Mountains and Valleys, Pride and Humility
December 7, 2003 Homily by Fr. Robert Altier Second Sunday of Advent
In the Gospel today, Saint John the Baptist goes out and preaches throughout the entire area of the Jordan a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. This forgiveness of sin is absolutely necessary in order to see God. It is that which we are called to, and Saint Paul even makes it very clear in the second reading from his Letter to the Philippians that we are called to be holy and blameless in the sight of God, to be perfect for the greater glory of God. The very purpose of our lives is to glorify God and it is made very clear that the best way to glorify God is to be perfect, to be holy, to be blameless. The only way we can do that is if we are without sin. The Lord, in His mercy, has given us a means to have our sins forgiven and that is through the Sacrament of Confession: to come before the priest, the representative of Jesus Christ, and to humbly confess our sins and to receive the mercy of God.
When we look into our own hearts, of course, we recognize that there are lots of areas within us that are very imperfect, areas where we need to grow. These are the areas where one could say that there are valleys. As we heard in Baruch, as well as in the Gospel reading today, the mountains have to be brought low and the valleys are going to be filled in so that everything becomes level. Those areas where we are weak, the areas where we are sinful, the areas where there is virtue that is lacking within us, those are the areas that we have to fill up, the areas where there is something that is missing, the valleys within our lives. At the same time, it is the pride which is the mountain area within us, where we think that we are better than what we really are, where we do not want to admit our faults or we do not want to acknowledge our sinfulness, and sometimes where we think that we do not need God or where we can do things by ourselves. Those are the areas where there are mountains that need to be brought low.
But what happens in the spiritual life is that as the mountains of pride are brought low, humility grows; and as humility grows, then charity grows along with it. All of those valleys in our lives are the areas, ultimately, where charity is lacking, and the areas where there are mountains are where humility is lacking. So as the mountains are brought down, the humility fills in; and as the areas where charity is lacking are worked out, then the charity fills up those areas where it was completely lacking. And so what becomes level and smooth is the way for the Lord. That is exactly what Saint John was preaching as he used the words of the prophet Isaiah: “make straight the way of the Lord…make level His paths.” What the Lord wants to be able to find in us are not mountains and valleys where our pride does not allow us to see Him and our sinfulness keeps us away from Him, but rather He wants to find a place that has been made truly level, that is, a place where the humility and the charity operate together because those two virtues together are completely joined. The height of our charity is equal to the depths of our humility. And so we need to make sure that we are filling with humility and praying for that, getting rid of the pride, leveling those mountains. We need to work on the virtues.
All the virtues are found in one, which is charity, because if we are going to be blameless and holy on the day of the Lord – and, as Saint Paul says that God, Who has begun the good work in us, will bring it to completion – the only way to do that is to become more godlike. God is perfect. God is holy. So we have to make sure that not only are the sins confessed and all of the areas are worked out of us, but we also have to make sure that we are seeking then to grow in holiness, to develop the virtues, especially charity. As I was saying, all the virtues are part of charity and Scripture tells us, “God is love,” just that simple, therefore everything that we can say about God is really just a different aspect of His love because God is not in one way omnipotent and in another way just and in another way merciful; all of those are simply a reflection of His love. God is love. So too in us, as we look at all the areas of virtue that God wants us to develop to become more godlike it is all part of love because as we become more just, as we become more honest, as we become more pure, as we become virtuous in any area, it becomes part of charity. We become more godlike, which means that we become more conformed to love, and that love is perfection. That, again, is exactly what Our Lord tells us: that we are to love as we have been loved and we are to be perfect as God is perfect. The perfection of God is love, and if we are to be perfect it is simply to love.
So what we have to do, first of all, is have that love for God, to recognize that when we have sinned we have offended God. We want to be able to confess our sins, ultimately not simply because we might go to hell or because we might be punished or have to spend a long time in Purgatory, but rather we want to confess our sins because we have offended God, Whom we should love above all things. It is a relationship with the Lord, and love is what will unite us with God. It is love then that is going to tell us not to sin because it would offend the One we love. And it is love that will also move us to repentance and to seek reconciliation because we have violated the relationship with the One we love. So when we have that love in our hearts that is when we are going to truly desire to grow in the virtues. And that is going to come through prayer and through confession.
If it has been a long time since you have been to confession then this is the time that you are being invited in a special way as you prepare for the great feast of Christmas, for Our Lord’s birth into this world, and for His birth into our own hearts. We need to prepare just as Our Lady did to have a heart that is absolutely filled with love, to have a heart that is free from sin, to have a heart that is humble and charitable, a heart that is level and full – that is, full of love – level and smooth because the pride is out of the way and charity has been developed. What we need to do is begin by getting rid of the areas of sin in our lives. We need to ask the Lord to show us the areas that separate us from Him, to help us to see the areas that need to be confessed. Then we need to be humble and, no matter what it happens to be, to bring it to the Lord so that we can be forgiven. And we need to remember that when we talk about forgiveness of sin we are talking about the destruction of the sin. When God forgives you, He removes the sin from your soul so that it no longer exists and you will never hear of it again. You see how merciful and loving God is! By making that one act of humility on your part to come before Him and confess the sin that you have committed, He in His love and mercy is going to remove it from your soul so that it will never ever be heard of again – even on the Day of Judgment.
And so as you, out of love and humility, come before the Lord to acknowledge the areas where you have violated your relationship with God, to acknowledge your own sinfulness and the areas where virtue has not been developed, God, Who will never be outdone in generosity, will accept that humility, will accept that act of charity on your part. He is going to give us an even greater gift, that is, to remove our sins, to restore us to sanctifying grace if we have fallen into mortal sin, or to increase the sanctifying grace if we have venial sins on our souls, and in this way to infuse His life and His love into our hearts by removing our sins completely from our souls and preparing a place that is pure and beautiful by leveling the mountains and filling in the valleys, by making us holy and blameless so that we can give greater glory and honor to God.
* This text was transcribed from the audio recording of a homily by Father Robert Altier with minimal editing.