Fr. Bryan Howard
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time – Year C – 1 September 2019
Today’s second reading ends with the lines, “You have approached Mount Zion… and Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and the sprinkled blood that speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” You might remember the story of Cain and Abel from grade school religion classes. They were two brothers, the children of Adam and Eve. They both made offerings to God, but only Abel’s offering was accepted. Cain, in a jealous rage, kills his brother Abel. God tells Cain, “Listen! Your brothers blood cries out to me from the soil” (Gn 4:10). Whereas Abel’s blood cries out for punishment, the blood of Christ was shed for the salvation of the world and the forgiveness of sins. That is why the blood of Christ “speaks more eloquently than that of Abel.” When Christ was hanging from the Cross, even as His blood was still dripping to the ground, He turned to the men who had nailed Him to the Cross and prayed for them, “Father, forgive them, they know not what they do” (Lk 23:34). If Christ can pray for the forgiveness of the greatest sin ever committed, His own murder, then He can certainly forgive our sins., if we repent of them, so that we may be transformed in the love of God.
Imagine if your neighbor knocks on your door and tells you, “I forgive you for washing your own car.” Well, there’s nothing there to forgive, because it’s your car, so you can wash it whenever you want to. Now, imagine if he says to you, “I forgive you for stealing the tools I let you borrow,” and you respond, “Well, I don’t believe in private property, so it was my right to take those tools.” Now you have a real problem. How can there be forgiveness if there’s no repentance? How can you forgive someone who neither recognizes the wrong they’ve done nor wants to be forgiven? God respects our freedom and won’t force His mercy and forgiveness on us.
Imagine a second scenario. Adolf Hitler has just died and is standing at the Pearly Gates with St. Peter. Looking in, he sees people of all races and groups centered around God, and many people who were killed because of his orders and policies. Would he want to go in, or would he instead think that this cannot be paradise and, instead, choose the alternative. To him, the reality of heaven would be hell, unless he repents and allows himself to be truly transformed in the love of God. Of course, the sin that we should be most concerned with is our own. Hitler’s sins can’t keep me out of heaven, only my own sins can do that.
A lot of people don’t like to talk about forgiveness of sins, because that would be to admit that sin is a real thing. To truly ask for forgiveness and receive it, we must first admit that what we’ve done is wrong, that we’ve offended God and hurt others and ourselves, and that our sins have separated us from God and God’s love. That takes humility. Humility means to recognize the truth about myself and others, so that I recognize that God is God, that I’m not, and that I need His mercy and forgiveness.
Now read today’s Gospel again. Jesus says, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding banquet, do not recline at table in the place of honor. A more distinguished guest than you may have been invited by him, and the host who invited both of you may approach you and say, ‘Give your place to this man,’… Rather, when you are invited, go and take the lowest place so that when the host comes to you he may say, ‘My friend, move up to a higher position.’” Jesus isn’t teaching people a trick to make themselves look good in front of other people. He’s teaching a spiritual lesson about our relationship with God. Lower yourself and recognize that you aren’t that important and don’t deserve the place of honor. As Jesus says in another place, “When you have done all you have been commanded, say, ‘We are unprofitable servants; we have done what we were obliged to do’” (Lk 17:10). Then, God will come and move you to a higher place in heaven.
Humility isn’t the most important virtue, that would be love, but it is the foundation of all the other virtues. Without humility we can’t grow in virtue because we don’t recognize our faults, we don’t recognize our need for help from both God and other people, and so we don’t repent and pray for God’s help to grow in holiness. So, how do we grow in humility? I’ll give you three things you can start doing today. First, practice gratitude. Find at least three things every day to thank God for. This reminds us that we rely on God and on His grace in our lives and that we can’t do it all by ourselves. Second, practice listening. humility makes us try to find the wisdom in what other people are saying, instead of always trying to our own wisdom. There is a great danger for those who teach others, like priests. You can’t truly listen to someone else without valuing there opinion and thinking that they might say something worth hearing. Third, make a good confession. When we go to the Sacrament of Confession we have to bear our soul to God and let His light and life in. When we make a good confession by focusing on our own sins and not on someone else’s, don’t make excuses, and confess all of our sins that we can remember, it’s a humbling experience to receive forgiveness from our God who loves us more than we love ourselves.
Christ shed His blood for our sins, not to force us to do things His way, but to truly transform us in the power of the Holy Spirit. In the spirit of humility, I want to end with the words of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, who says it much more eloquently than I can, “Of all the movements, sensations and feelings of the soul, love is the only one in which the creature can respond to the Creator and make some sort of similar return however unequal though it be. For when God loves, all he desires is to be loved in return…The Bridegroom’s love… asks in return nothing but faithful love.”
Fr. Bryan was pastor of Our Lady of Lourdes from July 3, 2017 to June 2022.