Being Humble and Grateful for Inclusion in the Church
January 29, 2023, The Fourth Sunday of the Year
by Fr. David M. Knight
View readings for today:
How much do you appreciate being a Christian? Do you take it for granted? Does it make you feel superior to anybody? Do you feel gratitude for being in the Church? Do you ever thank God for that? (How about during Mass?)
The Entrance Antiphon (Psalm 106:47) seems to identify God’s “saving us” with “gathering us together.” And we are gathered “from the nations.” For the Jews this marked distinction from the Gentiles. For us today it says we are distinct from every human society or culture. We have received the gift of knowing God through faith in his revealed word. That gives us the possibility and the privilege — and, yes, the mission — of “proclaiming his holy name.” The New Jerusalem Bible asks “that we may give thanks to your holy name and may glory in praising you.” Is that something we relate to? What would it mean for us to “glory” in praising God?
The Opening Prayer focuses us simply on loving God “with all our hearts” and loving everyone else “as you love them.” The Alternative Opening Prayer repeats the theme of being “gathered together” with a special and distinct identity, but rooted in the history we share with the Jews, God’s Chosen People: “From the days of Abraham and Moses until this gathering of your Church in prayer, you have formed a people in the image of your Son.” This recalls a major theme in Hebrews: “Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body you have prepared for me.” We were “chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world” to die and rise in Christ by Baptism so that we might be the body of Christ and let him grow to “full stature” in us. At the end of time, he will shine forth in us as “the perfect man,” the glory of God shining in and through all humanity made perfect. In him we will be brought to perfection, “be holy and blameless before him in love.” The Opening Prayer asks for it now: “Bless this people with the gift of your kingdom. May we serve you with our every desire and show love for one another as you have loved us.”
Blessed the humble
The Responsorial (Matthew 5:3 and Psalm 146) invites us to say and to mean: “Happy the poor in spirit,” not only because “the Kingdom of heaven is theirs,” but because God promises multiple blessings to those who are humble enough to acknowledge him as God and obey his laws. The Psalm mentions justice for the oppressed, food for the hungry, freedom for captives, sight for the blind, protection for strangers and support for orphans and widows. But the general rule is, “The Lord raises up those that were bowed down. The Lord loves the just.”
What is the connection between being oppressed or afflicted and being blessed by God?
It isn’t that God plays favorites. He loves the rich as much as the poor. The Psalm says, “The Lord loves the just,” whoever they are. And we know he also loves sinners. So what is the message here?
Zephania 2:3 to 3:13 gives a key: “Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land, who have observed his law. Seek righteousness, seek humility.” The “winning combination” is again humility and justice or “righteousness.” Being humble and “obeying God’s law” seem to go together. And apparently being oppressed or afflicted in some way contributes to both. Suffering can give people a new slant on things. Sometimes it takes catastrophe to bring about conversion. If enough people in a country come to their senses, God can do wonders with them and for them:
I will remove from your midst your proudly exultant ones, and you shall no longer be haughty in my holy mountain. For I will leave in the midst of you a people humble and lowly. They shall seek refuge in the name of the LORD-- the remnant of Israel....
St. Ignatius of Loyola condensed all this into three words. The “strategy of the devil,” is to tempt people to “riches” — which can mean any kind of success or power on this earth, provided it brings “honors” or prestige — because these two together set a person up for pride. From power to prestige to pride. From riches to honors to the blindness of taking oneself for the criterion. Pride is to make or consider one’s own mind the norm for distinguishing truth from falsehood, one’s own will the standard for determining what is good or evil. Once one has taken one’s own self for one’s rule of life, respect for God and obedience to God’s law become non-thoughts.
Matthew 5:1-12 seems to contradict everything “everybody” takes for granted.
Oh, we give lip service to the Beatitudes, because they sound so spiritual, so beautiful that they even sound consoling — until we think about what they are actually saying. Then, words of God or not, we turn them off before they get a chance to rub together and strike a spark.
