31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Cycle A)
While it’s obvious that much of today’s readings is a cry against hypocrisy in matters of piety and religious practice, it is the final line “Whoever exults himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exulted” that really gets to the heart of today’s gospel.
How do we humble ourselves?
It says: Do not be called “father,” “master,” or “teacher.” Each of you has but one father, one master, and one teacher. Jesus told us a few weeks ago that unless we become like little children, we “will not enter the kingdom of God.” That teaching is intimately tied together with today’s call for humility and humbleness. Because who is more humble than a child?
Like a child dependent on his or her parents, we humbly depend on the Father to answer our daily needs of food, shelter, and clothing, no matter who we are and what we do.
But I think that the humble experience that all of us have in common as children is the experience of being a student. And our gospel message today gives us an image of true humility; remaining a student throughout one’s life.
St. Irenaeus, one of the Church’s earliest theologians, thought that the essence of Adam and Eve’s sin was their desire to grow up too soon. In effect, they refused to remain students. Unlike later images of Adam and Eve as grown adults rebelling against the rule of God, Irenaeus pictured the two as children. For him their sin involved the crisis of adolescence. Like most young people, they thought they knew more than their parent. They wanted all knowledge and they wanted it now, so in disobedience they ate from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. The consequence of their disobedience was not so much a “Fall” as a stunted growth. They entered into a type of paralysis of immaturity. We too have remained in such a paralysis down through the centuries, but there is hope. Christ came to be a child with us, and as our master and teacher, to lead us into maturity. When he walked this earth, he not only taught us HOW to live, but mostly WHY.
Up until about two generations ago people made it a point to teach and learn the how and why of Catholic faith with equal weight. But somewhere over the last 100 years or so, the why became somewhat neglected and the how became all important. And that’s a shame because it is the WHY that lets the light of God shine on our faith and open up a more glorious vision of God in our lives.
We might as ourselves, why did Jesus, the second person of the Trinity, have to born into the human condition? Why is it important to us that he had to die a horrific death and rise again? Why did he send his Spirit to care for us? For that matter, why does God care so much for us at all? Or WHY is the Catholic faith different from other Christian denominations?
On a more practical level, how many people know HOW to bless themselves with holy water when they come into Church without knowing WHY? How many people know HOW to genuflect toward the tabernacle before they slide into the pew without knowing WHY? How many people know HOW to put their left hand into their right palm and hold their arms toward the priest to recieve the Eucharist without understanding what the Eucharist is. Or WHY Jesus left that particular means of sharing himself with us.
The time we live in these days is often called the Information Age. Most of us know how to read and there are magazines out there ranging to everything from beekeeping, to hubcap collecting, to unicycles. Many of us are “computer literate.” Many of us can speak intelligently on a wide range of topics other than what we do for a living. You would think that at the turn of the 21st century, when we know so much about so many different things, we would know more about our faith. But how many of us know what to say to a co-worker when they ask why we Catholics “go to confess our sins to a priest in that little box.”?
I think we have to ask ourselves, do I still have the same conception of God and His Church as I had when I left my last 8th grade CCD class or when I graduated from Catholic 8th grade or high school. I know it happened to me! As much as my good parents and teachers tried to instill in me a love for the Catholic faith it seemed difficult for me in my younger years to grasp the “WHYs.” For me it seemed like it was “O.K. Here you go, time to make your first communion.” “Now go to church every Sunday!” And, “O.K. Now your in 8th grade, time to be confirmed.” But without the “WHYS”, by the time I got to my mid 20s, I found I was not practicing my faith very much. But somebody around that time, I think it was my dad, was sending me a little Catholic paper called Our Sunday Visitor. And it was from that that I started to see WHY God did some things the way he did and WHY the Church does some things the way it does and WHY it teaches certain things about certain subjects. And it started to make some sense.
So I believe, and I know it to be true from experience, that today’s gospel message to become humble students throughout our lives, no matter how old or how young, is a message that can help us to stir that flame of faith that we bring with us to Mass each Sunday into a roaring blaze of Love for God and his Church. As finite beings we can never learn all there is to learn about an infinite God.
There are many paths we can take to be lifelong students. We could begin by taking home, and reading, a Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper every Sunday. It’s free! And there’s always something good in there to chew on. We could watch or tape Bishop Wuerl’s TV show on Sunday mornings and share it with our family. We are really fortunate to have as Bishop of our diocese someone who takes so seriously his main duty as teacher of the faith. Another thing, and this is something that helped me quite a bit, is to drop in on the RCIA classes that are held here each week. Many of the people who have come into full communion with the Catholic Church over the last 15 or 20 years are much better versed in the faith than many of us so-called cradle Catholics!
Aside from that, we have a scripture study group that meets here at Holy Trinity as well as an Apologetics group. The apologetics group goes over how to discuss various aspects of the Catholic faith with non-Catholics, but again, in doing that, the Catholic participant becomes stronger in his or her knowledge of the faith. There are also other, more specific, adult education classes offered throughout the diocese. They’re usually listed in the Pittsburgh Catholic.
Finally, I’d just like to point out that there are myriads of good Catholic magazines out there. Some are more generic and cover a wide range of topics, like Our Sunday Visitor, and some target specific audiences and topics, from teens, to singles and young adults, to families; and from apologetics, to faith and culture, to reflections on the daily mass readings. I’m sure Fr. Bob or Fr. Bill would be glad to point you in the right direction. And if you find one you like, discreetly order a subscription for a friend or family member. It might be the spark that will light their fire of love.
So remember, school is never out if we want to continue as humble students of Christ. the one Teacher.