Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Humble Presentation/Guest Post-Fr. Don Hying

It seems that I am in a continual battle with myself; just when I really think I'm somebody special, full of puffed-up pride and self-proclaimed importance, God loosens the leg on that wobbly stool of falsehood upon which I sit. Soon, I am tottering down to the floor as I am brought to remember that I am really a weak and small human being, one who makes frequent mistakes, wears her foot in her mouth far too often and is really very ordinary and simple, meant to be the servant of others; not the one being served. I am called to follow the example of our Lord and to make a humble presentation of myself before God and others.

This past Sunday's readings (Zep 2:3; 3-12-13, Ps 146:6-10, 1 Cor 1:26-31, Mt 5:1-12a) were a great example of the joy that can be found in embracing the ordinary and simple life, and my friend, Fr. Don Hying, has graciously allowed me to share his reflection on those readings. As you prayerfully read his words and consider their meaning in your life, I ask you to also include a prayer for Fr. Don, himself a model of humility. Today, the feast of the Presentation of the Lord, is his special day on the Monthly Prayer Request for Priests calendar in Milwaukee.

When the great and powerful army of the British Empire surrendered to General Washington and the rag-tag Continental troops at Yorktown, Virginia, Lord Cornwallis ordered his military band to play a tune entitled “The World Turned Upside Down.” Who would ever have imagined at the beginning of the Revolutionary War that a group of weak and disunited colonies would defeat the most powerful military force in the world?
That dynamic of the minority, the marginal, the weak, the least expected one somehow emerging from the bottom and becoming God’s chosen instrument to bring about the victory of salvation, mercy and freedom is abundantly present in the Scriptures. Abraham and Sarah are too old to bear children. Moses stutters. David is too young and unimportant to even be present at the feast. Mary is an unknown virgin from an obscure village. The apostles are fishermen, tax collectors or political zealots. God chooses the nobodies of this world to bear the triumph of his love.

In today’s first reading, Zephaniah proclaims that the Lord will leave a faithful remnant of people, humble, lowly, small and poor. In the second reading, Paul reminds the Corinthians that they are not wise, powerful or noble and yet God has precisely chosen them to humble the proud, to reduce all human pretension, to show forth a new kind of power that only loves and serves rather than oppresses and shames. The Gospel is the familiar account of the Beatitudes where Jesus calls blessed the poor, the sorrowing, the meek, the merciful and those who suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Only those who have lived on the margin, experienced minority status of some kind, suffered in the dark, have had their hearts broken, watched their world fall apart, been pushed aside and ignored can taste the joy of Jesus’ beatitude. When we are complacent, satisfied, self-sufficient, insulated and powerful, it becomes so difficult to realize how much we need God and to let him act in our lives. As St. Augustine writes, those who have had their hearts torn up by the roots can know the mercy and truth of the Almighty.

How often and how painfully do I need to learn the lesson of the Beatitudes! In my human vulnerability, I seek security, popularity, money, certainty, status and comfort to cover over my poverty and fear. Time and again, the Lord allows life to strip me of what I so desperately cling to, so that I can grasp anew the fundamental paradox of the Gospel. I must be emptied out of self so that God can fill me. I must feel the despair of spiritual darkness so that I search for the light of Christ. I must be thrown on some cross of poverty and pain so that I can taste the sweetness of the resurrection. I must sense the dreadful absence of God in my sin so that I can cast myself on his mercy.

How exhausting it is always striving to be somebody in the eyes of the world, needing to impress, influence, be noticed. We step closer to the radical freedom of Jesus when we seek to be hidden in him, to be enveloped in his heart, to be part of the silent and often unnoticed torrent of divine love which nourishes the world. John the Baptist got it right when he said about Christ: He must increase and I must decrease. Humility sets us free to be our true selves, a reality both greater and smaller than we often imagine ourselves to be.

Almost 1800 years before the British surrender at Yorktown, an unknown pregnant girl exulted in a poetic proclamation that sang of a world turned upside down. In her Magnificat. Mary understands well that God always subverts the proud, the satisfied, and the pretentious by breaking in from the margins with unexpected grace and power, in ways often unexpected. The baby growing in her womb was the Word made flesh. Who could have ever guessed?

1. Emily Dickinson, a premier American poet, wrote: “I’m nobody! Who are you? Are you nobody, too? Then there’s a pair of us—don’t tell! They’d banish us, you know.” In light of the second reading, what does Dickinson’s writing mean?

2. How have you experienced being marginalized? How do you see God’s grace in such moments?

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for this perfect meditation for the feast day! That St. Augustine quote resounded in my heart...hadn't heart that particular one before. Lord, help me remember that "I am nobody too!"