Fourteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time
One of the great difficulties I've had all the years of firstly monastic and then priestly life, has been the inner battle between what I have been told I am to be and do by the Church, such as being a 'shepherd-pastor, putting others first, having a simplicity of life style and humility in my manner of working and being with others, and what my own work as an academic and teacher in a busy powerful world demands such as excellence in teaching and research, getting on, making a name in a subject area, a career path leading to Professorship and so on. There's nothing wrong with being successful or having that 'go get' mentality, its what you do with it, particularly how you treat others that matters.
We can find several themes in our readings which challenge us to take the path of the Gospel and life with God seriously, re-examine the tension between our personal achievement and our call to service. The Institutional Church isn't a good example. We have a lot of talk in our Ordination and Installation services about being ministry being servants of others, last of all and humble for Christ's sake, but the trappings of power intrude and the power structures remain a permanent obstacle to the kenosis (emptying out of ourselves as Christ did) asked of us by the Lord. It's the same in all forms of life!
But take heart; it is what we make of these things and positions that matter. Saint-Exupery's Fox says to the Little Prince; "Here is my secret. It is very simple: It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye". We have to look beyond the immediate, never take the trappings and arrogance of power as a given; remember that is not what we are called to be, our example must always be the Christ.
Ezekiel asks us to be prophets who hold up a mirror to others, called to bring people back to God. Paul uses the analogy of human weakness to remind us just how contradictory and fallible we all are, but also that our failures can also be a strength because the humility of God reaches out to support us in love, "power made perfect in weakness'. Jesus reminds us that success is never total, especially if we are walking the Gospel path and preaching its message in deed and word. The old adage, 'familiarity brings contempt' is so often true! Jesus reminds us not to waste too much effort on those who reject or refuse to understand our message, we must move on. "Cor ad cor loquitur" wrote St Francis de Sales, the heart of God speaks to our heart. In the end it is the humility of love, not power, that lasts! The voice of the heart we must listen to is Christ!
From the Life of St Anthony
A hermit said, 'Do not ignore your neighbour for you do not know whether God's Spirit is in you or in him. I tell you that your servant is your neighbour.'
From St Isaac the Syrian on Humility
A humble person is never rash, hasty or perturbed, never has any hot and volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm. Even if heaven were to fall and cleave to the earth, the humble one would not be dismayed. Not every quiet person is humble, but every humble person is quiet. There is no humble person who is not self-constrained; but you will find many who are self-constrained without being humble. This is also what the meek humble Lord meant when He said, 'Learn of Me, for I am meek and humble of heart, and ye shall find rest unto your souls.' [Matt 11:29]
For the humble person is always at rest, because there is nothing which can agitate or shake their mind. Just as no one can frighten a mountain, so the mind of a humble one cannot be frightened. If it be permissible and not incongruous, I should say that the humble person is not of this world. For they are not troubled and altered by sorrows, nor amazed and enthused by joys, but all their gladness and real rejoicing are in the things of their Master.
Humility is accompanied by modesty and self-collectedness: that is, chastity of the senses; a moderate voice; mean speech; self-belittlement; poor raiment; a gait that is not pompous; a gaze directed towards the earth; superabundant mercy; easily flowing tears; a solitary soul; a contrite heart; imperturbability to anger; undistributed senses; few possessions; moderation in every need; endurance; patience; fearlessness; manliness of heart born of a hatred of this temporal life; patient endurance of trials; deliberations that are ponderous, not light, extinction of thoughts; guarding of the mysteries of chastity; modesty, reverence; and above all, continually to be still and always to claim ignorance.
St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 72