John the Baptist exemplifies humility

John, who lived in the desert, ate grasshoppers and wild honey, dressed in a camel hair garment (Mt. 3.4) was asked by people: "Are you the Messiah?" John replied, "I am a voice in the desert crying out: ĎPrepare the way of the Lord.í" (Jn. 1.23) So people challenged John, "If you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet, why are you baptizing?" John replied, "I baptize with water. There is one among you whom you do not recognize - the one who is to come after me Ė the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to unfasten." (Jn. 1.25). The next day Jesus passed by and John proclaimed humbly, "Look. There is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. After me is to come a man who ranks ahead of me, because he was before me." (Jn. 1. 29-30) With that, two disciples, including the apostle Andrew left John and followed Jesus. When Jesus came to the Jordan River to be baptized, "John said, "I should be baptized by you. Ö Jesus answered, "We must do this if we would fulfill all of Godís demands." (Mt. 3.14). John the Baptist demonstrates Christian humility, which is based in truth. John spoke the truth; he was the herald of Christ and not the Messiah. May we similarly and humbly recognize who Jesus is who we are. Humility is based in truth.

May I share with you a personal experience of the grace of humility. Last June, I went to my family doctor with a bad cold. He told me to go straight to the hospital. After nine days of unsuccessful treatment, the lead doctor informed me that the hospital staff did not know what was wrong with me. This wonderfully kind and capable doctor said, "You are a medical mystery, a diagnostic dilemma." He suggested that I might want to be transferred to Johns Hopkins Hospital. After eight days at Hopkins, their lead doctor repeated to me that their staff did not know what was wrong me. Meanwhile, my health kept worsening: I could hardly breathe, walk, or eat. The hospital suggested that surgery would be necessary to obtain a diagnosis. After surgery, the doctors diagnosed me with a rare form of pneumonia called BOOP. The doctors prescribed treatment by steroids, along with two dozen other pills to counter the nefarious side-effects of the steroid prednisone. Now, one year later, my lungs have cleared 100%, and I should be off steroids by the end of this summer! Thanks be to God, and my good doctors.

What fascinates me, however, is the experience of praying when I thought I was dying. I went to confession, received the sacrament of the anointing of the sick, and revised my will. Humorously, I began practicing how I ought to fold my hands in the casket: either praying hands straight up, or praying hands lying on the chest, or folded hands on my chest!

When I felt I was dying, I felt very peaceful in my relationship with God. When I could do less on my own, I trusted more in God. I envisioned myself sliding closer into Godís opened spiritual hands; into his control. I kept repeating rosaries and a few favorite phrases: Jesusí words, "Father, if this cup can pass from me, then let it do so, but not my will, but your will be done." And Maryís words, "I am the handmaid of the Lord, let be it done unto me according to your word." And I kept humming the song of St. Clare of Assisiís prayer:

Gaze upon the Lord. Gaze upon His face. Gaze upon the Lord, holding you in his embrace.

Gaze upon his life. Gaze upon his love. Gaze upon his coming forth from heaven above.

In my whole life, I have never felt closer to God than in those hospital days when all I could do was pray, "Lord, into your hands, I commend my spirit." (Ps. 31.6)

My faith remained strong throughout this ordeal. I believe that Jesus is the Lord of history. All that happens occurs within the Providence of God. God holds each of us in the palm of his hand, and calls us by name. Perhaps he was calling me to himself and to eternal life at this time. Like the Psalmist, I prayed, "Like the deer that yearns for running streams, so my soul yearns for you my God." (Ps. 42)

In my suffering, I tried to identify with the sufferings of Jesus and other people. My thoughts rushed to the suffering members of our parish: the sick, the dying, the addicted, those experiencing troubles at home, those struggling with faith, and those who have lost faith, and have turned away from the Church if not God also. My thoughts and feelings turned to victims of wars: children emotionally and psychologically scarred by bombings, families displaced, civilians and soldiers both praying for the return of peace. I prayed too over the sad state of so many TV shows which portray evil as good. My mind and heart raced to pray for suffering humanity.

The unanticipated grace I experienced was this: as I grew weaker, I grew closer to God. Like the anawim, i.e., the helpless people of the Old Testament, my only surety was God. Activities that might normally have attracted me, absolutely had no appeal to me; for weeks on end, I never turned on the TV in the hospital rooms, I never read a newspaper, and never flipped through a golf magazine. My eyes were focused on God alone.

I prayed at a depth which I had never felt before.

My sickness became for me an unanticipated blessing. In the footsteps of John the Baptist, I was learning a little bit of humility by turning to and seeking more Godís will than mine.

Read other Homily by Father O'Malley