St. Augustine & Humility

St.-AugustineSomehow it didn’t seem so long, but we’ve been away from the blog for a while, so the feast of St. Augustine seems as good a time as any to dust the cobwebs from our digital parlor.

Though he’s been bumped today because his feast falls on a Sunday, it’s not difficult to tie this great Father of the Church into today’s Gospels, since he had so much to say about so many things.  It seems as though half of the patristic readings in the Office of Readings come from him, so we spend a good part of our lives listening to his sermons.  And while we didn’t find a specific homily on today’s reading from Luke (Lk 14:1,7-14), where Jesus encourages us to take the lowest place at the table because every one who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted, he did have a lot to say on humility.  In fact, he said it was central to the Christian faith and the first rung on the ladder to perfection.

It is significant that Augustine saw his moment of moral conversion in the garden at Milan as being prompted by a little child (he professed unawareness of the gender of the child, or even of the ditty the child was singing). (Confessions 8, 12, 29) It was not a conversion moment that happened in a dialogue with the Bishop [Ambrose], but through the unintended singing of an unseen child who was unaware of the impact being made.  This was a perfect vehicle of conversion for one sorely tempted by pride.   (From augnet.org)

Here is what St. Augustine himself said to us this morning in the Office:

Let us then follow Christ’s paths which he has revealed to us, above all the path of humility, which he himself became for us. He showed us that path by his precepts, and he himself followed it by his suffering on our behalf. In order to die for us—because as God he could not die— the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. The immortal One took on mortality that he might die for us, and by dying put to death our death.

This is what the Lord did, this the gift he granted to us. The mighty one was brought low, the lowly one was slain, and after he was slain, he rose again and was exalted. For he did not intend to leave us dead in hell, but to exalt in himself at the resurrection of the dead those whom he had already exalted and made just by the faith and praise they gave him. Yes, he gave us the path of humility. If we keep to it we shall confess our belief in the Lord and have good reason to sing: We shall praise you, God, we shall praise you and call upon your name.

St. Augustine, bishop and doctor, pray for us!

The Visitation

Joy is perhaps the one word that best describes the Visitation of Our Blessed Lady to her cousin Elizabeth.

No sooner has the angel Gabriel left Our Lady, than she leaves, not in a leisurely way, but with haste, to be with her cousin. Her immediate response to all Gabriel has told her  is indicative of why God chooses her to be the Mother of the Messiah in the first place, it is her deep and genuine humility. She leaves in haste because her humble heart is the heart of a servant, and from that truly humble heart, comes joy.

As Elizabeth speaks these words to Our Lady Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And who am I that the mother of my Lord should come to me, Our Lady responds with the beautiful words of the Magnificat:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, because He has regarded the lowliness of His handmaid; for behold henceforth all generations will call me blessed because He Who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is His Name; and His Mercy is from generation to generation to those who fear Him. He has shown might with His Arm, He has scattered the proud in the conceit of their heart. He has put down the mighty from their thrones and has exalted the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich He has sent away empty. He has given help to Israel, His servant, mindful of His mercy – even as He Spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to His posterity forever.” (Luke 1:46-55)

It is a reply of authentic humility and joy.  Our Lady recognizes who she is before God, and the result of her recognition of God’s pre-eminence, is joy, a joy of immense proportions, a joy so deep it cannot be contained.

In the second reading from today’s Office of Readings, Saint Bede the Venerable says this:

“When a man devotes all his thoughts to the praise and service of the Lord, he proclaims God’s greatness. His observance of God’s commands, moreover, shows that he has God’s power and greatness always at heart. His spirit rejoices in God his savior and delights in the mere recollection of his Creator who gives him hope for eternal salvation…”

Overriding joy encompasses the hearts of those assembled that day in the house of Zechariah – from the heart of John who rests in the womb of his mother, to Elizabeth who feels the leap of recognition from her son, articulating the wonder of God’s grace, and to Our Lady, who marvels at the greatness of her God, Who chose her to be the Mother of His Son.

Let us follow Our Lady in her humility and joy, for by her example we can know that God is not limited by anything except our ‘yes’ to him, and only then because He chooses it to be so.

May we rejoice in this beautiful feast and thank Our Lady for her joyful ‘yes’!

They Picked Up Stones

By guest blogger Dr. David Delaney

Thursday’s Gospel reminds me of the dangers of the fallen heart.  The Pharisees, the teachers of the law, were so sure that they knew the fullness of the Law (Jn 8:51-59).  However, when faced with the Law’s fullness, Jesus who is the Law, they could not recognize Him.  He did not conform to their limited understanding of God.  They refused to step back and ask themselves if this might be a new Prophet, even the Messiah.  Their hearts were closed to a re-evaluation of their interpretation of the law; they did not consider if they understood it only partially.

