sermon for corpus christi, year a, june 19, 2014

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“He who eats my flesh and drinks my blood abides in me, and I in him.”

Happy Corpus Christi. Today we celebrate humility. Humility is probably not what first pops into your mind when you think of Corpus Christi. But Corpus Christi is really about humility.

Today I want to talk with you about why God loves those who have humility, what’s in store for those who have humility before God, and lastly I want to talk with you about what humility before the Lord looks like for us. So first: why does God love the humble; second: what you get when you’re humble; and third: a little about what humility looks like, or how to be humble.

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First: why does God love the humble so much?  Why does he want you and me to be humble?  Because God himself has great humility. The humble are close to the heart of God because the humble are like God. Humility means letting go of your rights and prerogatives, and this is exactly what God does for us. St. John says that God loved us so much that he became one of us. God loved you so much that he was willing to do whatever it took to be with you. So he gave up his rights and prerogatives – The Most High God, the Architect of Galaxies and Neutrons, left his throne of glory to be born in a stable, and to die on the cross for our sins. The second chapter of Philippians contains what many scholars think is  the oldest bit of explicitly Christian writing we have. It’s a hymn quoted by Saint Paul. Paul is writing around the year 60, just a couple of decades after the Lord was crucified, and he quotes a hymn that was already familiar to the Christian community to whom he writes. This hymn is just about the earliest statement of Christian belief that has survived – its a hymn composed in the years just after the Lord’s crucifixion, when most of the Apostles were still alive and teaching. And guess what. This hymn is about God’s humility. St. Paul tells his readers to have humility because Christ was humble.  And he quotes this hymn:

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth, and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

The Lord wants us to be humble because the Lord is himself humble. The Lord wants us to be obedient because he was himself obedient. The Lord wants us to become his slaves, because he became a slave for us. The Lord wants us to give ourselves over totally to his will, because he laid down his life for us.

And more amazing yet:  the Lord’s humility doesn’t stop on the cross. Its not just that his body is broken and his blood shed, but that his body and blood are given to us as food and drink. God didn’t just leave us with teachings about himself, and a vague sense of his incorporeal presence in the world. This isn’t the feast of Incorporeus Christus, the incorporeal presence of Christ. No. It’s the feast of Corpus Christi.  And he has left us the sacrament of his Body and Blood. He makes his sacrifice to last until the end of the world.  Think about that!  The total humiliation of the Son of God, whose humility and obedience was total, unto death — the humility and obedience of a corpse — after rising from the grave, his humility continues, he perpetuates his humility until the end of the world, in the sacrament of the Eucharist.  The Most High God let’s me, a miserable sinner, touch and handle him day by day at that altar, and he suffers himself to be placed on your tongue at that altar rail.  That, my friends, is a mystery.  The mystery of the total humility of the Most High God.  In the words of the Paschal Exsultet: “How wonderful and beyond our knowing, O God, is your mercy and loving kindness to us, that to redeem a slave, you gave a Son.”

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Friends, if we claim to be disciples of Jesus, we must respond to this humility – indeed we must respond to this humiliation of the Son of God with our own total humility and contrition.  This is the task of our lives as Christians.  God shows his love for us in the total humiliation and abnegation of his Son. And anything less than our total submission and obedience to him is an unworthy response to that love. The humble are God’s friends. The presumptuous are estranged from him. And if you let your presumption go, it will carry you away to hell. I’m not joking. I’m convinced that God doesn’t damn anyone. He won’t send us to hell. But our presumption – our SIN – will send us to hell if we don’t check it – because presumption and sin is most fundamentally shows an indifference towards the humility of God, whereby we are saved from death.

Friends I quake in fear before God in the knowledge that day by day I take the body of Christ into my hands and into my mouth at that altar, and more often than not I am distracted, or annoyed, or tired, and sometimes indeed I have unconfessed sin on my conscience. Paul said in today’s epistle: “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord.” So what am I to do?  I’m working on being more recollected at mass, spending time in intentional prayer before and after, I spend half an hour in the morning and again in the evening in prayer, and I try to keep my prayer focused and intentional. I go often to confession, and I need to go more often still, because the Lord has promised to meet me there, in the person of his priest, and to heal me — to take away the presumption and sin that separates me from him.  The very act of going to confession is an act of humility.  A lot of people don’t like the words of the old rite “have mercy upon us miserable offenders… there is no health in us” – I love those words. Because when I’m honest with myself, I know they describe me to a T.

