Only When We are Humbled
Friday March 23, 2001 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Third Week in Lent
Reading (Hosea 14:2-10) Gospel (St. Mark 12:28b-34)
In the first reading today, God speaks to us through the prophet Hosea and He says, regarding Israel, "I have humbled him, but I will exalt him." It is that prospering and exalting we look forward to, but the humbling always needs to be there first. Itís like anything else. As we go through these changes in the weather, we talk about how beautiful the weather is. It is 50 degrees now and it is so nice. Last fall, when it got down to 50 degrees, we complained about how cold it was getting. It depends upon what you are accustomed to. When you get used to the winter, 50 degrees is warm and beautiful. If God showers all kinds of things on us we just take it for granted and donít even recognize the beauty of what He is doing. But when we are made to suffer a little bit, when we are humbled, and He starts to lift us up we begin to see the goodness of what is there. We rejoice in what He is doing for us. So the humbling needs to take place first.
Saint Augustine talks about this when he says we are like vessels and God wants to fill us up with honey. Before that can happen you need to empty out the vinegar that is in there. And it is not just a matter of emptying it out - if it had vinegar in it, you have to scrub it out too. So you pull out the scouring pad and you begin to scrub. It would not feel good if you were the pot. Well, that is the soul. God wants to fill it up with Himself, with His grace, and with His love. He first has to empty the vinegar out of us, so that He can fill it up with Himself. That requires a lot of humbling. What we will learn when we humble ourselves (or we are humbled, as the case may be) is how to love. We learn how to rely solely on God. We learn how to do things His way. Then we will learn what the Lord said: to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul, strength, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We no longer think of ourselves as the center of things. We begin to recognize that we are called to serve. Even though we have known that all along, sometimes if we havenít been humbled weíre filled up with a lot of pride and we donít think that we have to put ourselves out but that others should focus on us. After being humbled, we begin to realize that we have to give; we have to serve; we have to put ourselves out for the sake of others.
This is precisely what the Lord is talking about. The man in the Gospel reading says that to do this - to love God and neighbor - is worth more than any burnt offering or sacrifice. It is precisely the commandment Jesus gave us: to love one another as He loved us. The greatest thing we can do is to love God and those around us. We want to focus on that, but we can only do it when we have been humbled. Only when we experience love are we able to love the way that we are supposed to. When God puts us down and humbles us out of charity for us and then begins to lift us up, we begin to see, understand, and live the love of God. Then we will be able to love in return. Then we will be on the path that God spoke of through the prophet Hosea at the end of the reading today. He says, "Let those who are wise understand these things, and let he who is prudent know them. Straight are the paths of the Lord." Love God and love your neighbor; it is a straight path. He said, "Those who are just will walk in them; sinners will stumble in them." For a sinner, trying to love the people around them becomes selfish. They stumble upon the very idea of love. But if we are just, if we are doing Godís will, to love is seeking only the good of the other. The path is straight and we donít fall. We walk it because it leads us most perfectly to the Lord. It helps us to do what is pleasing to Him and what is good for those around us.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.