I can’t help but see a parallel here to recent criticisms of our Holy Father Francis from some Catholics who are concerned about his liturgical sensibilities.  I share their concern for authentic liturgy.  I strongly believe that a liturgy that helps us to understand we are at once on earth and in heaven, is necessary for the new evangelization.  However, a group of these “liturgically sensitive” Catholics seems to have allowed this concern to affect the openness of their hearts to our newly elected Vicar of Christ and have given themselves up to suspicion and even contempt.  Like the Pharisees, some have even taken to calling him the equivalent of “possessed.”

Pope Francis is going to be full of surprises for all of us.  Before Pope Francis, we had two great teaching popes who used their personal gifts to bring a new synthesis of the faith to the contemporary world.  Francis will be another great teaching Pope, but he will be more sparing in his use of words.  He will use words, but he will demonstrate them in action in ways that will surprise most of us, and unfortunately, his demonstrations will become a stumbling block to others who have not fully understood the teaching of his predecessors.

Blessed John Paul the Great emphasized in his writings the necessity of acting in love, in accord with the teachings of Christ through His Church.  His message that we must not be afraid, gave us the hope that Christ was still faithful to His promises, the He is still alive in His Church. Benedict XVI, perhaps the greatest theological intellect to grace the papal office since St. Gregory the Great (though JPII was not far behind), emphasized the need for faith.  He fought especially against the dictatorship of relativism by which the enemy seeks to undermine the reasonableness of belief.  Benedict demonstrated that greatness of intellect does in fact bring one to deep faith in Christ.  A most important message for our time.

By most accounts of those who know him, Pope Francis like his predecessors, is a very intelligent man of great faith, humility, love and holiness.  However, his personal style is more like his name’s sake.  While St. Francis was a great evangelist, we have nothing of his writings.  He was a man of living out the words he preached (though there is no evidence he said “preach always and if you must, use words”).  I believe that this is what we will see from Pope Francis.  He will teach using few words, which will be followed by provocative acts of love and humility.

Expect to see love lived out in ways that will teach us anew what it means to be a Christian.  For those of us who have read the words of the previous popes, but not yet let these words fully penetrate our hearts and convict us by how we live, expect to be a little bit uncomfortable.  However, we must let our hearts be docile and trust in Christ that He is still leading His Church through Pope Francis.

I believe that this is the papacy of love; it is the necessary final step in experiencing the new springtime in the Church, the fruits of the last 30 years of preparation for this new evangelization.  When as faithful Catholics we begin to allow our actions to authentically witness to Christ, the pagan empire will begin its Christian conversion once again.  Let us open our hearts to Christ in His Vicar.  Let us not be one of the Pharisees who begins to pick up stones…

Dr. Delaney is Professor of Systematic Theology at the Mexican American Catholic College in San Antonio, Texas.  He previously wrote for the now defunct Cosmos-Liturgy-Sex blog.

One Chair, One Church

In yesterday’s Gospel Our Lord warns “The scribes and the Pharisees have taken their seat on the chair of Moses.  Therefore do and observe all things whatsoever they tell you, but do not follow their example.”

The Chair of Moses was not just a figure of speech, it was an actual chair, which symbolized the authority held by Moses.  After Moses died, this authority passed to Joshua, then to the Judges, then to the prophets, and then to the Great Assembly.

In Exodus Moses says, “… the people come to me to inquire of God; when they have a dispute, they come to me and I decide between a man and his neighbor, and I make them know the statutes of God and his decisions.”

God has now fully revealed Himself to us through His Son, and He still has a representative on earth who preserves the statues of God.  He sits on the Chair of Peter.  He is the Pope.  The significance of the Feast of the Chair of Peter, which we celebrated last week, is that the man sitting in the Chair of Peter (the new Chair of Moses) has teaching authority.  His task is to preserve the purity of doctrine, so that we can be certain we are professing the true faith, or as the Catechism says, so the People of God can abide “in the truth that liberates” (CCC 890).

For more on the continuity between the Chair of Moses and the Chair of Peter see Steve Ray’s website here.

The Catholic Church has been led by many successors to St. Peter 264 to be exact.  Some have been holy, some have been martyrs, and some were downright scoundrels.  But no matter how awful their personal lives were they never defiled the purity of doctrine which it was their duty to preserve.  The Holy Spirit guides and protects Christ’s Church.

The great blessing of our times is that we have had popes whose example we can follow.  They teach not just with doctrine but by their personal holiness.  The one thing you hear over and over again from those who meet Pope Benedict is that he is so humble. He truly lives what Our Lord said, “The greatest among you must by your servant.  Whoever exalts himself will be humbled; but whoever humbles himself will be exalted.”