Part of the novitiate experience is preaching. I did a bit of that in Jamaica but in the novitiate the novices take turns giving a homily at on of the daily Masses on the readings of that day. My reflection below is on the readings for this Saturday, 8 October 2010. Note that this makes references to Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises and the “Principle and Foundation”, an important part of Jesuit and Ignatian spirituality.
Readings: Galatians 3:22-29, Luke 11:27-28
All week we’ve been reading Paul’s letter to the Galatians and his overarching theme in the letter regards the concern of whether one could be a Christian and not follow the Mosaic Law. Today he tells us that we no longer need to be “held custody” under the law. We find our faith maturing, from being directed by hard and fast rules to a faith in Christ Jesus that guides us. Paul is directing us to a faith-relationship in Jesus as the foundation for our lives. It’s a new kind of obedience that St Paul himself has been trying to get at all week.
Throughout the readings this week Paul has been giving the Galatians (and us) an example of turning away from self toward God. He literally goes through a timeline of his former life, his persecution and attempted destruction of the Church, and then a timeline of his conversion and God’s new call for him to preach the Gospel. Paul makes himself the example, not for us to live like Paul per se, but an example that ultimately points toward Christ and away from oneself. His message is: Let’s focus everything on our Creator and Redeemer and God our Father.
In today’s Gospel Jesus does just that: A woman in the crowd shouts out, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He acknowledges this truth, this statement about his mother, but instead redirects the attention away from His human self and toward his Father. “Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it,” he says. Jesus gives us a new beatitude of sorts, one that tells us that we will be blessed if we are obedient to God, but more importantly a beatitude that reminds to us turn away from self and focus all toward God our heavenly Father. His intentions are to ensure the woman in the crowd (and the crowd as a whole) doesn’t simply acknowledge the blessing that is Jesus’ presence on earth, but the greater blessing of God’s covenant with us, God’s word as something to treasure and be obedient to, something to devote our whole lives to. Indeed just before this incident Jesus was accused of driving out demons through the power of Beelzebul. Again he takes this statement and redirects it to his Father, saying that it is by God’s power that He drives out demons.
Is this not also what Jesus did when he spoke about the Pharisees and the law? Jesus points attention to God the Father and away from anything that may cloud our true call as Believers, even the Church law! Jesus also humbled himself in order to draw proper attention to the Father. We know from the letter to the Philippians that Jesus did not regard equality to God as something to be grasped or exploited. This kind of humility is the essence of the Principle and Foundation, directing all our thoughts, actions, and attention to the Lord, not making idols of ourselves or material things in our lives or even human law. St Paul has been guiding his audience to an ordering of their lives toward God. He mentions a few times in his epistles how we have been “set apart”, called to this conversion, called to a reordering of our lives like he did. That is the basis for the Spiritual Exercises and the basis of our Christian living.
I’ve recently reflected on the absence of this kind of humility in the world. The quickest way to find the limelight on self is by turning on the television. The other day I watched twenty minutes of Keeping Up with the Kardashians on MTV, a reality show about a rich broken family dealing with previous marriages, children from those marriages, relationship problems, and lots of drama. I wondered what motivates someone, a whole family for that matter, to choose to have their life documented on TV. Imagine living each moment with a camera crew present to capture all your intimate and personal moments as well as your big house and nice furnishings. It’s almost as if there’s some narcissistic disorder that leads them to wishing for the whole world to see their lives. Disorder is the right word. Clearly the Kardashians are not making any attempts, as far as we can see, in ordering and orienting their lives toward the praise, reverence, and service of God.
Every bit of ministry Jesus did, every action he took, was oriented toward his Father. Whether it was a miracle like calming the storm, healing a paralytic, raising Lazarus from the dead, or His triumphant entry into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, everything Jesus did pointed to love of His Father and glorified His Father. When I imagine Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem, the crowds praising God with joy, I imagine Jesus quietly saying in prayer, “look at all these people I’ve gained for you, Father.” Though at first glance this scene only seems to build up Jesus like a king, it seems to me that in prayer and action Jesus again directs attention away from himself and makes this kingly ride a gift for His Father’s glory, not His own. Paul takes a cue from Jesus in ensuring all he does points to glorifying God. And he wants to share this with the Galatians.
Perfect humility is certainly not easy and the evil spirit can tempt us in very subtle ways to become prideful and redirect the light back onto us. Jesus could have fallen prey to this easily in His ministry as people sought him out for healing. He could have easily basked in the power given to Him by His Father. Paul too could have in his preaching focused too much attention on himself. So could the early Christians follow Christ and not the Mosaic Law? Paul says yes, but like Jesus said to the woman in the crowd, Jesus would say, “You’re missing the point. Your eyes should not be focused solely on the law or on my origins or on sacrifice. Your eyes, your whole being should be fixed on the God who loves you and brought you into being.” We see in both Jesus and Paul the paradigm for perfect humility continuously redirecting attention to God. In us this requires a deep conversion and wholehearted commitment on our part. This is not a false humility of putting oneself down as not important, but a humility that takes the limelight off yourself and shines it brightly on our Creator and Friend.