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Living in the Greatness of Soul
A Reflection on the Gospel of Mark 1:7-11
The Gospel Reflection for today can be found at https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/010623.cfm
He who sits upon the cherubim washed the feet of the traitor. Do you, O man—you who are earth and ashes and cinders and dust—do you exalt yourself, and are you high-minded? … There can neither be humility without greatness of soul, nor conceit except from littleness of soul. (St John Chrysostom quoted in Ritzema)
Throughout the season of Advent and Christmas we hear much about St John the Baptist. The impact of St John’s life and message was tremendous in his time. Josephus, though he fails to mention Jesus in his first century, Antiquities of the Jews, does mention St John the Baptist. He writes that St John the Baptist “was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism” (Josephus Antiquities XVIII, v 2). St Matthew, in his Gospel, tells us of the crowds that came from “Jerusalem, all Judea, and the whole region around the Jordan” (Matthew 3:5 NABRE). John was certainly a celebrity in his time.
Today in the Gospel we hear St John proclaim that,
"One mightier than I is coming after me. I am not worthy to stoop and loosen the thongs of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit." (Mark 1:7–8 NABRE)
Though it would have been quite easy for St John to fall victim to pride, he never does. He is an example of humility both in action and of spirit. It is a humility before God that every Christian is called to enact.
St John gave His life to fulfill the will of God and to serve his Savior. This is humility in action. Our Lord tells us in the Gospel of Matthew that,
“among those born of women there has been none greater than John the Baptist; yet the least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” (Matthew 11:11)
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Humility in Action is a Life Given to God
John, in his humility, saw himself not as, “greater than,” but as one of many who are called to serve the Lord in His great Economy of Salvation. When his mission was done, he was willing once more to fade into the background in a life that constantly focuses all attention on our Savior. As St John said, “He must increase; I must decrease.” (John 3:11 NABRE) We too are called to humbly subordinate our life, our every action to God’s plan. In the “Our Father,” we pray, “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” Humility in action is to order our will to the will of Love, the will of God. Pray the “Our Father” and ponder this petition. Whose will is being done in your life?
Humility in Spirit is Recognition of Our Need for God
St John’s spirituality was one of humility before the greatness of God. Some might call this the gift of “the Fear of the Lord.” It is not so much fear as it is a sense of our unworthiness in the presence of God. St John clearly proclaims the greatness of God the Son by saying that he is not worthy to drop to his knees to loosen the thong of Jesus’ sandals. He confesses through these words that he is not worthy even of the lowliest service to the Christ. It is in this sense of unworthiness before God, which is our greatest joy. For, when we understand and live in this spiritual humility, we are constantly amazed at God’s desire to lift us up. St Thérèse of Lisieux sums spiritual humility up beautifully when she writes,
Thine Arms, then, O Jesus, are the lift which must raise me up even unto Heaven. To get there I need not grow; on the contrary, I must remain little, I must become still less. (Thérèse of Lisieux 136)
To make yourself little before God is to trust Him in all things. To go to Him with the confidence that a child goes to his or her parent. In humility before the greatness of God, we profess God’s sovereignty over our life and trust in His love and mercy. In understanding and living out spiritual humility God rejoices to lift us up. Do we in humility trust the Lord in all things? Reflect on those great words we repeat before receiving the Blessed Sacrament, “I am not worthy that You should come under my roof, but only say the word and my soul shall be healed!” Don’t stay under the roof of the rickety shack of our lives. Instead enter under the roof of the palace of God’s love.
Today we celebrate the memorial of St Andre Bessette. Brother Andre served as the porter in his Order’s Church for forty years. He was known for his humility and hospitality to all who entered his Church. Brother Andre is yet another example of humility in spirit and action. Consider reflecting on the Litany of humility today (found at https://www.ewtn.com/catholicism/devotions/litany-of-humility-245). It is a great prayer for a life enlivened through an attitude of humility. There can neither be humility without greatness of soul, nor conceit except from littleness of soul. Be of great soul!
Through the intersession of St Andre, we humbly pray,
Cast your light upon your faithful, Lord, we pray, and with the splendor of your glory set their hearts ever aflame, that they may never cease to acknowledge their Savior and may truly hold fast to him. (Collect for the memorial of St Andre Bessette)
Josephus, Flavius, and William Whiston. The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged. Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987. Print.
New American Bible. Revised Edition (NABRE). Washington, DC: The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, 2011. Print.
“Pin on Catholic Prayer Graphics.” Pinterest, Word on Fire - Home, 15 Dec. 2015, https://www.pinterest.com/pin/472878029603484551/.
Ritzema, Elliot. 300 Quotations for Preachers from the Early Church. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2013. Print. Pastorum Series.
Thérèse of Lisieux, Saint, and T. N. Taylor. The Story of a Soul. London: Burns and Oates, 1912. Print.