he depart from this strict justice even though the petitioner is weak (in health or worldly possessions) through his own fault. But where the petitioner is in dire need because of circumstances beyond his control, as is the case of the oppressed, the orphan and the widow, God will come to his aid.
The prayer of the humble man whose purpose in life is to serve God in all his goings and comings, in all his day’s work, will always be heard. His prayer will “pierce the clouds and reach heaven.” For “God judges justly and affirms the right.” The prayer of the true lover of God, of the truly humble servant of his Lord, will be that God’s will may be always done, even if, as may be, that will of God entails earthly sufferings or trials for himself.
In the light of what this inspired man of God has told us today, we would do well, all of us, to have another look at our life of prayer, or at what part prayer plays in our life. For far too many of us, prayer means asking God for something when we are in need. The more important parts of prayer, adoration, praise and thanksgiving, are almost, if not entirely, forgotten. How many people who would claim to be good Christians, say “thank you, God, for giving me another day,” when they wake up in the morning? How many of us show our gratitude for having health, for having enough to eat, for having a roof over our heads? As long as their earthly life runs along smoothly, and while they have good health and a reasonably comfortable life, God is forgotten by many.
When misfortune strikes, however, they suddenly remember that there is a God who is omnipotent. He can and he should come to their aid immediately, they think. Should he? The Just God judges justly. He gives to each according to his merit. If I have forgotten God, except for the casual attendance at Sunday Mass to avoid mortal sin, all through my years of prosperity, can I in all decency expect him to take notice now of me when something goes wrong?
Do you mean then, that we must be always praying to God! That is all right for nuns or monks who have nothing else to do! We have the cares of the world to attend to, we need relaxation and recreation after our hard day’s work. Your answer is in today’s lesson: “he who serves God willingly is heard.” Your day’s work, if offered for the honor and glory of God and your day’s recreation as well, are prayers pleasing in the sight of God. God never intends us to spend our days on our knees. He intends us to be up and doing, earning our daily bread honestly but joyfully, for each day’s work performed in justice and with the intention of doing our duty, thereby honoring God, is a day nearer to heaven.
Those who act in this simple but at the same time sublimely Christian way can approach God with the utmost confidence, if and when the trials they meet in life seem beyond their strength. Their prayers will “pierce the clouds and reach heaven” and when they receive their answer, they will quickly return to say a sincere “thank you” to their just and loving Father who is in heaven.
Ps 34:2-3, 17-18, 19, 23
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
I will bless the LORD at all times;
his praise shall be ever in my mouth.
Let my soul glory in the LORD;
the lowly will hear me and be glad.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD confronts the evildoers,
to destroy remembrance of them from the earth.
When the just cry out, the Lord hears them,
and from all their distress he rescues them.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
The LORD is close to the brokenhearted;
and those who are crushed in spirit he saves.
The LORD redeems the lives of his servants;
no one incurs guilt who takes refuge in him.
The Lord hears the cry of the poor.
2 Tm 4:6-8, 16-18
I am already being poured out like a libation,
and the time of my departure is at hand.
I have competed well; I have finished the race;
I have kept the faith.
From now on the crown of righteousness awaits me,
which the Lord, the just judge,
will award to me on that day, and not only to me,
but to all who have longed for his appearance.
At my first defense no one appeared on my behalf,
but everyone deserted me.
May it not be held against them!
But the Lord stood by me and gave me strength,
so that through me the proclamation might be completed
and all the Gentiles might hear it.
And I was rescued from the lion’s mouth.
The Lord will rescue me from every evil threat
and will bring me safe to his heavenly kingdom.
To him be glory forever and ever. Amen.