And please don’t think that this is all just macabre, outmoded, medieval piety – all drudgery and unworthiness. Not for a moment.  Not to me.  One thing I’ve realized is that the harder I really try to empty myself, the more time I spend intentionally denying myself and seeking the Lord’s will, and doing the Lord’s will as best I can — the more I find that Jesus himself takes up the slack and closes the distance separating me from him, a distance I can’t surmount. Like the Father in the parable of the prodigal Son: As soon as the Son acknowledges that he’s squandered his inheritance, as soon as he gets up and decides to go, the Father comes to him.  Jesus says “But while the prodigal son was yet at a distance, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him.”

This is born out in the lives of Christians over and over again. God will not judge us for being imperfect. He will judge us for not acknowledging our imperfection in humility and contrtion; we will be judged for claiming to believe his self-revelation, and doing nothing about what we say we believe.  God reveals himself in the Bible, in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and most importantly in the person of Jesus Christ. We must acknowledge him there. And we must do our best to follow him — not just to say we are catholics, that we believe these things, but tolive as catholics — to live what we say we believe:  Acknowledging God in Jesus Christ, in the Bible, and in the teachings of the Catholic Church, and then doing our best to follow him, to obey him, to keep his commandments – this is what it is to be humble and contrite.  This is the sacrifice the Psalmist says is acceptable to God:  a troubled spirit, a broken and contrite heart, that is inevitably born of believing God, and doing our best to follow him.  Anything less is presumption, for which there will be a reckoning.

Friends, I urge you to take this seriously.  Do not treat the Blessed Sacrament like a fortune cookie.  You should examine your conscience before you receive, and don’t rely on the rote repetition of our general confession.  That’s not the sacrament of reconciliation.  Examine yourself.  I prepared a guide to help you do just that — a guide to confession.  Its on the rack in the Narthex.  And if you find in your self examination that you are wanting, then go to confession.  Don’t risk profaning the Body and Blood of Christ, and eating and drinking judgment on yourself.  St. Paul warns us in today’s Epistle.

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Approach the sacrament in humility and contrition, with a clean conscience, having confessed your sins.  If you love someone, you want to please them, and its no different with God.  Indeed our teaching is that when we are truly humble, it is because the humility of Christ is bearing fruit within us.  “Deep calls to deep in the voice of your cataracts,” it says in the Psalms.  Our loving humility calls out to God’s loving humility.  And God doesn’t leave us broken and emptied, but fills with his own Spirit those voids within our hearts that we have made empty through contrition.

Isaiah says that God revives the spirit of those who are humble and contrite (Isa. 57.15). Proverbs says that God scorns the scornful, butshows favor to the humble (Proverbs 3.34), and the Psalms say that Godleads the humble and teaches them his secrets (Psalm 25.9), that headorns the humble with victory (Psalm 149.4). Both James and Peter tell us that God gives grace especially to the humble. And Sirach says that God glorifies himself in the humble, that he takes the inheritance of the presumptuous and gives it to the humble instead. And perhaps most beautifully of all, Sirach says that God listens to the prayers of the humble: “The prayer of the humble pierces the clouds,” says Sirach. “…And he will not be consoled until it reaches the Lord; he will not desist until the Most High visits him…” (Sirach 35.17).

The Virgin Mary is the paradigm here. When the Angel told her the Lord’s plan for her she said “Behold the handmaid of the Lord.” “Handmaid” is better translated “Slave girl” (douleh in Greek and ancillain Latin… both mean slave girl). That’s humility – to desire nothing but to be God’s slave girl. And she conceives and gives birth to the Son of God, and her joy is fulfilled.  My Spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has regarded the humility of his slave girl.  Quia respexit humilitatem ancillæ suæ.  The humility of his slave girl.  From this day forward all generations will call me blessed, for the Almighty has done great things for me, and Holy is his name.  He has compassion on those who fear him in every generation.  He has cast down the proud in their conceit, but has lifted up the lowly.  He has filled the hungry with good things, but the rich he has sent away empty.

This is the promise of Emmanuelle, of God with us.  This is the meaning of Corpus Christi, the humility of the Son of God calling to us.  Let us resolve always to respond to him in humility, that he may fill us with his joy, and that at the last we may never hear those horrible words: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels;” but rather the words of him whom we have learned through obedience to recognize as meek and humble of heart: “Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.  Amen.

 

 

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About Fr Will

Fr Will Brown is rector of Holy Cross Dallas
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