THE ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH
Her Doctrine and Morals
Third Sunday in Advent
17 December 2017
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St. Gregory gives us some very profound considerations concerning today's Gospel. St. John the Baptist shows us clearly his humility in denying that he is the Christ. The people were ready and even eager to have him proclaim himself to be the Christ. St. John had many sterling qualities that won him such esteem in the eyes of the people. In speaking the truth humbly, St. John denies that he is the Christ, but in so doing "he became His member Whose Name he would not falsely usurp. For since he sought not the name of the Christ, he was made a member of Christ; because while he humbly sought to make clear his own lowliness, he thereby truly merited to share in His glory." (St. Gregory)
The mystery of humility is presented quite clearly in this. For this is precisely What Jesus has promised to us: "He who humbles himself shall be exalted." (St. Matt. 23, 12) In attempting to lift ourselves up to God, we invariably fall flat on our faces, but the moment that we accept our unworthiness and lowliness in all humility; we are lifted up and incorporated into the Mystical Body of Christ. The way to ascend to God is to first descend in complete humility. Jesus would have us learn of Him because He is meek and humble of heart. (St. Matt, 11, 29)
In humbling ourselves, we imitate Jesus we follow Him. His grace draws us towards Him. When we cooperate with these graces, we find ourselves following closer and closer in His footsteps. Eventually, we are following so closely that we step right into Him we become one with Him. With St. Paul we come to realize that it is no longer I, but Christ Jesus living within me. (Gal. 2, 20)
Humility is truth. St. John the Baptist did not deny what he was or who he was. He did not deny his priestly parentage. He did not deny his austere mortifications in the desert. He did not deny preaching and baptizing to prepare the way for the Christ. He only denied that which truth demanded that he deny. Even when he was pressed to declare what he is rather than deny what he is not, St. John downplays (does not deny) his role as the precursor. He says that he is the voice of one crying in the desert. (St. John 1, 23)
The more St. John lowered himself through humility the more exalted he became in the eyes of his followers. (His followers still wanted him to declare himself the Christ.) Much more important than the opinion of men is the opinion of God. The more humble he became in his own mind or in his own estimation, the greater he became in the eyes of God. If he had exalted himself before men or in his own eyes, he would have, no doubt, proportionally fallen in the eyes of God.
Not only did St. John practice this grace of humility, he also preached it as a necessity to welcoming Jesus Christ into our lives. "Make straight the way of the Lord." (St. John 1, 23) We must repent of our sins and do penance for them. Every obstacle to our union with Jesus must be removed and done away with. A principle obstacle in our path to union with Jesus is pride.
Pride lifts us up in our own estimation. We lift ourselves up above what we truly are we lie. Pride is a lie. It is emptiness (vanity of vanities) it is a chase after the wind. (Eccl. 1, 14) Of ourselves we are nothing. All the honor and glory belongs only to God.
If we want to be truly lifted up and exalted, we need only follow the example of St. John the Baptist. We need only understand and put into practice the teaching of Jesus and humble ourselves, remembering that: "He who humbles himself shall be exalted." (St. Matt. 23, 12)
The whole process is counter-intuitive to our material natures, but it is quite simple and clear when we consider it from the supernatural perspective.
We are Catholics and have been incorporated into the Mystical Body of Jesus Christ. This is a truth brought to fruition by our baptism. This is a gift (grace) that we have not deserved, earned, or merited in any way. This is a very great and precious grace that we have. Yet the moment that we Pharisaicaly take vain pride and glory in this as if it is our own doing, we fall precipitously. Of ourselves, we are nothing, any and all the good that is in us is from God. We must not deny the truth of what God has made us or given us, but we must make sure that we do not usurp the credit for what He has done to us. The truth is that we are unworthy of the honor and grace that He has given us. We have deserved to be punished and deprived of the honor and glory that God has given us in being baptized. We are Catholic, but we are unworthy of that honor.
When asked if we are Catholics or followers of Jesus Christ, it is not a lie to say that we are unworthy of this name, or that we are miserable sinners. And if pressed to declare what we are, we can say with St. Paul: we are what we are by the grace of God. (I Cor. 15, 10) All that is good in us is from God. All that is bad in us is from ourselves.
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