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 2015 The way of perfection passes by way of the Cross. There is no holiness without renunciation and spiritual battle.1 Spiritual progress entails the ascetics and mortification that gradually lead to living in the peace and joy of the Beatitudes:
He who climbs never stops going from beginning to beginning, through beginnings that have no end. He never stops desiring what he already knows.2
1 Cf. 2 Tim 4.
2 St. Gregory of Nyssa, Hom. in Cant. 8: PG 44, 941C.
What a wonderful thing, what a source of courage and consolation it would be for us, if we could, like St. Paul, say on our death-beds: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith”! There are few followers of Christ in the history of the Christian Church who did, and suffered for the faith of Christ, what Paul did and suffered. He was exceptional even among exceptional saints. Then of course, his was an exceptional vocation. The Risen Christ appeared to him while he was on his way to persecute and arrest the Christians of Damascus, having already done great damage to the infant Church in Jerusalem. That appearance, and the words of Christ, turned a fanatical adversary of the faith into an ardent Apostle of Christ. He devoted every moment of his remaining thirty years to bringing the knowledge of Christ and the good news of the Incarnation, that act of infinite love of God for men, to the Gentile world.
We cannot and we should not hope to imitate him in death, as we did not, nor were we called on, to imitate him in life. That, however, does not mean that each one of us could not repeat his words of courage and confidence on our very ordinary death-beds. There are outstanding saints in heaven, and it will be part of our eternal happiness to meet them and admire them, or maybe rather to admire the omnipotent God who was able to make such saints of them. Let us never forget that there are, please God, millions of ordinary saints in heaven, men and women like ourselves, who were not called on to do anything very extraordinary here below, but who lived the ordinary Christian life well. That last word “well” is the secret of their success.
These citizens of heaven have got there through the grace of God and through living their hum-drum daily Christian lives as God wished them to be lived. Because they lived each day as faithful Christians, keeping the laws of God, accepting the rough with the smooth, measuring their daily actions with the yard-stick of eternity, they could (on the day or night that God decided to call them to himself) say with St. Paul: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” With that same assurance as St. Paul, they could expect the reward which the just judge had in store for them.
Most of us have the wrong idea of what a saint is. We hear only of men and women who lived lives of severe mortifications, men and women who were completely detached from all that this world has, who never seemed to have any earthly interests or joys. There were some such people and they are now in heaven. But they are a tiny minority. Heaven is for the Toms, Dicks, and Harry’s, as well as for the Paul’s, Patrick’s and Teresa’s. If not, Christ and Christianity would be sad failures!
No, heaven is for all of us. Getting there is much easier than what our pious literature would suggest. Judging by the legends that hagiographers collected or invented most of their saints were born not made. The facts are otherwise. These men and women became saints because they lived Christian, but at the same time, human lives. They did not spend their days gazing heavenwards, with hands joined in prayer. They did an honest day’s work, and earned their livelihood. They were not always weeping and bemoaning the sins of the world and their own. They were instead full of joy and were the most cheery of companions. The great reformer of the Carmelites, St. Teresa of Avila, who lived a strict life of poverty and personal mortification, is said to have uttered the prayer: “May God protect me from sour-faced saints!”
Granted that heaven is for all of us and granted that most of us are not called on to do anything extraordinary in life, we are called on to live our very ordinary day in a Christian manner. Each ordinary day that we offer to God, and live for him, as well as for our own earthly necessities, brings us a day nearer to the death-bed on which we can truly say with St. Paul : “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” The rest I can safely leave to the good and just God.
Jesus addressed this parable
to those who were convinced of their own righteousness
and despised everyone else.
“Two people went up to the temple area to pray;
one was a Pharisee and the other was a tax collector.
The Pharisee took up his position and spoke this prayer to himself,
‘O God, I thank you that I am not like the rest of humanity —
greedy, dishonest, adulterous — or even like this tax collector.
I fast twice a week, and I pay tithes on my whole income.’
But the tax collector stood off at a distance
and would not even raise his eyes to heaven
but beat his breast and prayed,
‘O God, be merciful to me a sinner.’
I tell you, the latter went home justified, not the former;
for whoever exalts himself will be humbled,
and the one who humbles himself will be exalted.”
CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH (CCC)
CCC 588 Jesus scandalized the Pharisees by eating with tax collectors and sinners as familiarly as with themselves.1 Against those among them “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and despised others”, Jesus affirmed: “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”2 He went further by proclaiming before the Pharisees that, since sin is universal, those who pretend not to need salvation are blind to themselves.3
CCC 2559 “Prayer is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.”4 But when we pray, do we speak from the height of our pride and will, or “out of the depths” of a humble and contrite heart?5 He who humbles himself will be exalted;6 humility is the foundation of prayer, Only when we humbly acknowledge that “we do not know how to pray as we ought,”7 are we ready to receive freely the gift of prayer. “Man is a beggar before God.”8
CCC 2613 Three principal parables on prayer are transmitted to us by St. Luke:
– The first, “the importunate friend,”9 invites us to urgent prayer: “Knock, and it will be opened to you.” To the one who prays like this, the heavenly Father will “give whatever he needs,” and above all the Holy Spirit who contains all gifts.
