24 December 2017

Homily - 25 December 2017 - The Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

The Solemnity of the Nativity of Our Lord Jesus Christ

Dear brothers and sisters,

Christmas is a feast that can only truly be celebrated by the humble. In the context of our present American society, humility is not seen as a virtue, perhaps because it is so greatly misunderstood. Instead of being encouraged to be humble, we are continually instructed that we must promote ourselves over and against others. We honor those who become celebrities and seek to emulate them, even to the point of desiring fame not for having done something important or useful, but simply to be famous. The virtue, if you will, of our modern society is not humility, but pride. The mystery of Christmas – the mystery of God made flesh - stands in stark contrast to this mindset.

Detail, The Prayerbook of Alphonso V of AragonAdd MS 28962, f. 337v
When he preached about the Birth of the Savior, our heavenly patron, Saint Augustine of Hippo, said to his listeners, “Let the humble hold fast to the humility of God” (Sermon 184). As those who seek his intercession and who strive to imitate him as we seek to imitate Christ Jesus (cf. I Corinthians 11:1), he would say these same words to us today: “Let the humble hold fast to the humility of God.”

In another place, Saint Augustine spoke of the humility of God:

If you should ask me what are the ways of God, I would tell you that the first is humility, the second is humility, and the third is humility. Not that there are no other precepts to give, but if humility does not precede all that we do, our efforts our meaningless.

This is why Saint Paul urges us “have this mind among yourselves, which was 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 born in the likeness of men” (Philippians 2:5-7).

The humility of God is of a such a nature that he did not choose to be born in the halls of the powerful or in the libraries of the learned. He chose, rather, to be born to an unknown woman from an insignificant town and to be placed among the animals. In all this, we see that “God is not loud. He does not make headlines.”[1] He has not need to openly declare his presence because the light of his love attracts the humble and beckons to anyone who seeks to have the burden of his sin lifted and removed.

As we approach the manger of Our Lord to contemplate the mystery of the unimaginable humility of God who took on our flesh out of love for us, each of us must ask an important question: “Am I humble?” It is not a question anyone else can answer for us; the answer can only be found in the recesses of our hearts. It can only be answered by considering how well we have conformed ourselves to the Lord’s words: “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I meek and humble of heart” (Matthew 11:29).

When he considered who the humble person is, the English author C.S. Lewis said something that might surprise us today:

Do not imagine that if you meet a really humble man he will be what most people call ‘humble’ nowadays: he will not be a sort of greasy, smarmy person, who is always telling you that, of course, he is nobody. Probably all you will think about him is that he seemed a cheerful, intelligent chap who took a real interest in what you said to him. If you do dislike him it will be because you feel a little envious of anyone who seems to enjoy life so easily. He will not be thinking about humility: he will not be thinking about himself at all.

If anyone would like to acquire humility, I can, I think, tell him the first step. The first step is to realise that one is proud. And a biggish step, too. At least, nothing whatever can be done before it.[2]

The proud cannot hold fast to the humility of God, but the humble can because they know why he came as an infant. Those who are humble know themselves to be sinners in need of a Savior, and so they welcome the Birth of the Son of God with joy; they approach the Child of Bethlehem singing the goodness of the Lord because they know he has come to save his people from their sins (cf. Psalm 89:2; Matthew 1:21). The proud cannot do so because they do not recognize themselves to be sinners and so cannot enter into the joy of these holy days.

Bending low before the manger of Our Lord to adore him in grateful love

means that we emerge from the fundamental law of egotism, self-assertion, self-sufficiency, and that we commend ourselves to the new law of Jesus Christ, who is the man for others and the Son of the Father in the eternal exchange of triune love. Because we cannot do this by ourselves, the offering of Christians means precisely by this: allowing Christ to take us mercifully by the hand and lead us into the inner unity of his organism, his holy Church, and thus, in union with him, to become like God.[3]

The humble will allow themselves to be led by a little child, but the proud will not (cf. Isaiah 11:6).

In these coming days of Christmas, let each of us humbly approach the Holy Infant remembering that Christmas is about his gift, not ours. Let us bend low before the manger of Christ Jesus who humbled himself for us; let us approach him with the humility of sinners approaching the Savior and Redeemer who offers the humbling gift of merciful love. If we do, we can keep our patron’s counsel and hold fast to the humility of God and know the full joy of these holy days by humbly taking our places with the animals, the shepherds, and Our Lady of Humility to adore with them Christ the Lord who will enfold us within his merciful love. Amen.

[1] Joseph Ratzinger, Homily, 14 July 1991. In Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 292.
[2] C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, Inc., 2001), 128.
[3] Joseph Ratzinger, Homily, 1 July 1978. In Joseph Ratzinger/Benedict XVI, Teaching and Learning the Love of God: Being a Priest Today (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2016), 89.

No comments:

Post a Comment