Practicing harmony and humility

Readings: Ez. 18.25-28; Ps. 25; Phil. 2.1-11; Mt. 21.28-32

Vincentian Family Day

Yesterday we celebrated the feast of St. Vincent de Paul. Today, we celebrate Vincentian Family Day. The Vincentian Family is very large. It includes the Daughters of Charity, the Vincentian Priests, the Ladies of Charity, St. Vincent de Paul Societies, affiliates, and about 300 religious and lay groups who claim St. Vincent as their patron. When you count the members of the Miraculous Medal Associations, and parishioners of Vincentian parishes, we Vincentians number well over two million people. Isn't it amazing what the Holy Spirit started and achieved through one man, St. Vincent de Paul.)

In today's homily I want to focus on Jesus, and St. Vincent de Paul. In the second reading, St. Paul challenges the Philippians to practice harmony and humility. Everybody wants harmony, and St. Paul advises us that we can attain harmony by the practice of humility. St. Paul describes Christ's humility. He uses the Greek word kenosis to describe Christ's self-emptying. Jesus' self-emptying takes place in three stages. In stage one, Jesus enjoys his divinity; "he was in the form of God." (2.6) Divinity possesses an absolutely unspeakable glory and privilege. In stage two Jesus "emptied himself and took the form of a slave, being born in the likeness of man. He humbled himself, obediently accepting even death, death on a cross." (2.7-8) Jesus did not simply become a man; he became like all men, like all people, except in sin. He demonstrated the universality of his identity with all humanity; every person at the core of his/her being has been made in the image and likeness of God, and has been redeemed by Jesus Christ. All humanity possesses this universal similarity. In stage three, the Father recalls Jesus to the Father. "Because of this, God highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name above every other name: Jesus Christ is Lord." Lord in the Hebraic language has a cosmic sense that means Jesus is lord of all creation and history.

As members of the Vincentian Family, we devote ourselves to following Jesus. St. Vincent de Paul says, "Jesus Christ is the Rule of our mission." May I suggest that one of the most effective ways to identify with Jesus lies in carrying our cross. By picking up our cross, we can identify better with Christ, the deepest levels of ourselves, and all people. There is no need to search for a cross; our crosses usually find us. When the cross comes our way, we should grasp it and hold onto our cross tightly. It is a gift that is both a blessing and a burden.

Let's talk about identifying with Jesus in his cross. When we pick up and carry our crosses, we get a glimpse into Jesus' soul: we see that he was obedient even unto death. We get a glimpse into Jesus' heart: we see him shedding tears in the Garden of Gethsemane, saying, "If this cup can pass from me then let it do so, but not my will, but your will be done." We begin to appreciate first-hand the hatred of the people who shouted, "crucify him." Can you feel Jesus' angst as he cries out from the cross: "My God, my God, why have abandoned me?" (Ps. 22)

When we carry our crosses, we learn experientially about the pain and suffering, and challenges to faith, hope, and love that is entailed in carrying the cross. We learn about ourselves. We reach down into deeper parts of our being that we had never before touched. We learn new lessons about ourselves: some are positive, and some are negative. This is, however, an opportunity to know ourselves more deeply, and to bring ourselves to Christ more humbly. So pick up your. Hold it tightly. This is a graced moment for you.

We can apply our experiences with Jesus, and ourselves, to our experience with other people. Let's try to see the heart and soul of other people. We need to look deeply. In order to walk humbly with other people, may I suggest three principles of operation. First, we judge behavior but not the soul. If someone is involved in destructive behavior, we name the external action for what it is. But we let God judge the interior soul. Second, I never believe a single thing I hear about somebody until I verify it face-to-face with that person. Make sure that we talk with that person. Listen to his/her words. And third, I share with you this quotation from the poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow: "If we could read the secret history of our enemies, we would find in each person's life, a sorrow and suffering enough to disarm all hostility." Friends, the deeper we can identify with Jesus, and the deeper we plumb our own experiences of our crosses, we become more graced, open, and compassionate in responding to every other person's suffering. We grow in seeing more clearly the image of God in every person. I know of no better way to identify with people than in the moments of their sufferings. "What is most profound is universal."

When I lived at Niagara University, the owner of the Maid of the Mist boats and business was "Mr. Niagara Falls." He shared his wealth generously with every not-for-profit in the city and county. Every church, school, shelter, and social service agency benefited from this good Catholic man's generosity. Nobody could identify with him in his wealth; we could only say "thank you." Like many families, this family too had more than its share of tragedies. A son-in-law died in his forties. A teenage grandson died of incurable disease. The lines at the funeral homes stretched for blocks. Also, a new-born grandson almost died, and was rushed many times to the hospital. Everybody in the county was storming heaven with prayers for this child, who has survived. This is the point: nobody could identify with this man in his wealth, but everyone identified with him in his suffering. "What is most profound is universal."

When we interact with people, let's look at the soul to search for and to find God's image at the core of the person's being. I don't think we can do that well, however, until day-by-day we carry our own cross, humbly. In the process, we appreciate more what Jesus went through. And we appreciate more what other people are going through. Carrying our crosses helps us to help other people to carry their crosses. So, let's happily, readily, pick up our cross. Why? So that we can identify more with Jesus and the deepest parts of our being, and be able to help better other people to carry their crosses. How do we do this? By following St. Vincent's words, simply: "Jesus Christ is the rule of our mission."

Read other homilies by Father O'Malley