– The second, “the importunate widow,”10 is centered on one of the qualities of prayer: it is necessary to pray always without ceasing and with the patience of faith. “And yet, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on earth?”
– The third parable, “the Pharisee and the tax collector,”11 concerns the humility of the heart that prays. “God, be merciful to me a sinner!” The Church continues to make this prayer its own: Kyrie Ellison!
CCC 2631 The first movement of the prayer of petition is asking forgiveness, like the tax collector in the parable: “God, be merciful to me a sinner!”12 It is a prerequisite for righteous and pure prayer. A trusting humility brings us back into the light of communion between the Father and his Son Jesus Christ and with one another, so that “we receive from him whatever we ask.”13 Asking forgiveness is the prerequisite for both the Eucharistic liturgy and personal prayer.
CCC 2667 This simple invocation of faith developed in the tradition of prayer under many forms in East and West. The most usual formulation, transmitted by the spiritual writers of the Sinai, Syria, and Mt. Athos, is the invocation, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us sinners.” It combines the Christological hymn of Philippians 2:6-11 with the cry of the publican and the blind men begging for light.14 By it the heart is opened to human wretchedness and the Savior’s mercy.
CCC 2839 With bold confidence, we began praying to our Father. In begging him that his name be hallowed, we were in fact asking him that we ourselves might be always made more holy. But though we are clothed with the baptismal garment, we do not cease to sin, to turn away from God. Now, in this new petition, we return to him like the prodigal son and, like the tax collector, recognize that we are sinners before him.15 Our petition begins with a “confession” of our wretchedness and his mercy. Our hope is firm because, in his Son, “we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”16 We find the efficacious and undoubted sign of his forgiveness in the sacraments of his Church.17
1 Cf. Lk 5:30; 7:36; 11:37; 14:1.
2 Lk 18:9; 5:32; cf. Jn 7:49; 9:34.
3 Cf. Jn 8:33-36; 9:40-41.
4 St. John Damascene, Defide orth. 3, 24: PG 94,1089C.
5 Ps 130:1.
6 Cf. Lk 18:9-14.
7 Rom 8:26.
8 St. Augustine, Sermo 56, 6, 9: PL 38, 381.
9 Cf. Lk 11:5-13.
10 Cf. Lk 18:1-8.
11 Cf. Lk 18:9-14.
12 Lk 18:13.
13 1 Jn 3:22; cf. 1:7-2:2.
14 Cf. Mk 10:46-52; Lk 18:13.
15 Cf. Lk 15:11-32, 18:13.
16 Col 1:14; Eph 1:7.
17 Cf. Mt 26:28; Jn 20:23.
During his hidden life in Nazareth, and especially during his public life when he traveled through the towns and villages of Palestine, our Lord met sinners of all kinds. There is not a single record of a harsh word spoken by him to any of them. In fact, he was accused of mixing too freely with them. His answer was that “it was those who were ill who needed a doctor, not those, who were in good health.” The sinners he met knew that they were ill. They regretted their sins. He forgave them.
There was one group, however, and only one, against whom he uttered condemnation and for whom he foretold an unhappy ending. These were the Pharisees. In Mt. 23, the whole chapter is devoted to Christ’s condemnation of them. It contains eight “woes” which he utters against them. He calls them by many unflattering names. One was “whited sepulchers, appearing beautiful to men on the outside but full of dead men’s bones and all uncleanness within” (23:27). Such harshness, coming from the gentle Christ, may surprise us, but knowing as he did that pride, the first and basic sin of mankind and the root of all other evil in the world, was so ingrained in their very hearts, that they could never seek forgiveness, he stated nothing but the truth concerning them or to them.