Come on: who really wants to know they are inadequate (the “poor in spirit”)? Who wants to face issues that are unpleasant (the “sorrowing”)? Who wants to be “meek” when confronted by power, or nonviolent in the face of force? Jesus says we are “blessed,” lucky, fortunate when we experience any or all of these. In response, we nod our heads in admiration and go right on striving to be self-sufficient, trying not to think about anything that upsets us, and looking for ways to intimidate those who would harm us. We know that those who “hunger and thirst for holiness” — enough to spend time and energy seriously pursuing it — will never “have their fill” of anything advertised on TV or prized by American society: affluence, popularity, promotions, social acceptance, or success in any but a few select areas of achievement. So we pursue what everyone else thinks is rewarding, not what Jesus promises.
Does this indictment sound extreme? Go try to recruit people for a weekend spiritual retreat, a weekly Bible study, or a discussion group to deeply confront the ideas in these reflections — or in one of a hundred other challenging spiritual books. Suggest that people put aside a period for prayer every day. The most common answer you hear will be, “I haven’t got the time. Can’t take it away from work, play or self-improvement activities. I’m signed up to conform to my peer group’s expectations. Can’t put serious focus on ‘getting holy’ right now.”
Many families can’t get themselves all together in the same room long enough to pray together every day.
And to say “Yes” to these invitations, no one needs more than just a mild appetite for spiritual development; no need to “hunger and thirst” for holiness.
What people “hunger and thirst” for in our society is to make a grade, make a team, make a future for themselves or their families (on this earth). The immediate (but continuous because incessantly renewed) focus is on making a deadline, a quota or a payment, just to make it through the month, quarter or semester without major disasters. And what people hunger for, they usually get, because they seriously pursue it. But that’s about all they get.
The American work ethic is not designed to foster authentic “life, liberty or the pursuit of happiness,” much less holiness. The ruling triumvirate is more likely to be efficiency, escapism and enslavement to patterns of life laid down by an aimless herd.
We are not humble enough to take directions from God. The irony is that, while we think we are choosing our own direction in life, most of us are just following the crowd. Either our crowd or the crowd we would like to belong to. Whether or not we face it.
Who is Our Crowd?
1Corinthians 1: 26-31 describes the Christian crowd: “Not many of you are considered intellectuals; not many are influential or powerful; not many belong to the ‘upper class.’” So who are we? “God has given you life in Christ Jesus” — we are Christ, his body on earth. Jesus, the Son of God “is our wisdom, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
Wisdom: We are “the light of the world” because Jesus is our light.
Righteousness: In him we have become “the righteousness of God.”
Sanctification: “We have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ
once for all.... By a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.”
Redemption: “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our sins.” “He entered once for all into the Holy Place... with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.”
All that we are, we are because we are “in Christ.” It follows: “Let the one who would boast, boast in the Lord.” We need no riches, because we share in the eternal life of God who is All. We need no honors, because Jesus said, “Whoever serves me, the Father will honor.” And instead of pride we lay claim to nothing but humble gratitude.
We are still more blessed than any people on earth. If we are humble enough to realize that all we have is from God, and that from God we already have All, we will “give thanks to his holy name and glory — exult — in praising him.”
Insight: How does deprivation — of almost anything — help us appreciate God?
Initiative: “Deprive” yourself of something that keeps you from enriching your spiritual life.
 Hebrews 10:5; Ephesians, chapter 1 and chapter 4:11-13.  Matthew 9:10-13; 11:19; Luke 15:1-32.  Matthew 5:14; John 12:46; 2Corinthgians 5:21; Hebrews 9:11-15, 10:10-22; Ephesians 1:3-10.  John 12;26.
NOTE: TOMORROW WE WILL RETURN TO OUR READINGS FROM EXPERIENCING THE MASS
Reflections brought to you by the Immersed in Christ Ministry