In this parable which he addressed to the Pharisees themselves, he tells them once more where their pride will lead them. They will be excluded from the kingdom of God, because they will not admit or repent of their pride and their lack of charity. Instead of thanking God for the many gifts he had given them, they almost demanded thanks from God for being such pious people. They had virtues. They avoided serious injustices. They did not commit adultery. They fasted often. They paid all their Temple dues, but it was all done, not for the honor and glory of God, but for their own honor and glory. They told the world about it. They demanded the first places in the synagogs, and special marks of reverence on the streets. They had to be called “masters” as they claimed to represent and interpret Moses to the ordinary people.
One thing that we can learn from this sad story of the Pharisees is that, while God approves of no sin, his mercy and his forgiveness is available for all sinners except the proud. It isn’t that God cannot or will not forgive the sin of pride but that the proud man will not ask for God’s forgiveness.
We must all be on our guard against this insidious and destructive vice. It is insidious because it can grow in us almost without our knowing it, and once it has taken root it is difficult to eradicate. It is destructive because it spoils every other virtue we practice and every good work we do. Charity, or brotherly love, cannot flourish in a proud heart, for a proud heart is so full of self that it has no room for others. No true love of God can exist in a proud heart, for even the very acts of religion which a proud man performs, are done for the motive of self-glory and not for the glory of God. The Pharisee in this parable proves that fact. He boasted of his good works.
A few simple straight questions can tell us whether or not we are proud. Do we like others to see and hear of our good works, or do we prefer to do them in secret? Do we give as generously to charitable causes when no list of benefactors is published? Do we willingly take part among the rank and file in parish activities or do we feel offended if we are not the leaders? Do we criticize offhand those who are not all they should be, or do we thank God that we were saved from similar temptations? Do we always try to find an excuse for the failings of others or have we excuses for our own faults only? God forbid that anyone in this congregation should be suffering from this, the worst of all vices. If anyone recognizes that he is, let him pray to God from the bottom of his heart for the opposite virtue, the true Christian virtue of humility, and look for every possible occasion to practice it. Let us all remember the two men praying in the Temple. One was full of himself and boasted to God and to all present, of his many good works. The Other just humbly beat his breast and asked for mercy–he had nothing to boast of. Yet, he left the Temple forgiven, the other returned home a worse sinner than when he had entered the temple.
Applications written by Fr. Kevin O’Sullivan O.F.M. and used with permission of Franciscan Press
The Saints as Constellations
The great feasts that structure the year of faith are feasts of Christ and precisely as such are ordered toward the one God who revealed himself to Moses in the burning bush and chose Israel as the confessor of faith in his uniqueness. In addition to the sun, which is the image of Christ, there is the moon, which has no light of its own but shines with the brightness that comes from the sun. This is a sign to us that we men are in constant need of a “little” light, whose hidden light helps us to know and love the light of the Creator, God one and triune. That is why the feasts of the saints from earliest times have formed part of the Christian year. We have already encountered Mary, whose person is so closely interwoven with the mystery of Christ that the development of the Christmas cycle inevitably introduced a Marian note into the Church’s year. The Marian dimension of the Christological feasts was made visible. Then, in addition, come the communion of the Apostles and martyrs and, finally, the memorials of the saints of every century. One might say that the saints are, so to speak, new Christian constellations, in which the richness of God’s goodness is reflected. Their light, coming from God, enables us to know better the interior richness of God’s great light, which we cannot comprehend in the refulgence of its glory.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI
Prayer of Saint Augustine of Hippo
Lord Jesus, Let Me Know Myself
Lord Jesus, let me know myself and know You,
And desire nothing save only You.
Let me hate myself and love You.
Let me do everything for the sake of You.
Let me humble myself and exalt You.
Let me think of nothing except You.
Let me die to myself and live in You.
Let me accept whatever happens as from You.
Let me banish self and follow You,
And ever desire to follow You.
Let me fly from myself and take refuge in You,
That I may deserve to be defended by You.
Let me fear for myself, let me fear You,
And let me be among those who are chosen by You.
Let me distrust myself and put my trust in You.
Let me be willing to obey for the sake of You.
Let me cling to nothing save only to You,
And let me be poor because of You.
Look upon me, that I may love You.
Call me that I may see You,
And for ever enjoy You.